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ATI FirePro V8700 Workstation Graphics Card
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Date: Dec 04, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Chris Connolly
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New Name, New GPU, New Attitude
ATI has spent much of the last decade producing the FireGL line of high-end workstation graphics cards, regularly challenging and often times besting competing products from Nvidia's Quadro lineup. ATI's last generation of FireGL products, which we covered heavily, were excellent all around performers. It certainly wasn't perfect (a bit too loud, a bit too expensive), but was definitely solid improvements over the generation of FireGL cards which preceded it. Now in late 2008, we're seeing ATI / AMD's first moves to eventually kill off the long-known FireGL brand. Its replacement? The ATI FirePro.

ATI has yet to introduce top to bottom FirePro-class products to replace the FireGL, but it's delivered the first four cards of many to come in the future. The name change makes since, as high-end workstation cards are often used beyond the realm of 3D graphics today. Workstation-class graphics cards are used for physics, general purpose computing, HPC, and for game design, not just for OpenGL based modeling and CAD work. While the new FirePro lineup of cards are certainly just as fast as ever for OpenGL, ATI is doing its best to make it known that the cards are capable of much more.

Sporting a new name, ATI has released four new workstation cards under the FirePro moniker. On the low-end you have the FirePro V3700 followed by the mid-range V3750 and V5700 models, along with the new high-end model which we'll be looking at today, the FirePro V8700. The FirePro V8700 currently reigns as ATI's top-tier flagship FirePro model, as the first workstation-class card to ship which is based on ATI's R700 graphics architecture. As avid readers will no doubt realize, the RV770 is the same architecture which ATI used in its Radeon HD 4x00 lineup for high-end gaming. As the RV770 graphics processor proved to be a smashing success for gamers with the Radeon HD 4850, HD 4870 and HD 4870 X2 cards, ATI is hoping that workstation users will see the same type of benefits.


ATI FirePro V8700 1GB Workstation Graphics Card

Unlike most of the HD 4x00 series lineup for gamers, the FirePro has some additional features to make it to appeal to the professional crowd -- double the memory of most of the gaming series (1 GB), native DisplayPort outputs, stereo output, not to mention customized drivers to accelerate high-end workstation applications. Of course, these additional features and performance don't come cheap, as the new FirePro V8700 card comes with a whopping $1,499 price tag. It may sound daunting at first, but considering that we are expecting this card to deliver the professional-level performance at the same level (or higher) than their previous generation $2,799 FireGL V8650 card, the FirePro is already looking like a relative bargain. Yes--we said relative. Let's continue.
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Specifications

ATI FireGL V8600

  • ATI R600 Graphics Processor

  • 65nm Manufacturing Process

  • 688 MHz GPU Clock Speed

  • 320 Stream Processors

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

  • 1 GB of GDDR-4 Memory

  • 868 MHz GDDR-4 Clock Speed

  • 512-bit Memory Controller

  • 111 GB/s Memory Bandwidth

  • PCI Express x16 Connector

  • 1 x 8-pin. 1 x 6-pin Power Connectors

  • Dual Slot Copper Cooling System

  • Full Length Card (EATX Required)

  • 2 x Dual-Link DVI Outputs

  • Stereoscopic Output

  • Genlock/Framelock Compatible

  • Crossfire 2.0 Multi-GPU Connector

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

  • MSRP : $1,899 USD


ATI FireGL V8650

  • ATI R600 Graphics Processor

  • 65nm Manufacturing Process

  • 688 MHz GPU Clock Speed

  • 320 Stream Processors

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

  • 2 GB of GDDR-4 Memory

  • 868 MHz GDDR-4 Clock Speed

  • 512-bit Memory Controller

  • 111 GB/s Memory Bandwidth

  • PCI Express x16 Connector

  • 1 x 8-pin. 1 x 6-pin Power Connectors

  • Dual Slot Copper Cooling System

  • Full Length Card (EATX Required)

