High-End Workstation Graphics Shootout - AMD FireGL V8650 Vs. NVIDIA QuadroFX 5600

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NVIDIA QuadroFX 5600

NVIDIA QuadroFX 5600

NVIDIA’s QuadroFX 5600 card has been out on the market a little longer compared to ATI’s new FireGL lineup, but at the time of its release, it was just so far ahead of the rest of the FireGL lineup that it’s more the case that ATI is now catching up with NVIDIA’s feature set. The QuadroFX 5600 is still, just as it was when it was announced, an absolute monster in terms of graphics processing. The QuadroFX 5600 is more or less the workstation version of the GeForce 8800 GTX/Ultra, which is currently on top of the high-end gaming market.

NVIDIA QuadroFX 5600 1.5GB

NVIDIA QuadroFX 5600 1.5GB

Like the FireGL V8650, the QuadroFX 5600 has a terrifically large PCB design, 12.2 inches in length, well beyond the standard length of an ATX motherboard. The QuadroFX 5600 requires an Extended ATX class chassis, along with two 6-pin PCI Express power adapters in order to run properly. The card includes an EMI shield / heat spreader unit across the top of the card along with a metal handle on the right side of the board for locking into larger cases. It does run off the same standard PCI Express x16 connector which is included on nearly all new systems shipping today.

The cooler which NVIDIA has used is fairly similar to those seen on the GeForce 8800 lineup. The huge cooler has a thick copper base connected to heatpipes which route heat away from the GPU. The heatpipes are connected to a series of heavy duty heatsink thin-fin fins, which work with the integrated blower fan to get the heat out of the chassis. NVIDIA’s cooler includes slits near the left side, which also help for additional heat removal away from the heatsink.

Underneath this cooler is NVIDIA’s massive 480mm² G80 graphics processor, which consists of 680 million transistors and is still being manufactured with 90nm technology. NVIDIA clocks the G80 at 600 MHz for the QuadroFX 5600, which is just slightly less than the 8800 Ultra, which clocks in at 612 MHz. The GPU is based on a unified shader design, and fully supports all modern API’s like OpenGL 2.1 and DirectX 10 (Shader Model 4). Even though G80 has been on the market for a while, it’s still an incredibly exciting GPU, as it has a terrific feature set with a lot of raw power.

The G80 GPU connects through a 384-bit memory interface to a mammoth 1.5 GB of GDDR-3 memory. NVIDIA chose to run the DDR memory modules a bit slower than their gaming cards, and slower than ATI’s card, by going with modules running at 1.6 GHz. This nets the card 76.8 GB/s of memory bandwidth, certainly nothing to sneeze at, but still significantly less than ATI’s card which hits 100 GB/s+. While it will likely void your warranty, potential buyers should know that these memory modules can hit 2.0 GHz+, and clock speeds can hit 8800 Ultra+ speeds by using NVIDIA’s nTune software, and performance did noticeably improve over stock speeds. Unlike ATI’s FireGL V8650, which we feel is running at the GPU's limitation of its possible speed, the G80 appears to have room to expand, and that NVIDIA was somewhat conservative with its stock clock rates.

The board is equipped with a pair of dual-link DVI ports, which can handle screens up to 2560 x 1600 each, sitting alongside the workstation-card standard 3-pin stereoscopic connector. The board includes a connector on the top of the PCB for connecting a Genlock/Framelock or SDI card. The drivers include NVIDIA's excellent nView multi-monitor suite, which we feel is more robust in comparison to ATI's Hydravision at this time.

Dual-Link DVI and Stereo Connectors

SLI Multi-GPU Connector

The Genlock/Framelock connector sits right on the other side of the PCB, opposite the SLI connector, which CAN be used to connect up multiple QuadroFX 5600 cards for improved graphics performance. These cards are fully SLI ready, although the boards can only handle 2-way SLI today, unlike GeForce 8800 Ultra cards which can support 3-way SLI with a proper motherboard. Now, the last time we tested SLI with workstation applications, we saw almost zero performance gains, but throughout the last few generations of SLI technology, NVIDIA has become more confident about discussing SLI on Quadro cards. Sadly, we didn’t have two cards for SLI testing - perhaps for a future article.

The Quadro FX 5600 is still an impressive piece of hardware, and we’re expecting it to remain NVIDIA’s top of the line workstation card for the foreseeable future. Since it’s been out for a little while already, we’ve already seen prices drop on it. Despite it’s being shown with a $3,000 MSRP, online retailers are already selling this card for a bit over $2,600, which undercuts the FireGL V8650’s launch price of $2,799.

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