Think of the viewport as a window into the work in progress; it can be configured to show either a simplified view of the total scene or to display particular aspects of the final render, such as camera positions, wireframes, and light sources. Both CPU and GPU performance matter, which is why graphics workstations typically ship with strong solutions in both categories.
When it comes to professional graphics, professional salaries and rendering times dwarf the cost of GPU hardware. Part of the reason professional cards are more expensive is the level of software support AMD, Nvidia, and software developers like AutoDesk provide. If a Radeon card doesn't work properly in 3ds Max or Maya, both hardware and software companies will most likely shrug. If a Quadro/FirePro card has a genuine problem, eyeballs promptly swivel.
Enough chatter -- let's check performance.
Our testbed for this review is an Intel Core i7-2600K CPU and Intel DP67BG motherboard. We configured the testbed with 16GB of DDR-1333 (the minimum recommended amount for the SPEC organization's 3ds Max Professional test) and an OCZ Vertex III. Windows 7 64-bit w/ SP1 was installed; all of the benchmarks were run using the 64-bit version of the tests. All benchmarks were run three times and then averaged.
Nvidia was unable to provide us with a low-end Quadro for testing and comparing the V3900 against a high-end Quadro that's 10 times more expensive, would've been a bit lopsided. We opted to benchmark a Radeon HD 6870 instead in order to test how a consumer card would fare in professional environments. Both the 6870 and V3900 use a GPU from AMD's Northern Islands family but the 6870 is significantly more powerful. It's also more expensive; Newegg lists it at $169.
We'll start with a familiar test to any HH reader -- Cinebench 11.5.