What REALLY is the difference between FirePro and consumer?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by Cubemmal, Nov 15, 2013.

  1. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    The new Mac Pro confuses me; it really looks like it is tailor made just for the graphics community, which can't be that big of a market from Apple's perspective. Much of the cost appears to be coming from the "FirePro" cards. However, all they have is a GPU (not a board), and my understanding is the biggest difference between that and a consumer card is drivers, which is goofy because these are Apple branded drivers. Is Apple gouging us based on their nMP drivers?

    Some things I've heard about FirePro, what is true?

    • Is the FirePro chips the exact same as consumer, excepting perhaps clocks and binning?
    • Are they using ECC VRAM?
    • What else?
  2. RodPinto macrumors regular

    May 16, 2012
    Great questions! I'm also a consumer and I will buy the new mac pro... The professionals who think that they are exclusive for them can say everything they want but are not going to stop me from buying that.

    And I'm sure Apple knows that most of their consumers are normal people who just want to have the best in the market.

    So, professionals, please answer this questions and just know that whatever answer you give, I'm going to buy this nMP.
  3. Guiyon macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2008
    North Shore, MA
    Unless they've changed something recently, mostly firmware and hardware quality. The professional series (both Nvidia and AMD) will tend to have certain features, such as driving additional displays, optimization/feature integration/certification for certain professional software, etc, which the consumer variants not have (IIRC, the latest FirePro W8xxxx and W9xxxx do have ECC). For example, the W9000 can drive up to 6 displays but, for the most part, the consumer variant (7970) can only drive up to 3 (maybe 4?). The professional series also has the first pick of chips off the fab where-as the consumer cards make due with the rest (for example, if a bunch of compute units failed testing, disable them and use the chip on a lower tier card). They also tend to be a bit more conservative with their clock speed(again, emphasizing stability vs raw speed).
  4. handsome pete macrumors 68000

    Aug 15, 2008
    I don't think anyone has ever taken that position. I just see some recommending to potential buyers that a Mac Pro would be complete overkill for their needs. But if you just want "the best" and fork over a hefty sum of money for it, go at it. I just know that I wouldn't go out and buy an expensive pickup truck if I never intended to fully use its power or haul stuff in the bed.
  5. antonis macrumors 68000


    Jun 10, 2011
    I can understand someone that says "I, the consumer, want the best out there, so I will buy the nMP". However, the problem starts by the suspicion that the nMP will be worst for consumer usage (e.g. games) than a fully loaded iMac.

    I'm in the same boat with the OP here. But there are tons of things that remain to be seen concerning the nMP.
  6. Celedral, Nov 15, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2013

    Celedral macrumors 6502


    May 29, 2008
    Los Angeles
    Professionals usually want the best of the best, so they pay a pretty penny for that. The law of diminishing returns hits the pro market the hardest as they pay $$$ for a very slight advantage in these Quadros/Firepros. I'm taking a wild guess here, but they are priced out of consumer budgets to keep them more exclusive.

    Driver development, ECC VRAM, and support add very little overall cost to the final product compared to their consumer counterparts.
  7. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
  8. koban4max macrumors 68000

    Aug 23, 2011
    quad core is nothing.... that's cheap (low class)... just get 6 core to 12...and you'll be in normal range.
  9. RodPinto macrumors regular

    May 16, 2012
    That's the way I want to go.. 8 core 16gb 512ssd d700.
  10. LongSticks macrumors 6502

    Jul 22, 2012
    Kent, UK
  11. Larry-K macrumors 68000

    Jun 28, 2011
    "low-class"? Seriously, that's not even good hyperbole.

    I doubt you'll see any "low-class" buyers of a minimum $3K computer.

    Some people may want the best single core performance, the low-end (Not "low class') models may afford that.

    I can use 12 or 24 cores efficiently, a lot of people can't. There is no "Normal" range and capricious buying decisions based on perceived, but unfounded, superiority are a recipe for long-term dis-satisfaction, which is frequently exhibited on this forum by people with more money than sense.
  12. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
    Considering OP says he is a consumer and nearly all consumer class applications don't benefit from tons of cores, I'd actually say the highest clocked configuration will win the day. (The same is true for a lot of professional apps too, since many of those don't utilize a lot of cores very well either.)

