Review: AMD Radeon Pro W6800 Workstation GPU
Once again, AMD has introduced some rock-the-house workstation GPUs at competitive prices. The W6800 ($2249) and W6600 ($649) are designed to go head-to-head with Nvidia’s best. We’ve been hammering away with a W6800 and are impressed. We’ll relate what we’ve found, about both it and its smaller sibling the W6600, and thoughts about whether they are right for you. Spoiler alert: As with any GPU recently, a huge issue will be the actual street price, since none of them seem to be available at MSRP.
AMD W6800, W6600, and W6600M by the Numbers
AMD’s new workstation GPU family includes the W6800 and W6600 desktop cards and a W6600M for mobile devices. All are built around AMD’s 7nm RDNA 2 architecture and have extensive ISV driver certification for scientific, engineering, and creative professional applications. Power efficiency has also been improved across the product line.
The flagship of the family, AMD Radeon Pro W6800 is a monster of a desktop GPU. It features 32GB of high-speed ECC GDDR6 RAM, and sports a total of nearly 27 billion transistors. It has 3,840 stream processors in 60 compute units that are capable of a theoretical 1,783 TFlops of FP32 performance. The PCIe 4.0-ready card supports up to two 8K displays or six 4K displays. There are also 60 hardware ray-tracing processors. Full specs.
The AMD Radeon Pro W6600 is a single-slot, lower-cost board using the same architecture, but with only 8GB of non-ECC GDDR6 RAM and 1,792 stream processors. It does still include 28 ray-tracing accelerators. It can drive up to four 4K displays or one 8K display (full specs). The 6600M version, for embedding in laptops or other devices, has essentially identical specifications, with performance dependent partially on how an OEM configures its power envelope within its 65 to 90-watt range (full specs).
Using the AMD Radeon Pro W6800
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a pre-release version of the W6800 with a pre-release driver, so I put it through its paces for a few days. For starters, it is sleek, well-built, and fits nicely in both the first and second dual slots of my test rig. It does have power connectors at the end of its length, so if your case is snug, you might have to purchase a couple of those cute little adapters that let you run the power cords from the other side. It has six mini-DisplayPort connectors on one side of the back panel and a grille on the other.
I ran it both in tandem with an Nvidia 1080 and by itself in each of the first and second slots in my i7-equipped test rig. It performed flawlessly in all those configurations. As a side note, I was impressed more applications used both GPUs than I expected, especially if some displays were on each. For my tests, though, I just had the W6800 in the first, 16x, slot.
One place AMD has shown strength compared with Nvidia in its 5000 series of cards was mixed workloads. They have done a good job of enabling a system to execute tasks that are both CPU and GPU intensive with little performance degradation for either. So I decided to test that out with the W6800 by running Cinebench R23 and TimeSpy at the same time on it and a 3090 (I don’t have a current model Quadro), and looking at how running both affected the numbers for when they were each run separately. This time, both setups performed impressively. CPU numbers were off 10 to 12 percent, but GPU performance decreased by less than 5 percent.
AMD Show Photographers Some Love with Luminar and PureRAW Support
I was pleasantly surprised to see two of the photo utilities I rely on mentioned in the press briefing for the new cards. DxO’s PureRAW does a uniquely powerful job of pre-processing RAW files and leaving them as (mosaiced) RAW files for further processing. It relies on the company’s industry-leading DeepPRIME AI-enhanced noise reduction, which takes ages on a CPU or slow GPU. The W6800 collapsed that to just a couple of seconds for each of the 100+ 45MP Nikon D850 images I threw at it. Overall processing time was still around 20 seconds per image, but 90 percent of it was tasks performed on the CPU.
Luminar AI has also added support for the W6800. It certainly seemed snappy, similar to my system with an RTX 3090, but I didn’t try and do any specific benchmarks. In any case, it is a great trend both to see AMD reaching out to a variety of innovative software companies and that those companies are responding. My colleague Joel has frequently written about cases where AMD has gotten short-shrift from vendors in the past.
CUDA Is Less of an Issue, but Still a Thorn
AMD touts its support for the AI tech in Luminar AI and SuperRaw as examples of their growing presence in AI. But for practitioners of AI, machine learning, and some other GPGPU disciplines, CUDA support is still a big deal and means AMD GPUs don’t often help accelerate common tasks in those fields. The good news is that over time, more software is moving to cross-platform frameworks.
Price and Availability? What Are Those?
It’s really hard to say whether the WX6800 or WX6600 are a great value or worth buying without knowing how hard they will be to get, or how much you’ll really have to pay. For gamers, unless you have a very unusual situation, the non-Pro Radeon 6000-series cards are a better value — if you can get them. But for those who need certified drivers and official ISV support, the workstation models will be a good option, again depending on what they wind up actually costing. Based on my testing, and the company’s benchmarks, they’re impressive compared with other AMD and Nvidia workstation offerings, at least if you can get them at MSRP.
We’ll have to see how the market prices them to get a better idea of their short-term value proposition. AMD is making the cards available starting immediately, but given recent GPU launches, it is hard to know what that means in terms of ordering on. As to the W6600M, unless you are a device maker, it’ll be wait-and-see as laptops using the chip begin to roll out. The first one announced is the HP Fury ZBook G8 mobile workstation which will begin to be available in July.