The Current State of Mac Pro GPUs
-- before the next "shoe" drops
Posted Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
You have probably - hopefully - heard by now that a Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 Mac Edition was being shown at CeBit in Germany last week. It's for real, gang. We will benchmark and report on it as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, we decided to illustrate the current state of the GPU options for the Mac Pro using three new benchmarks and two updated benchmarks. We included four Mac Pro GPUs and three examples of "non Mac Pro" GPUs for reasons we will discuss later in this article.
Unigine has recently updated the Heaven Benchmark from version 3.0 to version 4.0. It uses the same 26 scenes of a village, a ship, and floating islands applying advanced ambient occlusion, volumetric clouds, and various lighting conditions with refraction. This version has two presets to help standardize comparison testing: Basic and Extreme.
We used Extreme preset for our testing which specifies 1600x900 windowed resolution with 8x Anti-aliasing, Ultra Quality for Shaders and Textures, Extreme Tessellation, and with Occlusion, Refraction, and Volumetric Shadows enabled. We a graph with AVERAGE frames per second. (LONGER means bar means FASTER.)
GTX 680MX = NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX GPU in a 'Late 2012' (27") iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
GTX 675MX = NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX GPU in a 'Late 2012' (27") iMac 3.4GHz Core i7
Radeon 5870 = AMD Radeon HD 5870 GPU in a 'Mid 2010' Mac Pro 3.33GHz Hex-Core
Quadro 4000 = NVIDIA Quadro 4000 GPU in a 'Mid 2010' Mac Pro 3.33GHz Hex-Core
Radeon 5770 = AMD Radeon HD 5770 GPU in a 'Mid 2010' Mac Pro 3.33GHz Hex-Core
GTX 285 = NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285 GPU in a 'Mid 2010' Mac Pro 3.33GHz Hex-Core
GT 650M = NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M in a 'Mid 2012' Retina MacBook Pro 2.7GHz Core i7
(also the GPU included in the 'Late 2012' iMac 21.5" 2.9GHz Core i5)
Unigine has added a new GPU benchmark called Valley. It "flies" through forest-covered valley surrounded by vast mountains. It amazes with its scale from a birdŐs-eye view of 64 million meters of extremely detailed terrain down to every leaf and flower petal. It features advanced visual technologies: dynamic sky, volumetric clouds, sun shafts, DOF, ambient occlusion.
Valley provides three presets to help standardize comparison testing: Basic, Extreme, and Extreme HD. We used Extreme preset: 1600x900 windowed resolution with 8x Anti-aliasing, Ultra Quality for Shaders and Textures, and with Occlusion, Refraction, and Volumetric Shadows enabled. We posted AVERAGE frames per second. (LONGER bar means FASTER.)
OceanWave OpenCL benchmark (download link) was originally used as an Apple OpenCL source code demo. It was recently updated including options to run windowed or fullscreen, with or without anti-aliasing. We posted the results for Windowed with no AA. (LONGER bar means FASTER.)
Luxrender's LuxMark 2.0 is a 100% OpenCL cross platform benchmark with complex, real world code creating a benchmark. You can benchmark GPU only, CPU only, or both. Three render scenes are provided ranging from 200K triangles to 2 million triangles. The graph below is for the "Room" scene, the toughest test with 2 million triangles. The results are expressed in thousands of samples per second. (LONGER bar means FASTER.)
Sid Meier's Civilization V is now on Steam. By entering "-LeaderBenchmark" in the Properties > Set Launch Options, it runs through multiple animated sequences of the various World Leaders. Though it does not simulate real game play, it is GPU intensive. Resolution was 2560x1440 with FullScreen OFF (more stressful). Quality settings were on "Medium" with one exception -- Texture Quality was set to "High." VSync and High Detail Strategic View were both OFF. (LONGER bar means FASTER.)
1. Both top GPUs in the 'late 2012' iMac (675MX and 680MX) are faster than all the best "Apple Blessed" Mac Pro GPUs like the Radeon HD 5870 and Quadro 4000 in all but one test featured here. There are faster "abynormal" GPUs being run by "mad scientists" but this article does not include the "un-blessed." But more on those later.
2. The GeForce GT 650M in the Retina MacBook Pro beat the GTX 285 in two tests and tied or beat the Quadro 4000 in three tests. The 650M is also used in the 21.5" iMac with 2.9GHz Core i5. It's no wonder that the question is often asked, "Will a new MacBook Pro or iMac run as fast or faster than my old Mac Pro?"
SOME HISTORICAL GPU PERSPECTIVE
Since the first Power Mac and Mac Pro were introduced, the factory and retail GPU offerings have been lagging behind those offered to Windows PC users. They were neither leading edge nor cutting edge. They were more like blunt or trailing edge. Almost immediately a GPU underground movement began to flash "PC only" GPUs to work in the Mac towers. In early 2006 we reported on some impressive examples such as the GeForce 7800 GTX for the Quad-Core G5 Power Mac.
With the GPUs like the Radeon HD 5870 and GeForce GTX 285 in 2010, we felt there was hope for catching up to the 'dark side.' But now three years have passed. The 2012 Mac Pro speed bump is shipping with the same Radeon HD 5770 and 5870. Even more insulting is the price of the 5870 upgrade kit for pre-existing Mac Pros -- still being sold at $449. However, in late 2012, the new iMac was announced sporting a GeForce GTX 680MX in the top model. Huh?
By that time the frustration had infected professionals -- not just hard core gamers. The users of After Effects, DaVinci Resolve, Premiere Pro, and Final Cut Pro were abandoning the 5870 and Quadro 4000 in droves for much faster GPUs like the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 with 3GB of video memory. Some purchased flashed and fully tested GPUs on eBay while others visited forums where detailed instructions were posted on how to flash and/or patch 'rogue' GPUs. That prompted us to publish test results in a series of articles featuring various 'alternative' GPUs running pro apps as well as games. The most dramatic Pro App example was the DaVinci Resolve triple-node playback.
Not only did more and more Mac Pro owners seek out the flashed GPUs, but it was discovered that the fastest NVIDIA GPUs would work with OS X Mountain Lion without requiring flashing of the firmware -- though some required a slight patch or two. Then reports rolled in saying that the top AMD GPUs like the Radeon HD 7970 worked with OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.3 beta.
Just as interest and discussion are reaching a fever pitch, Sapphire shows a Radeon HD 7950 Mac Pro Edition at the CeBit show in Germany. I received a link to an article posted by PCGamesHardare.de from a fellow mad scientist in Germany on March 3rd. By March 5th, the news was picked up by multiple Mac sites in the USA.
I assure you that BareFeats has a very high interest in testing and reporting on the Radeon HD 7950, comparing it to other GPUs past, present and future. Future?
Yes. Future. We have yet to see a sample of the announced NVIDIA Quadro K5000 for Mac. Who knows -- maybe some GPU maker will introduce a Mac Pro version of the GeForce GTX 680 or Titan. Strap yourself in!