AMD FirePro W8000, W9000 Challenge Nvidia's Quadro

Understanding The Workstation Market

The professional GPU market is fundamentally different from its consumer counterpart. Its structure and pricing are the last vestige of an earlier time when the graphics workstation market was dominated by a company called Silicon Graphics Incorporated, or SGI. SGI's Irix operating system, graphics API (Iris GL) and underlying hardware were all explicitly designed around 3D rendering and visualization. Iris GL was eventually open-sourced, reworked, and became OpenGL 1.0.

One stage of the rendering pipeline in parallel hardware, in an age before GPUs.

In the workstation industry, compatibility, consistency, and reliability count for more than price. Here, Nvidia in general has consistently delivered. On the gaming side of the business, Nvidia advertises its close developer relationships as "The Way It's Meant To Be Played," but the company spends a great deal more effort working with ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) like Autodesk to ensure that the company's 3D products are fully optimized for Quadro.

Adobe's Mercury Playback Engine, used in Premiere Pro 5.5 and 6.0, is Nvidia-only -- unless you happen to own a Macbook Pro with a Radeon card. A handful of consumer-level GeForce cards are also supported. Adobe's Creative Suite technical recommendations states that "NVIDIA Quadro 4000, 5000, or 6000 or other Adobe-certified GPU card with at least 1GB of VRAM recommended" (emphasis added). Photoshop actually supports both families, but Nvidia Quadro cards are nearly always listed first. In the one case that they aren't, you'll note that Adobe tested a full 21 Nvidia cards, compared to just 13 AMD solutions.

Is it fair? Certainly Nvidia would argue that it is. Nvidia has undoubtedly invested a great deal of time and money into professional feature development and support. OpenGL drivers and CUDA toolkits don't write themselves. Nvidia launched the GPGPU movement more-or-less on its own, and has done most of the heavy lifting to popularize the idea. AMD may back OpenCL, but it hasn't put the same level of investment behind the standard.

We honestly don't have the visibility we'd need to make a call on whether the preferential treatment Nvidia products often receive is a fair measure of relative investment between the two companies. What we can say is that Nvidia's close ties to ISVs have blocked AMD from making up much ground in this highly profitable market. These new cards are supposed to offer performance that would make ISV's rethink that stance.

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