Graphics Cards

AMD's ATI FireGL Graphics Cards (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Mar, 2008 By: Ron LaFon

New graphics boards are ideally suited to CAD and digital-content–creation applications.


AMD recently introduced a whole new family of ATI FireGL graphics cards, three of which are ideally suited for CAD and digital-content–creation (DCC) applications. Two cards in the family incorporated expanded RAM, with 1 GB and 2 GB models available, although these are more appropriate for industrial imaging, GIS, or working with extremely large models. Take a look at the new FireGL V3600, V5600, and V7600 cards.

ATI FireGL Graphics Cards Report Card
ATI FireGL Graphics Cards Report Card

Testing Procedures

To test all the graphics cards in this Cadalyst Labs review, I used a new system from Hewlett-Packard, the HP xw4600 workstation, which is based on a proprietary Foxconn motherboard that uses the Intel X38 Express chipset. This system has an Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 processor rated at 3.0 GHz and a front-side bus speed of 1,333 MHz.

The test system was preloaded with Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 installed. The requested configuration included 2 GB of DDR2 800-MHz ECC RAM, a 250-GB SATA hard drive, and a DVD±RW double-layer Super Multi (SATA) optical drive. When I was ready to start the tests, I downloaded the newest drivers from the AMD Web site and installed them before running the benchmark tests. The downloaded drivers, version 8.391.2.1110 (September 24, 2007), included support for the ATI FireGL V3600 and V5600 but not the FireGL V7600. For the last card, AMD sent me a CD with driver v.8.420.0.0 (August 20, 2007) for use in testing that specific graphics card. At the time of testing, the then-current ATI MAXimum accelerated driver for Autodesk 3ds Max did not support this new generation of FireGL cards, so I was unable to test with an accelerated driver.

For the first part of the benchmark tests, I ran the new Cadalyst C2008 benchmark (available at www.cadalyst.com/c2008) under AutoCAD 2008 with Service Pack 1, which was used to test performance with both AutoCAD's native OpenGL drivers and the Direct3D drivers. If an accelerated AutoCAD driver was available, I noted it in the accompanying online feature table (www.cadalyst.com/0308ATItable) but didn't use it for testing. All cards were tested at 1,280 x 1,024 resolution at 32-bit color depth.

The new Cadalyst C2008 benchmark adds two additional 3D tests — Hidden Shade and Flat Shade — and works with AutoCAD 2008 under both Windows XP and Vista. In addition to the single OpenGL and Direct3D tests, I also ran side-by-side sessions of C2008 to make use of the additional microprocessor core. These two test times were combined for a final result with the comparable time-to-completion times listed. Because AutoCAD is not multiprocessor-core aware, this procedure seems to be the best method at present for testing AutoCAD on multicore systems.

I used MAXBench4 with the recently released Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 for this benchmark, typically in two configurations: with the native OpenGL drivers and with the native Direct3D drivers. The ATI MAXimum accelerated driver for 3ds Max didn't yet work with this new generation of FireGL graphics cards, so only the OpenGL and Direct3D test results are given.

The final benchmark test for the submitted graphics cards is the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark (www.spec.org), which works under both Windows XP and Vista. I list the scores for each of the component tests in the online feature table for these reviews.

The new ATI FireGL graphics cards reviewed here are based on the R600 graphics processor, and they feature dual 400 MHz random-access memory digital-to-analog converters (RAMDACs). They represent excellent performance for the price, regardless of the individual card you might choose.

ATI FireGL V3600

AMD
408.749.4000
www.ati.amd.com/FireGL
Price: $249


The new ATI FireGL V3600 is an entry-level graphics card with 256 MB of onboard DDR2 RAM. It is fully tested and certified with major CAD and DCC applications. A small, half-length, single-slot graphics card, the ATI FireGL V3600 requires no supplemental power connector and uses less than 50 W of power.



