What’s the Difference Between GeForce and Quadro Graphics Cards?

A look into NVIDIA’s two most prominent graphics cards lineups.

The NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000 (top). and the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti (bottom). (Image courtesy of NVIDIA.)

The NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000 (top). and the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti (bottom). (Image courtesy of NVIDIA.)

When you’re at your computer, no matter what you’re doing, you want the visual experience to be as good as possible. When you’re settling in for a marathon Fortnite campaign, you want to feel like you’re airdropping out of a real flying bus. When you’re rendering an image of your latest CAD assembly, you want to feel like you’re looking at a bona fide photograph of your product. In both cases, you want the graphics to run as smoothly and quickly as possible.

These expectations all fall to your computer’s graphical processing unit, or GPU. The GPU is the heart of the graphics cards that sit modestly in your computer chassis, endlessly performing graphical calculations and sending the results to your dual 4K monitors. Take a moment to appreciate them, because without graphics cards we’d all be stuck playing Bandersnatch on our MS-DOS workstations.

OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but graphics cards are an absolutely critical component of modern computer systems. If you’ve ever built your own PC or customized your own workstation, you know that the choice of graphics card is one of the biggest steps of the whole process. In terms of importance, the GPU is right up there with the central processing unit (CPU)—you know, that chip that makes the whole computer work. The right graphics card can make your system run like a dream. The wrong one can make your system self-destruct (because you’ll likely want to rip it out of the chassis and smash it to bits).

In this article, we’ll take a look at two of the most prominent graphics cards products on the market: the NVIDIA GeForce lineup and the NVIDIA Quadro lineup. Each of these product families has been around for two decades, and while there are many similarities between them, there’s one big difference: the target user. GeForce graphics cards are meant for gamers and other consumer users, while Quadro cards are meant for professionals: engineers, designers, 3D animators, and anyone who’s job depends on computer graphics. Let’s find out why.

GeForce RTX and Quadro RTX

Die of the NVIDIA Turing TU102 GPU architecture. (Image courtesy of NVIDIA.)

Die of the NVIDIA Turing TU102 GPU architecture. (Image courtesy of NVIDIA.)

The first thing to understand about them is that all NVIDIA graphics cards are built on the same underlying GPU architecture. The architecture describes the types and arrangements of the components needed for graphical processing. NVIDIA updates its GPU architecture often, and the latest architecture is named Turing (other architectures have been named Volta, Pascal, Maxwell, Kepler, Fermi and Tesla). Turing underlies the latest GeForce and Quadro cards, the GeForce RTX series and Quadro RTX series. The RTX stands for real-time ray tracing, and we’ll cover it in more detail in another article.

So, if the underlying GPUs are the same in the cards, then all Quadro and GeForce cards must be the same, right?

Wrong. To start, there are actually three versions of the Turing architecture: TU102, TU104 and TU106. Each version includes different quantities of the components used for graphical processing. TU102 has the most of everything, TU104 has a little less, and TU106 has less still. In this way, a graphics card built on TU102 will be more powerful than one built on TU106. In addition, a given GPU can be configured to utilize all or part of its total capacity. So even two graphics cards that are built on the TU102 architecture can differ in their performance capabilities.

From left to right: chip diagrams of TU102, TU104 and TU106. (Images courtesy of NVIDIA.)

From left to right: chip diagrams of TU102, TU104 and TU106. (Images courtesy of NVIDIA.)

We won’t cover the details of the Turing architecture in this article, but a quick glance at the three chip diagrams clearly reveals the difference. Just look at the relative area of the green and yellow blocks in each chip. The more green and yellow you see, the more computing power the chip has. While both the highest-end GeForce and Quadro GPUs are built on the TU102 architecture, the lowest-end GeForce cards are built on TU106, but the lowest-end Quadro cards are built on the more powerful TU104.

The variation in processing ability accounts for one big differentiator between GeForce and Quadro graphics cards. In general, GeForce cards have less computing power than Quadro cards. The architecture in the two cards is exactly the same, but the quantity of processing components is different. Quadro cards simply have more computational muscle than GeForce cards.

