AMD takes the fight to Nvidia at the high-end of professional graphics

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For years AMD (and before it ATI) has been happy to exist only in the mainstream professional graphics market, but now the company has taken the fight to Nvidia at the ultra high-end with the unveiling of three new technologies today. A new ultra high-end graphics card, professional support for its Crossfire multi-card technology and a new framelock solution for powerwalls were all announced, just in advance of SIGGRAPH.

First off AMD has unveiled a new 2GB graphics card, the FirePro V8750 ($1,800). Bigger (bandwidth), better (performance) and faster (memory) is the general marketing message, but the most significant benefits are only likely to be experienced in certain high-end applications running on high resolution displays. AMD quotes Siemens PLM NX and Autodesk 3ds Max as key examples.

As with previous ATI FirePro cards, the V8750 features native multi-card support so users can drive four displays by adding a second card in the same workstation. However, the big news for this release is this multi-card capability has been extended so all the processing power can be diverted to a single modeling window. The technology that makes this possible is called ATI CrossFire Pro and while similar ‘Crossfire’ technology has been available on AMD’s consumer boards for a while, this is the first time it has been made available in the professional sector. Of course, Nvidia was first to market some years ago with this type of multi-card technology and as with its Quadro SLI offering, ATI CrossFire Pro is unlikely to bring significant benefits to the majority of CAD applications, particularly for those where the CPU is the bottleneck. However, AMD claims a significant performance boost in certain CAD and DCC applications including NX, Ensight, Maya and Teamcenter.

ATI CrossFire Pro works by coupling two graphics cards together using an interconnect cable. Currently only available on the ATI FirePro V8750, support is planned for the company’s mid-range and above graphics cards including the ATI FirePro V5700, V7750, and V8700. When this happens it will be interesting to see how two mid-range V5700s stack up against a high-end V8750, for example, particularly as the V5700s will be the more cost effective solution.

While speed increases are a given for any new professional graphics technology, it’s the addition of the new ATI FirePro S400 Synchronisation Module ($799) that really takes AMD into uncharted territory. This turns the high-end ATI FirePro V8750 graphics card into a niche solution capable of driving powerwalls from multiple projectors.

Up to four graphics cards can be used in tandem to produce a single seamless ‘virtual canvas’ on which high resolution digital mockup and design review applications can be displayed. With this solution each card has it own workstation and projector with individual images stitched together using framelock, a technology which synchronises the display output of the graphics cards. This capability was originally brought to market by 3Dlabs through its Wildcat cards and more recently with Nvidia’s high end Quadro FX cards. However, according to AMD other synchronisation modules only support two graphics cards at a time.

It will certainly be very interesting to see what Nvidia has up it sleeves ready for announcement at SIGGRAPH, which is being held in New Orleans from the 3-7th August.

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