    In any case, OP was asking about the GPU, not the CPUs, so you've completely missed the boat.
  13. haravikk macrumors 65816

    May 1, 2005
    In terms of hardware I think the main difference in the quality of components in general, as they are expected to be able to run under full load for long periods of time throughout the entire lifetime of the card (at least 3 years with AppleCare), and without making major issues. In Apple's specific case this may also apply to minimising heat generation and power consumption (which are usually the same thing), as this will be very important to operation in the new Mac Pro form-factor.

    There are usually some extra, niché hardware features that are of interest, the main one I can think nowadays of would be ECC VRAM, but we don't know if we're getting that (both the D500's and D700's could potentially support it, but if they do Apple is keeping quiet about it). Support for stereoscopic output as well I think (or is that now available on consumer cards?).
  14. MacVidCards Suspended

    Nov 17, 2008
    Hollywood, CA
    In the windows world the Pro cards have completely separate drivers. They can thus target abilities that don't exist or get fleshed out in consumer cards and drivers.

    The only PHYSICAL difference in recent Quadro cards was that they had much greater Double Precision performance. Sadly, I have yet to find an actual place this matters in OSX other than a CUDA-Z score.

    It remains to be seen if OSX will offer any special abilities to FirePro cards. Currently we gave found 3 consumer cards that activate the OpenGL engines for the same cards. Usually the "special" abilities are enabled in CAD/CAM programs.

    Recently some folks have noticed decreased 7950/70 performance in Mavericks. It's possible that they are modding the drivers to give the Pro cards an "edge".

    If there is an "edge" keep an eye on Barefeats to find it. His one joy in life is wringing answers out of Mac gear. He us probably tired of running Furious Ravens tests on 4S vs 5C type stuff and will be getting those various answers when nMP ships.
  15. chrono1081 macrumors 604


    Jan 26, 2008
    Isla Nublar
    I highly doubt anyone is going to tell you that if you're not a pro you can't have a nice system. It all depends on what your uses are. If you want something for gaming people are not going to recommend a system with a workstation card.

    Now if you say you want a computer to run Houdini or something on then you'll get recommended a workstation card since those types of apps run significantly better with the specialized cards.
  16. hugodrax macrumors 6502a

    Jul 15, 2007
    They can go up to 11 unlike regular consumer GPUs which are stuck at 10.
  17. haravikk macrumors 65816

    May 1, 2005
    Not really an accurate comparison; it's more like consumer cards are designed to go up to 10 as required, while FirePros are intended to be able do 9.5 all day, every day.

    Doesn't mean you can't do the same with the consumer card, but if you do then you shouldn't be surprised if it runs hotter, less efficiently and/or begins generating errors in any results or has to aggressively under clock itself to remain stable/cool.

    Of course there's a question mark over how effectively the D series in the new Mac Pros will be able to do this too due to seemingly limited PSU capacity, and unknown cooling potential.
  18. slughead, Nov 16, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2013

    slughead macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    Supposedly they have features that make them better. The reality is that the drivers and many applications are optimized to use them... at least in Windows.

    In Windows, this makes a profound difference in performance. Hopefully the Dx00 series cards will carry the same performance advantage as other FirePro cards for nMP users running windows (this is NOT confirmed yet)

    It is unclear if this carries over to the Mac, where the same drivers are used for consumer and professional cards. Time (and benchmarks) will tell. There's also the matter of trying to find applications for Mac that show a difference. Perhaps Apple will cripple FCPX when using non Dx00 cards, just to sell more nMP. [EDIT: There are already indications Apple is crippling consumer cards]

    I don't think anyone knows for sure. The D300 is modeled after the W7000 which does NOT use ECC.

    The D500 and D700 are modeled after the W8000 and W9000, respectively--both of which DO use ECC.

    The website doesn't say either way. They could all use ECC, or none could use ECC, or some can and some can't. Nobody knows.

    Whatever Apple is doing, it's certain they're making a killing up-charging all nMP buyers using these cards. They are likely getting an amazing wholesale price and these cards may even be the largest proportion of their profit margin on the nMP.

    The chips in these cards (7970 and lower) was released 2 years ago, and you're paying through the nose for it.


    I hear this over and over again, and I've yet to see any indication this is true, apart from AMD's marketing.

    The FirePro W9000 TPD is almost identical to the 7970 GE, and the coolers on many non-reference cards actually work better than the cooler on the W9000.

    If it weren't for the software changes/optimizations and ECC, I think many non-reference consumer ATI's would be better for professional tasks than the W9000. At least, from all the evidence I've seen. These new Dx00 may be binned and therefore do have significant advantages, but we don't know that for sure yet, and we don't know how that will affect anything from reliability to speed to power consumption.

