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    The latest high-end NVIDIA card run through its paces.
     
    CGSociety :: Hardware Review
    9th December, by George Maestri

    You always need more memory, more storage, and a better graphics card. That’s just one of those basic facts of life for anyone who works or plays with computers.

    Graphics
    After storage and memory, graphics is probably one of the most frequent upgrades performed to a computer. Most people look to the consumer sector for their upgrades, and the latest and greatest gaming card can usually give a system the extra boost it needs to work with images and play games. Those who create images and graphics for a living, however, need a lot more than just a fast gaming card. These people certainly need speed, but they also need stability and compatibility with a wide range of professional applications such as CAD, 3D modeling, simulation, and game design.

    Professional class cards are typically a step above consumer cards in power and price. They are geared not only to be fast, but also handle very large data sets. While a gaming card may be great at creating cool explosion effects, and allow you to fly through a lushly textured scene at light speed, the requirements of a game is very different from those of a 3D professional.
    GPU Architecture of the Quadro FX 4800.
     
    These professional designers and engineers usually don’t need to move through scenes at light speed. Instead, they need to work with very large data sets. Architects have been known to load entire cities in a graphics card memory, while an automotive engineer may actually simulate a vehicle collision using the processing power of the graphics card.
     
    “Raw speed is only one factor to consider,
    the other big benefit to the Quadro FX 4800 is the additional 1GB of memory.”
     
     
    Physical dimensions.
     
    Buffer
    Other important differences with gaming cards are a much larger frame buffers and a faster ability to read data out of the frame buffer, which helps those applications that need to use the GPU as a computing and simulation device. This large volume of data and GPU performance is where the professional cards outperform gaming cards. NVIDIA’s Quadro series of graphics cards have been at the forefront of this market for a number of years, and their new Quadro FX 4800 and 5800 cards set new standards for what is considered top of the line. We were delivered a Quadro FX4800 for review.

    Physically, the Quadro FX 4800 is by no means small. It is double wide and almost full length. It needs a lot of room on the surrounding motherboard and adequate ventilation in the case. The circuit boards on the card are completely covered by a plastic cover that serves as a ventilation duct. This gives the card a nice finished look. At the far end of the card is a large fan, which thankfully runs fairly quiet. Power requirements are not too horrible, at 150W, it can still be fed by a single six pin connector, but it will need a beefy power supply.
    The back of the card has one Dual-Link DVI connector along with two DisplayPort connectors. This marks the first NVIDIA card with these new connectors. For those who are not familiar with DisplayPort, this is the new digital monitor interface standard. Of these three ports, you can attach monitors to any two. One issue with being the first kid on the block with the new interface is that a lot of older and current monitors do not have DisplayPort connectors.

    This can be resolved with an adapter cable. For those who need to connect to the world of broadcast video, and optional SDI card can be added for real time video compositing, such as in a broadcast news or weather application. For those syncing multiple displays, such as for video walls and venues, a G-Sync card can be configured to sync or Genlock cards to each other or an external source. For stereo applications, a stereo port is included on the back of the card.
    The G-Sync card can sync or Genlock cards to an external source.
     
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    Memory
    The card itself has a whopping 1.5GB of memory, which is double that of its predecessor, the Quadro FX 4600. The base graphics chip for the card is the brand new GT200GL, which contains 1.4 billion transistors and 192 CUDA based computing cores. Each of these cores is a separate multithreaded processor that can calculate pixel, vertex, geometry, and other computing tasks. Having so many processors on a card can certainly boost graphics performance, but the card can also be used as a general purpose computer for such tasks as simulation and image processing. A lot of applications are now taking advantage of this extra power, including CAD programs and even image processing software such as Adobe Photoshop CS4. Other technical specs include a 384-bit memory width, 76.8GB/s memory bandwidth, 300 million triangles/sec, and 38 billion texels/sec. In other words, big surprise -- this card is faster than the one before it.

    Once installed, the card is configured using NVIDIA’s venerable unified drivers, which give you a very robust control panel. I really like amount of control and customization offered in this panel. For those who use multiple applications, NVIDIA gives you a wide range of presets to optimize the card to fit the application. A simple pull-down menu gives a list of dozens of applications, and selecting an application configures the card to the software vendor’s specs.  For those who like to fly solo, you can also customize the configuration to tweak the 3D performance to your needs. For those using 3ds Max, NVIDIA offers it’s Maxtreme drivers, which are tuned specifically for that application. 

