Despite the wide range of the GPU coverage we do here at AnandTech, from reading our articles you would be hard pressed to notice that AMD and NVIDIA have product lines beyond their consumer Radeon and GeForce brands. Consumer video cards compose the bulk of all video cards shipped, the bulk of revenue booked, and since they’re targeted at a very wide audience, the bulk of all marketing attention. Consequently consumer cards also take up the bulk of the press’s attention, especially since new GPUs are almost always launched in a consumer video card first.

The truth of course is that there’s a great deal more to the GPU marketplace than consumer video cards; abutting the consumer market is the smaller, specialized, but equally important professional market that makes up the rest of the desktop GPU marketplace. Where consumers need gaming performance and video playback, professionals need compute performance, specialized rendering performance, and above all a level of product reliability and support beyond what consumers need. They need the same basic product as consumers – a high performance, feature-packed GPU – but they need to use it in entirely different ways.

As a result of these different needs the GPU marketplace is traditionally split up into three segments: consumer, professional graphics, and compute. Among these segments consumer products typically launch first, with professional and compute products following 6 to 12 months later based on further driver development and qualification needs. The end result is an interesting product cascade that sees the true, unrestricted performance of a GPU only finally unveiled several months after it launches.

This leads us to today’s product review: AMD’s FirePro W9000 video card. Having launched their Graphics Core Next architecture and the first GPUs based on it at the beginning of the year, AMD has been busy tuning and validating GCN for the professional graphics and compute markets, and that process has finally reached its end. This month AMD is launching a complete family of professional video cards, the FirePro W series, led by the flagship W9000.

AMD FirePro W Series Specification Comparison
  AMD FirePro W9000 AMD FirePro W8000 AMD FirePro W7000 AMD FirePro W5000
Stream Processors 2048 1792 1280 768
Texture Units 128 112 80 48
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 975MHz 900MHz 950MHz 825MHz
Memory Clock 5.5GHz GDDR5 5.5GHz GDDR5 4.8GHz GDDR5 3.2GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 384-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Double Precision 1/4 1/4 1/16 1/16
Transistor Count 4.31B 4.31B 2.8B 2.8B
TDP 274W 189W <150W <75W
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture GCN GCN GCN GCN
Warranty 3-Year 3-Year 3-Year 3-Year
Launch Price $3999 $1599 $899 $599

As always, the latest rendition of the FirePro family will be taking their place as AMD’s professional graphics card lineup. Having a dedicated professional graphics card lineup allows AMD to offer features and functionality – primarily rigorous application certification against a driver set tuned for high reliability – that while not necessary for consumer cards are critical for professional users; and of course to charge those users accordingly. FirePro also is distinct for being AMD’s only in-house video card offering, with AMD directly producing, selling, and supporting the products as opposed to farming that work out to third party partner companies (as is the case with Radeon cards).

Taking a quick look at the specifications, if you’re familiar at all with AMD’s Radeon HD 7000 series lineup, then the FirePro W series lineup should look very familiar. As with the FirePro V series and past iterations of the FirePro, the latest rendition of the FirePro family is effectively comprised of professional certified versions of existing Radeon HD 7000 series video cards, which means the hardware is nearly identical to AMD’s consumer products.

The big new with this week’s launch of course isn’t just that AMD will be replacing the 40nm FirePro V series with the 28nm FirePro W series, but that they’re doing so with Graphics Core Next, their modern compute-oriented GPU architecture. With FirePro pulling double-duty as both AMD’s professional graphics card and their compute card, this makes GCN all the more important as it brings with it potentially massive compute performance improvements that significantly shore up the V series’ weakness in compute. We’ve often said that the full power of GCN hasn’t been tapped by the consumer-oriented Radeon series, so now with FirePro we’ll finally get to see everything GCN can do.

We’ll dive into greater detail later about the individual products and their specifications, but for now we’ll offer a quick overview of the FirePro W series. Altogether the W series is to initially be composed of 4 cards, the W9000, W8000, W7000, and W5000. The former two are based around AMD’s high-end Tahiti GPU while the latter two are based around their mid-tier Pitcairn GPU, which creates a clear distinction between the two groups. Whereas Tahiti was built for both strong graphics and strong compute performance, Pitcairn is more tuned for graphics, and as FirePro products that distinction has not changed.

As a result high performance computing – particularly double precision – is going to be the domain of W8000 and W9000, along with AMD’s best graphical performance. W7000 and W5000 on the other hand still offer respectable single precision compute performance but lack the double precision performance of the larger cards, making them better suited for pure graphical workloads than for compute or compute mixed with graphics.

Moving on, much like AMD’s consumer product launch earlier this year they will enjoy a couple month lead over NVIDIA in getting 28nm cards out into the professional market.  So for the time being AMD will have a generational lead over NVIDIA’s competing products, the Fermi based Quadro series. Unlike the consumer space though the hardware upgrade pace in the professional market is much slower, so while this still gives AMD an advantage it won’t be as significant as their launch advantage in the consumer space.

On that note, when it comes to competition, pricing has been a big part of AMD’s strategy. Typically, AMD has undercut NVIDIA on pricing for equivalent professional products in order to cut into NVIDIA’s very large share of the market. Professional graphics margins are high enough that AMD can afford to sacrifice some of their margin for market share.

