NVIDIA Quadro FX 2000 and ATi FireGL X1

The NVIDIA Quadro FX 2000 and ATi FireGL X1 - Page 1


The NVIDIA Quadro FX 2000 And The ATi FireGL X1
Professional Graphics Solutions Do Battle

By: Dave Altavilla
August 20, 2003


Professional Graphics Cards are sort of an oddity to us here at HotHardware.com.  Admittedly, we don't get to tinker enough in this area, since frankly the market that is served by these products is a specialty niche´, where there just isn't the same level of marketing buzz, as in the Consumer Graphics space.  Not too mention, the fact that if you want to fairly represent a product's performance and features, from our perspective, one needs to look at a number of different application scenarios.  The high end CAD and 3D design and rendering applications, as well as the benchmarks to go with them, that are required for proper measurement and analysis, are also not nearly as common place as firing up Quake 3 and running a time demo.  Regardless, we occasionally like to offer a first hand look at what's new in Pro Graphics each year and certainly there have been many new products to hit the market over the past few months.

However, again since we deal so often in Consumer Graphics, Pro Graphics cards and the price points they carry are still a bit foreign to us.  Why is it that both products we'll be looking at today, the ATi FireGL X1 and NVIDIA Quadro FX 2000, share nearly identical hardware with their consumer counterparts, yet cost 3 to 5 times as much?  The answer goes back to those highly specialized applications again, and optimizing the hardware and drivers to accelerate performance to the best of the core Graphics Processor's ability.  Additionally, each major tools suite, like SolidWorks for example, has it's own set of "certification" criteria if hardware vendors like ATi or NVIDIA want to have full support for their product, back through the tools vendor.  Just imagine large Corporate IT Professionals outfitting their CAD Labs with hardware that is not "officially" supported by their most important design tool suite?  Well you get the idea.  This isn't a game of Quake we're talking here, this is corporate sales and there's a whole new meaning to the word "support" at this level.

In this article we'll be showcasing the first round offerings of next generation Pro Graphics products from ATi and NVIDIA, the ATi FireGL X1 and the NVIDIA Quadro FX 2000.  Very recently, the FireGL X2 was announced, as well as the Quadro FX 3000.  We'll be covering those products in future articles but for now lets see how an NV30GL GPU and a FGL9700 VPU match up head to head.

Features And Specs
A Tale Of Two Pro Graphics Titans

Click Any Image For Full View

Features and Specs

  • R300 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)

  • Core Clock Speed: 325MHz

  • 128MB of DDR RAM

  • 620MHz DDR Effective Speed

  • 256-bit Memory Interface

  • 8-pixel pipeline architecture providing high performance, parallel rendering capabilities

  • 24-bit for each color component (RGBA) enables true-life images to be displayed beyond 16.7M colors

  • Full scene anti-aliasing

  • Dual DVI-I connectors support any combination of digital flat panel and VGA displays

  • AGP 4X/8X support

  • Optimized drivers certified for the leading CAD and DCC software applications

  • Full support for the latest OpenGL® API and Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0

  • Hardware accelerated rendering using OpenGL Shading Language and DirectX 9 HLSL

