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Mid-Range Workstation GPU Shootout : FireGL V5600 vs. QuadroFX 1700 vs. FireGL V3600
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Date: Feb 05, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Chris Connolly
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Introduction and Specifications


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

  • ATI RV630 GL Graphics Processor

  • 800 MHz GPU Clock Speed

  • 1100 MHz GDDR-4 Clock Speed

  • Shader Model 4.0 (DirectX 10) and OpenGL 2.1 Support

  • 512 MB of GDDR-4 Memory

  • 128-bit Memory Controller

  • 35 GB/s Memory Bandwidth

  • PCI Express x16 Connector

  • Bus Powered (No Power Connector Needed)

  • Single Slot Copper Cooling System

  • Two Dual-Link DVI Output Ports

  • No Stereo or HDTV Output

  • No Multi-GPU Support (Currently)

  • Supports Windows XP and Vista 32-bit and 64-bit, Linux 32-bit and 64-bit

  • MSRP : $599 USD

Nvidia QuadroFX 1700

  • Nvidia G84 Graphics Processor

  • 460 MHz GPU Clock Speed

  • 400 MHz DDR2 Clock Speed

  • Shader Model 4.0 (DirectX 10) and OpenGL 2.1 Support

  • 512 MB of DDR2 Memory

  • 128-bit Memory Controller

  • 12.8 GB/s Memory Bandwidth

  • PCI Express x16 Connector

  • Bus Powered (No Power Connector Needed)

  • Single Slot Aluminum Alloy Cooling System

  • Two Dual-Link DVI Output Ports

  • HDTV Output (No Stereo Output)

  • 2-Way SLI Multi-GPU Support

  • Supports Windows XP and Vista 32-bit and 64-bit, Linux 32-bit and 64-bit, Solaris

  • MSRP : $699 USD

ATI FireGL V3600

  • ATI RV630 GL Graphics Processor

  • 600 MHz GPU Clock Speed

  • 500 MHz DDR2 Clock Speed

  • Shader Model 4.0 (DirectX 10) and OpenGL 2.1 Support

  • 256 MB of DDR2 Memory

  • 128-bit Memory Controller

  • 16 GB/s Memory Bandwidth

  • PCI Express x16 Connector

  • Bus Powered (No Power Connector Needed)

  • Single Slot Copper Cooling System

  • Two Dual-Link DVI Output Ports

  • No Stereo or HDTV Output

  • No Multi-GPU Support (Currently)

  • Supports Windows XP and Vista 32-bit and 64-bit, Linux 32-bit and 64-bit

  • MSRP : $299 USD 


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.

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Nvidia QuadroFX 1700


The QuadroFX 1700 graphics card is the workstation equivalent of the GeForce 8600 for the gaming market. Both of the cards run on Nvidia’s G84 graphics processor and consume a small enough amount of power to not require any external power plugs. The card is small, quiet, and relatively unassuming. However, for the card’s diminutive size, it’s actually surprisingly powerful.



Nvidia QuadroFX 1700 512 MB



Nvidia QuadroFX 1700 512 MB

Nvidia’s G84 graphics processor, which is at the heart of the QuadroFX 1700, is manufactured on an 80nm manufacturing process. While it shares many similarities to Nvidia’s high-end G80 processor seen in their high-end workstation cards, the G84 is far smaller and less powerful. While the G80 processor has 128 unified shader processors, the G84 which we see here only has a quarter of that, 32 shader processors. This effectively cuts performance heavily across the board, but does make for a very small, efficient chip. The G84 has 289 million transistors stuffed into a core which is 169mm squared. Despite its size, the G84 supports DirectX 10, OpenGL 2.1, and even includes Nvidia’s VP2 hardware video decoding engine as well, something which even the high-end G80 processor doesn’t have.

The QuadroFX 1700 ships with its G84 processor clocked at 460 MHz with 800 MHz DDR2 memory, along with its shader clock set to 920 MHz. These numbers are quite a bit lower compared to the GeForce 8600 gaming card, which is based on the same GPU, and runs at 540 MHz GPU with 700 MHz memory and a 1.19 GHz shader clock speed. Of course, this is fairly typical with Quadro FX cards, running at lower clock speeds compared to their gaming brethren, so what we’re seeing here is not out of line for Nvidia.

With a tame clock speed and an advanced 80nm manufacturing process for its GPU, the QuadroFX 1700 doesn’t need elaborate cooling. Nvidia outfits this board with a very small aluminum alloy thin-fin cooler with a 4-pin PWM thermally controlled fan. While the fan is small, it doesn’t run at a high RPM, so you don’t get any high-pitched fan noise. It’s a very quiet card overall, even under heavy loads.

