Sapphire FireGL V7600 - the Workstation Edge



Ever wondered what really separates the workstation class graphics cards from the usual consumer version? It certainly isn't the silicon underneath the cooler because for as long as we can remember, the workstation line of products has been derived from the same architecture used for consumer graphics. This is true for both ATI's FireGL and NVIDIA's Quadro line of workstation products and it's not hard to see why it makes sense for these companies to have a single unified design to save research and engineering costs. For the intrepid enthusiast who sees nothing incongruous with dabbling in digital content creation and enjoying a game of Quake on the same system, such a situation has given rise to softmod the consumer Radeon/GeForce cards into a FireGL card with the appropriate drivers and firmware. A Google search on 'softmod', 'Quadro' and 'FireGL' produced thousands of links on information regarding this issue, covering a diverse range of cards from the past to the present.

Of course, while the penny pinching amateurs may resort to these methods to get workstation equivalent performance for cheap, this is not exactly an option for professionals. For these users, stability and reliability are a must, along with the assurance that comes with a fully certified and tested workstation graphics card. After all, besides having specialized drivers that are optimized for certain workstation applications, these cards have all undergone certification from the various application vendors that guarantee their performance and stability. Together with enterprise class support, these are some of the reasons why workstation cards cost so much more for similar hardware.

While we have focused mainly on consumer graphics products, we certainly had our fair share of questions about these expensive workstation graphics cards. To answer some of them today, we have one of the current high-end incarnations of the FireGL series, the Sapphire FireGL V7600 in our labs. Based on the ATI R600 GPU, the V7600 is hence a 'close relative' of the Radeon HD 2900 XT. A glance at the specifications confirms this, from the unified shader architecture to DirectX 10 support and Shader Model 4.0. There are some differences of course with GDDR3 preferred in this FireGL model over GDDR4 on the Radeon HD 2900 XT and the clock speeds are also quite different. As such, the FireGL V7600 is more of a variant of the consumer edition Radeon HD 2900 XT, but the FireGL series has even more extreme editions under the V8000 series. Before we go in depth, here are the technical specifications for the latest FireGL series and the V7600 model that the article focuses upon:

Technical Specifications of ATI's FireGL Workstation Graphics
  • Powered by scaleable ATI FireGL graphics accelerator with parallel processing Unified Shader architecture
  • AutoDetect instinctively optimizes for user�s workflow
  • 2 Dual Link DVI-I outputs
  • High Dynamic Range (HDR) rendering with 8-bit, 10-bit & 16-bit per RGB color component support
  • Full Shader Model 4.0 support for vertex and pixel shaders
  • CAD and DCC application certification
  • Up to 2GB GDDR4 graphics memory and 256-bit ring-bus memory controller
  • 128-bit full floating point precision
  • Hardware Accelerates DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.1 advanced features
ATI FireGL Unified Shader Architecture
  • Automatically directs graphics power where it is needed
  • Makes better use of computation resources enabling real-time rendering of more complex and realistic images
  • Intelligent management of computation resources maximizes graphics throughput at all stages of design
Display Capabilities
  • 2 Dual Link DVI-I outputs support any combination of digital and analog displays
  • Independent multi-monitor resolution and refresh rate selection
  • Dual Link outputs ideal for driving 30-inch cinema / widescreen (2560 x 1600) displays
  • Maximum individual Dual Link output capable of ultra-high resolutions up to 9 Megapixels (3840 x 2400)
  • Individual Dual Link output capable of ultra-high resolutions up to 9 Megapixels (3840 x 2400)
  • Stereoscopic 3D output connector with quad buffer support�
  • Dual VGA analog support
  • HD Component Video (YPrPb) output
  • Drive four 3D displays with multi-card support
API and OS Support
  • OpenGL 2.1 with OpenGL Shading Language
  • Microsoft DirectX 10
  • Windows XP, Windows XP64
  • Linux 32 and Linux 64
  • Windows Vista
System Requirements
  • PCI Express based workstation with available x16 lane graphics slot
  • Connection to the system power supply
  • 350-Watt power supply or greater (assumes fully loaded system)
  • 512MB of system memory
  • Installation software requires CD-ROM drive
Warranty and Support
  • Enterprise class support
  • Three year limited product repair/replacement warranty
  • Direct toll free phone and email access to dedicated workstation technical support team
FireGL V7600
  • R600 GPU
  • Manufactured on an 80nm fabrication process
  • Core clock = 600MHz
  • 64 shader processors (consisting of 320 stream processing units in total)
  • 256-bit memory interface
  • 512MB GDDR3 (1600MHz DDR)
  • 51GB/s memory bandwidth
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