Graphics Cards

AMD ATI FireGL V8600 and FireGL V8650 Graphics Cards (First Look Review)

1 Jul, 2008 By: Ron LaFon

Two graphics cards supply good performance and lots of onboard RAM for graphically demanding applications.


Earlier this year, AMD sent Cadalyst two of its high-end graphics cards for evaluation and testing — the ATI FireGL V8600, which features 1 GB of onboard RAM, and the ATI FireGL V8650, which was the first card on the market with 2 GB of RAM. I tested both of these full-length graphics cards and put them through their paces with Cadalyst's current benchmark series.

AMD ATI FireGL V8600 and FireGL V8650
AMD ATI FireGL V8600 and FireGL V8650

These RAM-heavy cards are intended for users who work with memory-intensive applications. The Cadalyst benchmark tests give a very good evaluation of performance with a wide range of applications, but none of these benchmarks specifically address the full memory capabilities of such graphics cards.

System requirements for the both of the graphics cards were a PCI Express–based workstation with an available 16x lane graphics slot; connectors to the system power supply, which must be at least 650 W (assuming a fully loaded system); and 256 MB of system memory. Software installation required a CD-ROM drive.

Software drivers for both cards were available for Windows XP and XP64, Linux 32 and Linux 64, as well as Windows Vista and Windows Vista 64. Acceleration support for OpenGL 2.1 with OpenGL Shading Language and Microsoft DirectX 10 was incorporated.

Testing Procedures

I tested both the ATI FireGL V8600 and ATI FireGL V8650 in an Xi MTower 2P64X Workstation from @Xi Computer with dual Intel Core 2 Extreme quad-core processors that were overclocked to 3.60 GHz. (Cadalyst will be reviewing this system in an upcoming review.) This system configuration features a 1,600-MHz front-side bus speed and included 4 GB of DDR2, 800-MHz FB-DIMM ECC dual-rank interleaved heat-spreader RAM. All tests were conducted under Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 installed, with the most current ATI WHQL-certified drivers available at the time of the testing, which were v.8.440.0.0, dated November 16, 2007. At the time of the tests, no accelerated drivers for Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 were available for use with either of the these graphics cards. (New drivers that support AutoCAD 2008 and 3ds Max are now available at http://ati.amd.com/support/driver.html.)

I ran our current test suite, which includes the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark (www.cadalyst.com/c2008) running under AutoCAD 2008 with Service Pack 1 installed, the MAXBench4 benchmark running in Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 with current updates, and the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark suite (www.spec.org).

Tests for AutoCAD 2008 and 3ds Max 2008 were attempted with both the native OpenGL and Direct3D drivers, although the OpenGL tests under AutoCAD wouldn't run to completion with these drivers. I was able to run the C2008 benchmark to completion with both graphics cards using the native Direct3D drivers. The concurrent session tests were completed successfully using the native Direct3D drivers.

The ATI FireGL V8600 is a high-end graphics card with 1 GB of onboard memory and stereoscopic 3D display capabilities.
The ATI FireGL V8600 is a high-end graphics card with 1 GB of onboard memory and stereoscopic 3D display capabilities.

Both cards were tested with MAXBench4 running under Autodesk 3ds Max 2008, using both the native OpenGL and native Direct3D drivers. As previously noted, no accelerated 3ds Max driver was available at the time for testing.

I ran the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark to completion with both graphics cards. Results for all tests are given in each graphic card's review.

ATI FireGL V8600

The first of the two high-end ATI FireGL graphics cards is the FireGL V8600, a double-width, full-length card that features 1 GB of GDDR4 onboard memory. The V8600 features two dual-link DVI-I outputs for any combination of digital and analog displays with independent multimonitor resolution and refresh-rate selection. The dual-link outputs will drive displays at resolutions of 2,560 x 1,600. A stereoscopic 3D output connector with quad- buffer support is built into the card as well. You can drive four 3D displays with the multiple graphics cards installed.

Although I typically expect graphic cards of this size and power to be on the noisy side, I was pleasantly surprised that the V8600 didn't add significantly to the overall system noise.

I fired up AutoCAD 2008 with the latest service pack and updates applied and configured it to run the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark. My usual procedure is to first test several iterations of the benchmark using the native AutoCAD OpenGL drivers, but in this case the test wouldn't run under the most currently available ATI drivers. I moved on to the native Direct3D drivers, which completed the fastest iteration with a C2008 total index score of 246 in 78 minutes. Next, I ran concurrent sessions of AutoCAD 2008 with each running a separate instance of the C2008 benchmark, my usual method of testing multicore processor systems. The combined C2008 total index score for the V8600 was 428, with a completion time of 101 minutes.

