After looking through all the benchmarks, it’s not completely cut and dry in terms of which of the two ultra high-end cards we looked at is the better option. Unlike the gaming market, where NVIDIA's cards have tended to win all the performance benchmarks lately at the high-end, workstation-class applications can vary greatly in terms of performance on varying hardware. What we can say is that the overall trend as a whole is that NVIDIA has a faster product with the QuadroFX 5600. Outside of Viewperf and Maya, the QuadroFX 5600 won all the rest of the benchmarks.
That doesn’t mean the FireGL V8650 is a slouch by any means and in some applications it’s an absolute screamer. Maya is the best case scenario here, as this card just burns through our Maya tests like nothing we’ve seen before. The V8650 also takes home wins in the half of Spec ViewPerf tests, including Ensight, Maya, Twx (Teamcenter) and Ugnx (UGS NX 3). In some of these tests, the V8650 not only wins, but holds a significant performance advantage over the QuadroFX 5600. Of course, if your specific application requires the most amount of memory possible, this 2 GB beast will satisfy a little more than the 1.5 GB QuadroFX 5600 card.
The missing piece to this puzzle (a less expensive card to compete with the FireGL V7600) just fell into place last week, with NVIDIA launching the QuadroFX 3700. This card has 512 MB of memory and is based on the same G92 GPU as the popular GeForce 8800 GT/GTS series. We’re expecting this card to retail for about $1,500, and it should perform similarly to the QuadroFX 4600, which we believe will be phased out as soon as the QuadroFX 3700 hits decent volumes. Even with this newer GPU out there, we still expect the QuadroFX 5600 to be the flagship Nvidia pro-graphics product for some time.
It’s certainly possible that ATI will go a similar route with their new low-power 55nm RV670 GPU, which could help offset some of ATI’s heat related issues that we’ve felt with their current workstation lineup. While ATI is still missing something in terms of cooling, noise, and overall environmental marks, it would be short-sighted not to applaud ATI’s recent push forward in terms of their workstation lineup. They’re delivering better performing products to market in shorter time frames with competitive prices and feature sets. They are definitely keeping NVIDIA on their toes and raising some eyebrows with seasoned QuadroFX fans.
So, the million dollar question – which would we rather have in our workstations? Looking at the cards side by side, we would give the nod to the NVIDIA card. In overall application performance, it simply is stronger and more pleasant to work with due to its lower noise and cooler thermal profile. However, if we were big Maya users, we would really be torn between these two products; especially since ATI is delivering larger framebuffers for lower MSRP’s and showing excellent performance numbers. It’s no longer clear-cut to just go with the QuadroFX; ATI’s FireGL lineup is really on their tails. While ATI’s R600 GPU really can’t keep up properly with the G80 in games, it’s definitely a different picture in the workstation market. If ATI could up their overall performance and smooth out the other lingering issues we noted, NVIDIA would have a face to face competitor right now. However, the QuadroFX 5600 is a quiet beast, its performance is very solid, it’s mature and has been shipping for a while, with prices falling down to below MSRP levels of the FireGL V8650. It also supports multi-GPU scaling and would definitely be a better choice for a GPGPU computing environment as well.
Either way, workstation performance for both these cards is excellent. Neither would be a bad choice for a heavy duty workstation – just make sure you have adequate CPU power in order to back up these GPUs. Both of these GPUs can saturate a high end line system. And after all, if you’re buying such a high-end GPU, you should be able to afford a decent quad-core setup as well.