Graphic Cards for Pros

What they're capable of and who needs them

In the following editorial we will take a closer look at the pro cards à la Quadro and FireGL, which are usually built into mobile work stations and professional notebooks. These are supposed to be especially efficient in connection with professional applications based on OpenGL.

Professional GPUs - FireGL & Quadro

What is OpenGL?

OpenGL is a 3D programming interface that could be seen as a competitor for Microsofts DirectX. You can, in particular, present complex 3D-scenes in real-time and above that, create your own extensions with OpenGL.

Advantages of OpenGL are especially:

1. Driver support

The often better driver support from the manufacturer. (This is especially beneficial in the field of mobile computers, as the driver support of consumer graphic cards, such as GeForce and Radeon, is usually the responsibility of notebook manufacturers and therefore is normally quite sparse).

2. Extendibility

Graphic card manufacturers have the possibility to extend the interface with further functions. Special commands can be executed directly, instead of having to take a detour over an emulator with this (very important in the CAD field). This influences the functionality, velocity and stability.

3. Platform independency

OpenGL is independent of platform and programming language. Hence, it's simple to convert for various systems. OpenGL is, for instance, a part of MS Windows, MacOS, Linux, Solaris, and many more.

Due to this advantage, OpenGL is mainly found in the professional field of Windows. In opposition, the opponent dominates the computer gaming division in which OpenGL only plays a subordinate role.  OpenGL is primarily used in various game consoles (XBOX 360, Playstation 2/3) and in MacOS game software in the gaming field.

What is the difference between a professional graphic card and the commonly built-in consumer versions?

In view of hardware, the pro cards are principally just normal graphic cards of the according performance class. (There are differences in the desktop versions, which have special configuration details, such as connections for 3D shutter glasses, for example). A mobile FireGL V5700 correlates to, for instance, a mobile ATI Radeon HD 3650.

The basic difference is, however, the special alignment. Pro cards are, in view of OpenGL, trimmed on high performance by a modified bios and special drivers. Above that, these are tested and accordingly certified for the compatibility of common OpenGL applications.

These measures lead to partly obvious performance increases in comparison to the single consumer cards and to an optimized stability. DirectX functions are preserved but can, however, decrease noticeably in single cases in comparison to consumer cards, depending on the model (see the benchmark list HD3650/FireGL V5700). A further benefit that speaks for OpenGL cards are the regular driver maintenance and the evidently more comprehensive manufacturer support.

Professional Graphic Cards Consumer Graphic cards
OpenGL optimized DirectX optimized
nVidia Quadro nVidia GeForce
ATI FireGL/ FirePro ATI Radeon

Benchmarks

 

Model                                  

Memory

type

Memory

bus

Memory

capacity

Cinebench R10 OpenGL

SPEC View Perf. 10.0 (1280x1024) in fps

3D Mark 06

3D Mark Vantage

Reference Review       

Nvidia Quadro FX 3800M GDDR3 256 Bit 1024 MB  

3DS Max 32,80

Catia 45,75

En Sight 47,37

Maya 59,74

ProEngeneer 51,12

Solid Works 59,72

UGS TC 38,52

UGS NX 35,30

13323 6584 per Mail
AMD ATI FirePro M7740 (Windows 7 mit Mobility Radeon HD Treibern 9.9 Beta)
GDDR 5
128 bit
1024 MB
6811

3DS Max 48,21

Catia 37,89

En Sight 46,72

Maya 186,59

ProEngeneer 45,11

Solid Works 104,55

UGS TC 33,66

UGS NX 48,90

12229
6701

nVidia Quadro FX 3700M

GDDR 3

256 bit

512 MB

4481

3DS Max 25,54

Catia 31,96

En Sight 34,58

Maya 59,62

ProEngeneer 29,77

Solid Works 54,58

UGS TC 22,04

UGS NX 26,35

10847

5053

nVidia Quadro FX 3600M

GDDR 3

256 bit

512 MB

6193

3DS Max 34,06

Catia 39,56

En Sight 30,77

Maya 59,63

ProEngeneer 37,69

Solid Works 56,96

UGS TC 19,22

UGS NX 19,85

8236

 

