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Review: Sapphire FirePro W9100

by David Ross on 27 October 2015, 12:00

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qacu6i

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Introduction

AMD is most commonly known as the provider of consumer Radeon GPUs and a wide range of APUs and CPUs for mainstream and enthusiast PC desktops and laptops. But just like rival Nvidia, AMD has a professional range of graphics cards designed for the workstation market.

Such graphics cards are known as FirePro and are based on very similar architectures to their consumer Radeon cousins, but they're different insofar as the software is validated for applications used in the fields of compute, life sciences, engineering and design.

The professional nature of the intended market means people are willing to pay for the privilege of enhanced reliability, and it's an area that AMD, right now, is underrepresented in. Latest research indicates that Nvidia has an 75 per cent market share leaving just 25 per cent to AMD.

These types of cards are sold within workstations built by the likes of Dell, HP, Apple and a whole host of smaller SIs - this is how Nvidia gets so much traction - and also separately as in-place upgrades over older technology. Speaking numbers, Q3 2014, for example, saw just over a million GPU-equipped workstations sold while AMD and Nvidia claimed a total 1.26m shipments - meaning 250,000 cards were purchased from the channel.

AMD's workstation cards are split into two broad camps based on underlying architecture. The Wx100 range uses various GPUs based on the GCN 1.1 blueprint while Wx000 harness GCN 1.0. Here's a brief table outlining the current stack.

FirePro Wx00 series

 
FirePro W9000
FirePro W8000
FirePro W7000
FirePro W5000
FirePro W600
Launch date
June 2012
June 2012
June 2012
June 2012
June 2012
Codename
Tahiti XT
Tahiti Pro
Pitcairn XT
Pitcairn LE
Cape Verde Pro
Process (nm)
28
28
28
28
28
Processors
2,048
1,792
1,280
768
512
Texture Units
128
112
80
48
16
ROP Units
32
32
32
32
16
Clock Speed (MHz)
975
900
950
825
750
GFLOPS (SP)
3,994
3,226
2,432
1,267
768
GFLOPS (DP)
998
806
152
79
48
Memory Clock (MHz)
5,500
5,500
4,800
3,200
4,000
Memory Bus (bits)
384
384
256
256
128
Max bandwidth (GB/s)
264
264
154
102
64
Default memory size (GB)
6
4
4
2
2
ECC memory
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
TDP (watts)
275
190
150
75
75
Outputs
6x mDP
4x mDP
4x DP
2x DP
6x mDP

The older FirePro cards' specifications will be familiar to any enthusiast who purchased a Radeon card in the last three years. Based on the same architecture that powered the Radeon HD 7970, HD 7950, HD 7870, and so forth, AMD naturally repurposed the GPUs for professional usage.

Clock speeds remain similar to their desktop counterparts, as does single- and double-precision support. The obvious telltale sign that some are architectured for workstation usage is gleaned from the extra onboard memory, provision for ECC support for enhanced error checking, and a wide range of outputs. The Wx000 series still exist today but have been largely superseded by the Wx100.

FirePro Wx100 series

 
FirePro W9100
FirePro W8100
FirePro W7100
FirePro W5100
FirePro W4100
FirePro W2100
Launch date
March 2014
June 2014
August 2014
August 2014
August 2014
August 2014
Codename
Hawaii XT
Hawaii Pro
Tonga
Bonaire Pro
Cape Verde
Oland XT
Process (nm)
28
28
28
28
28
28
Processors
2,816
2560
1,792
768
512
320
Texture Units
176
160
112
48
32
16
ROP Units
64
64
32
16
16
8
Clock Speed (MHz)
930
824
920
930
630
630
GFLOPS (SP)
5,238
4,219
3,297
1,430
645
403
GFLOPS (DP)
2,619
2,109
206
89
40
25
Memory Clock (MHz)
5,000
5,000
5,600
6,000
4,500
3,600
Memory Bus (bits)
512
512
256
128
128
128
Max bandwidth (GB/s)
320
320
179
96
72
29
Default memory size (GB)
16
8
8
4
2
2
ECC memory
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
TDP (watts)
275
220
150
75
50
25
Outputs
6x mDP
6x mDP
4x DP
4x DP
4x DP
2x DP

The codenames provide meaningful insight into the provenance of the newer FirePro GPUs. Focussing on the two premier cards based on the same architecture that propels the Radeon R9 290(X), AMD has used the same tack to differentiate these graphics goliaths.

Though the specifications do appear to be very similar on first perusal, AMD has used the fullest computational ability for FirePro by improving the double-precision binary support by a factor of 4x. Useful for when calculations need supreme accuracy, the top-end FirePros run double-precision at half the single-precision speed.

There's more memory, too, for the larger datasets common to the professional market, and both high-end W-series GPUs, like their predecessors, offer ECC support as standard. Six mini DisplayPort connectors can drive six 4K panels at once without the need for any additional hubs or adapters, which is a first for the workstation market. Do be aware that running six limits the refresh to 30Hz; three can run at a full, preferred 60Hz.

Going for the cream of the crop, we have the W9100 in for review today. So let's take a look at what constitutes AMD's best-ever professional graphics card.