NVIDIA Quadro 5000 Professional (Workstation) Graphics Card Review

September 25, 2011 8:14 pm

Tags: 3D, 3ds Max, Autodesk, CineBench, NVIDIA, Quadro 5000

NVIDIA Quadro 5000 Professional (Workstation) Graphics Card Review

"In so many ways, iray running on the NVIDIA GPUs allows me to work faster and create higher quality images. I'm handling more images in less time, and I can do more things with that time I save--whether it's taking on more work or spending more time with my family. The GPUs have made such a dramatic impact on my work. It's such an impressive increase in both detail and speed. The NVIDIA GPU hardware and iray are an amazing combination. I can't wait to see how much further they develop in the future."
-Jeff Patton on using Quadro GPU and iray

From personal experience in building my own workstations and spending hours and hours researching the best hardware for each rig that I build, I can attest to the truth of Moore's Law that there is an 18 month development cycle in computer hardware. Especially when it comes to computer graphics and the AIB (add in board) graphics card. And if you include the explosion of interest in video games and the subsequent demand for higher and higher levels of graphics precision, the ability of companies like NVIDIA to release faster and more powerful graphics processing units (or GPU's, which NVIDIA invented in 1999) in a shorter time span affects their market share and appeal to millions of game fans.

However, while NVIDIA and its rivals worked to satisfy the demands of the game world, there was another entirely different market that required much higher levels of performance and stability: the professional workstation market. Namely, the people who were making the games with their computer workstations. While game-oriented GPU's focus on performance to achieve spectacular shader effects and brilliant visuals, professional work station users need a GPU that can reproduce, with extreme precision, the thousands of geometric objects and data used in 3D/CAD software. And this is where NVIDIA has shown it has an edge in contemporary GPU design for professionals.

My workstation with FirePro V8750 installed

NVIDIA and My Computer Builds

The computers I build are hybrid-workstations. Most of my daily email and web surfing is done on a laptop, while my main workstation handles all of my digital video editing, photo/art creation, animation work and sound editing. I've also used it to play a limited amount of video games via Steam (I play two or three games a year).

NVIDIA has always been my video card of choice for games, primarily because they were well-built, had regular driver updates and lasted. I bought the first GeForce 256 card in 1999 and have upgraded my card, yes, every 18 months approximately (thank you, Mr. Moore). As my 3D software reviews began in earnest over 3 years ago, I found that while NVIDIA's game cards were brilliant in Crysis and Half Life 2, they were struggling with professional software programs like Autodesk 3ds Max and NewTek's Lightwave. So, I jumped at the opportunity to build a new system around a professional-level card when it came with the software I was reviewing. This was the AMD FirePro V8750, a high-end card designed exactly for what I needed it for. I've been using this card for almost 2 years now, and it has performed decently, even in various video games.

Although the FirePro card has performed well, I was very pleased to have been recently offered the NVIDIA Quadro 5000 professional GPU to review. I've been very curious to see how NVIDIA's design and drivers would compare to their rival FirePro GPU. Certainly, the Quadro 5000 card is one generation ahead of the FirePro and will most likely be faster in the tests. So, I wanted to check not only the speed, but the driver release, system integration, warranty and most particularly, the difference in impact on the new Autodesk 3ds Max 2012 and it's newest renderer, iray from Mental Images, which I think has the potential to be one of the best rendering options for life-like realistic rendering.

That said, my goal in this review will be to compare the two cards in a variety of standard tests, discuss the effectiveness of both cards and see how well each card performs in Autodesk 3ds Max 2012 with the new iray renderer. I'll also be adding a few additional tests with video editing and game play just for fun. Keep in mind, I don't have a graphics bench and multiple cards in my workshop, so these tests are not as wide-ranging as a professional graphics review might have, but there are great sites like Anandtech.com and Xbitlabs.com which feature lengthy archived test results for pro-level cards and game cards as well.

The Nvidia Quadro 5000 graphics card

NVIDIA Quadro Series of Professional Graphics cards

About a year ago, NVIDIA announced it was bringing out a series of high-end cards based on the new NVIDIA Fermi architecture, designed for the professional workstation market. While the Fermi-based chips in the gaming market had a slow start due to unexpected problems, NVIDIA solved those and took their time getting their workstation counterparts to work perfectly. The Quadro 4000, 5000 and 6000 professional graphics cards from NVIDIA are built on their GF100 chip (Graphics Fermi 100 chip). They are designed to supersede the previous generation Quadro FX 3800, FX 4800 and FX 5800.

