Graphics, Hardware, Reviews

AMD FirePro V7900 Review: Best in Class?

This has to have been the most exciting period in professional graphics we have seen in a very long time. Firstly ATI in April 2010 launched its successful new range of professional cards starting out with the FirePro V8800 which caught many by complete surprise – bringing enhanced CrossFire and Eyefinity multi-display technology. A few months later and out popped the V7800 which ended up being one of AMD’s main income source for the FirePro series. FirePro V7800 2GB was acknowledged as a successful entry high-end professional graphics card that had 2GB GDDR5 of frame buffer memory and an aggressive price point.

In the recent month many rumors had been flying around and today we take an exclusive look at this new technological advancement in professional graphics which will have many end-users sit up and pay careful attention to what the new FirePro V7900 2GB has to offer. At a first glance there does not seem to be all that much of a difference when compared to V7800. Four DisplayPorts look identical, single-slot heatsink looks identical, even the board lenght is very similar. 

Side by side comparison between two images: V7800 on the left and V7900 on the right. Besides the display connectivity, there are no markable differences between the two

Side by side comparison between two images: V7800 on the left and V7900 on the right. Besides the display connectivity, there are no markable differences between the two

However, if you a look under the neatly designed single-slot heatsink, you’ll see where the change lies. First and foremost, AMD replaced the Cypress GL with Cayman GL GPU, changing the architecture from legacy-burdened VLIW5 to a new, more efficient VLIW4. Then we delve into the software and all sorts of magical advancements have been made beneath the hood. Therefore the initial impressions would appear that this is a card that could present itself as a clear and present danger.

Based upon a single slot design with the option of an add-in Stereo Out port that the end user can readily fit, if so desired (for 3D displays). The V7900 is a full length card with the now traditional 2GB of GDDR5 with a whopping great 160GB/s memory bandwidth. This is more bandwidth that all previous high-end cards (V7800, V8800, V9800), a welcomed move. When we take a step back and looking at what the optimized systems Tier 1, Tier 2’s S.I.’s and VAR’s sell directly into studios and the like. Both Dell and HP have shown considerable support for the new cards in many of their own respective new SKU’s that will be available soon with Dell bringing to the fore first we hear.

Therefore pulling out all the stops from the usual professional applications and benchmarks we gave the FirePro V7900 a good airing to see how it really did perform. Could this be an option many have been looking for, giving an edge with leading CAD and DCC applications.

Therefore to look more closely at the card we move to the next page for all the new key features.
AMD FirePro V7900 Up, Close and Personal

AMD FirePro V7900 2GB: Four DP 1.2 outputs, PCIe 2.1 - all in 150W.

The AMD FirePro V7900 is AMD?s latest high-end workstation professional graphics card, addressing the same segments of the CAD/CAE, DCC and other professional markets as the ATI FirePro V7800 launched in 2010. Some of the key facts, differences and improvements relative to the older generation include:

  • AMD Cayman GL GPU with 1280 Enabled Stream Processors
  • 2 GB GDDR5 memory
  • Single-slot form factor
  • 6-pin power connector, maximum power consumption: 150 Watts
  • Four DisplayPort 1.2 connectors – a first in professional graphics
  • PCI Express 2.1 Standard – world’s first
  • PowerTune increases the power efficiency
  • GeometryBoost doubles geometry performance compared to V7800

The ability to drive additional displays (beyond the traditional two of older and competing GPUs) is far more important than simple numerical comparison (?three is better than two?): the workflows of today?s professionals are unquestionably becoming more complex, particularly in the CAD/engineering world, where workflows have migrated from being simply about parts design and increasingly about entire assemblies, including various forms of analysis (mechanical, stress, fluid), and even into full product lifecycle management (PLM).