For the initial launch however this won’t strictly be the case, due to the fact that the Fermi Quadro series is slowly on its way out – to be replaced by the K5000 and future cards. With a SRP of $3999 for the W9000 it’s roughly as expensive as the Quadro 6000 at current prices, and the situation is similar for the $1599 W8000 compared to the Quadro 5000. Eventually NVIDIA will finish refreshing the Quadro series for Kepler, and when they do it would be reasonable to expect that AMD’s pricing will undercut NVIDIA’s new prices; the Quardo 6000 did have a launch MSRP of $4999, after all.

Summer 2012 Workstation Video Card Price Comparison
FirePro W9000 $3999 Quadro 6000
FirePro W8000 $1599-$1799 Quadro 5000
FirePro W7000 $749-$899 Quadro 4000
FirePro W5000 $599  
  $399 Quadro 2000

Finally, on a quick housekeeping note, as you may have noticed in the title we are splitting up this article into two parts. Part 1 will be focusing on the tech, the specs, and the market, while part 2 will focus on benchmarking and our performance analysis. This is so we can get the first part out at the start of this week, as opposed to holding it our extended benchmarking is complete. So if you’re looking for specific figures and performance numbers, please be sure to check back later this week for the full performance rundown.

Introducing the FirePro W Series
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  • cjb110 - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    No interest in the product unfortunatly, but the article was a well written and interesting read.
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    I certainly miss the days of softmodding consumer cards to pro cards. I think the last card I did it on was either the 8800GT or the 4850. Some of the improvements in rendering quality and drawing speed were astounding - but it certainly nerfed gaming capability. It's a shame (from a consumer perspective) to no longer be able to softmod.
  • augiem - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    I miss those days too, but I have to say I never saw any improvement in Maya sadly over the course of 3 different generations of softmodded cards. And I spent so much time and effort researching the right card models, etc. I think the benefits for Autocad and such must have been more pronounced than Maya.
  • mura - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    I understand, how important it is to validate and bug-fix these cards, it is not the same, if a card malfunctions under Battlefield3 or some kind of an engineering software - but is such a premium price necessary?

    I know, this is the market - everybody tries to acheive maximum profit, but seeing these prices, and comparing the specs with consumer cards, which cost a fraction - I don't see the bleeding-edge, I don't see the added value.
  • bhima - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    Who has chatted with some of the guys at Autodesk: They use high-end gaming cards. Not sure if they ALL do, but a good portion of them do simply because of the cost of these "professional" cards.
  • wiyosaya - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    Exactly my point. If the developers at a high-end company like Autodesk use gaming cards, that speaks volumes.

    People expect that they will get better service, too, if a bug crops up. Well, even in the consumer market, I have an LG monitor that was seen by nVidia drivers as an HD TV, and kept me from using the 1980x1200 resolution of the monitor. I reported this to nVidia and within days, there was a beta version of the drivers that had fixed the problem.

    As I see it, the reality is that if you have a problem, there is no guarantee that the vendor will fix it no matter how much you paid for the card. Just look at t heir license agreement. Somewhere in the agreement, it is likely that you will find some clause that says that they do not guarantee a fix to any of the problems that you may report.
  • bwoochowski - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    No one seems to be asking the hard questions of AMD:

    1) What happened to the 1/2 rate double precision FP performance that we were supposed to see on professional GCN cards?

    2) Now that we're barely starting to see some support for the cl_khr_fp4 header, when can we expect the compiler to support the full suite of options? When will OpenCL 1.2 be fully supported?

    3) Why mention the FirePro S8000 in press reports and never release it? I have to wonder about how much time and effort was wasted on adding support for the S8000 to the HMPP and other compilers.

    I suppose it's pointless to even ask about any kind of accelerated infiniband features at this point.

    With the impending shift to hybrid clusters in the HPC segment, I find it baffling that AMD would choose to kill off their dedicated compute card now. Since the release of the 4870 they had been attracting developers that were eager to capitalize on the cheap double precision fp performance. Now that these applications are ready to make the jump from a single PC to large clusters, the upgrade path doesn't exist. By this time next year there won't be anyone left developing on AMD APP, they'll all have moved back to CUDA. Brilliant move, AMD.
  • N4g4rok - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    Providing they don't develop new hardware to meet that need. Keeping older variations of dedicated compute cards wouldn't make any sense for moving into large cluster computing. They could keep that same line, but it would need an overall anyway. why not end it and start something new?
  • boeush - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    "I find it baffling that AMD would choose to kill off their dedicated compute card now."

    It's not that they won't have a compute card (their graphics card is simply pulling double duty under this new plan.) The real issue is, to quote from the article:

    "they may be underpricing NVIDIA’s best Quadro, but right now they’re going to be charging well more than NVIDIA’s best Tesla card. So there’s a real risk right now that FirePro for compute may be a complete non-starter once Tesla K20 arrives at the end of the year."

    I find this approach by AMD baffling indeed. It's as if they just decided to abdicate whatever share they had of the HPC market. A very odd stance to take, particularly if they are as invested in OpenCL as they would like everyone to believe. The more time passes, and the more established code is created around CUDA, the harder it will become for AMD to push OpenCL in the HPC space.
  • CeriseCogburn - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    LOL - thank you, as the amd epic fail is written all over that.
    Mentally ill self sabotage, what else can it be when you're amd.
    The have their little fanboys yapping opencl now for years on end, and they lack full support for ver 1.2 - LOL
    It's sad - so sad, it's funny.
    Actually that really is sad, I feel sorry for them they are such freaking failures.

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