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

    Jesus #29, reread what you wrote:

    "And yes, they might have had more time as they did not benchmark NV38. However that they did not get NV38 makes this review even more suspicious."

    Uh, duh. And I'm sorry for being rude, I just get somewhat annoyed when people make ridiculous accusations and comments in general.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    If I admit mistyping sth. then it looks like this: Ooops, forgot an "s" on the word test and an "t" in the last sentence. But now let me continue whining... Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    A benchmark suggestion: BF1942 please. Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    #28 "Since you admit to mistyping your previous response" WELL I DID NOT MISTYPE IT, YOU MISREAD IT.

    AND: 24h are enough for me to take the NV38 and also run Tomb Raider: AOD, Shadermark 2.0 and Aquamark3/Halo with AA/AF. Just exclude less interesting test for that.

    BTW: You should consider being polite. I will be less hard to respect you then.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    You missed the point #23, and it makes you look stupid. Since you admit to mistyping your previous response, as I said before, Anandtech JUST received the NV38 within the last 24 hours. To claim that this is somehow suspicious makes you look ignorant based on that fact alone, and the fact that there's nothing "else" to make this review look suspicious at all. I think Anand did a great job, and certainly better than every other web site except perhaps B3D.

    And if you can't wait for a review you're just a freaking whiner who probably isn't even going to be purchasing a high-end video card and so really has nothing better to do with his time but bitch and moan. Guys like me, who are seriously considering a 9800XP (well actually, I'm thinking a 9800 non Pro now), are who Anand is writing for mostly. You, well, you're just a whiner apparently.

    Also, #25, I disagree with you on the unreleased drive bit. The 52 beta drivers are supposed to resemble the final Det 50's very closely according to Anandtech, so it makes zero sense to imply that using 52 series beta drivers is somehow not right. Also, exactly what DX9 titles is Anandtech going to test with? They don't have HL2 just like every other site, and what other DX9 games are out currently, even for web sites? None. Tomb Raider is the ONLY real game that AT should have included, which is an odd omission I admit, but nothing more. DX7/DX8 is the most prevalent standard used in games today, it would be idiotic not to include mostly these types of games in a review.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    Concerning Doom3....

    Indeed, Carmack has written specific lower precision code paths for NVidia.

    However, that does not mean it's impossible to compare ATI and NVidia in Doom3 directly. You can do that, by enforcing the NVidia to run in the same generic code path, that will be used by all non-NVidia cards.
    Carmach has done that himself, and indicated that the FX cards than achieve about half the performance as the Radeons.

    That's completely in line with the other new games and benchmarks.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    #25 Perfectly right Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    I like the idea of taking more games for benchmarking. However, it has become so very clear by now that that GeforceFX cards do great on DX8 but are lousy at DX9 games.
    Therefor, you need to be very carefull on the games you choose to benchmark. Seems that the games tested are mostly DX8 like. That simply gives a wrong picture to people who want to buy a new card now, at the moment that all new games have much DX9 features. They will be dissappointed when they start to play these new games.

    Furthermore, we simply know that NVidia has been cheating in almost all (benchmark) games with their drivers.
    The last review in THG for Aquamark, was very clear. Only drivers that were release before the benchmark came out rendered correctly. ALL drivers after that reduce image quality, or simply don't render stuff at all.
    And Aquamark isn't the only one. This isn't an iccident, this happens in almost all games.
    And images corruption in beta drivers certainly isn't limited to benchmarking games. Lot's of others suffer too.

    At this point in time, you simply CAN NOT ignore these facts. It is totally unacceptable to use unreleased NVidia drivers, without having a extremely thorough investigation to check where the new cheats are.

    Do any of you really think that a driver optimization can produce double performance? Dream on!

    Just look at Aquanox. The only driver that produces correct images, has half the performance of the Radeons. (Which is exacltly what you expect from experiences with all other Dx9 like games.)
    The 45.23 has a convenient 'bug', and just happens to get double performance. The 51.75 has another less obvious 'bug', and also just happens to get the same double performance.
    Do I have ANY reason to believe that somehow, the unreleased beta 52.14 drivers doesn't have 'bugs' that happen to double the performance?
    Come on... nobody can be that naive....

    If there's anything we've learned in the last half year, it's that:
    1) NVidia is at this moment completely unreliable
    2) Driver optimizations that give more than a few percent performance increase, don't optimize, but simply cheat.

    If you want to show benchmark results on FX cards, you use drivers that you can be really confident in that they don't cheat. It is totally unacceptable to use unreleased beta drivers. It's NOT enough to say you're going to look into image quality in the future!!!
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    On the additional benchmark Q: BF1942 please Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    #22 For you again: "I don't need to wait for complete reviews on other sites. And yes, they (THE OTHER SITES) might have had more time as they (THE OTHER SITES) did not benchmark NV38. However that they (THE OTHER SITES) did not get NV38 makes this review (ANANDTECHS) even more suspicious."

    And yes Shadermark 2.0 is no game. But it might have shown that NV38s Pixel Shader 2.0 is inferior to the Radeon XTs. And this WILL be important for performance under many DirectX 9.0 games like Half-Life 2.

    And I am not Natoma. I do not even post regulary on Hardware sites. And I am no idiot or fan boy eiter.
    Reply

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