Nvidia, which is well known for its consumer-focused video cards, isn't relying solely on that market to keep going in this perilous economy. Instead, it's continuing to expand into the professional graphics arena.

Nvidia introduced four new versions of its upscale Quadro graphics card on July 27th: The Quadro 4000, successor to the Quadro FX 3800, and the Quadro 5000, which succeeds the Quadro FX 4800, are currently available. The Quadro 6000, which is replacing the Quadro FX 5800, and the QuadroPlex 7000 will be available this autumn. For this review, I tested the Quadro 5000.

These graphics cards are not meant to be used in the average PC; they're professional products that are designed for use in high-end multi-CPU workstations. They're the tools used to develop games, graphics programs, massive applications and simulations in an OpenGL environment.

The Quadro cards are based on the new Fermi platform (download PDF). Fermi is Nvidia's attempt to produce a graphics-processing unit (GPU) that's as powerful, if not a little more so in some areas, than Intel's big-time multicore CPUs.

Fermi GPUs contain hundreds of CUDA cores. CUDA is a technique Nvidia created to allow software developers to access the computational power of its GPU. Essentially, CUDA provides a parallel processing path into the GPU rather than using the single thread approach typically offered by CPUs, even those with multiple cores or threads. For example, in the gaming world, CUDA (via a combination of both software and hardware architecture) enables GPUs to offer better graphic rendering as well as help in doing the calculations needed to display ancillary items like smoke, tree leaves and exploding bits and pieces.

nVidia Quadro 5000

The Quadro 5000 that I reviewed contains 352 CUDA cores and 2.5GB of memory. It supports Shader Model 5, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0.

Nvidia has suggested that a dual Xeon (or equivalent) workstation would be the best system on which to use the Quadro 5000, but it says that four-core and six-core single-processor systems could be used as substitutes. I used a Digital Storm Black OPS Assassin PC equipped with an Intel Core i7 930 2.8-GHz (3.2-GHz/3.9-GHz overclock). It was originally equipped with a pair of Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 graphics cards in an SLI configuration. I ran all of the tests on that original configuration and then substituted the single Quadro 5000 and reran the tests.

To test the Quadro 5000's ability to work with high-end 3D graphics rendering, I used a benchmark called SPECviewperf 11, which measures the 3D rendering performance of systems running under OpenGL. The test was developed and distributed by the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC).

SPECviewperf measures the 3D graphics performance of systems running under the OpenGL application programming interface. The benchmark's test files, called viewsets, are developed by tracing graphics content from actual applications. Current viewsets represent graphics functionality in these applications: Autodesk Maya 2009, CATIA V5 and V6, EnSight 8.2, LightWave 3D 9.6, Pro/Engineer Wildfire 5.0, Siemens NX 7, SolidWorks 2009 and Siemens Teamcenter Visualization Mockup.

On my Black OPS Assassin system, switching between the dual GeForce GTX 480 cards and the single Quadro 5000, the results were remarkable.

SPECviewperf 11 test results

  GeForce GTX 480 Quadro 5000
CATIA 6.23 37.3
EnSight 16.91 33.95
LightWave 9.97 38.64
Maya 6.53 54.55
Pro/Engineer 1.49 9.7
SolidWorks 7.88 43.71
Siemens Teamcenter Visualization Mockup 0.9 37.55
Siemens NX 1.64 36.53

The differences in the scores indicate the relative proficiency of the two graphics systems running the various viewsets. While the Assassin is a strong gaming machine when equipped with the pair of GT 480s, it just doesn't have enough of the power needed to do well in the extensive 3D rendering viewsets pushed by SPECview. In comparison, the Quadro results are outstanding.

(You'll find a brief list of results from other boards at the SPECgpc site. While most of the results shown relate to older Quadro cards, even the lone ATI FirePro V8800 is outclassed by the new Quadro 5000.)

To test for the type of graphics you'd see on a typical gaming PC, in other words, to see how the Quadro 5000 would work for a consumer rather than a developer, I ran Heaven Benchmark, a Direct X 11 GPU test; 3DMark Vantage, a 3D gaming test; and Cinebench 11.5, a graphic rendering test.

Graphics benchmark results

  GeForce GTX 480 Quadro 5000
Heaven Benchmark 36.9 13.4
3DMark Vantage 18437 5428
Cinebench 11.5 46.3 45.15

With the exception of Cinebench 11.5, the graphics rendering test, the Quadro 5000 was totally outclassed by the two GT 480 cards for playing or emulating games. Even under Cinebench, the Quadro 5000 had no advantage.

OUR VERDICT

Nvidia doesn't recommend this card for typical desktop PCs. This is not the next hot gaming card. If you're a gamer, find a card that's more of an all-around speed demon.

If you're a developer, consider that the less time you spend on a graphics project, the more efficient and therefore the more cost-effective that project is. Over its life span, even at a starting price of £2,000, you will actually save the cost of the Quadro 5000 several times over based on its prowess with 3D OpenGL graphics projects. It is the sizzling hot solution for upscale graphics workstations.