  • 2 x Dual-Link DVI Outputs

  • Stereoscopic Output

  • Genlock/Framelock Compatible

  • Crossfire 2.0 Multi-GPU Connector

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

  • MSRP : $2,799 USD


ATI FirePro V8700

  • ATI RV770 Graphics Processor

  • 55nm Manufacturing Process

  • 750 MHz GPU Clock Speed

  • 800 Stream Processors

  • Shader Model 4.1 (DirectX 10.1) and OpenGL 2.1 Support

  • 1 GB of GDDR-5 Memory

  • 850 MHz GDDR-5 Clock Speed

  • 256-bit Memory Controller

  • 108 GB/s Memory Bandwidth

  • PCI Express 2.0 x16 Connector

  • 2 x 6-pin Power Connectors

  • Dual Slot Copper Cooling System

  • Standard Length Card (EATX Not Required)

  • 2 x DisplayPort, 1 x DL-DVI Outputs

  • Stereoscopic Output

  • Genlock/Framelock Compatible

  • Crossfire 2.0 Multi-GPU Connector

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

  • MSRP : $1,499 USD

When we compare the new ATI FirePro V8700 card to ATI's previous generation high-end cards, the FireGL V8600 and V8650, a couple of things immediately stand out. First off, the introductory price point is much lower for the new FirePro V8700 card, shipping at $1,499. In comparison, their last generation cards were shipping at $1,899 and $2,799, although to be fair, we should note that it's possible to get a V8600 card for about $1,100 now, whereas V8650 cards currently sell for about $2,000. We're still seeing a much more price sensitive high-end product from ATI though, which definitely makes sense in a tighter economy.

Despite the lower price point, the V8700 delivers much more raw processing power compared than its predecessors. ATI has more than doubled the amount of Stream processors / shader units, up to 800 from 320 of their prior generation. They've also upped the clock speed of the processors to 750 MHz, which is on par with Radeon 4870-class cards based on the RV770 GPU.

The FirePro V8700 card is also the first of ATI's professional lineup which is shipping with GDDR-5 memory, which despite a modest 850 MHz clock speed can deliver over 100 GB/s of memory bandwidth. While this is slightly lower compared to their previous generation models, it's nearly identical in the big picture. The V8700 also ships with a PCI Express 2.0 x16 connector, which allows for doubled bandwidth on compliant motherboards. In terms of price to performance ratio, the FirePro V8700 is looking pretty solid. Let's have a look at the actual, shipping board.

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The Board

The first thing we noticed about the FirePro V8700 when removing it from its box is how small it is in comparison to ATI's previous generations of high-end FireGL products. Unlike its predecessors, the FirePro V8700 is not a full-length ATX card, meaning it does not require an Extended ATX sized chassis in order to run. It will happily run in mid-tower cases, provided you have a PCI Express graphics slot, two case I/O slots, and two 6-pin PCI Express power connectors. By the looks of the design, it appears that the FireGL V8700 shares many of the same PCB attributes as a Radeon HD 4870 card, although there are some slight differences.


FirePro V8700 - Bottom

FirePro V8700 - Top

The FirePro V8700 is dominated by its simple shiny black cooling system, which uses ATI's standardized design of a dual-slot copper heatpipe-equipped heatsink system coupled together with an embedded blower fan, which exhausts hot air out of the back of the chassis. While excessively loud upon system startup, the cooling system is very quiet during normal day to day use, even during intensive 3D workloads, we never heard the cooling system fire up to a point where it would become a nuisance when loaded in a tower chassis. ATI should definitely be commended for bringing down the noise level of their high-end FirePro products compared to the previous high-end FireGL cards.

If you flip the PCB, you can see that the FirePro V8700 has a modern Crossfire-X compatible multi-GPU connector. However, ATI does not support multi-GPU operation on the FireGL lineup, so these connectors are somewhat useless at this point in time. For the record, you can integrate multiple FireGL/Pro cards into the same system and have them run independently, but ATI does not support linking multiple cards together for enhanced workstation-application performance yet. On the other side of the PCB, around the Crossfire connectors, you can see the necessary connectors for connecting Genlock/Framelock daughter boards.


Multi-GPU Connectors and I/O Panel


PCI Express 2.0 x16 Connector

The FirePro V8700 is equipped with a PCI Express 2.0 x16 interface. This means that the card can run happily in any modern PCI Express-equipped system, but will support doubled bandwidth levels on PCI Express 2.0 enabled systems.