With a memory bandwidth of 16 GB/second, the ATI FireGL V3600 features 120 shader-processing units, a 128-bit ring bus memory controller interface, and full Shader Model 4 support. The V3600 can support 8-, 10-, and 16-bit per pixel color component output and high dynamic range (HDR) rendering. The card has two dual-link DVI-I output connectors and can drive multiple monitors with independent settings for resolution, refresh rate, rotation, and color depth. Support for a 10-bit display pipeline and HDR is incorporated. The ATI FireGL V3600 can display more than one billion colors on 10-bit monitors, and multicard support enables two ATI FireGL workstation graphics cards to drive four accelerated 3D displays for added flexibility.

The AMD ATI FireGL V3600 is an entry-level graphics accelerator with 256 MB of memory. It's ideal for creating 3D models and realistic textures for the CAD, DCC, and simulation markets.
The AMD ATI FireGL V3600 is an entry-level graphics accelerator with 256 MB of memory. It's ideal for creating 3D models and realistic textures for the CAD, DCC, and simulation markets.

I executed the full suite of benchmark tests on the ATI FireGL V3600 and found it to perform quite well. On the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark running under AutoCAD 2008 with Service Pack 1 installed, the V3600 produced a total index score of 198 with the AutoCAD OpenGL driver and 222 with the AutoCAD Direct3D driver. Next I ran two concurrent side-by-side sessions of AutoCAD 2008, each running a separate copy of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark. The combined total index score for these two tests was 431, with a completion time of 86 minutes, as compared with 106 minutes for the single OpenGL test and 83 minutes for the single Direct3D test.

Then I ran the MAXBench4 benchmark with Autodesk 3ds Max 2008, running two series of tests — one series with the native 3ds Max OpenGL driver and the other with the native 3ds Max Direct3D driver. The averaged high/low frame rate scores for the V3600 were 91.28 when configured with the OpenGL driver and 151.18 with the native Direct3D drivers.

The third and final benchmark I performed with the V3600 was the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark, which produced these scores: 38.06 for 3dsmax-04, 36.62 for catia-02, 25.74 for ensight-03, 111.91 for maya-02, 34.97 for proe-04, 74.97 for sw-01, 23.89 for tcvis-01, and 21.69 for ugnx-01.

The V3600 offers a lot of performance for a reasonable price, some very sophisticated features, and good value for those users who don't need the absolute maximum performance possible. Highly Recommended.

ATI FireGL V5600

AMD
408.749.4000
www.ati.amd.com/FireGL
Price: $599


The ATI FireGL V5600 is a mid-range graphics card with 512 MB of GDDR4 RAM onboard. The V5600 is a half-length, single-slot graphics card that requires no supplemental power feed and uses less than 75 W of power. Like all of AMD's ATI FireGL cards, the V5600 is fully tested and certified with major CAD and DCC applications.



With 120 shader-processing units and a 128-bit ring bus memory controller interface, the ATI FireGL V5600 offers full Shader Model 4 support and HDR rendering capabilities. With a memory bandwidth of 35 GB/second, the ATI FireGL V5600 has more than double the bandwidth of the ATI FireGL V3600.

The V5600 supports 8-, 10-, and 16-bit per pixel color component output and offers hardware-accelerated DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.1. The ATI FireGL V5600 has two DVI-I output connectors, each of which provides dual-link capabilities.

The ATI FireGL V5600 sailed through the Cadalyst benchmark series without any difficulties whatsoever. I tested the V5600 with AutoCAD 2008 using the new Cadalyst C2008 benchmark with both the OpenGL and Direct3D AutoCAD drivers. With the native OpenGL drivers, the V5600 produced at C2008 total index score of 202; with the Direct3D drivers, I got a score of 262, which was a good jump in performance. Then I tested two concurrently running sessions of AutoCAD 2008 with the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark using the native AutoCAD Direct3D drivers. The combined total index score of the two sessions was 519. These two concurrent sessions were completed in 81 minutes, compared with the single Direct3D session, which required 79 minutes.

