AMD first showed off its Radeon Pro Duo graphics card back at GDC, but the company’s Capsaicin event left a number of unanswered questions about the newest in AMD’s long line of single-card, dual-GPU solutions. The Radeon Pro Duo officially launches today, and we now know all of its secrets. One thing we unfortunately won’t be discussing is detailed performance results. As you may have already read elsewhere, AMD didn’t send Pro Duos to many of the usual suspects in the PC hardware press for review, ourselves included.
Some of our readers may want to put down their pitchforks after reading that last sentence. You see, AMD isn’t positioning the Pro Duo as an enthusiast graphics card in the vein of the Radeon R9 295 X2. Instead, the company tells me the Pro Duo is intended as a multi-GPU development platform for VR content creators and other content professionals—people who game, to be certain, but whose time at the keyboard is mostly spent building those games (or using other professional applications that take advantage of GPU acceleration). In that sense, the Pro Duo is trying to be a bridge between the workstation- and consumer-graphics worlds, rather than the baddest single-card graphics solution around for gamers and enthusiasts.
That’s not to say the Radeon Pro Duo isn’t an exciting product—it is—but this card’s $1499 price tag and professional bearings mean it probably won’t find its way into any but the most dedicated of enthusiasts’ desktops. Even if only a lucky few will be pushing pixels with a Pro Duo, it’s worth touching on some of the achievements AMD has made with this product.
Double the Fiji, double the fun
First off, this card houses two fully-enabled Fiji GPUs, as seen on the Radeon R9 Fury X. Unsurprisingly, its spec sheet reads a lot like two of those cards smashed together: 8GB of HBM RAM, 8192 stream processors, 128 GCN compute units, and dizzying potential memory bandwidth of up to 1024GB/s, just to mention a few highlights. As we’ll see in a moment, all those resources mean the Pro Duo has prodigious potential performance available.
One difference from the Fury X is that those Fiji chips only run at “up to 1000 MHz.” That’s 50 MHz down from the Fury X’s peak boost speeds, and similar to the way AMD describes the performance of the fully-endowed Fiji chip in the Radeon R9 Nano. As a result, a pair of those diminutive cards in CrossFire might serve as a rough yardstick for the Pro Duo’s performance. The card’s thermal envelope of 350W is exactly twice that of a Radeon R9 Nano, too. While the Pro Duo will need three eight-pin power plugs to satisfy its thirst for energy, its board power specification is still well short of the R9 295 X2’s monster 500W figure.
As it did with the R9 295 X2, AMD has once again turned to liquid cooling to keep the heat of those twin GPUs in check. We’d love to tear into some of the plastic shrouds covering the pumps and water blocks on this card, but all we can do is gaze from afar for now. Even in pictures, however, the Pro Duo’s cooling system looks more sophisticated than the one on the Fury X. Going by appearances, I’m guessing the cooling system uses something like full-coverage blocks over the power circuitry, versus the simple copper coolant pipe running over the VRMs of the older card. Once the hoses leave the case of the graphics card, they run to a 120-mm radiator similar to that of the Fury X’s.
The rest of the Pro Duo looks quite a bit like a lengthened Fury X. This card maintains the same fancy metallic frame, rubberized covers, and LED illumination as its sibling. We’re betting AMD’s board partners will have the same minimal room for brand-specific modifications as they did on the R9 Fury X. Expect manufacturer stickers on the fan hub and little else in the way of manufacturer customizations. AMD retained the “modular faceplate” of the Fury X on the Pro Duo, though, so crafty owners will still have some room for personal expression.
One minor change from the prototype shown at AMD’s Capsaicin event is the removal of one of the card’s four DisplayPort 1.2 outputs. That port has been replaced with an HDMI connector, presumably to improve compatibility with VR headsets like Oculus’ Rift that require an HDMI port to plug into a host PC.