The board is equipped with 512 MB of DDR2 memory from Hynix. The memory modules are set to 400 MHz clock rate, and connect to the GPU via a 128-bit memory bus, allowing for 12.8 GB/s of memory bandwidth. Not that impressive for a $700 board. The memory modules are left un-cooled on the PCB, since they do not run warm enough to require any type of cooling.



Dual-Link DVI and HDTV Connectors



Single Slot Aluminum Alloy Cooling System

The FX1700 is equipped with two dual-link DVI output ports, which are capable of driving 2560 x 1600 30” displays per port. In addition, the board has an HDTV output port, in case you want to hook up this board to a component-enabled display. The board does not support stereoscopic output, nor can it connect to Genlock/Framelock boards like high-end Quadro cards.

The card and its feature set are somewhat unimpressive, considering its price tag, which means that in order for it to get a recommendation, it’s going to have to outperform ATI’s cards in the benchmarks and offer a better value. There’s nothing inherently wrong with FX1700 – it simply doesn’t seem to have a feature set which matches up against its price tag.

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ATI FireGL V5600 and V3600


The FireGL V5600 and V3600 share a common trait as they are based on the same GPU at their core, the only differences lie in the clock speeds, amount of memory on board, memory type, and cooling systems. Both the V5600 and V3600 are based on ATI’s RV630 graphics processor, which is also the heart of ATI’s Radeon 2600 XT and 2600 Pro graphics cards. If you compare the FireGL V5600 to the Radeon 2600XT and the FireGL V3600 to the Radeon 2600 Pro, you’ll notice that the cards are nearly identical in terms of design – the only visible differences lie in the logos which their cooling systems are adorned with.



ATI FireGL V5600 512 MB



I acATI FireGL V3600 256 MB

The RV630 graphics processor is quite flexible, as shown by the two cards we’re looking at today. Despite having the same GPU at their core, these cards can deliver very different performance levels and they sell for vastly different price points. The low-end V3600 has an MSRP of about $300, whereas the mid-range V5600 sells for twice that at $600. Why such a large price difference between two cards on the same GPU? We’ll tell you.

The V5600 runs its RV630 graphics processor at 800 MHz, whereas the V3600 runs it at 600 MHz. Right off the bat, this means that the V5600 is 33% more powerful in terms of raw GPU rendering performance. The V5600 also has twice the memory, a full 512 MB of GDDR-4 memory, whereas the V3600 only has 256MB of DDR2 memory. The V5600 also runs its memory modules much faster, at 1100 MHz which nets the card peak bandwidth levels of 35 GB/s. The V3600 runs it memory at less than half that, at 500 MHz for 16 GB/s of memory bandwidth. In order to deal with the additional heat created by the higher clocked GPU and memory chips, the V5600 comes with a much larger cooler and includes an elongated PCB.

The RV630 GPU has 120 stream processors, quite a bit less than the 320 stream processors used in the high-end R600 GPU we looked at earlier. It’s a unified shader design which is manufactured on an 80nm process. The GPU has an estimated 390 million transistors and measures 169mm squared, meaning it’s physically a larger chip compared to the one used in the QuadroFX 1700. The chip fully supports DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.1, and sports ATI’s “Avivo HD” video processor. It’s definitely a solid mid-range GPU, when clocked high enough - and our tests with the FireGL V8560 showed us that ATI’s latest generation architecture does play well in the workstation market.

Both the FireGL V5600 and V3600 consume less than 75W of power, so both can be powered directly by a PCI Express x16 slot. This means that neither card requires a power adapter, which is somewhat rare in this day and age. Both cards also have two dual-link DVI ports, capable of driving 2560 x 1600 30” displays each. Neither card has HDTV or Stereo output ports, and neither can drive a Genlock/Framelock card. The V5600 card is equipped with a second-generation Crossfire multi-GPU connector, although ATI does not allow for multi-GPU performance bonding with their current FireGL driver set. Of course, multiple cards can be used in a single system, although they will run independently of each other.



V5600 Copper / Aluminum Cooling System



V3600 Copper Cooling System

Both cards fared quite well in terms of noise, as well.  We found both the FireGL V5600 and V3600 to be very tolerable in terms of noise. Both cards feature thermal sensing fans, which ran at nearly in-audible noise levels throughout all of our testing.

ATI is definitely putting up a much more intense fight for the workstation market than they have before, as show by these two cards. The V5600 delivers a very solid feature set at an MSRP less than Nvidia’s competing QuadroFX 1700 card. The $299 V3600 card appears to be a good buy on paper as well, although we’ll need to see the performance numbers before judging it.

