5 Reasons System Integrators Choose Professional-grade GPUs Over Consumer-grade

While it’s not possible to process the most complex AI functions at the edge, modern GPUs have enabled embedded computer systems to operate multiple sensors and cameras to efficiently perform inference right at the edge, minimising latency between input and action — a vital step forward in the world of AIoT.

The world of gaming has long been steered — and limited — by graphics processing power, and once Nvidia released the RTX series in 2018 it was natural that this commercial sector snapped them up. What makes a good gaming GPU also makes for great Edge AI computing — AI-based features that can predict and preload frames milliseconds in advance, Tensor cores which can dynamically adapt calculations to accelerate throughput while maintaining accuracy — these are attributes keyed up for both sectors. Despite the clear benefits for industrial system integrators to choose professional-grade GPUs, most of our customers still favour consumer-grade / gaming GPU cards.

Here we look at five reasons why system integrators should choose a professional-grade GPU over consumer-grade.

Hardware

When comparing most professional-grade computing components to their commercial equivalents, the quality or robustness of the electronics and sub-components is invariably at a higher standard. This is of course offset by the price, but in industrial environments, especially those running critical processes, reliability is paramount. On the performance-side, professional-grade GPUs support ECC memory which has a built-in error correction function that fixes issues in the VRAM on the fly. Professional-grade GPUs, particularly those at the high-end of the spectrum, also offer more VRAM — an asset which allows for more complex algorithms at much greater volume to be processed. Integrated hardware features are also commonly available with professional-grade GPUs, such as Frame Lock, Genlock and Hardware Sync support for regulating display outputs across multiple displays when they must be in total synchronisation across multiple systems.

Support

The level of support cover available for professional and consumer-grade GPUs differs markedly. With consumer-grade GPUs being aimed at gaming and home office use, support is limited to firmware and the operation of the GPU hardware, with little to no official support channels for software-related issues. Professional-grade GPUs, on the other hand, are often integrated into critical applications where hardware or software issues could severely impact revenue, so support for professional-grade GPUs extends to cover for software compatibility issues between the GPU and the application.

Minimum requirements

If you look at the minimum requirements section of professional-grade software, you will most often see the requirement for a professional-grade GPU. Does this mean a consumer-grade GPU would be unable to run the software? Probably not, but perhaps it would have issues with some features and struggle to keep up with the pace expected from a professional-grade application. The additional software support for professional-grade GPUs we mentioned above, however, would most likely vanish, with software vendors being less than forthcoming with providing support should problems arise from using a consumer-grade card that is not approved by them to work with their software.

Lifecycle and roadmaps

When it comes to industrial and professional-grade GPU applications, longevity and stability of product is paramount. A system integrator will design in a product to last years, even decades, and a product with long lifecycles and visible roadmaps is key to their product selection. The world of consumer-grade GPUs is fast moving, with manufacturers releasing new iterations of their GPUs regularly to keep up with the appetite of hungry video games and demanding gamers. Drivers are constantly updated to improve compatibility with the latest games, something which is often a direct cause of instability and undesirable for system integrators looking for a stable product for their application. Professional-grade GPUs have longer development periods and official change-notifications and rollouts, giving organisations more control over obsolescence and a clear plan on development cycles for the future.

Standardisation

It is a common misconception that professional-grade GPUs are a simple rebadge of consumer-grade GPUs, and where it may be true that they share many of the same components, technologies, and architectures, it’s in their development cycle that they differ. As with the ever-updating hardware, drivers, and firmware of consumer-grade GPUs, manufacturers of these will push the limits of the hardware to maximise gaming experience and deliver high-spec GPU cards at the lowest price possible. Professional-grade GPUs, however, follow a strict reference design that ensures a standard level of quality and stability — an essential attribute for professional and industrial applications. For instance, the power usage of professional-grade GPUs is standardised across the board, with little variance. This is particularly desirable for system integrators as power usage needs to be monitored and regulated across all components in a system, especially with the tight tolerances in industrial applications. The power usage for consumer-grade GPUs can vary wildly, even up to ~50W — a variance which could bring down an entire production line.

In summary

Stability is the key for system integrators, and where cheaper, consumer-grade GPUs may be able to handle much of the workload, the rapidly altering firmware and drivers and lack of strict standardisation in the development cycle can cause instability in critical systems. 
Get in touch
Our technical sales team are ready to answer your questions.
T: +44 (0)1782 337 800 • E: sales@impulse-embedded.co.uk
+44(0)1782 337 800
MediaKnowledge base5 Reasons System Integrators Choose Professional-g...