  • Specifications
    ? Powered by the FGL? 9700 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)
    ? 256-bit high bandwidth memory architecture
    ? 4 parallel geometry engines
    ? 8 parallel pixel pipelines
    ? 128-bit full floating point precision
    ? 24-bits per RGBA component displays beyond 16.7M colors
    ? Dual DVI-I supports any combination of digital and analog displays
    ? Maximum resolution of 2048x1536 per display
    ? Independent resolution and refresh rate selection for any two connected displays
    ? Dual integrated 10-bit per channel 400 MHz DACs
    ? Integrated 165 MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI & HDCP compliant)
    ? API and Operating systems support
    ? OpenGL®
    ? OpenGL Shading Language
    ? Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0
    ? DirectX® 9.0 HLSL
    ? Windows® XP/Windows® 2000
    ? Linux®
    ? Graphic Features
    ? Hardware acceleration of the following:
    ? Anti-aliased points and lines or full scene anti-aliasing (2X, 4X, 6X)
    ? 3D lines and triangles
    ? Stipple points
    ? Two-sided lighting
    ? Up to 8 light sources
    ? Directional and local lighting
    ? OpenGL overlay planes
    ? Occlusion culling
    ? 6 user defined clip planes
    ? OpenGL polymode functions
    ? 32-bit (24+8-bit stencil) Z Buffer
    ? Fast Z and color clears
    ? Full DX9 vertex shader support with 4 vertex units
    ? Quad-buffer stereo support (FireGL X1-256p only)
    ? SMARTSHADER? 2.0
    ? Programmable pixel and vertex shaders
    ? 16 textures per pass
    ? Pixel shaders up to 160 instructions with 32-bit floating point precision for each RGBA component
    ? Multiple render target support
    ? Shadow volume rendering acceleration
    ? High precision 10-bit per channel frame buffer support
    ? 2X/4X/6X anti-aliasing modes
    ? High performance adaptive algorithm with programmable sample patterns
    ? 2X/4X/8X/16X anisotropic filtering modes
    ? Adaptive algorithm with bi-linear (performance) and tri-linear (quality) options
    ? HYPER Z? III
    ? 3-level Hierarchical Z-Buffer with early Z test
    ? Lossless Z-Buffer compression (up to 24:1)
    ? Fast Z-Buffer Clear

NVIDIA Quadro FX 2000
Features And Specs

  • NV30GL Workstation Graphics GPU

  • Core Clock Speed: 400MHz

  • 128MB of DDR RAM

  • 800MHz DDR Effective Speed

  • 128-bit Memory Interface

  • 12-bit subpixel precision

  • 8 pixels per clock rendering engine

  • Hardware accelerated antialiased points & lines

  • Hardware OpenGL overlay planes

  • Hardware accelerated two-sided lighting

  • Hardware accelerated clipping planes

  • 3rd-generation occlusion culling

  • 16 textures per pixel

  • OpenGL quad-buffered stereo (3-pin sync connector)

  • AGP 8x with Fast Writes and sideband addressing

  • High-speed memory (up to 256MB)

  • Advanced lossless compression algorithms
    (color and Z data)

    CINEFX Shading Architecture
    ? Fully programmable GPU (OpenGL 1.5/DirectX
    9.0 class)
    ? Long fragment programs (up to 2048 instructions)
    ? Long vertex programs (up to 65,536 instructions)
    ? Looping and subroutines (up to 256 loops per
    vertex program)
    ? Dynamic flow control
    ? Conditional execution
    ? Optimized compiler for Cg and Microsoft HLSL
    ? OpenGL 1.5 and DirectX 9.0 support
    ? Open source compiler
    ? 16x Full-Scene Antialiasing (FSAA) up to
    2048x1536 per display or 3840x2400 for single
    digital display
    ? 12-bit subpixel sampling precision enhances
    AA quality
    ? Optimized and certified for all leading
    workstation applications
    ? Fully compliant with OpenGL 1.5
    and DirectX 9.0
    ? Single driver supports all products
    ? POWERdraft (AutoCAD)
    ? MAXtreme (3ds max)
    ? QuadroView (CAD viewer)
    ? Windows® XP (WHQL-certified)
    ? Windows 2000 (WHQL-certified)
    ? Windows NT®
    ? Windows 98, Windows 95
    ? Linux?Full OpenGL implementation, complete
    with NVIDIA and ARB extensions (complete
    XFree 86 drivers)
    ? Advanced multi-display desktop & application
    management seamlessly integrated into Microsoft
    ? Dual DVI output?Drives two independent digital
    displays at 1600 x1200, or one at 3840x24005.
    ? Dual-link TMDS?Drive one digital display up to
    2048x1536 and another at 1600x1200 simultaneously
    ? 400 MHz DACs?Two analog displays up to 2048x1536 @ 85Hz each7
    ? OpenGL stereo support for resolutions up to 3840x2400
    ?  Professional CAD and DCC Certifications



