26 Jun

What's the difference between Consumer and Pro graphics cards?

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Pro or consumer GPUs? Pro or consumer GPUs? Nvidia/RedShark


This article was first published two years ago so some of the information is old. But it's a question that keeps getting asked, and it's a great article - so we thought we'd publish it again. How do you choose between consumer and pro graphics cards? Low cost and high performance are compelling with the lower-end products, but compatability and support are better with the professional versions. Oren Payton explores this in depth

Most of us know that in order to run graphic intensive tasks, you need an add-on graphics card. We are also pretty much resigned to the fact that the top-of-the-range examples get fairly pricey, and a few hundred pounds is not unusual for a recently released all bells-and-whistles card. It is a little more difficult to justify why we are required to fork out four or five times more than that for a top of the range professional graphics card.

The Nvidia Quadro K5000 (and there are more expensive Quadros out there) is listed on Scan Computers’ website for £1813 , whereas a roughly equivalent Geforce will set you back around £400. This is especially striking since, according to some sources on the street, they are sometimes almost identical in hardware and use only a slightly modified driver and BIOS.

I'd like to start off by confirming what many think (especially those spending their own personal cash), that in many cases, an expensive professional GPU is not entirely needed. It is important to remember though that in many other cases, a good professional card will make all the difference between working smoothly and efficiently, and having to put up with a lifetime of difficulties. The same arguments apply to both Nvidia and AMD, with Quadro and FirePro cards representing the pro corner and GeForce and Radeon in the consumer corner.

How do you know what you need?

So how do we know when it is sensible to install a pro grade card, and when we can make do with a consumer one? The answer lies with what the pro card does well and how it is different from the consumer GPU.

Pro cards differ from consumer cards in six main areas.

Software Features: Pro grade cards offer specific graphics-related features relevant to the professional graphics applications. These are a result of the different card architecture as well as the different drivers. Some of these features are designed to streamline graphics work, meaning that the same can be achieved without them but with a slower work process. Others enable processes not available via consumer cards. Most of these features are a result of the different tasks these two families usually have - one to play games and one to design them!

Hardware features: Professional cards, especially at the higher end of the range, offer a selection of extra hardware features like hardware frame synchronization, quad buffered stereo or uncompressed video output. These featured, which often require add-on cards, are specifically for niche markets, and require more robust and specialized hardware. They are therefore not available on the run of the mill GPUs.

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  • An excellent and very timely article for those of us contemplating building a high end NLE PC. (or 'hackintosh'!)

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  • I have always been a huge advocate of Quadro cards, but this article is very bogus, if someone in the community have real-life experiences in which they have found a bottleneck due to a gaming card use please SHARE it with us.

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  • I think it's unfair to call it "bogus". The article has been written by someone who spends his working life specifying high performance workstations and their graphics subsystems. The point of the article was that gaming cards are very good for games but for some professional apps they may not be optimal. Support was another issue where there is a distinct advantage to having the pro cards.

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  • We actually looked into this pretty extensively, we called and emailed Nvidia regarding the differences between Kepler and Fermi, and the guy basically confirmed that Nvidia is on a push to distinguish between their pro and consumer lines, by limiting the consumer K-series cards. What they've done is remove some of the computing power from the consumer level K-series. So actually, if you need strong computing and graphics, it is better to get one of the older consumer 500 series cards. A pair of gtx570's will be better for some people than the gtx680's, as an example.

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  • A really helpful addendum or comment addition to this article would be a list of cards that folks have experience with and know work well with popular editing software. Does anyone have experience with consumer grade cards that work well with Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere, Lightworks? Recommendations?

    What about this card?

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  • I wish there were more information on PRO grade GPU.

    This article is giving a generic point of view but nothing I haven't figured out already through searhing the net and reading a little more about those GPUs.

    The real question is where each PRO grade GPU stands against a consumer GPU.

    I mean what we need is an article, where the author have benchmarked cards from both worlds to some specific programs.

    For example we have an entry level PRO GPU and a mid (to high) range consumer GPU, both cost the same money.
    How is each of them is perfoming in those scenarios:
    Everyday usage

      Gaming 3d Applications (both in GPU accelerated rendering and viewpoint framerates) 2D applications, like photoshop Video applications (does a CUDA consumer GPU match a PRO card?) etc

    All the tests I have seen so far are comparing pro to pro cards and this definetely is not helping me to jump from the consumer grade to pro.

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  • We may set up some benchtests but the real point of the article was that the nature of the difference between pro and consumer cards is not necessarily the outright performance, but the stability and longevity of the architectures and drivers, and the level of support that is provided for professional users. This type of support is not cheap but is reasonable in professional situations where any incompatibility issues that can't be worked out could be extremely costly to a business. So, it's quite possible that in some situations a consumer card would outperform a professional one in absolute terms, but it's also possible that the consumer card might cause problems if the software application that is using it is upgraded causing the consumer card to stop working; and without professional-level support, the issue might be impossible to fix.

    So it's more a question of reliability and longevity rather than absolute performance.

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  • I understand and I do not. This is why a test could be wonderful.

    Even a brief testing could be wonderful and will provide a lot of answers.
    If you do that, I'm sure it is gonna be a great help for everyone out there who may consider a pro card.

    There are so many questions, for example I have heard that a pro card can handle the openGL viewpoint at good framerate of a scene in a 3d application with a high polygon model, while a consumer card will get down to it's knees, because it is made to handle low polygon models with more advanced texture techniques and visa versa the pro will not be able to handle a video game, because it needs power on the texture side.

    Anyway I read the RedShark newsletter every time, so I will not miss that article if you write one :)

    Thanks for the answer!

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  • Here is a relevant example of a gaming card vs workstation card.


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  • One of the benefits of the Nvidia Quadro vs the 'consumer' GTX series was that on certain Quadro cards, you got a 10bit Display Port output and this has benefits to those grading digital video with software such as Scratch and Nucoda. (DaVinci Resolve requires a dedicated interface to access 10bit monitoring) However, the situation seems to have changed with Nvidia's release of the GTX 9XX series of Maxwell GPUs which feature Display Port 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 outputs. The specifications of the latter are very interesting as they allow for 10 and 12 bit colour at 4K resolutions so does this mean that installing a 'consumer' GTX 970 for example, will allow professionals using aforementioned colour grading applications to monitor at the higher bit depths previously only available to Quadro owners?

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