The new Quadro cards are a big improvement over previous versions, designed to deliver "up to 5x faster performance than the previous generation across a broad range of design, animation and video applications." The new Quadro family of professional cards also feature a new Scalable Engine technology that can process up to 1 billion triangles per second. NVIDIA also upped the memory subsystems (and memory bandwidth) so that professionals can process and work with a huge amount of data and geometry. Plus, the memory subsystems support ECC (error correction code), which is a big plus.

Moreover, the new Quadro series also features almost double the amount of NVIDIA CUDA parallel processor cores, along with support for Direct X 11, Shader Model 5.0 and Open GL 4.1. They can also be used in an SLI arrangement, with motherboards that support multi-card slots. The full chart of comparisons between the new Quadro cards and the previous models can be found here (pdf).

GPU-Z reading of Quadro 5000 specs

The NVIDIA Quadro 5000

The high-end Quadro 5000 sits in between the high-end Quadro 4000 and the ultra high-end Quadro 6000, and therefore features the best of the high-end 4000 card and some of what makes the Quadro 6000 such a super high-performance workstation video card. As you can see from the GPU-Z reading above, the Quadro 5000 has 2.5 GB/s of GDDR5 memory. The memory interface is 320-bit and the bandwidth is 120GB/s. The card supports OpenCL, CUDA, PhysX and DirectCompute 5.0.

Back of Quadro 5000 card with large heat sink plate

The Quadro 5000 is a two-slot card and is slightly smaller than it's predecessor, coming in at just under an inch shorter at 9.7 inches long and 4.8 inches high. It's a largish card, but not significantly more than most game-based cards. Professional workstation builders will usually use a larger, roomier computer case as it cools much easier. Display support features 1 Dual Link DVI-I, 2 display ports, 2 digital outputs, 1 analog output, 2 active display channels, stereo (3-pin Mini-DIN) and supports 3D Vision and 3D Vision Pro technology. Maximum display resolution (@ 60Hz) is 2560x1600. I didn't get a chance to test the card's DVI-I output to my LCD TV, but from research it holds up very well, especially in color reproduction.

Back end of Quadro 5000 card with DVI connections

The cooling system is enclosed in the Quadro 5000 with a reasonable sized fan, heat-sink and exhaust ports through slots on the end of the board, which force the air out the back of the computer. Very little noise came from the fan, even at peak usage. Heat levels never rose above 87 degrees Celcius, even after hours of testing and use.

Installation of this beautiful card (why do gaming cards have such awful graphics on them?) went smoothly, as did driver installation. I downloaded updated drivers from the NVIDIA site for my Windows 7 64-bit system, along with Autodesk 3ds Max performance mini-drivers and other NVIDIA software. Re-booted and I'm ready for testing.

Testing the Quadro 5000 and the FirePro 8750

To be fair, the AMD FirePro V8750 is no slouch in the features department. You can read the details on the card here. Given that it's a 2 year old card, the memory, clock speed, memory bandwidth, etc., are all about 15-20% less than the NVIDIA Quadro 5000. When we test, we should expect the Quadro 5000 to outperform the FirePro V8750 by approximately that margin at least.

I ran the tests on my custom built rig using the Intel i7 quad-core 920 CPU on an ASUS P6T Deluxe V2 using 12 Gb of DDR3 RAM. The CPU speed is slower than most pro workstations, which usually run the i7 980 CPU at 3.4Ghz. I thought about overclocking, but decided it would throw off heat readings for the GPU. I'd say that compared to these NVIDIA's stock test results (which uses the higher speed CPU), we'll see lower test results on my test rig by about 10%. I did not use the performance drivers for either card, as the Quadro5000 Autodesk 3ds Max drivers would not install due to multiple versions of Autodesk 3ds Max on my machine. So, at least the two cards will be on an even playing field. I did use the current drivers for each card at the time of testing.

I chose the standard graphics tests, plus a few of my own: CineBench 11.5, which measures OpenGL performance; SPECviewperf 11.0, which uses a variety of sub-tests of graphics content from a variety of applications; RedWay 3D Turbine, measuring raster and raytracing performance; and Furmark 1.85 for additional OpenGL performance testing. I also focused on Autodesk 3ds Max / iray, by rendering two different scenes in the default renderer and then in iray on both cards. And lastly, I threw in a little game FPS performance using Half Life 2 and Crysis 2.

Chart 1, the SPECviewperf 11 test results

The SPECviewperf 11 test, which is probably the most important of the 3 main testing applications for testing professional graphics card like these, shows that the Quadro 5000 is not only faster and more effective than the FirePro V8750, but by over 50% in some tests. Heat levels never rose above 87 C for the Quadro and 84 C for the FirePro.