The I/O panel of the FirePro V8700 is a bit unique, as it deviates from both the Radeon HD4x00 series designs and previous generation FireGL I/O panels. The FirePro V8700 ships with output connectors for two DisplayPort-enabled monitors along with a single dual-link DVI output ports. Unfortunately, you cannot use all three at the same time, as the FirePro V8700 only supports outputs on two displays at any given time. However, with DisplayPort monitors becoming readily available for high-end workstation users, the shift to this thinner and cleaner monitor interface is certainly appreciated. The FirePro V8700 also supports 30-bit color displays, in all their 1 billion+ color glory, which are actually available on the market if you are willing to pay a hefty price premium. The FirePro V8700 also supports a standard 3-pin stereoscopic output, if you want to work in the third dimension.


3-pin Stereo (Top), 2 x DisplayPort (Bottom Left), Dual-Link DVI (Bottom Right)

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Power Consumption

With a new GPU under its hood, one which is made on a more modern manufacturing process and has a much smaller overall die size, we were immediately curious about power consumption. In terms of its specifications, this new card should consume less power compared to its older brothers, but that's not a certainty, as the RV770 can consume a lot of power and produce a lot of heat when really pushed.

To measure power consumption, we broke out our standard hardware AC wattage meter and hooked it up to our test system. Our wattage meter tests the entire system's power consumption, not just the graphics card. (You can see our full testbed details on the following page). We tested keeping the system idle at the Windows desktop and maximizing it with intensive 3D scenes designed to push the GPU to its maximum power threshold. Here's what we saw.

Total System Power Consumption
Lower Wattage Numbers Are Better



The results are surprising on both fronts. When the FirePro V8700 is idling, it consumes substantially less power than its competition. In fact, the high-end V8700 card is consuming less power at idle than their prior generation mid-range card, which is definitely progress.

At full load, however, this card can consume quite a bit of power. Our tests showed the FireGL V8700 card consuming almost the exact same amount of power as their previous generation monster V8650 card. The V8700 does have a higher-clocked core, but we would have expected a drop considering the changes in manufacturing process and PCB size. In any case, at full load, the FirePro V8700 can use quite a lot of power, but without any major increases in noise, and that's really an important thing to note. It's a high-end card, and it has high-end power consumption ratings - it's not surprising.

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Testbed, 3D Studio Max, Maya
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 V5600 512 MB
  • ATI FireGL V7600 512 MB
  • ATI FireGL V8600 1 GB
  • ATI FireGL V8650 2 GB
  • ATI FireGL V8700 1 GB
  • Nvidia QuadroFX 1700 512 MB
  • Nvidia QuadroFX 3700 512 MB
  • Nvidia QuadroFX 5600 1.5 GB

OpenGL Modeling / Texturing Performance
Lower Times Are Better


OpenGL Modeling / Texturing Performance
Lower Times Are Better


3D Studio Max shows a massive performance boost compared to the FirePro V8700 and ATI's previous generation FireGL V8600-series cards. Not only is the V8700 besting the competition here, but it's doing so at a much lower price point. Keep in mind that the FirePro V8700 is about half as much as the V8650 and QuadroFX 5600 cards.

Maya shows no solid gain or decline in the SPEC benchmark suite. As an interesting twist, we have started to test this in Windows Vista x64 as well, and in that operating system, the scores between the cards are nearly identical around ~750. It seems Nvidia's driver set for XP aren't as strong in Maya, but they seem to perform pretty closely in Vista. Good to note.

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SPEC Viewperf R10
Workstation OpenGL Performance
Higher Numbers Are Better





In three of our four ViewPerf R10 tests, the FirePro V8700 showcases substantial improvements over the V8600 lineup, although it doesn't seem to shift the performance charts in any major way in these particular application tests.

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SPEC Viewperf R10 (Continued)
Workstation OpenGL Performance
Higher Numbers Are Better





The second round of Viewperf tests show the FirePro V8700 in a very positive light. Across the board we're seeing very sizable performance gains with this new model, easily besting the V8600 lineup, with a much lower introductory price point to sweeten the deal.

