The Quadro FX 5600 Review: One Card to Rule Them All

Water is everywhere for the second consecutive summer movie season, and J. Paul Peszko dives in once again to navigate the latest breakthroughs with ILM, PDI/DreamWorks Animation and Sony Pictures Animation.

NVIDIA's high-end Quadro FX 5600 card is full of surprises and it's the best card out there for those who can afford the price of admission. © 2007 NVIDIA Corp.

NVIDIA's high-end Quadro FX 5600 card is full of surprises. First and foremost, its G80-GL chipset is the biggest change in professional graphics technology in 20 years. Now the GPU is a unified core of general-purpose processors that can be programmed to offset the workload previously delegated to the CPU. The card itself is somewhat reminiscent of a 3D Labs Wildcat. Being double width and full length, this card is also a behemoth, requiring not one but two power inputs to provide the necessary juice. The frame buffer is equally huge, at 1.5GB that translates to increases in model and texture handling and improved anti-aliasing capabilities.

In case you're unaware, NVIDIA's newest additions to the Quadro FX family leverage the C programming language via a technology called CUDA, making them fully programmable. What this means is the GPU can not only take on video processing chores, but also take some of the burden off the CPU by performing calculations that may include matrix math operations, floating point calculations, fluid dynamics, physics and anything else you care to throw at it.

SPEC Viewperf

SPEC Viewperf benchmarks provided some interesting results as well as some insight. Unfortunately, my system was the bottleneck for some of the SPEC Viewperf tests. As demonstrated by some of the results -- 3ds Max for example -- CPU power was the limiting factor rather than GPU.

Quadro FX 3500

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 23.53

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXTcatia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 29.01

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXTensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 18.70

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXTlight-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = 25.36

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXTmaya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 59.97

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXTproe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 25.38

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXTsw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 31.25

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXTtcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 9.618

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXTugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 11.77

Quadro FX 5600

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 24.24

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXTcatia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 32.01

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXTensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 39.72

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXTlight-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = 23.79

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXTmaya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 141.5

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXTproe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 28.70

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXTsw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 49.20

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXTtcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 25.66

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXTugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 31.08

As you can see by the TCVIS, UGNX and especially the Maya numbers, the 5600 beats the 3500 like a rented mule when it comes to GPU-accelerated tasks.


NVIDIA's MAXtreme drivers fully support the 4600 and 5600 series cards, with acceleration surpassing that of any of 3ds Max's default drivers. Of course, viewing wireframes in their full, anti-aliased glory is an added bonus. That said: the card is very responsive and snappy in both Max and Maya. Other applications that take advantage of the GPU are After Effects, Premiere Pro and even Acrobat.

Buying Advice

At an MSRP of $2,999, the Quadro FX 5600 card is not in everyone's budget, but it's the best card out there for those who can afford the price of admission. The cards are also making inroads in areas such as scientific and financial analysis. Researchers have been able to simulate the way organic molecules such as viruses are able to penetrate cell membranes. CUDA is currently in Beta testing and will be shipping soon. It looks like your 3D graphics and video production workflows are due for a dramatic speed increase.

Bryan Hoff is a multifaceted artist and writer. A web designer, digital artist and animator, his credits include movie and television effects, online games, 3D corporate animation, Flash and traditional website design. His writing credits include articles for LinuxWorld, Element K Journals and InformIT, covering topics like Photoshop effects, Linux 3D graphics applications, Web and HTML design, RSS feeds and painting with a graphics tablet. Bryan has written ebooks on blogging and website creation for beginners and co-authored the book, Moving from Windows to Linux.