Benchmarking the AMD FirePro W9100

Our choice to benchmark the FirePro W9100 is the same tool we used previously on its W9000 predecessor: Viewperf 12. This latest version of SPEC’s venerable Viewperf benchmark is designed to isolate the stress on the graphics card specifically, rather than the system as a whole. As a result, scores reflect the GPU installed and do not (at least should not) reflect differences in other key system components like CPU, memory, and storage. It streams pre-defined viewsets (OpenGL and DirectX), representing typical, visual demands of popular workstation-caliber applications, including PTC Creo, Dassault Systemés CATIA and Solidworks, Siemens NX, and Autodesk Maya applications. New for version 12 are energy and medical viewsets, which exercise volume rendering and dynamic data generation.

In this benchmarking exercise, we again attempted to follow our standard practice of using only a production driver that was publicly available at the time of testing. However, since this time we were benchmarking pre-launch, we relied on AMD’s commitment that the driver we used was the same one that would be posted for download on the first day the product was available for sale.

Simply put, the FirePro W9100 crushed Viewperf 12, delivering solid, across-the-board performance boosts on all viewsets, compared to results of the W9000. On average, the W9100 posted 18.2% better scores than its predecessor.

Also, bear in mind one of this card’s principal advantages, its 16-GB memory, isn’t being reflected in Viewperf 12 scores. While the benchmark will reward cards with more ample physical memory footprints, the reward peters out around 2 GB. As such, we think all of the W9100’s performance advantage over its predecessor, the 6 GB W9000, comes from Hawaii and the faster memory bus, and none of it from the bigger memory footprint. That, of course, should not be construed to mean that the other 14 GB of the W9100’s memory doesn’t offer value. It absolutely does for some viewsets—just not the ones Viewperf 12 presents.

The FirePro W9100 also outscored any other card we’ve benchmarked. It should, given that it’s the second highest priced card out there, behind only Nvidia’s Quadro K6000 (a card we haven’t yet benchmarked, but hope to soon). Check out SPEC submitted results page for other submitted results.

Given it has the same MSRP as its predecessor, the W9100’s benchmark Viewperf 12 scores per dollar increases in tandem with the raw scores as shown in the chart above.

What do we think? 

So at this point, you might still be thinking, “Great product, but the price is just plain ridiculous. No one is paying that much for a graphics card.” And given where the prices for gaming-focused GPUs these days, you’d be justified in that reaction. Well, I’m surely not going to be in the market for something like the W9100, and no consumer or corporate buyer will either. For that matter, even the vast majority of workstation buyers—up to 99%—won’t be giving this card serious consideration. But there are definitely customers for it, and at the price, even modest volume can make for very appealing revenue on the back of hefty gross margins. Who’s buying? Well, that other 1%, for whom a card’s price is a non-issue. For many of those 1% applications, the cost of the hardware is meaningless in the big picture—less than a drop in the bucket when it comes to the scope of the project the hardware is serving. Within the conventional workstation market, we’re talking the highest demand segments of oil and gas exploration, real-time Hollywood-caliber effects, with a tad of CAD and medical applications tossed in. Consider the costs involved in drilling for oil in the wrong place, or delaying the delivery date of a new Boeing aircraft. When talking potential risks and rewards in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, who is going to care about a few extra thousand in cost out-fitting each of a few (to several) graphics workstations?

For that matter, those in the other 99% would most likely not own (or be in the market for) a workstation that could even house such a card in the first place. Remember, your system needs that auxiliary power and PCI Express slots that can accommodate a long, dual-slot card. The W9100 wouldn’t fit my default graphics card test bench, a compact desktop (but otherwise high-end and dual-socket) Lenovo ThinkStationC30. I had to go back to my standby, max-capacity, full tower HP Z800, to perform the benchmarking.
Furthermore, this card—or a derivative with the video I/O stripped out— will no doubt end up being marketed to the HPC and supercomputer crowd as well.

At 2.62 TFLOPS double precision (5.24 TFLOPS single precision), the W9100’s double-precision rate is one of the card’s most impressive traits, yet it’s virtually meaningless in conventional graphics markets. Furthermore, it’s not easy to get that rate up, as it consumes a non-trivial amount of silicon cost. No, that double-precision rate was consciously designed to GP-compute applications, and not only in workstations but server-side HPC and supercomputing markets (also precisely the markets that really care that a card won’t exceed 275 watts).

How does it compare to the offerings of Nvidia, the company that’s currently commanding the bulk of the volume in this segment? Let’s assume the street price for the W9100 ends up being closer to $3,400 to $3,500 in short order—an assumption that appears safe, given both the current street price of its predecessor and the general pricing dynamics of the marketplace. Based on the relative street prices and other submitted benchmarks at SPEC. org, the W9100’s Viewperf 12 performance appears to sit sensibly between two of rival Nvidia’s offerings: slower than the more expensive K6000 (street price around $4,900) but faster than the less expensive Quadro K5000 (street price around $1,850).

The bottom line is this: if price is one of your major criteria, this isn’t a card to consider. But if you’re a high-demand user dealing with large, complex datasets, supporting projects with huge dollars in the balance, you’ll want to take a long, hard look at the FirePro W9100.