Pros: The first 3D graphics card with 1GB of RAM offers blistering performance for the 3D professional.
Cons: Expensive. Takes up an extra PCI slot.
Innovations in 3D graphics cards usually appear first in the gaming market. However, the first board to boast 1GB of RAM is the FireGL 7350, which is aimed squarely at 3D artists.
The extra memory will provide a huge boost to your favourite 3D suite. Professional 3D modellers and animators will benefit more from this than gamers, as the pro focus is on the quality of rendered output, not real-time frames. 3D pros generally need to work with more complex meshes than game players, and are less reliant on faux-3D trickery such as Pixel Shaders – so it makes sense that the FireGL 7350 includes twice the RAM of ATI’s top gamer boards, but a quarter of the Pixel Shader processors (16 compared to the Radeon X1900’s 48).
It’s not just the extra RAM that makes the FireGL 7350 the most powerful graphics card around. Many of the innovations found in the FireGL 7350 have come from the company’s gamer boards. These include a 512-bit ring bus memory controller interface, an ultra-threaded architecture, eight parallel geometry engines, and other highly-technical features to boost its power.
In both our mid-range Cinebench 9.5 and high-end 3DS Max 7 tests, the FireGL 7350 outstripped all competition, including NVidia’s top-spec Quadro FX 4500 (available boxed through PNY).
One advantage NVidia/PNY’s boards have over ATI’s is the ability to combine two graphics cards using a motherboard-based technology called SLI. However, as we found from reviewing HP’s xw9300 workstation with dual Quadro FX 3540 cards last month, the modest boost given by an extra card wasn’t worth the extra cost. ATI has an alternative to SLI for its gaming boards called Crossfire, but currently it doesn’t support FireGL cards.
The FireGL 7350 obviously outstripped the Quadrox FX 3450, but surprisingly it almost kept up with two of the boards working together over SLI.
Our test board was provided inside a Gravistar XR workstation from Armari (www.armari.co.uk). Extremely powerful and highly priced (£3,795 plus VAT), this unit features two 2.6GHz dual-core Opteron 285 processors and 4GB RAM – just what you need to take advantage of the 7350’s power.
The FireGL 7350 board is dominated by an enormous fan and heatsink that take up the slot below the PCI Express x16. It also requires external power from a power supply of 450W or more. Even so, the card is very quiet, as was the Armari workstation as a whole.
ATI’s Avivo technology should interest high-end users. This combines HDR rendering support with a 10-bit per colour display pipeline for the highest-quality output around. There’s an RGB component that can output at up to 16-bit per colour – though there’s no way to tie this in with video-editing systems as yet.
The FireGL 7350 offers phenomenal performance, so if you have the needs and the budget, it comes highly recommended. Those with lower budgets should check out the £949 FireGL 7300, which is the same card with 512MB RAM.
Connection: PCI Express x16
Memory bandwidth: 41.6GB/s
Parallel geometry engines: 8
Vertices per second: 1.2-billion
Pixel Shader processors: 16
Pixel operations per second: 9.6G
Form factor: Full
Extra power required: Yes
Blocks PCI slot below: Yes