Nvidia unleashes Fermi-based Quadro cards

Now that gamers have had their fair share of fun with Nvidia's Fermi architecture, it's now the turn of 3D graphics professionals to get a handful of Quadro Fermi magic.

Nvidia has just unveiled its new Fermi-based range of Quadro GPUs at the Siggraph show in LA, which it says are the first professional graphics chips to feature both Error Correction Codes (ECC) memory and fast double-precision floating point performance.

According to Nvidia, the new Quadro chips can process data at up to five times the speed of their predecessors in standard 3D apps, and at up to eight times the speed in computational simulation tasks.

A number of flavours will be available, depending on your requirements. At the top of the pack is the Quadro 6000, which has the same 448 stream processors as the GeForce GTX 470. However, Quadro 6000 cards are also kitted out with 6GB of GDDR5 ECC memory and a 384-bit memory interface; four times the amount of standard RAM on the gaming card.

According to Nvidia, the Quadro 6000 is capable of churning out 1.3 billion triangles a second, which the company says will enable 3D professionals to "interactively work with models and scenes that are five times more complex than ever before."

The next step down is the Quadro 5000, with 352 stream processors and 2.5GB of GDDR5 RAM, which is addressed via a 32-bit memory interface. Then at the bottom you'll find the Quadro 4000, which features 256 stream processors, 2GB of GDDR5 memory and a 256-bit memory interface. The latter is also the only one of the three cards to feature a single-slot cooler, while the others take up two slots.

Nvidia is also taking this opportunity to introduce a mobile Fermi-based Quadro chip for mobile workstations. The Quadro 5000M has 320 stream processors and 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Dell and HP are already planning portable 3D workstations based on the chip, including a version of HP's EliteBook 8740W.

Nvidia says the new chips are "intended for applications demanding the highest accuracy, such as medical imaging, finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics." However, there's also no doubt they'll be incredibly useful for quick processing of visual effects in films too. Among the 3D tasks Nvidia says will benefit from the new GPUs are ray tracing, physics simulation, computational fluid dynamics and real-time video effects processing.

Olivier Maury, research and development engineer at George Lucas' special effects crew, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), claimed that "by using Nvidia Quadro GPUs, we are seeing up to eight iterations each day of complex fire, dust and air simulations."

According to Maury, this is a speed-boost of between ten and fifteen times compard to their previous kit. "Nvidia CUDA and Quadro GPUs have entirely changed the way we solve complex visual effects challenges," he said.

Cards based on the new GPUs are available to pre-order now, although they're not cheap. A Quadro 6000 will currently set you back £4,205, while the 5000 comes in at £2,008 and the 4000 is priced at £915 (inc VAT). Meanwhile, the first mobile workstations with Fermi-based Quadro chips are expected to be available later in the third quarter of this year.