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.