One specific component worth pointing out is graphical memory. Quadro cards have a lot more memory than GeForce cards, which can be a huge advantage in professional workflows. If you’re just using your graphics card for gaming, you probably don’t need the 48GB of memory offered by the Quadro RTX 8000. You can get by just fine with the 11GB in the GeForce RTX 1080 Ti. But if you’re training a neural network, rendering an animated film, or running exhaustive CAE simulations, that extra memory is extra welcome.

Professional Benefits

The differences between GeForce and Quadro graphics cards don’t end with the extra memory and processing capabilities of Quadro cards. Since Quadro cards are targeted at professional users, they come with a host of professional benefits.

One of Quadro’s main advantages for professional users like engineers, designers and architects is the level of compatibility it provides with professional applications. NVIDIA partners with independent software vendors (ISVs) like Autodesk, ANSYS, Dassault Systèmes, PTC, Siemens and many more to certify Quadro cards for use in their applications. This means that the ISVs test Quadro cards in their application to ensure a reliable performance.

More importantly, the ISVs can tune their applications for optimum use with Quadro cards. This tuning can result in significant performance improvements. Take SOLIDWORKS, for example. In benchmark tests of application performance, SOLIDWORKS performs roughly two times better when using a Quadro RTX 4000 graphics card over a GeForce RTX 2070. Some applications see even more dramatic performance gains: Siemens NX performs about 25 times better on the Quadro RTX 4000 than the GeForce RTX 2070. Not all applications see this level of improvement—it really depends on how much the application utilizes the GPU—but where there are improvements, they’re significant.

Relative comparison of GeForce and Quadro RTX cards in three prominent CAD applications: CATIA, SOLIDWORKS and Siemens NX. (Image courtesy of NVIDIA.)

Relative comparison of GeForce and Quadro RTX cards in three prominent CAD applications: CATIA, SOLIDWORKS and Siemens NX. (Image courtesy of NVIDIA.)

And then there are Quadro card features that are only necessary in professional settings. For one thing, Quadro cards offer higher security than GeForce cards. USB C ports on Quadro cards can be disabled, a critical feature if they’re deployed in secure environments or if they contain sensitive information. Quadro cards also offer more display options than GeForce cards. Quadro cards support quad-buffered stereo, a type of three-dimensional display used in scientific enterprises like molecular biology, and only Quadro cards support Quadro Sync, a peripheral board that synchronizes outputs to a large array of displays for advertising, presentations and the like. Finally, Quadro cards are less prone to computational errors than GeForce cards. Only Quadro cards incorporate error correcting memory (ECC) to detect and correct errors caused by random interference.

In terms of reliability, Quadro cards again have an edge over GeForce cards. That’s because NVIDIA manufactures Quadro cards itself, and can offer an extended warranty on their performance. GeForce graphics cards are made by other manufacturers—NVIDIA only provides the GPU. Because of this, GeForce cards typically have a shorter warranty that’s only available from the card manufacturer, not NVIDIA.

Choosing Between Quadro and GeForce

If you’re in the market for a new graphics card and you haven’t figured out whether to go with a Quadro or a GeForce card, the first step is to determine what kind of user you are. Are you a gamer? If so, then GeForce is probably your best bet. Are you running professional CAD/CAE applications all day long? In that case, you’ll probably want to consider Quadro. Yes, Quadro cards are more expensive, but they’re also more powerful, more reliable and more feature rich than GeForce cards.

If you’re still struggling to decide which card is best for you, engineering.com recently published a research report that dives much deeper into the differences between GeForce and Quadro cards, the architectural similarities between the two, and the benefits of Quadro cards for professional workflows: NVIDIA Quardo vs GeForce Graphics Cards.

Written by

Michael Alba

Michael is a senior editor at engineering.com. He covers computer hardware, design software, electronics, and more. Michael holds a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Alberta.