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By Dimitrios Karamanlidis, January 10, 2013
When the brand new graphics board arrived and I opened the packaging, the first thing that shot through my head was the starting line of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Yes indeed, 'at first, I was afraid, I was petrified' for the box contained no packing slip, no manual, no CD. AMD had sent me an early release of their new “FirePro W4000” (that’s how the label on the card read), and when I searched on Google, I found little on it; even AMD's Web site was silent on the card and the drivers I needed. After contacting a couple live persons at AMD, however, I learned that the label “W4000” was incorrect and should have read “W5000.” Big sigh of relief. They provided with a link to download the driver and documentation. Now things were looking up.
Figure 1: AMD's FirePro W5000 graphics board
I decided to install the card on my year-old Dell Inspiron 570 running 64-bit Windows 7 Professional. The graphics card it came with is also from AMD, an ATI Radeon HD 4200. It has only two ports, VGA and HDMI. I should also mention that it is integrated into the motherboard, which typically is not the most desirable situation for a graphics card used for CAD work. My monitor, on the other hand, is an HP 2311x that has VGA, HDMI, and DVI ports.
Windows Benchmark. To create a base line, I first ran from the Control Panel Microsoft's Performance Information and Tools applet, which gave the old graphics board an Aero Graphics score of 4.3 and a Gaming Graphics score of 5.3.
AutoCAD Benchmark. Next stop, the AutoCAD graphics benchmark test. It’s a feature that has been packaged with the software since at least Release 2009, but since it’s undocumented so don’t go looking for it in any help file. To access it, use the Appload command to load the Gs_Test.arx file, which is found in AutoCAD's root directory (C:\Program Files\AutoCAD 2009, in my case). In the dialog box, click Load, and then Close.
In the command line, I typed GsbXY and then watched my drawing subjected to a litany of twists and turns in a variety of visual styles. (Indeed, it works with empty drawings as well, when you enter the GsTestBenchmark command.) AutoCAD reported the following results in the output window (the one that is accessed by pressing F2):
|Wireframe:||2.22 seconds,||324.35 fps|
|Hidden Line:||22.29 seconds,||32.35 fps|
|Flat Shaded:||3.01 seconds,||239.86 fps|
|Gouraud Shaded:||2.64 seconds,||273.16 fps|
|Realistic:||3.92 seconds,||183.88 fps|
|Conceptual:||21.75 seconds,||33.15 fps|
Here, “fps” stands for frames per second; higher fps numbers are faster, better. Notice that the slowest are hidden-line removal and conceptual rendering, which really test graphics boards. (I've rounded the results to two decimal places to make the numbers easier to read.)
The drawing I used for my test is the “Steel Sculpture,” depicted in figure 2, which is typically one of the assignments I give to my students whenever I teach the CAD course.
Figure 2: Sample drawing used for AutoCAD benchmark
CADalyst Benchmark. Now if we do some research on the subject of graphics hardware testing it won’t take long before we bump into the CADalyst magazine Benchmark Test. It’s a much more comprehensive test that required me to download a bunch of files from their Web site at www.cadalyst.com/benchmark. After I installed it, my eye caught the fine print: “This benchmark test (including all files) may not be copied, modified, or distributed commercially without the written consent of the copyright holders. Test results may not be published in any form without the written consent of the copyright holders.”
Not having the benefit of a law degree I decided not to get involved with this, and so skipped the test altogether.
Having collected as much info as I could regarding my old card, I just could not wait to install the new one. Here are the steps I took regarding the installation;
Windows Benchmark. As the first order of business, I went back and re-run the Performance Information and Tools applet. This time I got a 7.7 score for both Aero Graphics and Gaming Graphics. That’s quite an improvement, compared to the old card – and nearly reaches the maximum score of 7.9 measured by Windows.
But then, for no reason other than perhaps because I could, I went to the Catalyst Pro Control Corner and noticed the option to autosearch for, and install, driver updates. Sure enough, it told me that the installed driver was an older version 8.982.2.0 while the latest was 8.982.8.1000. So sure, I said, go ahead and install the new thing. When done, I ran again Performance Information and Tools, but the score for Aero Graphics and Gaming graphics went down to 7.4. Disappointed, I got rid of the new driver in a hurry, and re-installed the old one.
AutoCAD Benchmark. I again fired-up AutoCAD with my Steel Sculpture drawing. Below are listed the obtained results from the Benchmark test:
|Wireframe:||1.59 seconds,||453.44 fps|
|Hidden Line:||19.19 seconds,||37.55 fps|
|Flat Shaded:||2.59 seconds,||278.23 fps|
|Gouraud Shaded:||2.34 seconds,||308.58 fps|
|Realistic:||3.53 seconds,||204.12 fps|
|Conceptual:||18.64 seconds,||38.68 fps|
I was reasonably pleased with the numbers.
My next step was to execute the 3dConfig command, which opens up the Adaptive Degradation and Performance Tuning dialog box (see figure 3). It allows me to control 3D display performance. I clicked the View Tune Log button to see the list of the Performance Tuner Results.
Figure 3: AutoCAD's graphics performance tuning dialog box
Funny thing is, while all the info listed reflects the hardware change, the Date of Last Tune stayed unchanged at a year-old date of 2/8/2011. To perform a manual tune, I clicked the button to bring up the Manual Performance Tuning dialog box (see figure 4). I turned off Hardware Acceleration and ran the test again.
Figure 4: AutoCAD's manual graphics performance tuning settings
As you see below, the numbers did not change by much
|Wireframe:||1.56 seconds,||461.00 fps|
|Hidden Line:||20.36 seconds,||35.41 fps|
|Flat Shaded:||2.61 seconds,||276.06 fps|
|Gouraud Shaded:||2.31 seconds,||311.48 fps|
|Realistic:||3.54 seconds,||203.82 fps|
|Conceptual:||19.68 seconds,||36.639159 fps|
All in all, in the two weeks I had this card in my possession it has not given me any grief. I have used it in conjunction with a large collection of applications, such as ADINA, ANSYS, ACAD, Maple, Mathematica, Matlab, and SpaceClaim.
The brochure I downloaded from AMD’s website trumpets the FirePro W5000 as “the most powerful mid-range workstation graphics card ever created, delivering significantly better performance than the competing card against a wide set of measurements.” For me to claim that I could affirm or disprove that statement would be beyond preposterous. But I can offer anecdotal evidence, if you don’t mind.
A couple years ago I finally decided to see an eye doctor for the first time in my life. He prescribed some light-duty reading glasses and told me to use them when necessary while doing computer work. With the old graphics card I had to use them every now and then because sometimes things got blurry. With the new one, razor sharp is the word without having to use the glasses.
OS support: XP-32, XP-64, Vista-32, Vista-64, Win7-32, Win7-64, Server 2008 R2-64, Win8-32, Win8-64, Linux-32, Linux-64
Product API support: DirectX 11, OpenGL 4.2
Optimized and Certified for following applications:
2x DisplayPort v1.2 and 1x Dual-link DVI
Memory Size: 2GB
|The late Dimitrios Karamanlidis, PhD, received his education in Germany prior to coming to the United States. His professional career spanned more than thirty years as a researcher, teacher, and consultant in the area of computer aided engineering. He was most recently a faculty member of the College of Engineering at the University of Rhode Island. More...|