     
    Monitor set up option with the new Quadro FX 4800 card.
     
     
     
    Monitor
    Monitor setup is quite nice. The card supports resolutions of up to 3840x2400 in DVI mode, and 2560x1600 in DisplayPort mode. Another very nice feature is the ability to display 30-bit color, allowing for much higher dynamic range over standard 24-bit color. Color correction and resolution settings are completely configurable. One of my favorite little features is the ability to completely tweak the settings to force non-standard resolutions on monitors. This was great when configuring an older HD flat screen as a second monitor for a compositing job.
    Of course, everyone wants to see the numbers. This card was tested using the SPECViewperf 10 suite. As with all benchmarks, the tests are synthetic and will give a general idea as to the speed of the card in various 3D CAD and content creation applications. But the bottom line is that it’s just a test of one computer at one point in time, so every number is relative. The test covers most of the popular CAD apps, such as Catia and Pro-E, as well as popular 3D modeling apps such as Maya and 3ds Max. The resulting numbers were excellent and this certainly performs well in benchmark. 

    Benchmarks
    The card was tested against the Viewperf 10 suite.
    OS : Windows Vista 64 Bit SP1
    Video Driver : Forceware 178.46
    DirectX :  Version 9.24.1400

    Hardware
    CPU : 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad
    Chipset : nForce 630i
    Memory : 4GB 667mhz
    Screen Resolution : 1280x1024

    Viewperf 10 Single thread 64 bit Results:
    3dsmax-04 - 45.05
    catia-02 - 56.12
    ensight-03 - 50.31
    maya-02 - 215.27
    proe-04 - 56.72
    sw-01 - 122.38
    tcvis-01 - 26.11
    ugnx-01 - 32.82

     
     
    Real World
    The other test of a card is real world – in other words, in production. I used the card in my animation studio for a couple of weeks. Typically we do character animation, and sometimes we get fancy and do graphics intensive things such as crowd shots. I loaded a few more difficult 3ds Max crowd shots that we did earlier this year for a Nickelodeon TV show and the card definitely showed an improvement in performance, allowing many characters to animate and deform simultaneously. We could actually scrub through the animation without too many hiccups. This is really where these sorts of high-end cards show their value, any time a highly paid animator is waiting for a scene to scrub is wasted time. The savings in animator productivity could certainly justify this card for those doing high-end and intensive work.

    This review is for a single card, so when we report benchmarks, it might not make much sense to have one card’s numbers hanging out there alone. It’s always better to compare cards. A few months ago, we reviewed the Quadro FX3700, which is just below this card in the NVIDIA product line.
     
    Taking a look at those numbers, the Quadro FX 4800 runs approximately 25-30% faster on any given benchmark. Of course, the tests were run at different times, so it’s not a controlled comparison, but the Quadro FX 4800 is certainly faster and these results are similar to NVIDIA’s own.
     

     
    Summing up
    Overall, the Quadro FX 4800 is a terrific card and certainly one of the fastest and most capable on the market. Considering the Quadro FX 4800 costs over twice as much as the next card down in NVIDIA’s line, the law of diminishing returns starts to apply here. Do you spend twice as much for a card to get a 30% speed gain? As always, the absolute fastest graphics card will cost you a premium, so the high midrange cards are usually the sweet spot when it comes to raw price/performance. But raw speed is only one factor to consider, the other big benefit to the Quadro FX 4800 is the additional 1GB of memory – 1.5GB as compared to 512MB for the Quadro FX 3700. This additional memory can be a make or break factor when using very large data sets. For the average artist, animator, or designer, however, the additional premium for this card may be hard to justify just for the speed boost and extra memory. The bottom line is that those who really need the Quadro FX 4800 are those people doing very high-end work, and they should be very pleased with this new card.

    About the reviewer
    George Maestri has over 15 years of animation experience and is currently president of Rubber Bug, a Los Angeles based animation studio that specializes in character animation. He is also the author of several books on animation, including [digital] Character Animation.

    Related links:
    NVIDIA
    Quadro FX 4800
    George Maestri
    Quadro FX 3700 review
    NVArt 1
    NVArt 2
    NVArt 3

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