AMD FirePro V7800P Launch Preview

Product: AMD FirePro V7800P
Company: AMD
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: May 16th, 2011

AMD's FirePro V7800 Goes Passive

Last week, Rage3D spoke with AMD's Mitch Furman, Senior Product Manager for AMD Professional Graphics. We learned about the new focus of the FirePro graphics product in the Windows Server market, a market previously untargeted by the AMD FirePro series. Today AMD announces the AMD FirePro V7800P, an add-in board for high-performance compute - now also being leveraged for Microsoft RemoteFX virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) duties.

Hardware Specifications

The FirePro V7800 is based on the Cypress GPU core, and was first seen in professional form in May 2010. It is a single slot, actively cooled card with a maximum board power of 150W. Primarily designed for high-performance workstations, it is equipped with dual DisplayPort 1.1 outputs and a dual-link DVI output. The FirePro V7800 features 1440 Stream processors at 700MHz core clock and 2GB of GDDR5 clocked at 1GHz (4Gbps QDR) connected via 256-bit memory bus with 128GB/s bandwidth. The P designation of the new card revealed today indicates it's passively cooled nature - no fan, or even heatsink shroud, is fitted to the card. The V7800P has the same speeds and feeds as its actively cooled sibling, but boasts a reduced maximum TDP of 138W, and a shorter PCB.

AMD FirePro V7800P

As you can see, the card is full height, but single slot, with a single PCI-Express x16 6-pin power input requirement. The backplane features a single DisplayPort output, and the backplane plate is vented for airflow. The GPU core and memory chips are fitted with copper vapor chamber with aluminium fins and heatspreader respectively, which are cooled by airflow provided by the chassis. AMD claim a meager 10CFM is required for working operation of this card, which is quite remarkable. Like all FirePro cards, the V7800P carries a 3 year warranty.

Product Development

During our call with Mitch Furman, it was evident that he, and AMD's FirePro division, were quite excited about this new card. At this point you might be asking why, and that's a good question - after all, this is a downclocked Radeon HD 5850 with a new cooler on it, what's the big whoop and why isn't it a Cayman? First of all, Cayman, aka the HD 6900 series, is relatively recently introduced into the market and FirePro products based on the GPU will need to be validated, both hardware and software. Professional and Server validation takes much longer than consumer parts can be ready for market, as evidenced by AMD an Intel CPU parts taking around a year from working production part to release vs. 4 to 6 months for a graphics board like the HD 5870/5850 series. AMD has been working on the V7800P for close to a year, working with different OEMs for certification and validation. Now, you'd think that work had already been done with the existing FirePro V7800 and V8800 cards, but due to the new PCB, Server OS platform and applications available, a little more time to bake was needed.

ATI FirePro V7800

RemoteFX - A FirePro accelerated application

What new applications you ask? Well, Microsoft recently released Service Pack 1 for Microsoft Windows 7 and Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2. Service Pack 1 enabled a new feature of Microsoft's virtualization hypervisor (Hyper-V) called RemoteFX. RemoteFX is the result of Microsoft's acquisition of Calista Technologies in early 2008, as their GPU virtualization technologies for enhancing and improving the Remote Desktop experience proved to be a great fit for Microsoft to include in their competition for VMware and Citrix's session abstration technologies. RemoteFX enables Windows 7 desktops running on Hyper-V to be GPU accelerated for seamless 3D acceleration of media codecs, GPU accelerated applications, and GPU Compute.

AMD claims up to 16 desktops in a single V7800P in their testing with RemoteFX, and have tested two card configurations working perfectly with three and four cards setups in progress now. With only 2GB of VRAM, the 16 VDI guests figure indicates a little of how RemoteFX works - it is not a rendering the whole screen for virtual machine, but instead accelerated the decoding of source media, and accelerating the encoding and rendering of the running applications to be squirted out to the client. Microsoft claim any operating system running a supported version of Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) 7.1 will be able to leverage RemoteFX, although other than Windows 7 SP1 itself we're not aware of any yet.

Microsoft RemoteFX Infrastructure

VDI is a burgeoning market with many benefits for large orgainzations, especially geographically disparate ones. By hosting desktops in a central, or even several, datacenter, reliability, performance and security can be managed to far higher degrees. Road warriors can use their laptops or tablets to connect to the corporate hosted application and datasets they need. Inside large campus or distributed work plant locales, costs can be lowered by leveraging commodity thin PCs or inexpensive bulk purchased desktops for all users, with user specific applications and performance requirements being met in the corporate cloud. AMD are hoping IT professionals in Fortune 500 companies take note of the possibilities inherent in using easy to deploy and support FirePro cards in this manner, lowering the costs of the 10m or so discrete users who have dGPUs purchased for GPU accelerated or certified applications.