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GPGPU Processing

General Purpose GPU Processing
Lower Times Are Better




The FirePro V8700 also works fairly well for general purpose processing as well, as the card can crank through our sample GPU math tests without much problem. For this particular test, Nvidia's Quadro line still appears to be stronger, but as you can see on the next page, that doesn't mean the RV770 doesn't work well as a GPGPU component...

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GPGPU Processing (Continued)
General Purpose GPU Processing
Lower Times Are Better



In this particular test, we see the FirePro V8700 offering huge performance increases in GPGPU performance compared to the previous generation chip. We're talking about 3x the performance level of a card which is still more expensive on the open market (V8650). The FirePro V8700 shifts the balance of power in this particular test over to ATI, as Nvidia's monster QuadroFX 5600 card can't keep up (Note : Nvidia's new Quadro cards are currently in testing).

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Gaming Performance
Synthetic Gaming Performance
Higher Numbers Are Better


Gaming Performance
Higher Numbers Are Better


Not at all surprising, as both the FirePro V8700 and Radeon HD4870 are based on the same RV770 graphics processor, but this card performs quite well in gaming environments. Very solid performance across the board, so game developers should be pleased, and if you happen to run a game on one of these up-tight, business-minded workstation cards, chances are it will actually work and will be pretty snappy, as well.

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Soft Shadows and Fur
Soft Shadows OpenGL Benchmark
Higher Numbers Are Better


Realistic Fur OpenGL Benchmark
Higher Numbers Are Better


OpenGL effects benchmarks; always a joy to run.  The FirePro V8700 card performs great here, too. Soft Shadows rendering performance is up by massive amounts, easily besting every other card we've tested. In the interest of fairness hower, we should note that ATI's soft shadow rendering didn't look quite as smooth as Nvidia's rendering mechanism. Fur rendering was a bit faster, but not nearly to the same "dominance" level - although we noted no difference in visual quality when it came to this benchmark.

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Our Conclusion

ATI definitely chose the right GPU to use for the re-launch of the Fire-series of products.  The FirePro is a massive shot in the arm for the product line and delivers on almost every front.  ATI has not only addressed every major concern we had about their last generation FireGL V8600-series, but they have enhanced their workstation-class product offerings in other ways as well, while keeping the price point in check. The result is a highly refined product which feels properly tuned to the workstation market.

Performance wise, in nearly every benchmark we ran, the FirePro V8700 ($1,499) manages to outperform the previous generation FireGL V8650 ($2,799 launch, ~$2,000 street), often times by a pretty substantial margin. Of course, if you need 2 GB of memory, the V8650 is still your only option in the Fire series.  Oddly enough, the V8700 is currently ATI's high-end product, but it has a less memory than the next fastest high-end product. It seems plausible to think that ATI/AMD could offer a 2 GB model if there was industry demand for such a product, however.

Even better, the FirePro V8700 is far quieter than the prior generation FireGL products, while taking up less space and not requiring an extended ATX chassis. It's still power hungry and runs hot, but the cooling system handles the load much better this time around. Output ports are plentiful and doubled DisplayPort outputs ensure that the card is ready for the upcoming wave of DisplayPort enabled monitors. Not only has the card been modernized on the output front, but it supports a higher bandwidth PCI Express 2.0 interface, too.

The FirePro V8700 is not perfect, of course. ATI still hasn't nailed down their multi-GPU support as well as Nvidia has, nor do their drivers have as much polish as Nvidia's in our opinion (it close, though). The card consumed significant amounts of power under load, it's still an expensive beast at $1,499, and then there's the fact that the FirePro V8700 is not readily available on the market yet.

Despite these minor flaws though, we're still very impressed with the overall FirePro V8700 product. Excellent performance increases, very low noise, flexible outputs at a price point of nearly half that of ATI's prior generation high-end product. That's progress we can appreciate.  We like where ATI has gone with this product lineup. Perhaps a 2 GB model is on the horizon?  We better keep the test-bed warmed up...

  • Massive Price/Performance Improvements
  • Low Noise Cooling
  • DisplayPort and Dual-Link DVI Ports
  • RV770 GPU Heat Concerns
  • Improved price point, but still pricey at $1,499


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