AMD ATI FirePro V8800

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AMD’s new ATI FirePro V8800 delivers cutting edge 3D graphics performance never seen before on the desktop, but it is the introduction of a new multi-monitor technology called Eyefinity that really grabs the attention of AEC Magazine’s Greg Corke.

High-end in the extreme is the best way to describe AMD’s brand new professional 3D graphics card, the ATI FirePro V8800. This is a hugely powerful workstation-class board, which in addition to setting new records in 3D graphics benchmarks boasts a number of features that have the potential to transform the way we work with multiple monitors or visualise designs/perform clash detection on high resolution monitor arrays or powerwalls. 

With its four DisplayPort connectors, the ATI FirePro V8800 can support up to four high resolution displays up to 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. That is an incredible amount of desktop space for running concurrent 3D applications

On paper, and in the real world, the ATI FirePro V8800 is a heavy-weight. The double height board features 2GB of high bandwidth GDDR5 memory and boasts a total of 1,600 stream processors. All of this requires a significant amount of power and the card consumes up to 225W, which is at the top end for professional graphics. Power is drawn through the PCI Express slot but two additional power cables are also required. These are connected directly to the workstation’s power supply, which in many cases will need to be units that put out 1,000W. 

Multi-monitor

The FirePro V8800 boasts a total of four DisplayPort connectors, which is a first for a professional 3D card. As DisplayPort is a relatively new interface designed specifically for hi-resolution displays, an adapter for DVI displays is included in the box. For VGA monitors, however, the adapter is a cost option. 

With four DisplayPorts as standard the card can drive up to four independent 30-inch displays at resolutions up to 2,560 x 1,600, either as one extended desktop or as independent displays. For architects and engineers who commonly use a variety of applications concurrently, that is an awful lot of valuable desktop space and can significantly improve productivity by cutting out the need to Alt/tab between applications.

The technology that supports these multiple monitors is called Eyefinity and while we have yet to test it out — primarily because we have not had enough displays to hand — we have talked to customers who have used the technology and swear by it. Kirkham Motorsports, a manufacturer of aluminium-bodied Roadster cars (kirkhammotorsports.com), has been testing the ATI FirePro V8800 prior to launch and uses three monitors side by side running a variety of applications including CAD, manufacturing, and email.

Driving powerwalls

Increasing screen real estate on the desktop is one thing, but Eyefinity also has the potential to change the game when it comes to performing design review or carrying out clash detections on large Building Information Modelling (BIM) models. With the FirePro V8800, a single card is able to power a 4k projector (one featuring a resolution of 4,000 pixels wide) on its own. In the past, two or three graphics cards would have been required to do this. Unfortunately, the price point of 4k projectors still remains high.

Also, as up to four displays can be driven by a single card, it is possible to produce incredibly high-res display walls made up of a 2 x 2 array of thin bezel monitors. The price of four monitors and a stand would not cost much over £1,000.

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The benchmarks

No graphics card launch would be complete without the obligatory benchmark scores and AMD has published charts showing comparative scores relating to Viewperf 10. This put the FirePro V8800 at over 1.3 times faster than its predecessor, the FirePro V8700. 

We also put the card to work on actual 3D applications with benchmarks inside SolidWorks 2010 and 3ds Max Design 2010. Our test workstation was a colossus of a machine from Armari (www.armari.co.uk), and featured two six core Intel Xeon X5680 processors running at 3.33GHz, 24GB RAM and Windows 7 (64-bit Edition). It is certainly the fastest machine we have ever seen at AEC Magazine and with the ATI FirePro V8800 providing the graphics power it re-wrote the record books under SolidWorks 2010, putting in a score of 56 frames per second in our in-house benchmark. 

To put this in perspective the previous high score was 38 frames per second, which was set by a Nvidia Quadro FX 3800 in a machine from Workstation Specialists sporting two 2.80GHz Intel Xeon X5660 processors and 12GB RAM. We appreciate this is not a level playing field, both in terms of CPU and the relative positioning/age of the graphics cards, but it is a huge leap in performance none-the-less.

We were less successful with 3ds Max Design 2010, where we found the application to be unstable and were unable to get any meaningful results from our tests. However, it is worth noting here that Autodesk does not support 3ds Max Design 2010 on Windows 7 and we were also using an early graphics driver.

Conclusion 

AMD’s new generation graphics card is still relatively new and as with any graphics hardware we expect driver optimisations to help release additional performance over the course of the year. However, from what we have seen from our limited tests it is clear that AMD already has a highly-capable 3D technology on its hands.

The FirePro V8800 certainly delivers the frame rates, but what many architects and engineers may find more exciting about the product is the potential for Eyefinity. Being able to drive a powerwall from a single machine is an exciting proposition, and one that could help bring large scale visualisation and clash detection into the hands of smaller organisations. But, transforming a desktop into an extended 3D accelerated workspace is even more compelling and with display prices tumbling all the time, well within reach of all companies, big and small. As more and more architect and engineers get involved with simulation, rendering and design direct on the desktop the timing could not be better.

www.ati.amd.com

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