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.

The recent trend in memory prices have put a major hold on our PC build guides. For years – most of its 10-year existence – GN has published nearly monthly gaming & workstation PC build guides. We haven’t published one for several months now, and that’s because of the simultaneous collision of memory and video card prices. The two all-time high price jumps on GPUs (miner+gamer joint demand) and RAM (supply shortage & process switch) made PC building nearly impossible to afford. There’s been some alleviation of that lately, but not in memory prices directly. The onslaught of Cyber Monday and Black Friday sales have brought down other components enough to more or less neutralize the insane RAM pricing; now, for instance, the 1950X is $200 off MSRP, which instantly counters the RAM pricing being 2x what it should be. For this reason, we decided to revisit our PC build guides with a Threadripper 1950X workstation, built for 3D rendering (Blender), H264 video encoding with Handbrake, and some other batch processing work and Adobe Premiere work.

A Note About PC Builds

PC builds always get comments from people who want to express their infinite wisdom and intelligence in comments fields, likely because, of all the things we publish, PC building is the item with which folks have the most experience. A note, here: We’re building based on two primary criteria, which include:

  • - We have used and tested the parts, and trust them for this build.
  • - We are using this build internally as a temporary encode/render system, which means that it’s mostly to suit our needs; if you can do better, great, but we’re going for a workstation that can get our jobs done, then be unbuilt.

There are places you can cut costs on this build. We’ll include alternative parts listings for those instances.

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.

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