Just a few weeks ago, we took a look at the two fastest workstation class graphics cards currently on the market, the FireGL V8650 from ATI/AMD and the QuadroFX 5600 from Nvidia. We found both products to be quite powerful and thought either one would be a solid choice for a high-end workstation. However, the one comment which was repeated over and over again when looking at those cards was that unless you worked for a major studio or production firm, they were simply not very affordable. At nearly $3,000 a piece, the FireGL V8650 and QuadroFX 5600 require large investments. However, don’t think that just because a graphics card is targeted for workstation use that it has to be over-the-top expensive.
While workstation cards are certainly more expensive than their gaming-class brethren, it’s absolutely possible to build a budget-level system with a workstation-class graphics card to match. Both Nvidia and ATI have workstation-class cards which scale down well below $500, a fraction of the price of the high-end cards we looked at in our prior article. Today, we’ll be looking at a few products which make up this new generation of relatively inexpensive workstation cards, and we’ll see how performance compares to their high-end counterparts as well.
We’ll be looking at three cards in particular – two from ATI and one from Nvidia. From ATI, we’ve got their new FireGL V5600 512 MB card along with their low-end FireGL V3600 256 MB card. In the Nvidia camp, we’ve got our hands on the popular QuadroFX 1700 512 MB card. All three of these cards are very tolerable in terms of size, power consumption, noise, and (most of all) price . While one shouldn't expect top of the line performance from these cards, in our tests we found performance in many applications to be impressively good, proving that you don’t need to spend four digits to get solid workstation performance.
(Left to Right) FireGL V5600, QuadroFX 1700, and FireGL V3600 Graphics Cards
Unlike our high-end cards, which were relatively close in terms of specifications and price, these mid-range cards vary much more. These three cards have a wide range of different options, which means potential buyers should take a much closer look at the specifications before buying, rather than just looking at the benchmark charts.
|ATI FireGL V5600
|Nvidia QuadroFX 1700
|ATI FireGL V3600
Looking at these three sets of specifications, side by side, we see that the FireGL V5600 and QuadroFX 1700 are the closest competitors. The MSRP’s are only $100 apart, and they’re both targeted at the mid-range workstation graphics market. The V3600 card is more for the budget workstation market with a mere 256 MB of graphics memory. All three of these cards consume less than 75W of power, and as such, can be powered by the PCI Express bus. All three also have single slot cooling systems, two dual-link DVI ports, and mid-range GPU architectures.
Strictly looking at the specifications, the FireGL V5600 looks like a better value, delivering over twice the memory bandwidth and running at a much higher GPU clock rate compared to the FX1700, while shipping at an MSRP of $100 less. The QuadroFX 1700 does have special features, such as SLI and HDTV out, although the 12 GB/s of memory bandwidth leave something to be desired. Of course, these are just specs – and performance levels in real world applications are what truly matters. Let’s take a closer look.