AMD FirePro W8100 Review: The Professional Radeon R9 290

After introducing the flagship FirePro W9100, AMD now has a FirePro W8100 in its portfolio. Somewhat lower specs (like 8 GB of memory, a slower GPU, and fewer shader units) should position it in the workstation world where the Radeon R9 290 is in gaming.

We already covered the Hawaii GPU's debut in the workstation space (AMD FirePro W9100 Review: Hawaii Puts On Its Suit And Tie). That story began with a question: did AMD throw caution to the wind and design a professional-class card designed for maximum rendering horsepower, rather than target a sweet spot? The company's approach changes with its FirePro W8100, so now we have to ask if the newer board is fast enough to warrant its asking price.

Where is AMD trying to go with the W8100? In the presentation slides for its W9100, the company set that card up as a competitor going against Nvidia's Quadro K5000, and was taken by surprise when it succeeded on all fronts. Based on the outcome, AMD became a bit more confident, and is now positioning the FirePro W8100 as the right card to go against the Quadro K5000. Its W9100 now shoots even higher.

Spoiler alert! In the table above, we see that the FirePro W8100’s measured power consumption is approximately 28 percent lower than the W9100's. With a compute-oriented load applied, it draws noticeably less power than Nvidia’s Quadro K6000 for the very first time, and it is about on par with it in 3D tasks. This lower power consumption is roughly what you can expect, keeping in mind lower performance, when both figures are expressed as percentages. Of course, that doesn't mean our real-world benchmarks will yield the same findings, so the test results should be interesting.

Quo Vadis, AMD FirePro W8100?

When you have performance to offer, new opportunities present themselves. AMD identifies CAD and engineering, media and entertainment, medicine, and finance as some of the FirePro family's more traditional strengths. But with its big Hawaii GPU and the GCN architecture's alacrity in compute-intensive tasks, AMD wants to lock down its share of the virtualization, cloud gaming, and signage segments as well.

The ambition makes sense. Workstation-oriented apps benefit more and more from the performance of modern GPUs, after all. Nowadays, you can even run multiple CAD and CAE workflows at the same time. Cranking along on the next version of a drawing while rendering the previous one isn't a pipe dream. This stuff is actually doable. And the sky's the limit with a design equally adept in 3D- and general-purpose tasks.

AMD is already a seasoned vet when it comes to 3D. Now GPGPU is where it's trying to lead development. In order to better facilitate that initiative, the company is throwing its support behind the OpenCL standard as an alternative to Stream and CUDA. As we've seen in several different applications already, when there's a computationally difficult job that can be parallelized, the potential performance gains are well worth optimizing for.

There's also a notable trend toward the adoption of 4K (3840x2160) in the workplace. Those higher resolutions give engineers and artists a lot more room to work with. And while more detail obviously benefits 3D applications, even 2D tasks like programming are greatly enhanced by the extra screen space and pixel density of a 4K display.

Similarly, professional media-oriented titles see a lot of benefit as it becomes possible to edit high-res video in real time at full resolution. A workstation board like the W8100 should speed up the processing of video and photo filters, along with accelerating encoding/decoding. The professional graphics card market is clearly changing, and the lines between various segments are getting blurrier, even as the workloads and data sets are more specific than ever. CAD, CAE, M&E, oil and gas...the W8100 is AMD’s most recent effort to grab a larger share of all of them by further diversifying its portfolio of FirePro products.

AMD says that the FirePro W8100 is supposed to have a great price/performance ratio, and, in light of the card’s price, it could be onto something special. Is it the real deal though, faced with a less expensive Quadro K5000 as competition?