By Neil Bennett | on March 19, 2015
Price When Reviewed: £3,739 plus VAT
The Nvidia Quadro M6000 is the most powerful graphics card so far. It's got a price tag to match, but if you're one of those 'money's no object, I need as much power as possible' people then this is the card for you.
Launcing this week at Nvidia's GTC conference in San Jose - where I'll be by the time this is published - the Quadro M6000 is Nvidia's new flagship graphics card for users at the highest end of the creative markets. It's a full-sized board to sit inside desktop workstations - not a laptop chip as you might think from the name. The M before 6000 refers to the Maxwell architecture it's based on. If the M was at the end - such as the Quadro K3100M - it would be a mobile chip for laptops and oddities like HP's Z1 G2. But the M6000 is a big card for desktops. That cleared up, let's move on.
Nvidia says that the Quadro M6000 is about more than accelerating your traditional 3D, VFX or video workflow though. Using the card, you can access Nvidia's Iray rendering technology for both final output and interactive - ie, in viewport, - display. This is currently in beta. I'll come back to it in a bit.
So just how powerful is the Quadro M6000? It's a generation ahead of the previous flagship card, the K5000, replacing that card's Keplar architecture with the Maxwell platform announced a year ago. Nvidia says that this delivers 1.4x faster performance per graphics processor core and - for fans of energy saving - twice the performance per watt.
Specs-wise, the Quadro M6000 has 3,072 CUDA processing core (vs 2,800 on the K6000), 7TFLOPs of single precision compute performance (vs 5.2TFLOPs), 317GBps memory bandwidth (vs 288GBps). Both cards have a whopping 12GB of RAM, so huge textures won't phase it.
But these numbers have little meaning unless you're comparing graphics cards from the same architecture by the same manufacturer. I could rattle off the specs of AMD's top card, the FirePro W9100 (2816 Stream processors, 5.24 TFLOPs, 320GBps memory bandwidth, as you were asking) and they wouldn't tell you much about what's the better card. Only the size of RAM is directly comparable, so the W9100's 16GB wins if you're working with massive texture files or 4K video.
Instead we'll turn to our key benchmarking apps for 3D performance - plus Premiere Pro to see how it does at non-3D tasks such as video encoding.
Nvidia Quadro M6000 benchmarks: M6000 vs W9100 vs K6000
It seems a little ridiculous benchmarking the M6000 using Cinebench. The Cinema 4D-based app's real-time graphics test is great for testing laptops and entry-level workstations but it uses a relatively simple scene with small textures. Running it on the M6000 is a bit like trying to see how powerful a McLaren P1 is by seeing how fast it can go round a Tesco car park - you'll never see it do what's it's capable of. But I'm including it here for completeness.
The Quadro M6000's score of 110.25fps is the highest framerate I've ever seen from an Nvidia card, but lower than AMD's FirePro W9100 (114.1fps) and barely faster than either the K6000 (101.2fps), or cards a step below such as the Quadro K5000 or AMD's FirePro W8100 (109.17 and 105.11fps respectively).
More strenuous is the Maya 2014 test included as part of SPEC's SPECwpc benchmarking suite. Here, the Quadro M6000 could let rip, on a scene with more detail and higher-resolution textures.
And let rip it did, generating scores 28% faster than the Quadro K5000 and 24% faster than the W9100.
Away from 3D apps, Premiere Pro can tap into the graphics card's processors to boost performance of playback, encoding and both the real-time output and rendering of effects dramatically. Our usual video output test takes an HD timeline with effects and graphics, and renders and encodes it to H.264. The M6000 was 24% faster than the K5000 at this, and 30% faster than the W9100.
The M6000's performance in this test against the W9100 should be taken in the context that Nvidia's cards generally perform better than AMD's, as Adobe seems to be have been able to tune its software better to work with Nvidia's CUDA language for allowing non-3D tasks to be processed on the graphics card than OpenCL, as used by AMD.
Nvidia Quadro M6000 review: Power
Higher performance does require more power, but not much more. The K6000's 225W power requirements were quite modest compared to AMD's top-of-the-range card, the FirePro 9100 - which requires XXXX. The M6000 needs 250W, so current owners of the K6000 should find that their workstations can handle the M6000 - so upgrading could be a matter of just swapping one card out for another.
Nvidia Quadro M6000 review: Outputs
Like the FirePro W9100, the Quadro M6000 has four DisplayPort outputs - plus a DVI output that I'd guess hasjust been put on to keep some big customers who've got lots of DVI monitors happy. Unless you're one of them, you'll never use it.
The four DisplayPorts allow you to attach four 4K monitors - which is more for users with lots of hard data to display or those building heavyweight AV systems than Digital Arts readers. Or you can attach two 5K monitors, which is a nice bit of futureproofing on Nvidia's part.
Nvidia Quadro M6000 review: Iray interactive rendering
The performance results above in some ways don't give a complete picture of what the Quadro M6000 is capable of. That's because those show how it performs using Cinema 4D and Maya's standard viewport rendering engines. For a more realistic, in-viewport display of your scenes in the likes of 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D - plus CAD software like Autodesk's Revit and McNeel's Rhinoceros - you'll also soon have the option of using Nvidia's Iray rendering engine.
Iray's not new as an output renderer, but Nvidia has just announced at its GTC conference in San Jose, the new iray+ plug-ins for those aforementioned 3D suites that allows you to use the physically based rendering engine in your viewports for a nearish real-time display that's much nearer to your final output than you're likely used to - even from other interactive rendering systems that aren't as integrated with the graphics card.
The plug-ins are due later this year - though Nvidia hasn't disclosed pricing yet. A workstation or server with the M6000 can also run the new Iray Server..
Before the launch, I tested a beta of 3ds Max plugin using scenes supplied by Nvidia and initial setup was as simple as going to the Render Setup dialog and changing the Production and Material Editors to Iray+ and ActiveShade to Iray+ Active. I was really impressed both with the quality of what was in my viewport and the responsiveness of the application while it was running. It also appeared to work well with other 3ds Max scenes after their materials were converted to or replaced with Iray materials.
I swapped out the Quadro M6000 for the K5000 to see how much the plugins performance was due to the M6000's power, but it resolutely refused to work. That's beta software for you. We're working with Nvidia and Autodesk on this, and I'll update this review when th
I wasn't able to render final output, and neither the plugins for Maya nor Cinema 4D - which are more likely to be the 3D suites you use than Max - were available. When they are - and when final versions are released, I'll update this review.
Nvidia Quadro M6000 review: conclusion
Nvidia's Quadro M6000 is by far the most powerful graphics card around, but you have to pay for privilege. It's over a grand more expensive than AMD's FirePro W9100, so you'd have to really need that extra power or be committed to using Nvidia's Iray rendering system to justify the expense. If that's you, get this card.