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Interview : AMD describes the technologies, features, and benefits of the new AMD FirePro™ W-Series Graphics Cards with the new GCN – Graphics Core Next - architecture

The AMD FirePro professional graphics solutions are fast, reliable, optimized for professional applications, and have productivity-enhancing features. The new AMD FirePro W-Series builds on this by bringing the Graphics Core Next architecture to the AMD FirePro professional graphics solutions. CADplace spoke with AMD about the new architecture and its features and benefits for professional customers.

CADplace recently spent time with the AMD FirePro team at the Dassault Systèmes 3DExperience Forum Europe in Brussels. The professional GPU team showed unique solutions for desktop workstations, remote data-centre workstations, and technology solutions which will benefit mobile professionals. The new W-series AMD FirePro products were the highlight, so we are pleased to be able to bring you this interview with David Diederichs, the AMD FirePro team's Product Marketing Manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa as explains in detail the advantages offered by the GCN, Graphics Core Next, architecture and the AMD FirePro W-Series.

CADplace : AMD released the new AMD FirePro W-series graphics cards a few months ago. Can you please explain the main differences to the previous generation of cards?

AMD : The AMD FirePro W-series graphics cards are based on the new Graphics Core Next (GCN) GPU architecture with 28nm technology. This architecture delivers not only more performance but also new features that are particularly interesting to CAD users.

For example, the new FirePro GPUs can send data in both directions at full PCI Express 3.0 speed. Furthermore, the memory bandwidth of the AMD FirePro W5000 was again increased compared to the V5900, namely from 64GB/s to 103GB/s. This allows large CAD models to be loaded faster.

CADplace : The new AMD graphics cards are supposed to offer a lot more computational performance. What are the differences in the architecture of the new GCN-GPUs compared to the previous generation?

AMD : The GCN architecture is built to be more flexible and able to perform computational tasks in parallel to graphics operations. This delivers advantages for simulations.

When doing general purpose computing on the GPU, the W-series no longer requires the use of vectors but now also allows doing scalar operations. This removes an additional “conversion” step that was necessary with previous generations.

As a result, the graphics cards of the AMD FirePro W-series deliver significantly more performance compared to their predecessors.

CADplace : What performance advantages resulting from these technologies can be expected by CAD users and why?

AMD : The increase in performance and efficiency of the graphics hardware allows CAD users to turn on complex graphics effects, such as OIT (Order Independent Transparency), AO (Ambient Occlusion) or MSAA (Multi-sample Anti-Aliasing) while maintaining interactivity with their data set. Furthermore, users can opt to run simulations in parallel without impacting the quality of the graphics.

CADplace : Are there any specific applications for which AMD optimized the new graphics cards? What applications are these?

AMD : AMD works closely with all relevant software vendors in the CAx space. I would like to highlight the optimizations of the AMD FirePro hardware for the new, improved transparency mode OIT in Creo 2.0. Only AMD FirePro graphics cards of the V- and W-series can use this mode at full speed. Similar performance gains can be expected with SolidWorks 2013 with RealView and Ambient Occlusion (AO).

CADplace : And how do users benefit from these optimizations?

AMD : OIT with Creo and Ambient Occlusion in SolidWorks help the CAD user to render models with more visual accuracy and realism. This enables better decision making and removes the requirement for additional applications, for example for dedicated ray-tracing calculations, which would make workflows more complex and increase the overhead for IT.

CADplace : Do CAD applications require more than 1GB of graphics memory? If so, what applications are these and what specific tasks benefit the most from this feature?

AMD : CAD users should definitely work with graphics cards that feature 1GB of frame buffer, if they want to include these advanced rendering effects in their workflow, especially when they work with higher resolutions, like 1920 x 1080 and above. Naturally, the requirements also increase with the complexity of the models, or when multiple models or applications are displayed simultaneously. This is one of the reasons why the new AMD FirePro cards in the mid- range already come with 2GB of graphics memory and AMD Eyefinity multi-display technology. We definitely recommend choosing a 2GB-graphics card with the next workstation purchase.

CADplace : What are the most important trends in 2013 for professional graphics solutions?

AMD : 3D CAD models and assemblies are becoming increasingly more complex. This already drives the requirements for graphics hardware for more geometry performance, memory and memory bandwidth, respectively. In addition, we clearly see the trend to include design reviews more often and earlier in the development process, which increases the requirements for the quality of the rendered images. Users do not always want to invest in new applications or perform design reviews on separate machines. This means the hardware of the main CAD workstation needs to be more capable to handle these additional tasks.

From the software side, CAD applications now offer advanced rendering options, such as SolidWorks 2013 with RealView. Models can be rendered in much higher quality, directly in the viewport of the application. This means, users do not have to leave their main application to perform this important step. It also means that users can maintain full interactivity with their dataset, provided the graphics hardware is powerful enough.

We see a similar trend in CAE. Users are becoming increasingly interested in running simulations from within their CAD application suite and on their own system. This drives the requirements for more powerful workstation hardware to handle such heterogeneous requirements; graphics operations need to be executed in parallel to computational tasks.

The high parallel computational performance of the AMD FirePro graphics cards can be used to support and off-load the CPU. In this context, I’d like to highlight the increasing popularity of the OpenCL API which is used to “activate” the compute performance of the graphics hardware. OpenCL is already dominant in the mobile sector, because it is working cross-platform and is not proprietary. The AMD FirePro graphics cards of the W- and V-series are optimized for OpenCL and are therefore future-proof.