Hands On With AMD’s New Radeon Pro W5500 Workstation GPU
Value-priced is not a term typically used to describe workstation GPUs that can support visualization and VR applications. Usually, 3D-focused GPUs come to market based on impressive performance claims and a price point to match. That was certainly the case with AMD’s Radeon Pro W5700 that we reviewed recently. But now the company has provided an impressive cost-reduced version, the AMD Radeon Pro W5500, at half the price ($399). We’ve been working with an early unit, and so far are quite pleased with what it can do at a price point more typical for a mid-range gaming or entry-level CAD GPU.
AMD’s Radeon Pro W5500 By The Numbers
Like the $799 Radeon Pro W5700, the W5500 is built using AMD’s 7nm “Navi” RDNA technology and features 8GB of GDDR6 memory. It can process at up to 5.35 TFLOPS (FP32) using its 22 compute units while consuming a relatively miserly 125 watts. It also offers support for PCIe Gen 4, if you have a compatible CPU like a recent Threadripper, but of course, it will work fine in a Gen 3 system.
AMD says it is 32 percent more power-efficient than the equivalent Nvidia offering, a Quadro P2200, when running SOLIDWORKS. AMD is particularly pleased with the resulting price-performance ratio it has achieved using its RDNA architecture — which results in 25 percent higher performance per clock cycle compared with GCN — and moves to a more power-efficient 7nm technology. Its relatively-low power needs mean the W5500 served with just an additional 6-pin power connector.
One place where the W5500 is completely different from the W5700 is connectivity. Instead of the six mini-DisplayPort connections of the W5700, it has four DisplayPort 1.4 connections. Both configurations seem reasonable, but it does make it a little more challenging for anyone who wants to upgrade later on from a W5500 to a W5700. The W5500 can drive up to four 4K or 5K displays, or one 8K display at 60Hz.
The W5500 also supports AMD Remote Workstation Graphics support, which may be of particular interest in these days of increased working from home. It’s also VR-ready, including support for wireless VR using an HTC Vive Focus Plus. As VR-capable CAD applications increase in popularity, that is definitely a nice future-proofing feature.
As with the W5700, AMD claims its performance is ever more impressive when multi-tasking or using both the CPU and GPU. It claims as much as a 10x speedup over Nvidia’s Quadro Pro P2200 ODE when running multitasking benchmarks. The W5500’s 8GB also outshines the P2200’s 5GB. However, the P2200 is a year old, so we’d expect a Turing-based update sometime this year. As far as AMD’s own products, the W5500 a likely alternative for those who would have considered an older, 14nm, WX 5100 or entry-level WX 7100.
Impressive Application Support
AMD has done an impressive job of getting official support for the W5500, which makes sense since it is basically a lower-end version of the W5700 launched last year. The full list is too long to recite here, but they have official support from most of the favorites, including 3DS Max, Creo, blender, Maya, and so on. AMD also announced that its ProRender software now supports SOLIDWORKS Visualize 2020.
The W5500M Is on the Way for Mobile Workstations
AMD also announced the Radeon Pro W5500M mobile discrete GPU for high-end laptops and mobile workstations. It has slightly lower specs, with 4GB of graphics memory and a 10 percent lower-rated performance of 4.79 TFLOPS at FP32. Along with that comes a smaller power envelope of 85 watts. It features the same 22 compute units, and 224 Gbps memory bandwidth over a 128-bit interface. Like the desktop version, it can also drive up to four displays.
Who Should Buy a W5500?
Like the W5700, AMD doesn’t support AI development on the W5500, so you’ll need to make sure that you’re comfortable with its impressive price-performance on engineering and creative applications. If you can live with that, it’s shaping up to be an excellent product at a great price, with a generous 8GB of graphics memory. Keep in mind, though, that many design tasks are bottlenecked by the CPU, so make sure that upgrading your GPU will get you the performance you’re expecting. Note that the W5500 is taking a little longer to become widely available than AMD’s original projection of February 20th.