The ATI FireGL V8650 was the first graphics card on the market with 2 GB of memory. It also offers stereoscopic 3D display capabilities.
The ATI FireGL V8650 was the first graphics card on the market with 2 GB of memory. It also offers stereoscopic 3D display capabilities.

Using Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 with the latest service packs and updates applied, I ran the MAXBench4 benchmark using both the native OpenGL and native Direct3D drivers. At the time of testing, no accelerated driver for 3ds Max was available. With the OpenGL drivers selected, the ATI FireGL V8600 produced an averaged high/low score of 90.49 on the benchmark. Changing to the native Direct3D drivers did, as expected, provide better performance, with an averaged high/low score of 241.50.

I ran the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark with the ATI FireGL V8600 and obtained the following scores: 45.61 for 3dsmax-04, 42.41 for catia-02, 52.79 for ensight-03, 251.86 for maya-02, 35.27 for proe-04, 78.67 for sw-01, 31.32 for tcvis-01, and 49.78 for ugnx-01.

The performance numbers were generally very good, though I've tested faster graphics cards in this particular system. The 1 GB of onboard memory will appeal to users who deal with large models or graphically demanding applications, which, when combined with the good performance, will make this graphics card a good choice for many needs.

The ATI FireGL V8600 has a manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) of $1,899, but I found lower street prices though a Google search. Warranty coverage is for three years and covers repair and replacement. Enterprise-class support is provided for the V8600, including direct toll-free phone and e-mail access to a dedicated workstation technical support team.

As with the V8650 graphics card, the ATI FireGL V8600 is a bit expensive. Although the performance numbers are good, I do have some concerns about OpenGL compatibility, at least as far as AutoCAD 2008 is concerned. Also, accelerated drivers for Autodesk 3ds Max will be a welcome addition to the available driver support.

ATI FireGL V8650

The ATI FireGL V8650 is a beefy, full-length graphics card with a thickness that requires the availability of two slots and two supplemental power feeds to function. The V8650 features 2 GB of GDDR4 memory and unified shader architecture that incorporates 320 processing units. The V8650 provides full Shader Model 4 support for vertex and pixel shaders, and it can drive a dual-link DVI-I output at resolutions as high as 2,560 x 1,600. It has HD component video output, but the V8650 lacks the HDMI support found in consumer-level graphics cards. A connector is provided for stereoscopic 3D display capabilities. Display port output allows the use of late-generation LCD panels with the V8650.

The current ATI drivers automatically detect and optimize for the applications being run, and the ATI FireGL V8650 offers extensive certification for both CAD and digital- content creation applications.

With AutoCAD 2008 using Service Pack 1 and subsequent updates, I ran the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark to see what the FireGL V8650 could do. As with other FireGL graphics cards that I've tested recently, I was unable to complete the C2008 benchmark using the native AutoCAD OpenGL drivers. I was, however, able to successfully test with the native Direct3D drivers, producing a C2008 total index score of 245, with the benchmark completing in 78 minutes. With two concurrent sessions of AutoCAD 2008 running side by side, each running a different instance of the C2008 benchmark, the combined C2008 total index score was 428, completing in an overall time of 100 minutes.

Using Autodesk 3ds Max 2008, I ran the MAXBench4 benchmark in two different configurations: with the native OpenGL drivers and again with the native Direct3D drivers. I chose the best performance run from these iterations. Typically I also include a test with any accelerated driver for 3ds Max, but a version of the ATI MAXimum driver that supported the V8640 was not available at the time of testing. With the OpenGL drivers, the ATI FireGL V8650 produced an averaged high/low frame rate score of 89.57. Using the native Direct3D drivers, performance for the V8650 jumped to 258.13.

For my final test on the ATI FireGL V8650, I ran the full SPECviewperf benchmark, which produced these results: 45.63 for 3dsmax-04, 42.50 for catia-02, 52.83 for ensight-03, 251.86 for maya-02, 35.31 for proe-04, 78.56 for sw-01, 31.08 for tcvis-01, and 49.81 for ugnx-01.

While the overall performance numbers of the ATI FireGL V8650 were very good, I've tested faster graphics cards on this particular system. The key point here is that the good performance is coupled with access to bountiful video RAM for those who work with large, complex models or other graphically demanding and memory-intensive applications.

The MSRP price for the ATI FireGL V8650 is $2,799, although street prices are lower. The ATI FireGL V8650 is covered by a three-year limited product repair and replacement warranty and includes enterprise-class support with direct toll-free phone and e-mail access to ATI's dedicated workstation technical support team.

The ATI FireGL V8650 is on the expensive side, and I do have some concerns about the support for OpenGL in AutoCAD; however, the good performance and high RAM count will make the V8650 ideal for many users who need what it has to offer.


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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