AMD Announces FirePro W9100: Hawaii Goes Workstation

After AMD launched its Hawaii-based R9 290 and R9 290X last fall, it was only a matter of time before the company followed up with a new set of workstation cards. Today, it's rolling out the FirePro W9100 -- a new, R9 290X-based workstation GPU that slots in just above the older W9000. Matt Skynner, VP and GM of AMD's graphics business, introduced the new product offering along with discussion from David Cummings, AMD Senior Director of Pro Graphics and Raja Koduri, Corporate Vice President of Visual Computing.  This new FirePro supports up to six monitors via DisplayPort, 44 compute units (2816 shader cores), and whopping 16GB of 5GHz GDDR5 memory.

The W9100 is being positioned as a simultaneous GPU compute and 3D rendering solution, particularly for 4K work. That makes a fair amount of sense -- CAD professionals and designers are the folks most likely to be working in 4K, even when final outputs will be in 1080p or lower. We know Sony has been building a new suite of "Mastered in 4K" films and 4K monitors for desktop work are beginning to trickle out to the wider market.

AMD is also playing up the W9100's stats versus the NVIDIA Quadro K5000 and K6000, but in fairness, we have to note that our W9000 review showed how more compute muscle didn't always translate to higher workstation performance. While the W9000 was far faster than the Quadro 6000 we compared against back then in GPU compute workloads, it's performance in workstation applications didn't show the gap we expected to see between a GCN card and a two-year old Fermi GPU.  This largely comes down to driver optimization and good application support, so it's possible that the W9100 will put in a far stronger showing in these benchmarks.

AMD has also worked with Adobe to add OpenCL support to Premiere Pro and other content production applications. That's an effort that likely got a substantial kick from winning the Mac Pro's design -- Macs may not sell in huge numbers compared to Windows systems, but they're heavily preferred in content creation applications.     

The other major announcement of the day is a new FirePro workstation certification program, with specific hardware and GPU options. Initially, we described this as primarily a branding effort, but after speaking with AMD, it's clear that more effort has gone into this program to certify three and four GPU workstations. The goal of the new workstation program is to create a premium experience that merges AMD's hardware and expertise with the reputation and rigor of a manufacturer like BOXX. AMD has generally put more effort into its software and ISV collaboration over the last few years and such efforts are clearly starting to pay off.

AMD spent its announcement event talking up partner and software integration. In the past, that's where FirePro hasn't excelled -- great hardware is all well and good, but production companies live and die on support agreements and flawless feature implementation. Taking those features seriously is what will help AMD drive additional growth in this segment.

No word yet on pricing. Availability is projected for April.