AMD revamps workstation lines and adds three cards

Siggraph 2016: Polaris based Radeon Pro WX 4100, 5100, and 7100

AMD Radeon Logo 2013AMD is announcing three new workstation cards today along with a new branding scheme. What was FirePro has become Radeon Pro or Radeon Pro WX with some important changes between them.

At Siggraph AMD announced these workstation naming changes along with three Polaris based cards that bear the new branding. While SemiAccurate is not normally a big fan of naming changes, there is some real meat behind these, it isn’t just marketing for its own sake. Lets take a look at them starting with the hardware.

The cards are all Radeon Pro WX stamped, the highest end of the new lines with WX standing for Workstation Experience. This is what you would have called a FirePro GPU a few hours ago, not with is a Radeon Pro WX 4100, 5100, or 7100. Sadly there were no specs or pictures of cards available at the moment just renderings of the parts that aren’t worth the bandwidth to post.

The 4100 is a 2-slot full length card, the 5100 is 1-slot and short, and the 7100 is long and 1-slot. All three are Polaris based but what chips are what SKU wasn’t revealed, nor were memory, clocks, shader counts, or anything else. The only hard data points are a release time of later this year and a price point of <$1000 for the most expensive.

Now back to the branding and there is actually a lot of changes in these names. Normal consumer GPUs are called Radeon and what was FirePro prior to this announcement is now Radeon Pro WX. WX cards will be certified at the card or system level as before, and sold mostly through workstation vendors like before. Not much changes on the high and low ends other than the name.

In the middle is the Radeon Pro line of which there is one on the market at the moment, the Radeon Pro Duo. Think of this as a ‘prosumer’ brand mixed with part of the professional line. If you want a higher end card with more error correction, longer lifespans, and better support but don’t need the few features like a few specific software certifications that come with the high-end GPUs, Pro is aimed at you. The biggest benefit is that the price tag isn’t an order of magnitude multiplier over the consumer parts, it is more expensive but not abusively so.

What do you get with a Radeon Pro? Better support than consumer devices, enhanced warranty, and all the cards are made by AMD. They will be certified at a card level where possible the same way that the Pro WX line is, but those certs that are for the whole system are obviously not going to be on this line. If you want a certified and supported GPU for your specific need, the Pro brand may save you a price multiple over the traditional way of entering this market. The driver base will be common between the Pro and Pro WX as well so no compromises there.

Better yet the Pro line won’t have to be constrained to the specific form factors, power requirements, and stability checks of the WX devices. This isn’t to say they will be standard consumer cards, just that things you couldn’t do with a workstation certified device are now open for exploitation. Want to overclock your Pro? Possible. Higher power and clocks than the conservative workstation vendors are comfortable with are in the mix now as are odd form factors that don’t slot into a traditional chassis, pun intended. Pro opens up possibilities for AMD that couldn’t exist before.

Better yet it is all done at a price point that mere mortals can afford. Since AMD isn’t dependent on product lines with abusive margins, they can offer things consumers/prosumers want at a price that they can afford. If you want the best certifications, warranties, support, and all the rest, the WX line is still available to you but the vast majority of the market that doesn’t need all that no longer has to pay for it in order to get a single feature or two.

In the end this three segmented market will change the game. Customers have long cried out for something in this class of device and traditionally had to choose between a painfully low-end chips at a steep markup or a current GPU with an order of magnitude markup. If they only needed a feature or two, they were stuck but now there is a very tantalizing option in the Radeon Pro line for them. It will be interesting to see how Nvidia responds, they can do the same and destroy the margins on their Quadro parts or ignore the upstart and watch sales go to AMD. It is going to be an interesting fight and consumers win no matter how it ends up.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate