Finding the “best" workstation GPU isn't as straight-forward as finding the best case, best gaming CPU, or best gaming GPU. While games typically scale reliably from one to the next, applications can deliver wildly varying performance. Those gains and losses could be chalked up to architecture, drivers, and also whether or not we're dealing with a true workstation GPU versus a gaming GPU trying to fill-in for workstation purposes.
In this content, we're going to be taking a look at current workstation GPU performance across a range of tests to figure out if there is such thing as a champion among them all. Or, in the very least, we'll figure out how AMD differs from NVIDIA, and how the gaming cards differ from the workstation counterparts. Part of this will look at Quadro vs. RTX or GTX cards, for instance, and WX vs. RX cards for workstation applications. We have GPU benchmarks for video editing (Adobe Premiere), 3D modeling and rendering (Blender, V-Ray, 3ds Max, Maya), AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Redshift, Octane Bench, and more.
Though NVIDIA's Quadro RTX lineup has been available for a few months, review samples have been slow to escape the grasp of NVIDIA, and if we had to guess why, it's likely due to the fact that few software solutions are available that can take advantage of the features right now. That excludes deep-learning tests which can benefit from the Tensor cores, but for optimizations derived from the RT core, we're still waiting. It seems likely that Chaos Group's V-Ray is going to be one of the first plugins to hit the market that will support NVIDIA's RTX, though Redshift, Octane, Arnold, Renderman, and many others have planned support.
The great thing for those planning to go with a gaming GPU for workstation use is that where rendering is concerned, the performance between gaming and workstation cards is going to be largely equivalent. Where performance can improve on workstation cards is with viewport performance optimizations; ultimately, the smoother the viewport, the less tedious it is to manipulate a scene.
Across all of the results ahead, you'll see that there are many angles to view workstation GPUs from, and that there isn't really such thing as a one-size-fits all - not like there is on the gaming side. There is such thing as an ultimate choice though, so if you're not afraid of spending substantially above the gaming equivalents for the best performance, there are models vying for your attention.
Part of our 4K camera upgrade was for ergonomics – better ability to handle the camera, particularly in show floor environments – with most the other reasons centering around quality. Camera quality is superior in every technical sense, low-light and noise reduction being a major area of improvement, but working with larger files at higher bit-rates means longer render times. We can now capture up to 200Mbps (previously captured 28Mbps) at 4K resolution, and we output at 2x the bit-rate of our previous 1080p60 videos. Render times have skyrocketed, as you’d expect, and have gone from roughly video duration + a few minutes to an hour per 20-minute video.
There’s not a lot we can do about this. Adobe Premiere, sadly, does not really do much with multi-GPU. The GPUs are accelerators, with rendering still falling on the CPU for a lot of the workload. We’re becoming more thread-limited than anything at this point, and really don’t want to build an entirely new production system right now. For now, upgrading the primary GPU to a 1080 Ti will help us out a bit in Premiere and significantly in Blender.
MSI has begun filling-in its X99A line of Broadwell-E motherboards with workstation-targeted options, built for compliance with ECC Registered DIMMs and with boosted maximum data throughput via M.2. The motherboard fits LGA2011-3 socketed CPUs, including Haswell-E and Broadwell-E, and supports SLI with nVidia Quadro GPUs for production workloads. Additional focus is placed on storage controllers and HSIO allocation, fitting for a board that will be deployed in workstation environments (e.g. render machines, CAD/ProE machines).
The X99A Workstation motherboard uses what appears to be an 8-phase power design for its core VRM, with additional phases for the memory. The VRM is comprised of titanium inductors with a max temperature of 220C, supporting higher current for extreme overclocks. Dark capacitors (solid caps) populate the board and VRM's capacitor bank, rated for a 10-year lifespan.
We recently had a chance to speak with AMD's Robert Jameson about the Radeon Pro SSG, or “solid-state graphics,” that was announced earlier this week. This isn't a technical deep-dive by any means, but we did get some additional top-level information as to how the Radeon Pro SSG works. As a reminder, the SSG is targeted at professional production users and is not a gaming card; that said, the technology is interesting and new, and worth exploring for potential future implications.
Here's a quick run down of how this thing works.
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