AMD's Radeon Pro WX GPUs can create VR content for under $1,000

AMD has scrapped the FirePro brand for its workstation GPUs as it tries to catch up with Nvidia in the professional graphics market

Apple's decision to use the FirePro professional GPU in its Mac Pro line was a signature win for AMD; otherwise, the GPU maker is getting crushed by Nvidia in the workstation market.

AMD is now pushing to become a major player in professional graphics with new GPUs in the Radeon Pro WX family. With the new GPUs, AMD is also scuttling the FirePro brand, which hasn't helped the company succeed in the workstation space.

The new Radeon Pro WX GPUs are based on the Polaris architecture and targeted at creative professionals, including movie editors, virtual reality content creators, and game programmers.

The workstation market is growing, with 4K video going mainstream and the emergence of VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC's Vive. Workstations typically have faster processors as well as more memory capacity and storage slots than standard desktops.

Prices of the new AMD GPUs are attractive. At under US$1,000, the top-line Radeon Pro WX 7100 is "the most affordable VR-ready graphics solution," said Raja Koduri, senior vice president and chief architect of AMD's Radeon Technologies Group.

That's much cheaper than the FirePro GPUs, priced more than $3,000. The WX 7100 delivers 5.9 teraflops of double-precision performance, has 8GB of GPU memory, and can handle four 5K displays simultaneously.

The other AMD GPUs include the mid-range Radeon Pro WX 5100 and the WX 4100, which is aimed at small desktops. These models don't deliver the performance of the WX 7100 but are targeted at video editing, gaming development, product design, and engineering applications.

The WX 5100 can deliver 5.2 teraflops of single-precision performance and has 8GB of graphics memory. The WX 4100 peaks out at 2.5 teraflops of single-precision performance and has 4GB of graphics memory.

The GPUs will ship in the fourth quarter, when final prices will be released.

The low-pricing strategy on Radeon Pro WX 7100 is similar to one AMD adopted with the first consumer Polaris GPU called RX 480, which was priced at $199. Today, gaming PCs with the GPU are available for under $799.

But it remains to be seen if AMD's renewed approach to professional graphics will propel it to catch up to Nvidia. Nvidia rules the workstation market with its Quadro GPUs.

AMD has other tricks up its sleeve to catch up. It is offering an open-source graphics development platform called GPUOpen, while Nvidia's development platform, called CUDA, is proprietary. The open-source platform creates a lower barrier to entry for people who want to work with AMD's new GPUs, Koduri said.

AMD is also adding new features to GPUs. AMD has introduced the experimental Radeon Pro Solid State Graphics processor with an integrated 1TB SSD, and it is packing more memory into GPUs.

But Nvidia keeps adding quality professional GPUs to its profile. Earlier on Monday, Nvidia announced the Quadro P6000, which the company claims can deliver single-precision performance of 12 teraflops.

The AMD GPUs were announced at the SIGGRAPH conference in Anaheim, California, this week.

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