In the digital content creation world, complex production pipelines have been the norm for a number of years, but the tighter integration between applications makes the workflows more seamless. The increasingly workflow-driven nature of professionals? work has been difficult to miss; nothing exemplifies this new reality like the recognition of industry giants such as Adobe and Autodesk, who have moved toward providing their applications in suites. Adobe is presently in their fifth generation of suites with the recently released Adobe Creative Suite 5.5, and Autodesk announced their shift to a similar model of suites for their applications, announcing a total of seven different workflow-based suites for users of their tools from DCC to engineering. AMD Eyefinity technology is exceptionally well placed to meet the needs of users with these new workflows, allowing them to display the different applications (and the dense user interfaces they present). The AMD FirePro V5900 offers three display outputs, enabling users to work without the burden of continuously having to switch between applications, and the AMD FirePro V7900 offers four outputs for the most highly complex workflows, and for other advanced multi-display scenarios such as those in event and digital signage.

System Set-up and Software Used
Our array of "in house" test systems has now been fully completed as over the forth coming months, many exciting things will be happening here that will have you aghast with awe. Intel has certainly pulled out the stops with these excellent parts which in turn means we can now demonstrate with the newer peripherals that are coming online the best possible results. This in turn will demonstrate to you the end user just what to fully e
xpect when you purchase systems of the like we have here in situ.

With the supplied parts on show today these main parts now form part of our "mainstay in house" test system supplied courteously by Intel, Crucial Memory and AMD; which could be found in most high-end studios and enthusiast workstation scenarios. This is a very reliable and sound workstation platform which has plenty of scope for upgrading.

ComponentSandy Bridge Test System

  • 3.46GHz Intel Core i7-2600K Processor 3.46GHz (Supplied by Intel EU)
  • Intel DP67BG Motherboard (Supplied by Intel EU)
  • 8GB Crucial Ballistix, DDR3 PC3-17000, 2133MHz (Supplied by Crucial)
  • 250GB Intel Solid-State Drive 510 (Supplied by Intel EU)
  • AMD FirePro V7900 2GB (Supplied by AMD)
  • Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit SP1 Operating System

Systems Integrators, OEM?s and VAR?s should contact all companies directly for pricing and availability of all components. Members of the public should contact their respective suppliers requesting the parts directly.

Benchmarks and Software Used

  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
  • SiSoftware Sandra 2011 (Latest Build – SP2b)
  • Bentley MicroStation Benchmark
  • Cinebench R11.5 64-bit
  • Redway Turbine Benchmark
  • SPECapcS for Maya 2009
  • SPECapc for SolidWorks 2007
  • SPECviewperf 11.0 64-bit

Each set of tests has been applied on the clean system hard drives shown above to ensure that no residue drivers were left installed with all updates/patches applied. A test/render has been completed many times over different periods of the system uptime. Whilst maintaining the fair play rules of SPEC Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost have been enabled, with the memory being left in its default status of Auto. Tests have been conducted at 1920×1200 resolution at 60Hz, 32-bit color. Results that have been shown within this article are from the application/benchmarks first run in accordance with the SPECviewperf and SPECapc fair play rules. Not an average of three runs as the usual benchmarking principle.

Bentley MicroStation Graphics Bechmark 
Bentley MicroStation Graphics Benchmark

Bentley MicroStation is a well-known benchmark in the world of professional graphics. Even though the board ran beta drivers, the overall average of nearly 98.1 fps is a great score.

Maxon Cinebench R11.5

AMD FirePro V7900 2GB Cinebench R11.5 Results

Cinebench R11.5 is based on Maxon’s popular CINEMA 4D suite of 3D applications, targeting animators, architects, designers and motion graphics artists. From the benchmark achieved above, it is impressive to see more than 15 frames per second gap between previous gen product (V7800) and the current one. As a reminder, FirePro V7800 2GB reaches 62 frames per second. Even the previous-gen top end (V9800 4GB) achieved less than 73 fps. Quadro boards are notoriously bad performers in this benchmark (sub-50fps).

