• CGNetworks Product Review :: Quadro FX 3000, 1100 and 500
    Professional Pixels: Quadro FX entry-level to high-end roundup
    Joseph Tan, June 28 2004


    In a comparison of three products in the NVIDIA Quadro FX line of graphics processors, Joseph Tan provides comprehensive recommendations for computer graphics professionals.

    Quadro Workstation Graphics

    Today 3DLabs, ATI, and NVIDIA are the major vendors jostling in the professional graphics market. We take a look at three products from the NVIDIA Quadro FX workstation-class graphics line: the entry-level Quadro FX 500, the middle Quadro FX 1100, and the high-end Quadro FX 3000. There are other Quadro FX products in the family, but these three were chosen for review to give a representation of the feature set and performance respective to each other. We'd like to take a look at the Quadro FX 4000 at some future date, but right now we'll focus on the products currently selling on the market.

    The Quadro FX professional range all share the technology of the consumer GeForce FX line. Both share a common design architecture including DirectX 9/OpenGL programmable fragment/pixel and vertex shaders, four pipelines, and support for a 128-bit IEEE floating-point frame buffer. To differentiate the two product lines the following additional capabilities are specific to the NVIDIA Quadro FX:

    • Anti-aliased points and lines for wireframe display.
    • OpenGL logic operations.
    • Up to eight clip regions (GeForce FX supports one).
    • Hardware accelerated clip planes.
    • Memory usage optimization for multiple simultaneous graphics windows.
    • Support for two-sided lighting.
    • Hardware overlay planes.
    • Support for quad-buffered stereo for shutter glasses.

    Equivalent GeForce FXs, which would have tested with the comparable Quadro FX range, weren't available for our testing. However, capabilities such as hardware accelerated clip planes made a big difference to previous-generation Quadro 4s over GeForce 4s in performance tests with benchmarking suite, SPECViewPerf. The MAXtreme drivers for 3ds max, which only work on Quadros, significantly improve performance over the default OpenGL renderer.


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  • Quadro FX 500, 1100 & 3000 continued...

    Introducing the contenders


    The Quadro FX 3000 is large beast, with an oversized cooler fitted; the board weighs in at almost half a kilo. The mass is almost double that of the Quadro FX 1100. The video output consists of two DVI-I outputs and a 3-pin stereo output for shutter glasses. On board is 256MB of DDR RAM running across a 256-bit bus at a DDR clock of 850MHz (27.2GB/sec bandwidth).

    To supply enough power it is mandatory to connect the onboard auxiliary power connector. An optional support bracket (shown fitted on right) is included to add additional protection when shipping inside a workstation.

    The Quadro FX 1100 is a single slot board due to the smaller cooling assembly (compared to its high-end sibling). The memory chips do not have heat sinks attached. The video output consists of two DVI-I outputs and a 3-pin stereo output for shutter glasses. On board is 128MB of DDR RAM running across a 128-bit bus at a DDR clock of 650MHz (10.4GB/sec bandwidth). Out of the three boards tested, the Quadro FX 1100 is the newest model of the range. The Quadro FX 1100 contains a more recent GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) which runs faster than the Quadro FX 3000 (425MHz versus 400MHz). Obviously the company wanted to target it well within the mid-range of the product line so it is fitted with a 128-bit memory bus, but with slower RAM than the Quadro FX 3000.

    As with the Quadro FX 3000, the Quadro FX 1100 requires a connection to the onboard auxiliary power connector.

    The Quadro FX 500 is a single slot board – like the Quadro FX 1100 with an inch trimmed off. A standard active fan heatsink takes care of cooling. The video output consists of one DVI-I and a 15-pin VGA output. There is no provision for 3-pin stereo or TV-out. On board is 128MB of DDR RAM running across a 128-bit bus at a DDR clock of 480MHz (7.68GB/sec bandwidth). The Quadro FX 500 certainly looks like it consumes the least amount of power, with no auxiliary power connector on board.

    Below is NVIDIA's ‘at-a-glance’ comparison table for the entire Quadro FX line. (Source: NVIDIA Quadro FX Product Comparison)
     



    Quadro FX 3000

    Quadro FX 1100



    Quadro FX 500

     
    Board FeaturesQuadro FX 4000Quadro FX 3000GQuadro FX 3000Quadro FX 1100Quadro FX 700Quadro FX 600 PCIQuadro FX 500
    Memory Size256MB DDR256MB DDR256MB DDR128MB DDR128MB DDR256MB DDR128MB DDR
    Memory Interface256-bit256-bit256-bit128-bit256-bit128-bit128-bit
    Memory Bandwidth32.0 GB/sec.27.2 GB/sec.27.2 GB/sec. 10.4 GB/sec.17.6 GB/sec.7.8 GB/sec.7.8 GB/sec.
    Display ConnectorsDVI-I+DVI-I+StereoDVI-I+DVI-I+StereoDVI-I+DVI-I+StereoDVI-I+DVI-I+StereoDVI-I+VGADVI-I+DVI-I+StereoDVI-I+VGA
    Dual-Link DVIYes (2)Yes (1)Yes (1)    
    Genlock/Framelock  Yes     
    3D Primitive Perf
    Triangles per Second 133 Million100 Million100 Million100 Million69 Million28 Million45 Million
    Texels per Second/
    Fill Rate
    4.5 Billion3.2 Billion3.2 Billion3.4 Billion2.2 Billion1.1 Billion1.1 Billion
    Relative 3D Application Performance
    SPEC PROE-024.34.04.03.63.11.01.6
    SPEC UGS-036.14.74.73.83.31.01.3
     

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  • Quadro FX 500, 1100 & 3000 continued...

    nView Galore

    Not forgetting the software, the nView application included with the current NVIDIA ForceWare drivers significantly adds to the usability of the system. Anyone who has used a machine with NVIDIA graphics under Windows would know that dual monitor screens are a snap to set up. The nView display properties gives an assortment of user interface enhancements including virtual desktops, special effects like taskbar transparency, display zooming, hotkeys, colour calibration, and more.

