You’ve been living too perfect of a life if you’ve never used the phrase “it’s been a long day,” and for NVIDIA it has most definitely been a very long day. Just over two weeks ago the graphics industry was shook by some very hard hitting comments from Gabe Newell of Valve, primarily relating to the poor performance of NVIDIA cards under Half Life 2. All of the sudden ATI had finally done what they had worked feverishly for years to do, they were finally, seemingly overnight, crowned the king of graphics and more importantly – drivers. There were no comments on Half Life 2 day about ATI having poor drivers, compatibility problems or anything even remotely resembling discussions about ATI from the Radeon 8500 days.

Half Life 2 day was quickly followed up with all sorts of accusations against NVIDIA and their driver team; more and more articles were published with new discoveries, shedding light on other areas where ATI trounced NVIDIA. Everything seemed to all make sense now; even 3DMark was given the credibility of being the “I told you so” benchmark that predicted Half Life 2 performance several months in advance of September 12, 2003. At the end of the day and by the end of the week, NVIDIA had experienced the longest day they’ve had in recent history.

Some of the more powerful accusations went far beyond NVIDIA skimping on image quality to improve performance; these accusations included things like NVIDIA not really being capable of running DirectX 9 titles at their full potential, and one of the more interesting ones – that NVIDIA only optimizes for benchmarks that sites like AnandTech uses. Part of the explanation behind the Half Life 2 fiasco was that even if NVIDIA improves performance through later driver revisions, the performance improvements are only there because the game is used as a benchmark – and not as an attempt to improve the overall quality of their customers’ gaming experience. If that were true, then NVIDIA’s “the way it’s meant to be played” slogan would have to go under some serious rethinking; the way it’s meant to be benchmarked comes to mind.

But rewind a little bit; quite a few of these accusations being thrown at NVIDIA were the same ones thrown at ATI. I seem to remember the launch of the Radeon 9700 Pro being tainted with one accusation in particular – that ATI only made sure their drivers worked on popular benchmarking titles, with the rest of the top 20 games out there hardly working on the new R300. As new as what we’re hearing these days about NVIDIA may seem, let us not be victim to the near sightedness of the graphics industry – this has all happened before with ATI and even good ol’ 3dfx.

So who are you to believe? These days it seems like the clear purchase is ATI, but on what data are we basing that? I won’t try to build up suspense senselessly, the clear recommendation today is ATI (how’s that for hype-less journalism), but not because of Half Life 2 or any other conspiracies we’ve seen floating around the web these days.

For entirely too long we’ve been basing GPU purchases on a small subset of tests, encouraging the hardware vendors to spend the majority of their time and resources optimizing for those games. We’re not just talking about NVIDIA, ATI does it too, and you would as well if you were running either of those two companies. We’ve complained about the lack of games with built-in benchmarks and cited that as a reason to sticking with the suite that we’ve used – but honestly, doing what’s easy isn’t a principle I founded AnandTech on 6+ years ago.

So today we bring you quite a few new things, some may surprise you, some may not. ATI has released their Fall refresh product – the Radeon 9800XT and they are announcing their Radeon 9600XT. NVIDIA has counterattacked by letting us publish benchmarks from their forthcoming NV38 GPU (the successor to the NV35 based GeForce FX 5900 Ultra). But quite possibly more important than any of those announcements is the suite of benchmarks we’re testing these cards in; how does a total of 15 popular games sound? This is the first installment of a multipart series that will help you decide what video card is best for you, and hopefully it will do a better job than we have ever in the past.

The extensive benchmarking we’ve undertaken has forced us to split this into multiple parts, so expect to see more coverage on higher resolutions, image quality, anti-aliasing, CPU scaling and budget card comparisons in the coming weeks. We’re working feverishly to bring it all to you as soon as possible and I’m sure there’s some sort of proverb about patience that I should be reciting from memory to end this sentence but I’ll leave it at that.

Now that the long-winded introduction is done with, let’s talk hardware before we dive into a whole lot of software.

The Newcomers
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  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    No #40, the fact that I can write and read clear English sentences is probably why I was confused by your grammatically incorrect and mistyped statements.

    And surrrrrre #36 wasn't you, whatever you say....And yes, you're a whiner, and no, #42 brings up good points.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    #47 - So what you are saying is that people who invest in a $450-500 video card shouldnt worry about how their card will perform in future games? Are they supposed to buy a new card for each new game thats released implementing new features? That does not seem very wise to me, and I would expect that most people paying such a high price tag for a card would EXPECT their card to have some decent lifespan where it can perform well in the latest games(6months? a year?). Of course there is going to be a point where you simply need new hardware to run new games, I don't know about you but suddenly finding that your card doesnt make the cut when a new crop of games comes out wouldnt be my idea of celebrating a $450-500 purchase. Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    Funny how after reading this review and seeing all the very marginal gain my 150$ more could buy me, the only thing that got me interessed was the fact they used a prescott to benchmark.
    As long as they keep "tweaking" the curent crop of cores, those new cards are just to keep the performance crown, and by what, .3fps to 5fps?.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    "Games such as Command & Conquer Generals: Ground Zero and Simcity 4: Rush Hour are examples where ATI clearly has the lead over NVIDIA and the argument could be made that ATI holds the lead because they optimize for all games, while NVIDIA just optimizes for benchmark titles. However, looking at games like Homeworld 2 and Neverwinter Nights you could make the exact opposite argument."
    Except that Command & Conquer is an EA title. The company which officially works with nVidia...
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    Yeah, include it. Makes at least more sense than including Sim City, etc...

    The whiner
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    Hey I'm disappointed. This isn't a real flame war, it's more like handbags at 30 paces.

    What the review says is that even with a top processor most current games are CPU rather than GPU limited if you have one of the better cards and that for these games there's not much to choose on framerate between ATi and NVidia. IQ is a different matter though. It certainly suggests that while NVidia does have some advantages they are generally outgunned by ATi unless they "cheat" by lowering IQ.

    No point in worrying about future games - when they come out is the time to make a decision on that. However at the moment it looks like the card you will be buying will be made by ATi, unless you are some kind of masochist.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    I would like to see Battlefield 1942 benches. It's a very popular game that has many players. Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    500 bucks for a slightly overclocked 9800 pro? Good work ati, please take my money! Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    Again perfectly right

    The whiner
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    word Reply

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