One of the great – and terrifying – things about computing is the sheer rate of change. What is the expensive high end today, a moment later becomes the minimum necessary for reasonable performance. Both the rate of development and the ability of the technology industry to feed innovations and improvements down to lower and lower price points is stunning.
The pay-off for this, of course, is the democratization of technology. A decade ago, taking video footage and editing it to a good standard was a task for professionals. Computer-aided design (CAD) was something you did in a design studio, and virtual reality was more virtual than reality. Today however, the value PC you buy from the shop around the corner can cut, splice, add after effects and output to a quality that was previously the domain of high end post-production houses and newsrooms.
This gives rise to a legitimate question: why bother buying the latest and greatest when the mid-range is perfectly capable? I believe it’s a little more complicated than just a simple matter of price.
The difference between stellar experiences and mission critical
First, let’s establish what’s different between a consumer and professional graphics card. The average home or business use for a graphics card is not mission critical. Most business PCs, for example, might be used for standard office productivity applications – and consumer graphics cards are excellent for the job they are intended for. In fact, as time goes by, graphics cards are arguably more important than the CPU when it comes to handling quite a lot of the computational load the average user puts on their PC.
When it comes to the latest and greatest games, they are also easily handled, as graphics cards are truly keeping pace with everything the gaming industry throws at them. The bottom line is that the experience offered by consumer graphics cards today are perfect for consumers.
Professional graphics needs, however, are different. They might be used in a multi-GPU installation in a data center for processing huge chunks of information. They might be used for a CAD application tasked with building the design for the next range of high performance cars. They might be rendering the next big Hollywood blockbuster movie. All of these are what we’d call business critical applications, and all of these rely on predictable performance that works reliably every time.
The older the better?
There’s another element to this reliability story; most business-critical workstations are built from the ground up with a certain specification. Change that spec, and the whole process needs to be reworked again.
Having access to older solutions, counter-intuitive as it might sound in today’s world, is actually vital. This is one of the reasons why NASA very rarely updated any of the technology in the space shuttle: it worked, and worked reliably and predictably. When the slightest change could mean catastrophe, the focus must be on having a known solution, not a new one.
With the high costs of planning and implementation for mission critical applications, it’s more important to replace professional graphics cards with something exactly the same as opposed to different solutions that may be incompatible with the application you’re running. Therefore, having a longer warranty is vital - for example, AMD FirePro’s warranty is three years. Additionally, access to such products for a longer period of time is equally important – exemplified by AMD FirePro offering two to five years availability.
Finally, there’s the software drivers and interoperability. The makers of professional software programs are very keen to maximise the performance of their applications, and spend a great deal of time making sure the programs are optimised for professional-grade workstations and components. You can be sure, with applications like Autodesk Maya™, Adobe After Effects and AutoCAD running on an AMD FirePro graphics card, the hardware and software are built to run together.
The consumer contrast
Consumer grade cards offer their own benefits and are built for specific purposes; they are priced affordably for consumers, and the technology receives regular refreshes and can be blazingly fast for the money. They are created for the everyday needs of users today, offering performance gains and speed for everyday use. In particular, because game developers are constantly pushing the innovation window, the consumer graphics card market is required to keep pace and does so to the benefit of consumers.
In a nutshell, graphics cards should be fit for purpose. There are plenty of reasons to choose a consumer-grade graphics card; but when it comes to mission critical applications, the benefits to going pro are more highly prized by businesses than raw performance. Dependability, interoperability and a sustainable long term model – those are the vital elements that make sure the initial investment in pro graphics delivers reliably for years to come.
Bruno Murzyn is a public relations manager in EMEA at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites are provided for convenience and unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such linked sites and no endorsement is implied.