Chart 2, multiple test results

This graph combines several tests, including Cinebench, FurMark and RedWay, all of which are specifically designed to test the abilities of pro-level cards. We see that once again the Quadro 5000 pulls ahead of the FirePro V8750 by as much as 40%, with the Cinebench test being very close. Heat production was almost identical for each card at around 84 C max.

Chart 3, rendering in 3DS Max 2012 and iray

This graph represents rendering tests in Autodesk 3ds Max 2012 using two different scenes: scene 1 is an indoors scene with 45 objects, 34,000 faces and 3 lights, scene 2 is an outdoor scene with 80 objects, 1.3 million faces and 2 lights. I rendered both scenes using the default Autodesk 3ds Max 2012 render settings and then with NVIDIA iray. One note about the iray renderer: it's an iterative renderer and will run until you stop it refining. In order to time the iray render speed, I ran the default render first, then used that time as a guide for the iray render. If the iray renderer got the scene to look as good as the default render, I'd stop it and check the time. There's a certain amount of subjectivity involved, but no so much that it would ruin the general results in comparing the render times.

It's pretty clear that the Quadro 5000 smokes the FirePro V8750 in Autodesk 3ds Max 2012 rendering. Add the performance drivers into the mix and a faster CPU, and you'll get another 20-30% increase. A remarkable job by a Quadro 5000 card that is very quiet and never goes over 87 Celcius in heat tests.

iray rendering in 3ds Max using the Quadro cards


The Quadro series of professional graphics cards from NVIDIA are simply the best you can buy. I tested the Quadro 5000 and discovered that it dominates a fairly recent FirePro card by a wide margin, without a single crash or hiccup over several hours of testing. In informal game testing, I was able to see little or no impact on game framerate, even in Crysis 2. Yes, there was some slight choppiness in huge cut-scenes, but the game was very fluid during actual play, and this was with the settings turned up to high and 4 times anti-aliasing. 3DMark Vantage score for the Quadro 5000 was over 11, 000, and average framerate in those tests were in the low 30 FPS range. Not bad for a Quadro card that isn't even designed for playing games.

In other applications like Mudbox, Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 and NewTek Lightwave 10, the card enables me to work with ease inside of each application and render quickly. The real-time interface of LW10 works like a charm with this card.

Nvidia's Quadro family of workstation cards

The Quadro series of professional graphics cards vary in price, depending on the re-seller. Average street price for the Quadro 6000 is $3,800. The Quadro 5000 comes in at $1,700 and the Quadro 4000 is currently selling online for around $800.

Now, much has been said that because the architecture of NVIDIA professional-level cards like the Quadro series is identical to it's gaming counterparts, these high-level cards are simply ripping off the buyer. I don't believe this is true. Remember the 2nd of Moore's Laws which states that the "costs of development" double every 18 months in the same way as technical capabilities do? One of the main differences between the Quadro and the GeForce game/consumer cards, like, say, the GTX 560, is in the drivers. NVIDIA spends enormous amounts of money researching and developing specific drivers for it's professional, workstation class GPU's, and this is reflected in their cost. Professionals also expect more service, longer-lasting manufacturing and a better warranty than game-based cards. They get it with the Quadro series, no question. And NVIDIA has had success in marketing its Quadro series of workstation cards. In fact, they dominate this market share.

The NVIDIA Quadro 5000 is the single best card I've ever used for any of my workstation builds. It boosts the Adobe CS5.5 suite of products, it really pushes Autodesk 3ds Max 2012, and all of my animation work using a variety of applications is simply faster than anything I've used before.

The NVIDIA Quadro 5000 professional graphics card has my highest recommendation. All of my workstation builds in the future will feature NVIDIA workstation cards. If you use a professional workstation, especially those using Autodesk 3ds Max and it's remarkable iray renderer, you should have this card in your machine. Period.


Be sure to check out the Quadro homepage at the NVIDIA website for more specs on all three cards (Quadro 6000, Quadro 5000, and Quadro 4000). Many, many good reviews across the internet give similar results to mine. I particularly like the Jon Peddie site for graphics news and reviews.

At SIGGRAPH 2011 this past August, in addition to a brilliant NVIDIA booth, I was fortunate to see demonstrations of their Project Maximus technology, which combines a Quadro graphics card (for visualization) with an NVIDIA Tesla card (for computational calculations that various professional applications employ). This combo will surely become the norm for future workstation configurations, and I hope to review the setup at some point in the future.

My sincere thanks to NVIDIA for providing the Quadro 5000 for review and, in particular, to Sean Kilbride and Mark Priscaro for their help.

Be sure to visit the NVIDIA website

Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.



September 26, 2011

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