NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600 (First Look Review)

8 Jul, 2007 By: Ron LaFon

Ultrahigh-end graphics card is a reliable workhorse that boasts a long list of features — for a price.

It had been some time since NVIDIA introduced any ultrahigh-end graphics cards, but earlier this year the company announced two additions to the Quadro
NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600
Pros: Good OpenGL and Direct 3D performance.
Cons: Pricey.
Price: $2,399


family. Cadalyst received the first of these new cards to review here. I hope to evaluate the second new model, the NVIDIA Quadro FX 5600, in the near future.

The Quadro FX 4600 is a PCIe 16x workstation-level graphics card with 768MB of onboard GDDR3 memory. In a radical departure from previous Quadro graphics cards, the FX 4600 (and the FX 5600) are based on the G80 series of GPUs (graphics processing units), similar to an architecture used in the latest NVIDIA line of consumer-grade cards, including the GeForce 8800 GTS and GTX. In the new workstation versions, the graphics cards are enhanced to support the needs of professional users. This move affords NVIDIA support for DirectX 10 on the new Microsoft Vista operating platform and offers a unified shader architecture that also benefits OpenGL and legacy DX 9 applications.

The NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600 is an ultrahigh-end PCIe graphics card based on the G80 GPU and boasting 768MB of onboard GDDR3 RAM.

The FX 4600 supports OpenGL 2.1 and has 20 new OpenGL extensions. Additionally, the new Quadros support high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) for playing back protected content. NVIDIA POWERdraft for AutoCAD and NVIDIA MAXtreme for Autodesk 3ds Max are supported for those who use these design applications. Among the many extras for the professional-level Quadro FX 4600 are extensive application certifications.

NVIDIA Quadro G-Sync II and SLI option cards will be available for the Quadro FX 4600, which has two DVI-I DL connectors and one stereo connector. The FX 4600 uses a maximum peak of 135W of power. An extensive list of features is posted on the NVIDIA Web site.

We tested the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600 on an Xi MTower PCIe from @Xi Computer, which was based on an Intel Core2 X6800 2.93GHz processor that was overclocked to 3.47GHz and water cooled. The system had 2GB of RAM installed, and testing was done with NVIDIA prerelease drivers v. (01/29/07) that had incorporated the configuration files for the new Quadro card. We changed our benchmark test procedure slightly for this review, as noted below.

For this run of tests, we used the Cadalyst C2006 benchmark with AutoCAD 2008, testing both the native OpenGL and Direct3D drivers. We ran several iterations of the benchmark, selecting the highest performance score -- though there was actually very little variation from test to test. The FX 4600 produced a C2006 Total Index Score of 319 using the AutoCAD 2008 native OpenGL driver. With the native Direct3D driver, the Total Index Score was 428. Both are very good numbers.

Next we ran the ProE-04 Viewset of the SPEC ViewPerf 9.03 benchmark, which generated a Weighted Geometric Mean of 49.79. Finally, we ran the MAXBench4 benchmark with Autodesk 3ds Max 9, doing several iterations of the test with three different configurations. First we tested with the integrated OpenGL drivers included with 3ds Max 9 and produced an averaged high/low score of 103.01. We then tested Direct3D performance with the integrated D3D driver and generated an averaged high/low score of 231.41. Our final iterations of the MAXBench4 test used the NVIDIA MAXtreme 9.00.01 accelerated D3D driver for 3ds Max 9 and produced an averaged high/low score of 253.59. All numbers are very good.

We note that although current Autodesk applications tend to be weighted more heavily toward Direct3D -- and thus give excellent DirectX performance -- applications that run on multiple OS platforms continue to rely on the standards-based OpenGL model.

The NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600 carries a suggested retail price of $2,399, but the street price has dropped as low as $1,800 through some online sources, and a discount typically applies when the card is purchased with a new workstation. All in all, that's a bit pricey, but might be worth the splurge if you need the combination of features and performance delivered by this reliable and speedy workhorse.

About the Author: Ron LaFon

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