     
      

    Benchmark Time

    Our benchmark system of choice was BOXX Technologies' 3DBOXX 7108. This dual-Opteron machine was recently reviewed here on CGNetworks (link) .

    We used CINEBENCH 2003 to compare the relative performance of the Quadro FXs in rendering through two scene sequences, "Pump Action" and "Citygen", with and without hardware lighting acceleration. 100 CB-GFX units represents MAXON's reference 1GHz Pentium 4 machine in software render. All tests were done with NVIDIA driver defaults and with OpenGL v-sync off.

    In the software render all three Quadro FXs rendered at the same rate (360 CB-GFX). The difference comes as hardware acceleration is applied. In the graph CINEBENCH 2003 - Shading, the first benchmark is done with hardware transform and shading, but with software lighting. In the second test everything (transform, shading, and lighting) is done in hardware. Here the Quadro FX 3000 won out, with the Quadro FX 1100 not too far behind. The Quadro FX 500 certainly lagged behind, hardware lighting wasn't much quicker than software lighting with the Quadro FX 500.

    The bmark data set scenes were run in 3ds max 6 to gauge application interactivity. Here again the Quadro FX 3000 took a lead in most of the tests, and a big lead in a few such as 8spot, rasterize, and textured1 (as shown in 3ds max 6 - Graphics Script Benchmark graph). The Quadro FX 1100 trailed closely behind or matched the Quadro FX 3000 in most of the tests, but lagged significantly behind on a few others. The Quadro FX 500 lagged seriously behind in most of the tests, seemingly bottlenecked in a lot of the intensive ‘fill-rate’ tests.

    The popular workstation graphics benchmarks suite SPECViewPerf 7.1.1 was used to help gauge the relative speed at which the Quadros could handle workstation applications. The data sets in SPECViewPerf are based off applications tests from 3ds max, Lightscape, DesignReview, Pro/Engineer, DataExplorer, and UniGraphics (see SPECViewPerf 7.1.1 graph).

    Here the Quadro FX 3000 took the lead, while the Quadro FX 1100 wasn't too far behind. The Quadro FX 500, on the other hand, definitely wasn't a hot 3D performer in most tests.
     

     
    3DBOXX 7108
    CPUsDual Opteron 248 (2.2GHz)
    Motherboard

    Tyan Thunder K8W

    Memory

    2GB total (Four 512MB ECC DDR PC3200 modules).

    Hard disk

    Four 36GB 10,000 RPM Serial ATA (Western Digital WD360GD).
    One drive used non-RAID. Remaining three drives in RAID 5 array via RAIDCore controller.

    RAID Controller RAIDCore RC4852 Serial ATA (eight channel) 64-bit PCI-X
    Software and Settings
    OSWindows XP SP1a
    Video DriverNVIDIA ForceWare 56.72
    DirectX9.0b
    MAXtreme6.00.04
    Benchmarks

    3ds max 6 bmark
    CineBench 2003
    SPECViewPerf 7.1.1

    Screen resolution1280x0124 pixels, 32 BPP


    Cinebench 2003 – Shading test

     
    SpecViewPerf 7.1.1 test 3ds max 6 – Graphics Script Benchmark test (more results)

    Suitability and Price Performance

    According to NVIDIA, all three boards are aimed for different applications. From our testing it would certainly appear true. The Quadro FX 500 (currently selling for approximately US$210) is the cheapest Quadro FX available, and is more suited to 2D business work and light-duty 3D applications. The Quadro FX 500 GPU's feature set is the same as its more expensive brothers, but isn't designed for heavy 3D work where performance matters.

    The Quadro FX 1100 (currently selling for approximately US$630) came very close to the performance of it's bigger heavier brother. This was surprising, considering it had less than half the memory bandwidth but is evidence of the advantage of its newer GPU.

    The Quadro FX 3000 (currently selling for approximately US$1300) is the card intended for 3D-heavy applications. Considering its 256MB of memory in particular, this graphics processor is best for applications with larger textures and at higher resolutions. The Quadro FX 3000 does take up an adjacent slot, but thanks to its memory bandwidth its performance manages to edge out the newer Quadro FX 1100.
     

     

    Conclusion

    All three cards performed seamlessly. Our pick for most applications is the new Quadro FX 1100 as it performs comparably to the Quadro FX 3000 at half the cost. For cost-conscious buyers, the Quadro FX 500 will suit light-duty 3D users, but the GeForce FX 5200 or even GeForce 4 range may be adequate for these users too.

    Watch out for the Quadro FX 4000 coming out in a couple of weeks or so. Even though the Quadro FX 4000's GPU is significantly different to the existing Quadro FX product-line, it will be slotted into the same family. Going by what NVIDA has said, don't expect the current Quadro FX 3000 pricing to change. So the new model may be very expensive indeed.

    Related Links

    NVIDIA website
    Boxx Technologies article on CGNetworks
    NVIDIA Quadro FX Product Comparison

    Words and images by Joseph Tan
     


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