Beyond Benchmarks - When performance is a given, what else does a graphics card vendor bring to the table?

When it comes to CPUs and GPUs, faster is always better. But as with any mature market, at some point performance specs become a commodity and less relevant as a way to differentiate brands. Speed gets "good enough" and other factors have greater influence on brand perception and upgrade decisions.

I think we are seeing this pretty clearly already with desktop CPUs. Do you actually notice a CPU speed increase from 2.7 to 3.1 GHz? I don't. The same thing is starting to happen with discrete GPUs.

For companies like AMD, Intel and Nvidia this means finding differentiators beyond isolated speed benchmarks. This is motivation behind the "Beyond Benchmarks" posts on FireUser.

PTC focuses on product and strategy advantages - not just features

Posted by Tony DeYoung on June 20, 2012

Jeff Rowe blogged about PTC’s new strategy focusing on providing customers with product and service advantages, rather than features. This is very much in the spirit of “Beyond Benchmarks”:  CAD ISVs working to differentiate themselves by offering advantages beyond performance or specific features.  As pointed out previously, AMD is working aggressively with PTC to enable new capabilities in their application line. Now the question is how this will tie in to workflow enhancement.

The excerpt below summarizes the PTC strategy pretty well:

“Fundamentally, PTC technology solutions transform the way companies create and service products by enabling them to make better, smarter, faster strategy and planning decisions. These decisions relate to how products are designed and engineered, how a supply chain is optimized, how quality and compliance is assured throughout the manufacturing process and, ultimately, how service is efficiently delivered against a product once sold. Individually, these planning decisions help deliver a strategy that supports a brand. Collectively, they are the new source of competitive advantage.”

Followup to Experience FirePro! Sweepstakes - Comments from winner Adam Carlson

Posted by Tony DeYoung on June 20, 2012

The Experience FirePro! Sweepstakes we ran earlier this year was a first pass at getting at the concept of Beyond Benchmarks.  That sweepstakes asked people to comment on their experience not with speed benchmarks, but rather with reliability, stability and compatibility for any recent FirePro graphic cards.

As followup, I’ve been in touch with Adam Carlson, one of the winners of the sweepstakes, Now that he has a chance to use his new AMD FirePro V5900, I wanted to get any additional impressions. Below is an unedited copy of his email to me.

I just wanted to add more information of things that I have been able to do with the video card.  The first thing that I have been happy with is that I have not had any issues with stability.  I was able to run my system with dual monitors playing a bluray movie in one monitor, a dvd video in the other, while running a Youtube video, and doing Catia V5 modeling.  I do realize that this is not rendering work, but the system did not skip a beat.  I have been able to easily set up which monitor was the primary, and on which side it should be.  This is something that the NVIDIA drivers are a bit of a pain to do.  All this testing has been done on Win7-64.  I have yet to really play with the CAE Linux installation. 

I do have one small complaint.  The last video card that I had in the box (an older NVIDIA Quadro Fx3450 left over from the previous system) I had modified to have a quiet fan on it, and this was quite nice.  In fact I never noticed the fan.  Though, when doing even routine tasks with the V5900, I have noticed the fan noise from the video card.  This is not a major gripe, though for those that are in a confined, small room, this can get to you pretty quickly. 

Due to these results, I did, as I mentioned before, purchase a new V4900 for an analysis box that I just built.  Because we are not doing a lot of modeling on this box, we went with the low/mid grade card.  Once again, there has not been any performance issues when post processing models.  We ended up having some issues with the box, and I was happy to find that it was not graphics related, but utilities related due to the bundled software provided with the motherboard. 

I can say that I would currently continue to recommend the FirePro line as we have a handful of months without any graphics card related problems.  The one thing that would be of interest to me, though in the future, is the FirePro line and how CAE systems use it to offload the cpu when doing non graphics calculations.  I know that NVIDIA and Ansys are working to have this integrated into their software.

Some starter ideas for Beyond Benchmarks

Posted by Tony DeYoung on June 19, 2012

To kick off this Beyond Benchmarks series I wanted to list a few things that immediately come to mind as possible differentiators for workstation graphics cards beyond benchmarks. These are just quick thoughts in no particular order that I hope to use as the basis for future posts.

  • Stability / reliability
  • Enable new capabilities, not just faster existing services
  • Support for Open Standards and/or Open Source
  • Working with ISVs (independent software vendors) to optimize applications to take advantage of the advanced tech in the cards
  • Energy Management
  • GPU-CPU integration
  • Multi-display / projector suport
  • Compatibility
  • Service and support
  • Nebulous idea: helping users to realize their vision by getting the technology our of their way

If you have your own ideas about what will differentiate graphics cards beyond speed benchmarks, please post a comment.