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Power Consumption


After looking at the specification, we expected ATI’s FireGL V5600 card to consume the most power, as it has the highest clocked GPU and memory modules. In order to test this, we brought out our trusted SeaSonic Power Angel hardware wattage monitor. Our test system is a quad-core Core 2-based system at 3.0 GHz with top of the line hardware (seen on the next page), the only differences here are the graphics cards. We maxed out the GPUs with HDR shader tests in order to see the maximum power consumption level with the GPU running under load.
 

Total System Power Consumption
Lower Wattage Numbers Are Better









It looks like our initial expectations were right. While the V5600 only consumes about 10W more than its competing cards (FX1700 and V3600) at idle, under load it consumes about 40W more than the FX1700. Nvidia’s QuadroFX 1700 looks great, in terms of power consumption, as this mid-range workstation graphics card is consuming less power compared to ATI’s budget-level workstation card.

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Testbed and Cinebench


Test System Details
Specifications and Revisions

  • Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 (3.0 GHz) Quad Core (1333 MHz FSB)
  • 4 x Kingston DDR2-800 CAS 4-4-4-15 Modules (4 GB Total)
  • 1 x eVGA nForce 680i SLI LT Motherboard
  • 1 x Western Digital Raptor 74GB 10,000 RPM SATA Hard Disk
  • 1 x Plextor DVD+/-RW Serial ATA Optical Drive
  • 1 x Corsair HX620W 620W Modular Power Supply
  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional (32-bit)

  • ATI FireGL V3600 256 MB (Driver version 8.44)
  • ATI FireGL V5600 512 MB (Driver version 8.44)
  • ATI FireGL V7600 512 MB (Driver version 8.44)
  • ATI FireGL V8650 2 GB (Driver version 8.44)
  • Nvidia QuadroFX 1700 512 MB (Driver version 169.61)
  • Nvidia QuadroFX 5600 1.5 GB (Driver version 169.61)
     

Just as with our high-end workstation graphics card shootout, we’ve tested these mid-range cards with Windows XP. Both Nvidia and ATI claim XP to still be the dominant workstation-class operating system, and performance is fine tuned for this operating system in order to reflect that.
 

Synthetic OpenGL Performance
Higher Numbers Are Better




Our first test doesn’t bode well for Nvidia. Cinebench 10 shows a nice level of performance scaling between ATI’s low/mid/high-end workstation cards, although Nvidia’s mid-range QuadroFX 1700 card shows performance levels lower than that of the FireFL V3600 card, which costs half as much.

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3D Studio Max 2008 and Maya 8.5


OpenGL Modeling / Texturing Performance
Lower Times Are Better



 

OpenGL Modeling / Texturing Performance
Lower Times Are Better





Surprisingly, we don’t see that much variance in these two high-end OpenGL applications between our ultra high-end cards and the mid-range / budget cards. 3D Studio Max shows a much larger degree of change between the cards, Maya shows nearly none. In 3D Studio Max 2008, we see the QuadroFX 1700 delivering the fastest benchmark times of the three cards we’re testing today, edging out the V5600 by a small margin.   If you’ll also notice, the $699 QuadroFX 1700 card is also besting the $2,999 FireGL V8650 card in this particular suite.

The tables turn in our Maya benchmark, which obviously favors ATI hardware.  All of our ATI cards rendered the benchmark suite faster than our two Nvidia cards, even the monster QuadroFX 5600 card. So, if you want a simple answer, if you’re a 3D Studio Max user, go Nvidia.  If you use Maya, go ATI.
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Spec ViewPerf 10


Workstation OpenGL Performance
Higher Numbers Are Better


















Our first round of ViewPerf 10 OpenGL tests don’t showcase a clear winner between the mid-range cards. 3dmax is neck and neck between the QuadroFX 1700 and FireGL V5600, whereas Nvidia powers a win in the Catia benchmark.  The FireGL V5600 takes wins in both Ensight and Maya, where the QuadroFX 1700 sits in second place and the V3600 sits in last.   Again, solid Maya performance from the ATI camp, solid Catia performance from Nvidia.
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Spec ViewPerf 10 (Continued)


Workstation OpenGL Performance
Higher Numbers Are Better














The rest of the Viewperf suite shows ATI’s mid-range cards in a much better light, as they win three of the four tests.  SW, Twx, and Ugnx all run faster on ATI’s FireGL V5600 hardware as opposed to the QuadroFX 1700.  In fact, the QuadroFX 1700 takes a thorough beating in these tests, as ATI’s budget-level V3600 card manages to outpace it as well, with a price tag which is half that of the QFX1700.     The only saving grace is ProEngineer, which runs quite well on the QuadroFX 1700 card, besting all ATI cards we tested against.
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GPGPU Computing


