16 Aug Consumer Graphics Competition Spills Over Into Pro Graphics

At SIGGRAPH 2016, both Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and NVIDIA announced new professional graphics cards and a multitude of new software and features. The theme of their announcements was improved performance and scalability, showing both companies’ engagement in VR. AMD and NVIDIA touted capabilities to help creators and artists build new VR environments and improve the experience.

Almost like a mirror of their consumer graphics divisions, both companies seemed to go in different directions in terms of which part of the professional graphics market they approached.

NVIDIA announced the Quadro P6000 and P5000 graphics cards based on NVIDIA’s new Pascal architecture. This new architecture delivers nearly double the performance of the previous generation, making an upgrade extremely attractive to many current users. The Quadro P6000 is a graphics card with 24GB of GDDR5X RAM, which is very high bandwidth RAM produced by Micron. This GPU further elevates what an NVIDIA customer can do with a single GPU and raises the bar on what professional graphics users can accomplish on their own workstation.

On the other hand, AMD has not had a significant presence at SIGGRAPH in many years. This year, however, has marked a significant change for the company in terms of their engagement with the professional audience. AMD held one of their Capsaicin events at SIGGRAPH and announced a new line of professional graphics cards that included a rebranding of the professional FirePro line into Radeon Pro line. AMD announced three Radeon Pro WX series graphics cards based on the same Polaris architecture as their consumer GPUs. These cards are designed to help AMD lower the barrier-to-entry for professional graphics and increase AMD’s market share. The WX line of cards are mostly priced towards the mid to low end of the market, which is where their Radeon RX 400 series sits.

However, like in the consumer graphics market, NVIDIA can always announce more affordable products down the line. This is a bit more difficult for NVIDIA in the professional business because it is traditionally seen as one of their most profitable businesses.

Both AMD and NVIDIA introduced their own 360-degree video stitching solutions which use their GPU’s unique abilities for video processing. It will be interesting to see if either gets any pull in the market or if a 3rd-party software provider supplants them. Additionally, both companies announced software improvements including new renderers and plug-ins for 3rd-party renderers. There were no other major software announcements at SIGGRAPH other than NVIDIA’s enhancements to Iray that improve the workflow to make VR possible.

The announcement I would say was somewhat unexpected was AMD’s Radeon Pro SSG, which combines their professional graphics cards with 1TB of SSD cache onboard to improve direct data access. This unique solution allows artists and other professional graphics users to access their data at higher speeds and smoothly render enormous scenes and textures without lag. The bandwidth improvements show significant promise for the Radeon Pro SSG and will be heavily reliant upon whether AMD can get software vendors to support the Radeon Pro SSG’s unique memory configuration.

Competition between AMD and NVIDIA is certainly heating up. In terms of core products, NVIDIA is continuing to push the envelope on their halo products, while AMD is trying to gain share. I believe NVIDIA will continue to encourage upgrades through new and faster product offerings, while AMD will potentially gain share through competitive pricing and performance. AMD does not have to charge as high prices as NVIDIA to be successful in professional graphics right now, they just need to gain market share and sales. NVIDIA’s profitability heavily relies upon professional graphics margins like Quadro and Tesla, so they are going to continue to push the envelope and maintain their price and margin.