Dell Precision M6300

nVidia Quadro FX 770M

GDDR 3

128 bit

512 MB

6180

3DS Max 33,06 

Catia 40,10

En Sight 31,74

Maya 85,05

ProEngeneer 36,12

Solid Works 55,00

UGS TC 19,01

UGS NX 17,52

5363

 

Dell Precision M4400

nVidia FX 1700M
GDDR3
128 Bit
512 MB
6159

3DS Max 37,53

Catia 41,73

En Sight 37,04

Maya 59,80

ProEngeneer 38,74

Solid Works 49,25

UGS TC 20,40

UGS NX 22,28

6302

nVidia 9800 GTX

GDDR 3

256 bit

1024 MB

5954

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9952

4545

Schenker mySn XMG7

nVidia FX 1600M

GDDR 3

128 bit

512 MB

5226

               

4798

 

HP 8710w

AMD Fire GL V5700

GDDR 3

128 bit

512 MB

5049

3DS Max 32,40

Catia 30,16

En Sight 25,95

Maya 101,84

ProEngeneer 33,29

Solid Works 67,46

UGS TC 23,27

UGS NX 27,43

2150

1017

Lenovo Thinkpad W500

AMD HD 3650

GDDR 3

128 bit

256 MB

4556

3DS Max 11,45

Catia 11,31

En Sight 14,13

Maya 19,03

ProEngeneer           7,90

Solid Works 17,15

UGS TC 4,15

UGS NX 6,9

3872

 

Lenovo Thinkpad T500

nVidia FX 570M

GDDR 3

128 bit

256 MB

4534

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3904

 

HP 8510w

nVidia 9400M

Shared (DDR3)

 -

4400

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2148

 

MacBook

nVidia 9600 GT

GDDR 3

128 bit

512 MB

3359

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3527

Acer Aspire 5930G

nVidia Quadro FX 370M

GDDR 2

128 bit

256 MB

3031

3DS Max 11,45

Catia 16,79

En Sight 11,96

Maya 27,29

ProEngeneer 13,67

Solid Works 21,75

UGS TC 5,09

UGS NX 6,78

1595

 

Dell Precision M2400

nVidia Quadro NVS 160

GDDR 3

128 bit

256 MB

3006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2278

 

Dell Latitude E6500

nVidia 9600 GT

GDDR 2

128 bit

512 MB

3003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4390

 

HP Pavilion dv5 1032

AMD HD 3470

GDDR 3

64 bit

256 MB

2951

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sony Vaio FW11M

nVidia 9300M GS

GDDR 3

64 bit

256 MB

2796

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2191

 

Lenovo Thinkpad SL400

AMD HD 3650

GDDR 2

128 bit

256 MB

2754

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3302

 

Dell Studio 17

AMD HD 3450

GDDR 2

64 bit

256 MB

2536

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1823

 

Dell Studio 15

nVidia Quadro NVS 140

GDDR 3

128 bit

256 MB

2408

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1614

 

Lenovo Thinkpad T61

Intel GMA HD Graphics (Core i5-430M)
Shared
-
   

3DS Max 2,73

Catia 2,25

En Sight 1,24

Maya 4,91

ProEngeneer          1,84

Solid Works 3,35

UGS TC 0,34

UGS NX 0,33

   
HP ProBook 6540b

Intel X4500 HD

Shared

 -

 

1185

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

945

 

Dell Latitude E6400

 

Note to the graphic cards: The above listed OpenGL graphic cards are selected models that are currently quite often built into notebooks and for which the according test results are also available. Brand new or older variants can alternately be found and compared in the Notebookcheck comparison list .

Note to the benchmark list: Please consider that the listed values here are test  results of certain configurations. As a rule, especially the CPU, hard disk, RAM and display resolution, aside from the GPU, have an influence on the results. That the full performance isn't always available in battery mode also has to be considered.

