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We are currently building a machine from scratch to act as a GIS workstation. The primary software used is ESRI's ArcGIS and we are mainly working with vector data using raster data only for contextual background imagery. In the past I have built a GIS machine and used a consumer grade gaming GPU (Nvidia 9800GT) and found it to perform fine. However, I have always wondered if I would have been better off equipping it with a workstation GPU such as a Quadro series.

Would a workstation GPU make a noticeable difference doing 2D GIS operations or should I save money on the build and equip it with another 9800GT?

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Back when I was involved with 3d applications we found that there wasn't much difference between the high end gaming cards and the lower end workstation ones. I suspect that this hasn't changed much.

The main difference these days seems to be the type and quality of the outputs. A workstation card is more likely to have twin DVI outputs whereas a typical gaming card will still have one DVI and one VGA output (for example). As @davr points out the high end gaming cards will have twin DVI outputs making the differences between the types of card even smaller.

Presumably you've checked the specification of each card? Do the benchmarks they use match what your application does?

It would be nice if you could try the card out and run some benchmarks. Do you have a friendly local store you could persuade to set up two machines (or swap cards in one machine) and run a benchmark with your software? If they knew there was a sale in at the end of the day they might be amenable.

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High end gaming cards these days have 2 DVI minimum, plus a couple more outputs depending on the model (HDMI, DisplayPort, etc). –  davr Jun 7 '10 at 16:04
    
@davr - in that case there's even less difference than I thought. –  ChrisF Jun 7 '10 at 16:15
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