    The FirePros also carry a very comprehensive 3 year warranty, possibly with on-site service. The included warranty on the new Mac Pro will not (unless you pay for 3 year Applecare and have Apple's "business" level service, however that's attained).
  19. iBug2 macrumors 68040

    Jun 12, 2005
    You have got to be kidding me. Has there been a single OS X upgrade that didn't cripple GPU performance all over the board? I can't remember any. 10.6.0 had terrible GPU performance compared to 10.5.8. 10.7.0 compared to 10.6.8. etc. Whenever Apple releases a new OS X, GPU drivers are worse in the initial release and they pick up towards 10.X.2. So, no. There's absolutely no indication that Apple is crippling anything.
  20. Varmann macrumors member

    Jan 3, 2010
    Double precision floating point performance matters a lot to some scientific numerical models running on GPUs. Probably not to much else. I guess it is a case of "if you haven´t heard of it you do not need it". :)
  21. haravikk macrumors 65816

    May 1, 2005
    I do share your skepticism in most respects, I was mostly just pointing out that "it goes up to 11" isn't an accurate description of professional cards.

    It's true we only really have a manufacturer's word that professional cards use better components for longevity etc. I haven't yet seen anywhere that has run a proper stress test to see just how hard you can push a FirePro versus its consumer equivalent, and of course with the price of the cards I'm not sure we're likely to see a proper comparison except by petitioning review sites that do do workstation card reviews until they agree to run some long running tests.

    I mean the point of a workstation GPU is that you're supposed to be able to run it all day, every day, for a week and it should perform really well the entire time.

    I've seen several reviews that generate bitcoin mining stats as a measure of comparison, but usually only do it briefly to get a quick measure of peak MHashes/sec, which isn't really a very good method as the whole point of Bitcoin mining is that it's a prolonged task. I'm trying to find some Bitcoin miners with professional GPUs, and then others with the corresponding consumer cards to run pure GPU mining for 12 hours or more, as I think the numbers could be a lot more indicative of whether there are any true differences.

    At least we know Apple isn't using the stock cooler, though that throws up more question marks till we find out how good the cooling actually is. In theory it could be a lot better as most PCI slots in workstation cases don't actually offer the best airflow, especially with multiple cards packed together; the new Mac Pro by comparison has quite a nice area of free space purely for airflow over a nice big heatsink so it could be really good, though depend our total workload (CPU as well).

    I can kind of understand why AMD sticks with certain coolers, but the lack of innovation does strike as a bit weird. At the same time though, if the coolers are identical then it is purely the components of the card itself that will determine any differences, i.e - if they run a bit cooler, or tolerate heat better without having to throttle their speed, then they may give more performance over time. It's just a shame that review sites don't usually do a very good job of highlighting long workloads, or we'd have a wealth of information to go by.
  22. deconstruct60 macrumors 604

    Mar 10, 2009
    If talking over spec power consumption, overclocking, or GHz then no. In the VRAM space actually it generally is. Even when the foundation is the same the "Pro" versions spec out with higher VRAM capacity features enabled.

    Warranties are generally better, which has a bit more substance than just some "word" commentary. Product availability is generally longer ( not going to matter to the "newest, shiny" crowd but if need to buy a replacement part 4-5 years from now it does. )

    It isn't so much the parts are magically better.... they are just sold and supported longer. It is service paying for.

    They are also sold configured so that users don't prematurely shorten lifetimes either through various homegrown Frankenstein experiments.

    It is consistency that folks are paying for. That's why the the large stack of certified configurations pairings with software apps.
  23. slughead macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    That is actually a great example. From all the forums I looked at, bitcoin miners are using consumer cards [almost??] exclusively. I had difficulty [as in: no luck whatsoever] finding anyone using professional-grade cards for bitcoin.

    We're talking day-in, day-out, 24/7 processing
  24. BlueTide macrumors regular


    Feb 6, 2007
    I was burnt by professional workstation cards a time or two on PC side before I chose to give up. Costs a lot, performance wasn't quite there and the "special drivers" were causing more pain than benefit. Warranty wasn't all that great given that with the prices you could just buy a few normal cards the moment something broke up.

    That, and the software I needed grew up not to require professional cards anymore.
  25. MacVidCards Suspended

    Nov 17, 2008
    Hollywood, CA
    Yeah, going to be interesting how Apple adds value to these cards.

    There is going to have to be SOMETHING they can point at and claim is "better" than the 7870/7970 that they share OpenGl drivers with.

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