Note to the benchmarks: The listed benchmarks are supposed to enlighten the efficiency of graphic cards in the OpenGL field on the one side and on the other, supply comparable values to the DirectX performance. The Cinebench R10 OpenGL Shading and the 3DMark'06 are so-called "synthetic benchmarks". They are aligned for demanding certain components (in our case, the graphic card) and rank them according to performance. The results are shown in a point system, the higher the better. In opposition to this, the SPEC test belongs to the so-called "real life benchmarks" that fall back on certain processing steps in order to achieve a more practical/program orientated result. The results of the single programs are recorded in frames per second. It also applies here, the higher the result, the smoother the depiction.

Who needs an OpenGL optimized graphic card?

Three circumstances / questions should be considered before purchase:

1. Software

Which programs are worked with / will be worked with and in how far are these based on OpenGL functionality? (Also see the software overview at the end of this editorial)

2. Frequency

How intensely will the OpenGL based software be used and how high is its part in the daily work routine?

3. Job

Which requirements are put on an optimal driver maintenance, support and stability? Devices that are equipped with pro cards are usually tested / certified for a whole range of software and grant a high standard of compatibility, stability, and support.

Case study: A student, who is short of money, can probably waiver on it sooner than an architect who makes his living with it. The student would take an alternative with HD 3650 or 9600GT, the architect would choose a notebooks with V5700 or FX 770M for support and velocity reasons.

Verdict:

Professional users, who intensely work with the programs listed below, won't come around an according configuration. Velocity, stability, and support are suited for professional field and bid the best possible performance.

The occasional user should, however, exactly weigh up how the surcharge relates to the use intensity and then decide according to the cost-benefit analysis.

Software Overview

An overview of common OpenGL software is found in following. This isn't to be seen as conclusive or complete, but should only be a point of reference.

CAD Computer Aided Design

AutoDesk AutoCAD

AutoDesk Inventor

AutoDesk Revit

Bentley MicroStation

Dassault CATIA V5

UGS I-DEAS 10

I-DEAS 11

UGS/PLM Unigraphics NX. NX2, NX3

UGS Solidedge

PTC Pro/E 2001 Mechanica

PTC Pro/E Wildfire Mechanica

SolidWorks

MSC.Patran

SensAble

CoCreate OneSpace Designer

ICEM Surf

PTC DV Mockup

DCC Digital Content Creation

 

Discreet 3DS

MAX/Combustion

Alias Maya

Alias Studio Tools

Avid SoftImage XSI/3D

Avid Xpress Pro

Adobe Premiere

Adobe After Effects

GIS Geo Informationssystem

ESRI ArcGIS 9.0

Öl/Gas

SMT

Landmark/GeoGraphix

EDS

Roxar

Schlumberger/Petrel

Generally, every software has a minimum requirement and recommended requirements. However, you should never orientate yourself on the minimum, as work rate, workflow, and quality (depiction) usually suffer.

Don't forget other important factors at choosing the right notebook!

In addition to the graphic card, following points should be evaluated and considered for choosing the right notebook. More often than not, you will have to give preference to one configuration detail and forgo on another, as not everything is available simultaneously or combinable.

1. Display Characteristics

Size, resolution (desktop surface, detail depth), outdoor suitability, color space

2. Connectivity/Connections (eSATA, FW400, FW800, UMTS)

3. Hardware CPU, RAM, internal hard disk (amount, velocity) / SSD

4. Flexibility/Extendibility

Module slots for a fast exchange of opt. drive, hard disk, battery, floppy

Dummy module for a multi-bay slot / docking station / port replicator for fast connection to stationary peripherals.

Many of these options are closely coupled to the mobility. Therefore, a weighing up of benefits and disadvantages for the single application field is always necessary.

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > FAQ / Tips / Technics > Mobile Graphic Cards for Professional Users (Quadro, FireGL)
Author: Tobias Winkler, 2009-10- 6 (Update: 2012-05-26)