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

    How come cards likes the new XT can only get 50fps en jediknight3 ( old Q3 engine ) and reach for the 215 for UT 2k3? ( witch have way better graphic ) Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    I really wonder what happened to Anandtech. I once liked and trusted their reviews so much that I did not read any other ones.

    Now I see the first review of the NV38 and do not see it benchmarked in any way that would interest me. No Tomb Raider: AOD, no Shadermark, no AA/AF, no image quality comparisons and no Half-Life 2 (okay, this might not be Anandtechs fault).

    This means no DX9.0 title that is demanding when it comes to Pixel Shader 2.0 power (no, Aquamark isn't). So please not not bench a ton of CPU/Memory limited games even without AA/AF.

    "The performance crown under Doom3 is still in NVIDIA’s camp apparently". Doom3 is mainly DirecX8. Period.

    "ATI is still ahead in Half Life 2. The numbers we’ve seen indicate that in most tests ATI only holds single digit percentage leads (< 5%), although in some cases ATI manages to pull ahead by double digits." What does that mean? Is this only with the NV30 optimised (degraded IQ) code path. If so, too bad for them.

    Finally what I liked to know is if NVidia required Anandtech to benchmark this way...
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    How can Anand use det. 52, It's well know to cheat with lower IQ in Aquamark etc! Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    Are you really using:
    2.8GHz Intel Processor Prescott
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    It was great to see so many games represented, not the least of which is one of my favorites: Neverwinter Nights.

    One game that I would be thrilled to see is Star Trek Armada II. The game is a blast to play, and under situations with many ships (ESPECIALLY multiplayer) the game can slow to a crawl even on high-end systems. I would hazard to guess that this game is more CPU bound, but a graphics analysis wouldn't hurt anything.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    I thought it was a little ridiculous that almost every benchmark had the stipulation that "AA didn't seem to be applied. We'll investigate later." or "Image Quality wasn't up to snuff. We'll investigate later." and yet you still included the results for the Nvidia cards.

    After the article from Lars Wienand from THG where he states that if the driver reduces image quality to gain Framerate they gray it out, I expect the same thing from Anandtech. Especially since the drivers you used are unreleased for public consumption and may never even reach the public.

    At this point image quality is indeed king. Who wants to spend $500 on a video card that will not provide top notch image quality? I know I don't.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    the only thing i would have like to have seen though, was an indication on the performance graphs as to whether the game being used was a dx8 game, or dx9 game...

    i think most of those games were dx8...but i cant be certain, so it would have been nice to have known for sure...
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    i cant wait for part 2 !

    :)
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    Would be Cool if Anandtech could start to use Shadermark 2.0 :) Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - link

    The sleepless are rewarded once more! Reply

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