Enterprise, Graphics

AMD finally steps up and offers CrossFire Pro, Genlock/Framelock support

In a run up to next week’s Siggraph 2009 conference in New Orleans, AMD launched its most powerful FirePro card to date – FirePro V8750 2GB. This successor to 2900XT-based V8650 2GB is based on RV770 architecture [Radeon 4870], but features 2GB of ultra-fast GDDR5 memory.

The card boasts 115.2 GB/s of memory bandwidth, a record in the world of professional graphics – given that previous fastest card had 102 GB/s [nVidia Quadro FX 5800], it just goes to show the advantages of GDDR5 memory over previous memory standards. AMD is pitching this card against Quadro CX and FX4800, which is visible in the output department too: V8750 comes with single DVI-I output and two DisplayPorts, just like FX4800. It looks like the new standard for visual professionals is two displays connected via DisplayPort and a DVI output for legacy displays or a HDMI adapter.

3D Professor Image: ATI CrossFire Pro technology on Intel Xeon testbedBut AMD didn’t just release one single card. Starting with FirePro V8750, the company is now finally supporting multiple graphics cards, using ATI CrossFire Pro technology. By using CrossFire Pro-approved cable, you can connect two graphics cards and enjoy in 1600 shader processors rendering a single viewport in a visual app such as 3ds Max, AutoCAD,  Maya, modo, Pro/Engineer, CATIA or the newcomer, MachStudio Pro. You can see the official results of SPECviewperf 10 here.

But if you want results on a system far more powerful than a puny Core 2 Duo, head over to 3D Professor’s site and check the review of ATI’s FirePro V8750 2GB on real monsters [Core i7 975, Xeon 5400, Xeon 5500]. 3D Professor also released a review of CrossFire Pro technology – you can see a picture of his Nehalem-EP [Xeon 5500] setup on the right.

If you need even more 3D power, you can connect up to four graphics cards, e.g. up to 3200 shader processors rendering a single frame, thanks to the fact that AMD finally released its Genlock/Framelock card. Under the name FirePro S400, this daughterboard comes with four industry-standard sync connectors on the PCB, enabling you to connect four FirePro graphics cards.

This finally puts AMD on the map in the world of professional graphics, a sharp evidence that Janet Matsuda is making serious progress in reorganizing this "unprofessional professional" part of the firm. In the past couple of years, we heard numerous complaints that ATI is not up to the task when compared to nVidia, and there was a pretty good reason why.

Back in 2003, nVidia introduced Genlock/Framelock daughter card, connecting to NV35-based hardware (GeForce FX 5900 / Quadro FX 3000). This was followed by Quadro FX 4000 SDI [NV40GL, GeForce 6800 / Quadro FX 4000 series]. Quadro FX 4000 series was also the first to support SLI technology. As you can see, multi-GPU and Genlock/Framelock capabilities are only coming to market 5-6 years after nVidia, leaving the Santa Clara giant to put an iron grip in professional visualization.

But in the past 18 months, AMD’s professional graphics department made great progress. After Janet Matsuda joined the company as the Senior Director for Professional Graphics, first thing to shape up was the line-up itself, followed by rewriting the drivers and making tremendous gains in software applications. Now, FirePro team plugged two burning holes in their lineup, leaving only one open: as of today, ATI still doesn’t offer a single SDI card, a must-have feature in cinema/broadcast production.

When AMD/ATI finally decided to offer SDI outputs and inputs on their cards, we can say that nVidia could be in trouble on all fronts. For now, ATI is making excellent progress forward, with one worrying fact for both companies: neither side passed strict qualifications with their dual-GPU products. nVidia even made a single-PCB GTX295, but as it stands right now – the last multi-GPU card on the market was nVidia’s Quadro FX 4700 X2 [based on G80, e.g. GeForce 8800].

All in all, the graphics battle is really starting to rage in the professional space: nVidia has 70+ percent of the market, AMD wants more than half. It is an interesting battle to watch.