What is a workstation graphics card?
We’ve all been there. We’re looking for a new toy to play around with, or just an upgrade, whether it’s necessary or not. We search for a decent card, and we see an advertisement for a $5,000 graphics card. What’s this? How can it be so expensive?
What differentiates consumer and professional graphics cards?
To be quite honest, professional graphics cards, such as the Nvidia Quadro K2200 and the AMD FirePro W5100, both cards we will be looking at today, are really just souped-up versions of their consumer based counterparts.
The consumer versions are meant for playing video games, some video editing, and the occasional Bitcoin mining. Professional versions, on the other hand, come with a lot of oddball (to the untrained eye) features that you normally wouldn’t look for. Let’s take a look at the bells and whistles on the Nvidia card.
Introducing the Nvidia K2200 Enthusiast Graphics Card
- Scalable Geometry Architecture
- Hardware Tessellation Engine
- Dedicated FXAA/TSAA anti-aliasing engine
- Transparent multi-sampling and super-sampling engine
- 16x Angle Independent Anisotropic Filtering
- 32-Bit per component floating point texture filtering and blending engines
- Dedicated H.264 Encode
- And more. These are just some of the technical features.
What do some of those things mean for me as a consumer?
Here’s the gist; among being very power efficient, carrying a very hefty price and having cool features, it can crunch numbers really, really fast. It can ‘render my character’s head 0.000015 decimals to the left or right’ to quote Linus Sebastian from LTT.
One particular aspect of this card is that has something called ECC memory; or Error Correcting Code memory. The video buffer memory is stacked physically and is therefore far closer to the graphics chip than VRAM. It is very expensive, though, and too expensive to pair with the average consumer grade memory.
Another feature is that these graphics cards offer (at lease some of them do) support for a handful of 4k monitors at varying refresh rates. Although it may seem that way, this is actually not a gimmick. It is mostly used in the stock market, health industry and other professional business setups.
This card also offers support for up to 32-bit color depth, expanding it’s total color capacity to over 1 billion colors. Not all monitors currently support even above 12-bit color depth, but they will in time.
The 32-bit color depth, even if it is not fully supported, adds an incredible amount of colors to the RGB spectrum, allowing content creators, graphic designers, photo and video editors and 3D animators to view their content in a whole new light.
This particular card also has a dedicated H.264 encoding chip, allowing the formatting and exporting of RAW video files to be sped up significantly. This makes this particular card a go-to for professional video editors and graphic designers.
5. We can’t forget about AMD! Lets take a look at what they have to offer.
Obviously, Nvidia isn’t the only company that is in the professional video card industry. Their #1 competitor (and only competitor, I suppose) is AMD. They make some pretty cool stuff, to. Introducing the AMD FirePro W5100. It’s basically the competitor in the same price range to the Nvidia card. Here are some of its features.
- Displayport 1.2A support
- Supports Open GL 4.4
- Supports Open CL 1.2 – 2.0
- Supports Mantle
- 1.53 TFLOPS
- DirectGMA (Direct Graphics Memory Access)
- Capable of running up to 4 displays at 4k 30hz refresh rate
- Supports AMD’s GeometryBoost
- Shader model 5.0
- And much more.
Both of these cards are similar in price, performance, and what they’re made to do; render things, crunch numbers, and perform a lot of calculations, all in a timely manner.
Of course, you don’t have to go for the mid-range cards. Both Nvidia and AMD have separate lineups, ranging from the bottom of the barrel video cards (which is slightly lower than what we are showing here) all the way to GPU’s that cost thousands of dollars. Let’s take a look at one of AMD’s cards that is right in the middle of those two extremes.
Introducing the AMD’s lineup of enthusiast grade cards. It offers some significant advantages over its little brother.
- ECC (Error Correcting Code) Memory, a faster, more reliable form of VRAM
- A doubled frame buffer, from 4GB to 8GB
- Supports Framelock
- Supports VCE, also known as a multi-stream H.264 encoder
- 6 displays, running at 4k 60hz
Of course, you don’t always need to purchase the latest and greatest. Professional video cards that are enthusiast grade and carry the premium price tag usually come with a hefty warranty of around 3 years (as seen on the W5100) and are always built to last, hence why big multi-media companies don’t see the need to upgrade their rendering machines for at least 2-3 years, as the cycle of releases for these powerful cards definitely shows.
Whatever your budget or company size, you can always depend on one of these workhorses to get the job done, in beautiful 32-bit color, and not a bit less. (Get it? A bit?)