Competitive Landscape

The AMD V7800P delivers compute and graphics performance at a lower price point. In some cases the V7800P will be more than competitive with NVIDIA's Tesla and Quadro products, especially considering the price, and in other areas left behind - but still price/performance competitive. This is a key strategy for AMD, as while absolute performance is often the decision maker for high-performance compute, performance per watt and absolute cost are becoming more and more important. Custom tuning applications to hardware can result in delivering better performance than buying more big expensive hardware bits, as can buying more small nodes than big expensive ones - as long as you can scale sideways into more parellelism and node latency doesn't kill performance gains.

AMD FirePro Market Position

AMD introduces the FirePro V7800P at an MSRP of $1249USD, which compares very favorably with the NVIDIA Quadro and Telsa products of similar performance. The ship date is given as May 24th, to coincide with the announcement at TechED Atlanta where Dell are unveiling their PowerEdge M610x blade server, the first OEM design win for the FirePro V7800P. It's the first complete solution for VDI to market, which also doubles as powerful compute node architecture. The MSRP seems high at first, given the street price of FirePro's V7800 is currently about half that, but they also won't work in the same form factors because of thermal considerations. That helps highlight the value of the V7800P against the Tesla competition, which start at more than double the cost and go sharply upwards from there. Of course, with the Tesla cards you are also buying more performance in general, and the CUDA infrastructure to leverage it. You also get more dedicated VRAM, and a spike in power requirements, too. Ultimately, MSRPs aren't that relevant as the people who buy these cards, OEMs, don't buy them a single retail package pricing but instead much larger volume, with the expected associated discounts. Few IT managers will buy large quantities of FirePros for retrofitting existing workstations, but it is not unheard of in today's economic crunch. Replacing G200 generation Quadro/Tesla cards with FirePro V7800s could offer significant power savings, for equal or significantly more raw performance depending on model.

FirePro Drivers

Key to the new RemoteFX functionality are new Windows Server 2008 R2 certified drivers, something a small but vocal part of the community have desired for a while now. The complete status of new drivers wasn't confirmed to us by AMD at the time of writing, but likely OEM partners will validate and release drivers to their customers in the same way that they do now, although there will likely be a download set from AMD as well. The drivers are really the key to the excitement from the AMD FirePro division, as it opens a new space for AMD to compete in. It's unlikely there will be a monthly update strategy like for the consumer Catalyst drivers, but perhaps quarterly releases concurrent with the latest high performance/stability drivers like Project Mjolnir I would be possible, although ISV certified drivers may lag a little.

AMD was quick to point out how the FirePro V7800P straddles three market concepts, and how their performance and price compares favorably with the two competitor products. For adoption of their stategy of using AMD CPUs for serial and task parallel workloads with data parallel on the GPU, a robust set of drivers with frequent bug fixes and performance improvements is critical. Currently AMD hardware supports DirectX 11, OpenGL 4 and OpenCL 1.1. WebGL/OpenGL ES and WebCL are supported, making the FirePro V7800P a great platform for development and deployment especially inside budget, power and form factor constraints. AMD didn't come out and say it, but it seems there has been significant growth inside AMD for professional drivers, application tuning and OS integration. If true, this bodes well. All signs point to AMD investing more heavily than ever before in this area, as this dovetails with their Fusion APU success strategy nicely.

AMD Compute Platform

The Future is Fusion

The data parallel vs task parallel division of GPU and CPU performance really is a pointer to AMD's future plans. As datasets get larger and more tasks become appropriate to single instruction, multiple data handling, the benefits of FirePro products will be more evident. While there is no announcement of server products featuring APU style architecture, it is widely believed that the second generation Bulldozer core architecture products will be offered in APU variants. NVIDIA are also headed down this path, with Project Denver to deliver their CPU-GPU amalgam but in the ARM platform. A key advantage AMD will have here is that code developed now on platforms using AMD FirePro technology will need very little tweaking to move to new server APU's. x86 + CUDA platform developers might decide that NVIDIA's ARM-based CPU+GPU isn't the best fit for their future plans, or the cost of switching from x86 developers to ARM ones isn't worth it.

There's always the rumor that AMD and ARM will be working together to bring ARM APUs to market, as well, meaning a double assault on Intel and NVIDIA's positions. For that to begin, AMD need to deliver drivers for Windows Server OS, more than just Server 2008 R2, and preferably for a wide range of products including the RV700 generation. This would kick start a whole host of developers with affordable, good performance proof of concept platforms and generate more momentum for OpenCL - one of the keys to AMD's Fusion strategy. We wait with bated breath to see how Catalyst Pro drivers are released and updated. The V7800P also gives an idea of how handy the technological improvements of the Cayman architecture will be - a more Compute oriented VLIW design, with improved memory controller and virtualized application segmentation with most importantly PowerTune to finetune TDP to partner specifications will be seriously in AMD's favor for the Server Compute and VDI market. An APU based on Bulldozer 2 x86 cores and VLIW 4 SIMDs could be a seriously powerful compute product.