After the AutoCAD tests were completed, I turned to Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 and ran the MAXBench4 benchmark in two configurations — one series with Max's native OpenGL drivers and another with the native Direct3D drivers. With the Autodesk 3ds Max OpenGL drivers selected, the combined high/low average for the ATI FireGL V5600 was 102.52. With Max's Direct3D driver selected, the combined high/low average jumped to 194.09.

Finally, I performed the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark, which produced the following scores: 30.24 for 3dsmax-04, 38.39 for catia-02, 36.24 for ensight-03, 168.35 for maya-02, 36.41 for proe-04, 84.28 for sw-01, 29.01 for tcvis-01, and 30.40 for ugnx-01.

The ATI FireGL V5600 should prove to be a popular mid-range graphics card, as it offers an excellent set of features at a modest price. Highly Recommended.

ATI FireGL V7600

AMD
408.749.4000
www.ati.amd.com/FireGL
Price: $999


The ATI FireGL V7600differs from the two other graphics cards in this article in several ways. Considered a full-featured graphics cards, the V7600 incorporates 512 MB of GDDR3 RAM in a double-width, half-length card that is the only one of the three in this combined review to require a supplemental power connector — although it uses less than 150 W of power in operation.



With a memory bandwidth of 51 GB/second and 320 shader-processing units with a 256-bit ring bus memory controller interface, the V7600 is a graphics card designed for serious work. The V7600 supports Shader Model 4.

In addition to the two DVI-I dual-link output connectors on the card, the V7600 also includes a stereo 3D output connector and HD component video output. The ATI FireGL V7600 is thoroughly tested and certified with major CAD and DCC applications.

The AMD ATI FireGL V5600 is a mid-range graphics card that delivers industry-leading features and performance at a very affordable price.
The AMD ATI FireGL V5600 is a mid-range graphics card that delivers industry-leading features and performance at a very affordable price.

I tested AMD's ATI FireGL V7600 with the current suite of Cadalyst benchmark tests and gave it a thorough workout. Although I was able to use the Windows XP drivers currently available on the company's Web site for both the V3600 and V5600, those drivers did not support the FireGL V7600 at the time of testing. As a result, I used prerelease drivers that were provided by AMD for Cadalyst's testing. As is often the case with prerelease drivers, I experienced some difficulties — ultimately being unable to run the OpenGL component of the AutoCAD 2008/Cadalyst C2008 benchmark combination. The optimizations for AutoCAD 2008 weren't yet part of the provided driver. I was, however, able to complete all other benchmark tests.

With AutoCAD 2008, I ran the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark using the native AutoCAD Direct3D drivers and generated a C2008 total index score of 324. Next, I performed dual concurrent sessions side-by-side, each running AutoCAD C2008 but running a different set of the C2008 benchmark. The combined total index score for these concur-rent tests was 544, and the tests were completed in 80 minutes as compared with the single standalone test, which required 77 minutes.

The AMD ATI FireGL V7600 workstation graphics accelerator with Unified Shader architecture is ideal for maximizing productivity when working with complex 3D models and intense textures for CAD, DCC, and simulation.
The AMD ATI FireGL V7600 workstation graphics accelerator with Unified Shader architecture is ideal for maximizing productivity when working with complex 3D models and intense textures for CAD, DCC, and simulation.

Next I fired up Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 and ran the MAXBench4 benchmark with the ATI FireGL V7600, first using the native 3ds Max OpenGL drivers and then the native Direct3D drivers. With the OpenGL drivers set, I generated an averaged high/low score of 106.73, and this result jumped to an averaged high/low score of 228.54 with the native Direct3D drivers.

The last benchmark I performed on the FireGL V7600 was the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark, which produced the following scores: 40.36 for 3dsmax-04, 38.80 for catia-02, 46.32 for ensight-03, 219.50 for maya-02, 37.19 for proe-04, 89.87 for sw-01, 30.14 for tcvis-01, and 43.89 for ugnx-01.

With a broad set of features and excellent performance numbers, this FireGL card will be at home in many demanding environments. Highly Recommended.


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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