First look: Nvidia's Quadro 5000 pro-grade graphics card

Nvidia introduced four new versions of its upscale Quadro graphics card on July 27th: The Quadro 4000, successor to the Quadro FX 3800, and the Quadro 5000, which succeeds the Quadro FX 4800, are currently available. The Quadro 6000, which is replacing the Quadro FX 5800, and the QuadroPlex 7000 will be available this autumn.

For this review, I tested the Quadro 5000. It's a professional card that's designed for use in high-end multi-CPU workstations. The Quadro cards are based on the new Fermi platform (download PDF). Fermi is Nvidia's attempt to produce a graphics-processing unit (GPU) that's as powerful -- if not a little more so in some areas -- than Intel's big-time multicore CPUs.

Fermi GPUs contain hundreds of CUDA cores. CUDA is a technique Nvidia created to allow software developers to access the computational power of its GPU. Essentially, CUDA provides a parallel processing path into the GPU rather than using the single thread approach typically offered by CPUs, even those with multiple cores or threads.

The Quadro 5000 that I reviewed contains 352 CUDA cores and 2.5GB of memory. It supports Shader Model 5, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0.

Nvidia has suggested that a dual Xeon (or equivalent) workstation would be the best system on which to use the Quadro 5000, but it says that four-core and six-core single-processor systems could be used as substitutes. I used a Digital Storm Black OPS Assassin PC equipped with an Intel Core i7 930 2.8GHz (3.2GHz/3.9GHz overclock). It was originally equipped with a pair of Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 graphics cards in an SLI configuration. I ran all of the tests on that original configuration and then substituted the single Quadro 5000 and reran the tests.

To test the Quadro 5000's ability to work with high-end 3D graphics rendering, I used the SPECviewperf 11 benchmark, which measures the 3D rendering performance of systems running under OpenGL. The test was developed and distributed by the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC).

SPECviewperf measures the 3D graphics performance of systems running under the OpenGL application programming interface. The benchmark's test files, called viewsets, are developed by tracing graphics content from actual applications. Current viewsets represent graphics functionality in these applications: Autodesk Maya 2009, CATIA V5 and V6, EnSight 8.2, LightWave 3D 9.6, Pro/Engineer Wildfire 5.0, Siemens NX 7, SolidWorks 2009 and Siemens Teamcenter Visualization Mockup.

On my Black OPS Assassin system, switching between the dual GeForce GTX 480 cards and the single Quadro 5000, the results were remarkable.

The differences in the scores indicate the relative proficiency of the two graphics systems running the various viewsets. While the Assassin is a strong gaming machine when equipped with the pair of GT 480s, it just doesn't have enough of the power needed to do well in the extensive 3D rendering viewsets pushed by SPECview. In comparison, the Quadro results are outstanding.

(You'll find a brief list of results from other boards at the SPECgpc site. While most of the results shown relate to older Quadro cards, even the lone ATI FirePro V8800 is outclassed by the new Quadro 5000.)

The Quadro 5000 is the sizzling hot solution for upscale graphics workstations.

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