Nvidia's Quadro 5000: Pushing the boundaries of pro graphics

Is Nvidia's new high-end video card worth its premium price? We put it through the test.

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 ($1,199), successor to the Quadro FX 3800, and the Quadro 5000 ($2,249), which succeeds the Quadro FX 4800, are currently available. The Quadro 6000 ($4,999), which is replacing the Quadro FX 5800, and the QuadroPlex 7000 ($14,500) will be available this fall.

Quadro 5000
Nvidia Quadro 5000

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.

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.

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