Two chips are better than one (sometimes)
The big number AMD likes to throw around when talking about the Pro Duo is its 16 TFLOPS of theoretical single-precision (or FP32) compute performance. Nvidia doesn’t have a comparable dual-GPU product on the market right now, so the fairest competitor here may be the green team’s fastest single-card consumer product, the GeForce GTX Titan X. That card can deliver theoretical single-precision compute performance of 7 TFLOPS. For a different perspective, the Pascal-powered Tesla P100 can crunch FP32 data at 10.6 TFLOPS, but that’s not a product any of us will be putting in our desktops any time soon.
AMD suggests a couple scenarios for putting all that raw performance to use. For one example, the company says applications using its FireRender SDK can get a big boost running on a single Pro Duo. Going by AMD’s numbers, rendering a single example frame in Autodesk’s 3DS Max on the Pro Duo takes 15 seconds on the fully-enabled dual-GPU card, compared to 26 seconds with one of the Fiji GPUs disabled and 228 seconds on the host system’s Core i7-5960X CPU.
In another scenario (this time without FireRender), the company says Blackmagic’s Davinci Resolve 12 color-grading suite could run twice as many nodes of radial blur on a Pro Duo-equipped PC while maintaining smooth preview playback when compared to a single Fiji GPU running the same task. Presumably, that means colorists or other video pros can slather on the effects during editing without sacrificing smoothness.
All that’s well and good, but AMD calls the Pro Duo a card “for gamers who create and creators who game.” The company isn’t shy about calling the Pro Duo “the world’s fastest graphics card,” and that label may be justified. The company released some average-FPS benchmarks from a variety of titles running at 4K to justify this claim. By that measure, the card certainly puts some distance between itself and the Radeon R9 295 X2, not to mention the single-GPU Titan X. The graphics settings the company chose to demonstrate those results were pretty typical of what we’d choose ourselves, too, not the weirdly scaled-back ones we’ve sometimes seen in AMD’s internal testing.
We’d exercise caution when drawing any major conclusions from these numbers one way or another, though, thanks to the inherent coarseness of the average frame rate measurement. We’d also like to have seen the card pitted against two Titan Xes in SLI, since AMD wasn’t shy about using that exact setup for its Ashes of the Singularity testing. Still, the numbers AMD shared hint at the Pro Duo’s considerable performance potential. Whether games take advantage of that potential is another story—many modern titles don’t support alternate-frame rendering—so there may be a bit of a question mark hanging over the Pro Duo’s value for the traditional 3D titles of the future.
The Pro Duo’s real forte, then, may be its performance in VR. The card is the only product that’s in AMD’s “Radeon VR-Ready Creator” tier so far, and it seems a natural fit for use with the company’s Affinity Multi-GPU feature (even if that technology isn’t widely supported yet). For now, though, the company shared some numbers generated by the SteamVR Performance Test. The Pro Duo maxes out this test with a score of 11, followed closely by a single GeForce GTX 980 Ti with a score of 10.5. We won’t dwell too much on that result, other than to say that the Pro Duo appears to live up to its billing as a capable platform for VR content production and playback.
In keeping with the “creators who game” theme, the Pro Duo comes backed up with an interesting driver support model. Content pros can install FirePro drivers for the Pro Duo, with all of the stability and vendor-certified credentials that software offers. Pro Duo owners who game can install the same Radeon Software drivers from consumer cards to get that software’s game optimizations and cutting-edge support. It’s likely one will need to uninstall and reinstall each driver package as needed to make this dual-driver support model work. We’ve asked AMD for more information regarding this setup.
AMD says the Radeon Pro Duo will be available from “select” add-in board partners and system integrators today for $1499. Depending on what Radeons you consider comparable to the Pro Duo, acquiring a pair of Radeon R9 Nano cards for use in CrossFire costs about $500 less, while a pair of Fury X cards narrows that gap to $250. For the extra money, the Pro Duo gets buyers two Fiji GPUs on one card, requires only one radiator mount for cooling purposes when compared to Fury Xes in CrossFire, and offers a distinctive value proposition: access to AMD’s workstation and consumer graphics drivers alike. For folks who often need to move between the worlds of content creation and content consumption, then, the Pro Duo might be just the ticket. The rest of us might be better-served by keeping an eye on Polaris.