ATi FireGL X1

NVIDIA Quadro FX 2000

As you can assess for yourself from the above spec sheets, the Quadro FX 2000 is essentially an NV30 core based product with identical specs to a GeForce FX 5800 and the FireGL X1 is an R300 core based product, with identical specs to a Radeon 9700 Pro.  Even the PCB designs are nearly identical, with the exception of a few interface options.  However, again both ATi and NVIDIA optimize their respective Core Graphics technologies at the hardware level (although they are intentionally vague as to exactly what modifications they make), to meet the demands of specific CAD, DCC (Digital Content Creation), 3D Design and Rendering and Analysis tools applications.  As such, they have dubbed its new Graphics Core "NV30GL" and in the case of ATi's product, "FGL9700".

** Article Update - September, 4 2003 **

We recently ask NVIDIA and ATi to respond back to us with their comments on the differences in the architecture of  their Consumer based Graphics Cards versus their Pro Graphics solutions.  NVIDIA took the time to respond and here is what we learned.

1. - Though the PCB appears nearly identical, there are differences. The heat sync on the Quadro FX boards, for example, is different and operates more efficiently.

2. -  Professional users care about quality, stability, reliability and accuracy. Their data must be accurate (people's safety may actually rely on it) and their applications must run reliably. To ensure quality, NVIDIA takes extra steps to own the board manufacturing process so that the parts used do not vary. NVIDIA employs a virtual model to build its GeForce cards. While quality is still high with a virtual model, there can be variances from one board manufacturer to another as they use the same reference design, but not necessarily identical parts. Since there is more at stake when you insert a Quadro board into your professional workflow (i.e. on a deadline to animate a portion of a movie or complete a virtual prototype of a new car), NVIDIA maintains tighter controls on the manufacturing process to ensure a higher standard of quality, consistency and reliability demanded by its professional users.

3.-  It is no secret that NVIDIA leverages a lot of common technology between its Quadro and GeForce graphics. If we didn't take advantage of the economies of scale for Quadro, customers would be paying a lot more than they do today. That's not necessary. Despite the technology-sharing, there are stark differences in the features placed on top of the silicon for Quadro users, they include:
AA points and lines
Overlay planes
Stereo functionality
Clip regions
2-sided lighting
Hardware Logic Ops (HW XOR)
Harware Stippled Lines
OpenGL Quad buffered stereo
Dual Link

and more...

4. - One of the biggest differences between Quadro and GeForce is the application certifications obtained for premiere professional-grade software. We pay people to work with software vendors to ensure that key applications run reliably. It takes a lot of man hours and effort to do this, and is partially responsible for the price premium that users pay when they purchase a Quadro board. But it's a must-have. Software makers want certifications too to help keep their support calls to a minimum.

So there you have it.  Indeed there are functional and hardware level differences between the Quadro FX and GeForce FX line of products.  Furthermore, as we've stated in the past, those software certs add to cost of these boards as well.  However, if you are running a CAD Design department on this hardware, you don't want to worry about platform compatibility with your hardware.


**  SolidWorks 2003 Benchmark Update - September 4, 2003  **

Finally, since we initially published this article, we discovered an error in our SolidWorks 2003 benchmark numbers.  We've made corrections to the score in the graphs represented here as a result.  The SPECapc test that we utilized for the SolidWorks 2003 scoring has proven itself to be a bit finicky sometimes and often times difficult to produce repeatable results.  We have since modified our test methodology with this benchmark, in an effort to avoid future mistakes like this.  We apologize for any inconvenience the initial scoring may have caused.


A Closer Look At The Cards

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