AMD’s mainstream professional graphics card could be the sign of things to come…
Go from several seconds for effects to be applied, to it happening almost in real-time
Artists working in 3D know that if they want to build something incredible they’ll need hardware to make it happen in a timely fashion. There isn’t quite the same reliance on hardware for 2D art, but as we head into a brave new world where graphics cards can also boost performance, things are about to get interesting. The AMD FirePro W7100 is a serious slice of cutting-edge tech, but is it something you actually need to create great art?
The FirePro is a mid-range card, forgoing the raw power of the W9100 and W8100 for a lower price point. It has 1,792 stream processors, or 28 compute units, which puts it on a par with the Radeon 285 (£150). There are a few differences, though: the FirePro has 8GB of memory, can power up to four 4K screens at the same time and has improved software support.
Installation is straightforward, provided you’ve got room in your case for a full-length card and that your power supply has a spare six-pin connector. To get the most from the card your current system should support PCI Express 3.0 (most modern machines do) and if it’s relatively modern then the power connector shouldn’t be a problem, either.
Performance improvements vary greatly, depending on what you’re doing, image sizes and whether the effects take advantage of OpenCL. But it’s possible to go from several seconds of waiting for an effect to be applied to it happening in pretty much real-time.
Should you buy the FirePro W7100? It’s a tricky call, even if you’re tempted to try a little 3D work on the side, have a bunch of filters that use OpenCL, and dabble with some video-editing work. It’s still early days for OpenCL and it isn’t clear how much developers can eke out of the hardware. There are cheaper options in the FirePro range, and if you’re not into 3D, they’ll make more sense. Essentially, you’d be buying a pricy bit of kit for a potential that hasn’t been fully realised yet.
The FirePro W7100 is a single-slot solution that runs quiet and cool.