I recently purchased a Dell XPS-8300 (i7-2600|16 GB DDR3 RAM|64-bit Windows7) which I intend to use primarily for GIS programs. I bought a refurbished model because it was much cheaper and because I am able to choose a graphics card of my own.

I am currently in the process of purchasing said card, but I haven't really seen much information about what kinds of cards are optimal for ArcMap or QGIS rendering as opposed to Battlefield 3 or Skyrim.

I am currently looking at an XFX AMD Radeon HD6870 PCIE 2GB Dual Mini or an XFX AMD Radeon HD 6870 900M 1 GB DDR5 DUAL MINIDP HDMI DUAL DVI PCI-E Video Card

The 2 GB model is about $40 more than the 1 GB.

I have a 460 watt power supply and do not know if the extra ram affects power consumption. The 1 GB model, from all reviews, should work fine with my system, so I am hoping the 2 GB would work fine as well.

However, since I already have 16 GB of onboard ram and have read that GPU RAM isn't really important unless you go under the amount needed for a given program and settings, I am wondering if this extra GB would be worth it for my purposes:

For example if I have a parcel dataset with hundreds of thousands of polygons, would that extra GB of GDDR5 RAM significantly improve the time it takes to render the polygons when I scroll/zoom in on ARCmap/QGIS; or does it mostly worthless due to the fact that I already have 16 GB that can be used?

Also are there any specific advantages/disadvantages to using a ATI vs NVIDIA card for GIS display programs in general?


4 Answers 4


Any old video card will work for the 2D display functions. The video card's 3D capabilities only come into play when using specific 3D GIS features such as ArcScene or ArcGlobe in ArcGIS Desktop. If you aren't planning on doing 3D visualization then it does not matter one bit.

I would spend the extra money on an SSD instead.


I used to benchmark cards against ArcView performance 10-15 years ago. A decent 2D card would perform at least as well as the high-end 3D cards, exactly as expected: panning and zooming around in a map doesn't use the 3D capability. I don't think this has changed any. (Two years ago, when fine-tuning a new workstation, I benchmarked the low-end Nvidia NVS 295 against the mid- to high-end Quadro FX 3700, costing ten times as much, and found the 295 was just as good for the 2D stuff.)

More interestingly, there have been moves to exploit the GPU processors in the cards for speeding up GIS analysis. Manifold was the first: they have built-in capability to use the Nvidia CUDA technology. Even the lower-end cards, like the cheap business graphics-oriented NVS 295, offer a handful of floating point coprocessors. The higher-end cards will get you up to 512 FPUs. You can install several of them if you want and get your raster processing done with a couple thousand processors at once :-).

I am aware of research proposals and small business startup proposals for developing similar technology for other GIS platforms, but have not seen any of them funded yet.


Aside from performance, something to consider for a GIS workstation is multi-monitor support. If you want to run three monitors, then this card supports it through "Eyefinity" technology. Just be aware that one of your monitors must support Display Port or you need a DP to DVI adapter.


All depends on where your data is stored. We service? Local shape file? ArcSDE local/remote? License manager or single license? Direct connect or SDE connection? I run ArcSDE 10.0 with ArcMap 10.1 - all local data. I have 2 Nvidia HD 6570 cards with 512mb each. Intel I7, 24GB ddr3 RAM, 4.0 GHZ, HDMI monitors.. Sounds sufficient, but it is not. Obviously, local data renders faster than my 11g SDE instance (yeah, weird)I I increased performance 10x by the following: bought a SATA III 10k RPM 256GB for operating system, ArcGIS, and Oracle install(s). Bought a Samsung 500MB V-NAND SATA III solid state drive for ArcGIS data and Oracle tablespace data. Boom! I'm flying now. The OS hard drive was holding my entire system back. Too big of a hard drive with a 7200 RPM is the point of failure. 1 video card with 2 HDMI outs and 1GB RAM is sufficient. SSD does all the work.

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