One late night (or perhaps it was an early morning), during the testing of the ATI Radeon 9800 XT and the NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra last Fall, we decided that the only truly "correct" way to test a video card is to test it in every possible situation for which it could be used. Of course, since there is no magic benchmark fairy that brings us numbers while we sleep, testing everything is impossible. We decided to compromise and make the 30 most popular games at any given time our standard GPU benchmark. We are still trying to hit that 30 game mark, but in the delirium of the long nights of testing, we managed to think of a few more ways we could push hardware. Unfortunately, we are all out of rubber pants and whipped cream; we had to go with our second choice: console emulation.

The original idea was to use either an NES or SNES emulator as a real world framebuffer upload benchmark. Emulators of aged consoles can use the CPU to emulate the entire system and just send frames over to the GPU as fast as they are cranked out. Something like this may still be a possibility, but as we delved deeper into the depths of the emulator community, we discovered much more exciting things that we could bring to the table. We finally settled on benchmarking a PlayStation emulator. The N64 and Dreamcast emulators are out there, but nothing is quite as popular as the PlayStation right now. There are PlayStation 2 emulators in development, but nothing that can play games quite yet. We will take a look at a very early Game Cube emulator running "The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker" as a bit of a preview of things to come. Before getting too excited, it's not really playable yet; we just wanted to include Game Cube emulation to take a look at where we are at this point.

There are a few factors that need careful consideration when looking at PlayStation emulation. First, running a PlayStation game on a PC without upsampling textures, applying a bit of blur, and possibly adding a TV-like scanline filter won't quite deliver the look of the original game. It really is amazing how much the television can hide those jagged edges and make low resolution textures look all right. Of course, the trade off is performance, so it really is a user preference kind of issue. We wanted to make the game look and feel as much like the original as possible with the emulator settings we chose. The added bonus is that our hardware gets pushed a little harder.

And this wouldn't be an article about emulation without mentioning the fact that it is perfectly legal (because of a lovely thing called "fair use") to emulate hardware that you own in order to run software that you own. It is not legal to distribute games (or even the PlayStation BIOS for that matter).

ePSXe: The Emulator of Choice
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  • Snoop - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    I found the article very interesting, good work derek. Reply
  • bigpow - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    This article makes Tom's Hardware ones look smart & usefulLLLLL Reply
  • bigpow - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    Another fine example of a plain stupid article.

    If one really wants to play those console games, he/she should buy the console system instead of messing around with a more expensive GPU & unstable emulators.

    Ridiculous.
    Reply
  • taleril - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    "From out benchmarks, it is obvious that ATI Radeon cards are better suited for emulating the games that we tested."

    should be:

    "From out(sp?) benchmarks, it is obvious that ATI Radeon cards are better suited for emulating the games that we tested on an emulator programmed with ATI cards in mind."

    To be fair, I think it should be reiterated in the conclusion that these emulators(or the plugins used) were written specifically on and for ATI hardware.

    It's a cool benchmark, but the more I think about it, the less useful it seems to be. At least from a graphics hardware comparison standpoint.

    taleril
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    There are no xbox, gamecube, or ps2 emus that are in full working order. We didn't want to include one of each since its more of just a show and tell kind of thing ...

    the gamecube emus is currently running one game at full speed (Busta-a-Move 3000 -- which I don't own and couldn't find in time for the review), and lots of games getting past intros to actual 3d that looks somewhat near how it should (while mostly running slowly at the moment). Of course, it may take quite a push to get further since (apparently) the ArtX/ATI graphics card in the system is insane.

    on the PS2 front, we could see some user demos and a title screen or two last time I checked. The PS2 has an advantage: its IOP (IO Processor) is essentially a PSX (that's why its backwards compatible). Of course, the vector processors and insane data paths on the PS2 will be a bit of a hump to get over for emulating games well ... I know the most about PS2 as I did a senior project involving writing a PS2 game.

    and, contrary to popular opinion, xbox won't be that much easier to emulate than other consoles. It has obvious advantages, but the big problem comes in trying to emulate the GPU itself, the relationship it has with the CPU, and the tweaked out programming interfaces and systems of the entire console. Programmers will run into similar issues that all console emulator teams have seen. Actually, if programmers want to make an interpretive version of their emulator, they'll loose much of the x86 to x86 advantage ... Unfortunately, I know the least about the XBox among the consoles (Anand is the XBox guy around here).

    But rest assured that if there is a major advance on any of the three fronts, we'll cover it as best we can.
    Reply
  • Pumpkinierre - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    I would have thought that Xbox with its near desktop computer architecture would have been the easiest to emulate but you barely give it a mention. Any reasons why?
    Reply
  • CZroe - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    Who else has personally backed-up a copy of Wind Waker and executed it on both the emulator and the console?

    I have, and I believe I beat Derek Wilson and the Anand crew to it ;)
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    It is very important to note that even if there are many systems out there that can run ePSXe and emulate a game well, you will be loosing out on image quality if you can't pump the internal resolution, run DX9 pixel shaders, and still have room for texture and full screen filters...

    If we wanted to "just run" a playstation game with no regard to quality, we would be looking at running the playstation at somewhere around 800fps (interal framerate) on most of these cards for most situations. Turning on the features drops that significantly.

    Honestly, my PSX games can look better emulated than they did on my Playstation with the right settings, and only the high end cards and processors can handle the right settings as far as our testing has seen.

    And yes, we just popped the CD in and ran the game ... in case anyone is wondering, we used the P.E.Op.S. CDR driver and set it to threaded reading with maximum readahead to minimize disk access impact ... Of course, we also made sure that our benchmarks would run without needing to hit the CD rom drive.

    Since PSX emulators have built in ISO support, in the future we may pull the ISO and run it from our hard drives in order to eliminate the possibility of CD read latency altogether.

    By the way, I wish we had saved the full uncompressed screenshots as the scanline effect really doesn't seem to like being scaled and compressed. ;-) The games really did look great.
    Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    Playstation emulation does not require the use of roms.

    My copy of Final Fantasy Tactics (Greatest Hits version) runs quite well on ePSXe.
    Reply
  • Lycias - Thursday, March 04, 2004 - link

    Ok so after reading this article I wondered where they were playing the game from. I have used SNES and NES emulators before and I downloaded rom files of games I leagaly owned from various websites. There does not seem to be web sites with playstation rom equivalant files out there. Do they just put the disk is the cd drive and then use the emulation software. Please enlighten me as I've been dying to play Final Fantasy VII again. Thanks Reply

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