ATi is also making a song and dance about the Avivo technology in the new FireGLs. This groups together a bunch of image enhancement technologies. The 10-bit rendering pipeline means supporting monitors can display a higher dynamic range of over a billion colours, which will be particularly useful in medical markets. Allied with this, 64-bit per pixel display output allows the FireGL V7350 to differentiate between over one trillion colours during processing.
The V7350 card is genlock ready, so you will be able lock it into your production house timecode generation for frame-perfect synchronisation, although the necessary daughter card won’t be available until the second half of 2006. Avivo is also the umbrella under which the X1000-series much-vaunted acceleration of H.264 video playback is subsumed. According to ATi, the FireGL offers hardware support of H.264 up to 1080i. To round off Avivo, HD Component and quad-buffered stereoscopic 3D output are provided.
We put the 1GB FireGL V7350 through its paces in a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 560 workstation. The results were encouraging, considering that we were using early pre-WQHL certification drivers. The V7350 recorded scores which show the new cards will be giving nVidia’s Quadros a run for their money in a number of areas. We ran the industry-standard SPECviewperf 8.1 and compared the results to nVidia’s official scores for its Quadro FX range here, which were also run on a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 workstation.
The V7350 is already outclassing the Quadro FX 3450 and 4400 in the Unigraphics (UGS-04), SolidWorks (SW-01) and 3dsmax (3dsmax-03) tests, and is nearly on par in Pro/Engineer (Proe-03). It even managed to reel nVidia’s flagship Quadro FX 4500 in with 3dsmax, although the 4500 was noticeably ahead in other scores. We fully expect the V7350 to pull closer to the 4500 as its drivers mature, although it has some way to go in Pro/Engineer. Our workstation was also based on Intel’s 915 PCI Express chipset, rather than the higher-performing 925, 955 or 975, which would have had a small effect on our results.
We also ran Maxon Cinebench 9.5 and 3DMark06. The Cinebench results were very similar to what nVidia’s Quadro FX 4500 achieves on the same platform. The 3DMark06 score isn’t as high as the latest gaming cards, but it isn’t far off either, which is good news for games developers hoping to be able to perform Direct3D testing on their animation design workstation. Here, the card’s shader power makes itself known.
Workstation accelerators are very application specific, and the best choice of hardware can depend greatly on which specific content creation application you want to use. But initial testing with the FireGL V7350 shows promise for both 3D animation and CAD users. We don’t yet have confirmed UK pricing for the V7300 and V7350, but the suggested retail prices are $1,599 and $1,999 respectively (the Sterling price at the top of this review is an estimate based on current exchange rates). Considering that nVidia’s Quadro FX 4500 will set you back £1,000 – £1,500, the 1GB FireGL card won’t be much more expensive than nVidia’s 512MB competitor, and the 512MB V7300 could be cheaper.
However, it’s not clear that the FireGL V7350 will ever absolutely trounce the Quadro FX 4500 on performance. We suspect it will come close with many apps, and it’s already faster if you use 3dsmax. But it’s unlikely to pull ahead in every case. So unless you use texture sets to take advantage of the 1GB memory, it really will be horses for courses, and the choice comes down to which specific software you will mostly be using.