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 - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    I wouldn't mind seeing Medieval Total War in the test group. Maybe use a huge battle and replay it using all the different cards. Thanks for including Command and Conquer it helped me pick my card. Reply
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    Quote:
    The picture quality in UT2003 has been the reason for some of the criticism against nVidia recently. nVidia has chose to lower the picture quality in this game when it concerns anisotropic filtering. Most clear we see nVidia's lower picture quality in the 51.75-driver when AF is activated in the control panel.


    Quote:
    The major difference in picture quality in WC3 is the anti aliasing. Due to some reason it seems like nVidia's cards have problems with horizontal edges in this game above anything else. Check i.e. the large log in the fire; it looks like it is principally without AA.



    Quote:
    It maybe gets rather boring to hear (read), but we can not lie; ATi's high quality FSAA win over nVidia once more. As we can see Detonator 51.75 is totally out of the game when it seems like AF is being disabled.


    Quote:
    Once more ATi takes the lead, 9800 Pro gets along this time too. Detonator 51.75 lowers (once more) the quality of texture filtering.


    Quote:
    Radeon kicks some ass in BF1942, nVidia doesn't stand a chance. Once again, Detonator 51.75 lowers the texture quality so much that we don't find the results comparable.


    Quote:
    ATi rips nVidia into pieces in Tomb Raider. If this is an indication of upcoming DirectX9 performance (and it seems like that when looking at Half Life 2 tests) nVidia won't have a lot to say the coming 6 months. Detonator 51.75 increases performance, but also causes some strange bugs.

    nVidia's present drivers doesn't allow for floating point precision for render targets etc. resulting in lower quality. Detonator 51.75 also makes the Depth Of Field effect to run amok. The main character is repeatedly erased, despite the fact that the effect is supposed to erase things the longer away they are, for example. As expected, AA works better with ATi's card. Anisotropic filtering also looks better on ATi's card, since this kind of filtering causes ""texture aliasing" (floating pixels) on nVidia's cards.

    Subjective analysis: There's no question about it, nVidia's card isn't even close to being playable. Despite that, ironically, Tomb Raider is part of nVidia's so called "The Way It's Meant To Be Played" program. I noticed no differences between XT and Pro when playing the game.


    Quote:
    It's a bit strange to see that ATi's image quality and performance increases when we apply AF through the application instead of from the control panel. On the mountain in the very middle of the picture it's clear that the image quality once again is better with ATi's card.

    Subjective analysis: I am very confused with the test results from Jedi Academy. The strange thing is that the game runs a lot better (and looks better) on the ATi card, but in the performance tests it seems like if nVidia beat the 9800 Pro, which doesn't reflect the impression we got when actually playing the game.


    Quote:
    If we take a look at the 3DMark03 performance with Detonator 51.75 we can see that it has been given a good increase. Although we have great suspicions that these optimizations are more or less exclusively application specific, and that it might be optimizations that is by a nature that is not applicable on a real game. Therefore we have chosen to give 51.75 a gray pillar because we don´t believe it is giving an accurate result.

    With Detonator 44.03 that is "approved" by Futuremark you can see that nVidia really has not got a chance against ATi's cards. As said: nVidia says it is misleading, but all of the DX9 games so far shows that Futuremark actually succeeded in creating a pretty good prophecy with their 3DMark03.

    If we take a closer look at the even more synthetic Pixel Shader 2.0-test we see that the FX-card's weak spot is DX9.


    Quote:
    We got very weird results in Aquamark 3. nVidia's Detonator 44.03 shows a very low performance, but the driver generates an output that is completely approved Detonator 51.75 on the other hand has noticeable losses of picture quality on a couple of areas: Mist/smoke has been heavily reduced in at least one scene, texture filtering is a lot worse, some things look like the are rendered with lower precision, and finally many lightning effects are a little suspect or not even there. Right now under these circumstances we can only point away from the results from detonator 50. And under those circumstances ATi has an unbelievable lead ahead nVidia.


    http://www.nordichardware.com/reviews/graphiccard/...
    _________________
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    I would like to see Battlefield 1942 as a test game, it is one of the more popular games out there right now. Reply
  • Insomniac - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    If it is a Prescott, it isn't any better than the current Northwood P4. I base this on the Athlon 64 article. Anand used a Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB in it and the only benchmark I see on both is the UT 2003 Flyby. For both articles he used the Catalyst 3.7. So taking the numbers:

    2.8 GHz Intel Processor (Prescott whited out): 212
    Intel Pentium 4 3.2C: 232.8
    Intel Pentium 4 3.0C: 226.3

    The 3.0C is faster than the 2.8 by 6.7%
    The 3.2C is faster than the 3.0C by 2.9%

    I would expect a 2.8C to score closer to 220.

    Of course, that is only one benchmark. I wonder what is going on. Throw us some information Anand! :)
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    I did. Reply
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    the inq noticed this. anybody did?

    highlight the following words:
    featured in our test suite (Half Life 2 & Gunmetal).

    Our test bed was configured as follows:

    2.8GHz Intel Processor
    512MB DDR400
    Intel 875P Motherboard

    then it will show up as:
    featured in our test suite (Half Life 2 & Gunmetal).

    Our test bed was configured as follows:

    2.8GHz Intel Processor Prescott
    512MB DDR400
    Intel 875P Motherboard

    meh...
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    lol

    i dont think some of you morons have read the entire 9 pages of posts.
    you slackers ! :)
    Reply
  • Icewind - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    Im excited to get my 9800XT. I got a 4200 in Sept 2002 cause UT2k3 and BF1942 ran like crap on my firt gen Geforce 3, It only cost me $178 and I modded it for better cooling and ran it at near 4400 speeds. Now im quit tired of the slowdowns in BF942 and UT2k3 as I want higher res and my effects cranked up, and I also want to run Half Live 2 in all its glory. I work my ass off at work and I feel like getting a $500 card, that is my choice, period. Reply
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    <b>How about adding one more video card? a GF4ti4x00 </b>
    SO MANY people have these cards and I for one would like to see a comparison of what I would have to gain from upgrading.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, October 02, 2003 - link

    [b]How about adding one more video card? a GF4ti4x00 [/b]
    SO MANY people have these cards and I for one would like to see a comparison of what I would have to gain from upgrading.
    Reply

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