General Purpose GPU Processing
Lower Times Are Better












Our first set of GPGPU tests on these mid-range cards look good for ATI’s product line, as they sweep the benchmark charts.  All three tests ran faster on both the FireGL V5600 and the V3600 compared to the QuadroFX 1700.   The final, most intensive test, failed to run on either the QuadroFX 1700 or the FireGL V3600 card.  Performance scaling looks about as expected given the hardware and price points of these cards.
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GPGPU Computing (Continued)


General Purpose GPU Processing
Lower Times Are Better











Our second round of GPGPU benchmarks is a much closer race.   In our Monte Carlo tests, the QuadroFX 1700 and FireGL V5600 are fairly neck and neck throughout the suite, although the QuadroFX 1700 retains a slight performance edge.   A nice win for the QuadroFX 1700, although given it’s a bit more expensive, the price/performance ratio is still slightly in ATI’s favor.
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3DMark06 and Crysis


Synthetic Gaming Performance
Higher Numbers Are Better





Gaming Performance
Higher Numbers Are Better



Looking to game a little bit after hours? Or perhaps you’re a game developer and want to do some real-time DirectX engine testing on your system?  Well, as these benchmarks show, the FireGL V5600 is likely the better card for this scenario.  The QuadroFX 1700 card performs about as well as the FireGL V3600 card in these tests, which isn't very impressive.  Frankly, none of these mid-range cards would be considered good for a gaming environment, but the FireGL V5600 is the most tolerable of the mid-range / budget bunch.
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OpenGL Effect Benchmarks


Soft Shadows OpenGL Benchmark
Higher Numbers Are Better






Realistic Fur OpenGL Benchmark
Higher Numbers Are Better






Our two OpenGL effects benchmarks run much quicker on ATI hardware, especially the “Fur” benchmark, which runs nearly four times as fast on the FireGL V5600 compared to the QuadroFX 1700 card.  Considering the QuadroFX card is still more expensive, that’s a huge win for ATI.   The numbers are a bit closer in the “Soft Shadows” test, although even here, ATI’s low-end card is besting Nvidia’s mid-range card in performance.
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Conclusion

In our last workstation-class graphics card shootout, we compared two high-end cards to eachother and concluded that Nvidia had the performance edge at the high-end.  In the mid-range workstation market, however, the tables are turned 180 degrees.  In this space, ATI currently has a better performing product across the board with the FireGL V5600 512 MB card.   While Nvidia has a few wins here and there, overall the FireGL V5600 is simply a stronger product.




One interesting aspect to keep in mind, is that while the FireGL V5600 has a lower MSRP ($599) compared to the the QuadroFX 1700 ($699), street prices are a much different ball game.  The QuadroFX 1700 card has been on the market for much longer, and prices have dropped to much more tolerable levels.  After a quick search, it appears that QuadroFX 1700 cards can be had for about $400, whereas the FireGL V5600's street price is still at about $500.  A $400 QuadroFX 1700 is a much easier pill to swallow in comparison to the $700 MSRP, and at this lower price point, it becomes a much closer race.

Both the QuadroFX 1700 and FireGL V5600 have 512 MB of memory, quiet cooling systems, have relatively low power consumption, and support DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.1.   Nvidia’s card has HDTV out and can support multi-GPU operation, although the FireGL card runs at higher clock frequencies which resulted in better performance nearly across the board. From a price/performance standpoint, we would still have to opt for the FireGL V5600, as its stronger performance justifies the somewhat higher street price.  Nvidia’s card works great in 3D Studio and Catia, but overall, it loses out to the ATI product.  And its GPU and memory clock speeds are surprisingly low, given how inexpensive Nvidia’s G84-based gaming cards are selling for currently, with much higher clock rates.  If Nvidia wants to better compete in the mid-range market, they’re going to have to release a new model and push those speeds up to get performance levels in line or higher than the V5600.

The FireGL V3600 is a nice card as well, and as it currently sells for about $200 online, it’s not a huge investment.  Overall performance was good, considering the price point and modest hardware configuration.  We wouldn’t recommend it for any kind of GPU intensive applications, but for light OpenGL work, it should certainly suffice.

QuadroFX 1700:

  • Solid 3D Studio Max / Catia Performance
  • Near Silent, Slim Cooling System
  • HDTV Output
  • Low Clock Speeds
  • No Stereo Output



FireGL V5600:

 

  • Solid All Around Performance
  • Slim, Quiet Cooling System
  • Good Maya Performance
  • Larger Card Compared To Others
  • Most Expensive at $500 Street
  • No HDTV/Stereo Output




FireGL V3600:

  • Inexpensive OpenGL Work Card
  • Quiet Little Cooling Unit
  • Decent Performance
  • 256 MB Frame Buffer
  • Low Clock Speeds
  • No HDTV/Stereo Output



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