26 Apr AMD Radeon Pro Duo: A Unique Graphics Card For A Unique Time

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(Source: Anshel Sag)

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has been teasing the Radeon Pro Duo since June 2015 when they showed off early prototypes of the card. (I was among the first to see and post pictures of it.) AMD said the card would be available sometime in the fall and then kept very quiet about it…until their Capsaicin event in March at GDC 2016, where AMD unveiled the Radeon Pro Duo, formerly known as the Fury X2. According to AMD, the Radeon Pro Duo shows a major shift of strategy, which makes sense given the inherently low sales volume of such a card.

Prosumer Graphics

Instead of a mere Radeon 295X2 successor, the Radeon Pro Duo is an new category of graphics card from AMD: their first ‘prosumer’ graphics card. AMD positions Radeon Pro Duo as a card that professionals can use while also being able to game on it in their leisure time without breaking the bank. This strategy is prevalent in the camera market, with an entire prosumer category of DSLRs that sit between the $5,000 professional DSLRs and the $500 mainstream consumer cameras. One might argue the prosumer category is the majority of the camera market, now that smartphones have almost entirely cannibalized their consumer business. While AMD is not in an identical position, the Radeon Pro Duo does indicate a shift of strategy by AMD.

AMD’s competitor Nvidia did something similar with their GeForce GTX Titan series of graphics cards, offering consumer-level gaming performance while also offering high-end compute capabilities. However, Nvidia never took that move as far as AMD did, because Nvidia only offered consumer graphics drivers with their GTX Titan cards even though they sold for $1,000 and up. AMD’s approach is unique because they actually offer three different tiers of drivers for the Radeon Pro Duo: beta drivers which are available more often, WHQL drivers which are certified by Microsoft and FirePro drivers that are qualified by professional ISVs and considered the most stable.

Being a prosumer card, the Pro Duo is aimed at enabling creative professionals to accelerate the pace of their creativity with dual GPUs in mind. AMD says they’ve been sampling this card to select creative professionals and been getting feedback since December 2015, which explains why this card has taken so long to launch.

Radeon Pro Duo is part of AMD’s push to encourage developers to do more with dual GPUs. This strategy also aligns with AMD’s long term strategy of encouraging more VR development on dual GPU cards which have proven to be the best for VR by Valve’s own research. In addition to game development and VR, AMD is also partnering with Crytek on their VR First initiative and their new Film Engine. Film Engine is a new program from Crytek based on CryEngine specifically designed for cinema and movie creation using the cinematic quality of their engine.

Performance

In my own testing with AMD’s latest 16.4.2 drivers, this card outperformed the Radeon R9 Fury X and Radeon R9 295×2. This is quite a feat considering the Pro Duo is only 350W. The Radeon Pro Duo nearly maxed-out Valve’s SteamVR benchmark at a score of 10.8 (the max is 11). On Futuremark’s 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra, it scored 6,307—well beyond what Futuremark considers to be ‘VR Ready’ and faster than 82% of all systems in their database including 2, 3 and 4 GPU configurations.

I also ran the Pro Duo in 3DS Max with AMD’s new open source FireRender 1.6.41 plug-in for 3DS Max 2016 SP3 V2 and were able to test against the 295X2 and Fury X just to see what kind of real world professional performance potential prosumers could expect to see.

AMD(Source: Anshel Sag)

The Radeon Pro Duo does have two GPUs, 8GB of HBM memory and a $1,500 price tag, but reviewers will likely find it to be the fastest gaming card on earth and does it at the same price as the 295X2. The Radeon Pro Duo marks a significant change for AMD, one that brings serious value to the professional user with professional driver support while also satisfying many consumer needs as well, like power and performance. The Pro Duo could become the graphics card of choice for VR development if AMD’s leadership in VR continues. If that becomes a reality, we could really see AMD’s fortunes seriously change for the better. We will continue to use and test the Pro Duo with more applications and games as time allows.