Redway 3D Turbine Benchmark
Redway 3D Turbine Benchmark

Redway 3D turbine Benchmark is based on popular redway3D graphics tool kit. You can read more about this 2D / 3D graphics workflow here.
SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP2b GPGPU
We ran all the GPGPU-related benchmarks using the very latest version of SiSoft Sandra 2011 application, which brought numerous performance related upgrades, especially in the GPGPU section.

SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP2b GPGPU Cryptography
SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP2b GPGPU Cryptography

SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP2b GPGPU Bandwidth
SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP2b GPGPU Bandwidth – the raw theoretical number speaks of 160GB/s, while in Sandra 2011 we measured 121.4GB/s

SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP2b GPGPU Processing - In terms of procesing, more memory wins the day. However, in terms of Double-Precision Performance, FirePro lost to a consumer part
GPGPU Processing – In terms of procesing, more memory wins the day. However, in terms of Double-Precision Performance, FirePro lost to a consumer part

SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP2b Video Rendering - Identical performance to reference Cayman part
Raw performance – Single precision yields 186GFLOPS, while Double-Precision results with 65.83 GFLOPS.

We continue our benchmark of FirePro V7900 with SPEC applications.
SPECapc for Autodesk Maya 2009
SPECapc for Maya 2009

SPECapc for SolidWorks 2011
SPECapc for SolidWorks 2011

SPECviewperf 11SPECviewPerf 11: V7800 vs. V7900 result in V7900 demolishing V7800 in CATIA, Ensight, Maya and Siemens NX
SPECviewPerf 11: V7800 vs. V7900 result in V7900 demolishing V7800 in CATIA, Ensight, Maya and Siemens NX

Within the all-important SPECapc’s we did see a substantial leap up within SPECapc for Maya 2009 from the AMD FirePro V7900. Therefore it does prove that the all-important work on these tremendously expensive ISV packages is to the fore of AMD both in the hardware and driver package. Which does in turn mean at a glance an end-user can gauge more readily what to expect within their own viewsets. It?s the first time in a while have we seen such good results in this extremely important sector from AMD.
Value for Money
After many years of paying premiums for entry level high-end workstations we have solutions that are affordable and have the power within to provide the end-users a substantial stable workstation that will last for some time to come. We have over the last few weeks completely stressed this card to its fullest without any complications. This professional graphics card has to offer plenty of room for expansion in whichever way it is utilized; as a home gamer, SoHo Workstation. Or, and more appropriate within the corporate market place as an upgrade to the standalone desktop unit as there is so much power within. The studios, CAD/CAM and DCC market has obtained an important injection of technology which will further advance their current systems and once more reiterating, a sound solid fast system for productivity output. Consequently and once more we have to reiterate the objectivity of price performance.

For those in the UK and Euro Land in pricing has been confirmed at around £500.00 plus Vat and Delivery. In the United States, the recommended retail price was set at $799 but the e-tailers quickly drove that to $750 level.  We even managed to find the card for $718.

The FirePro V7900 performance shown within is without a doubt on this platform  superb, no more can the cry of we need more speed. It’s here. We have more to  show in the very near future covering much more of this remarkable piece of  technology and not forgetting the importance now of AMD?s Eyefinity  multi-display technology. This is a much needed advantage to the professional  utilising multi monitor displays. One card that drives four displays, a  significant leap forward in technology and with the new DisplayPort technology  standards ? better outputs to the end-user. Not to digress support for Stereo,  Stream Computing and importantly ATI CrossFire Pro Support. With these types of  choice, you cannot argue here with a card that contains so much flexibility.

An exceptional timely product release from AMD and generally AMD has surpassed itself with this technology upgrade allowing many to have what they could only read about or place on their wish lists. For everything shown here, we award AMD FirePro V7900 2GB with our Editor’s Choice 2011 award. 

AMD FirePro V7900 2GB - BSN* Editor's Choice 2011 - A Must Have Product in Workstation/Server