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...