Image Quality & AA

When it comes to image quality, the big news from NVIDIA for Fermi is what NVIDIA has done in terms of anti-aliasing of fake geometry such as billboards. For dealing with such fake geometry, Fermi has several new tricks.

The first is the ability to use coverage samples from CSAA to do additional sampling of billboards that allow Alpha To Coverage sampling to fake anti-alias the fake geometry. With the additional samples afforded by CSAA in this mode, the Fermi can generate additional transparency levels that allow the billboards to better blend in as properly anti-aliased geometry would.

The second change is a new CSAA mode: 32x. 32x is designed to go hand-in-hand with the CSAA Alpha To Coverage changes by generating an additional 8 coverage samples over 16xQ mode for a total of 32 samples and giving a total of 63 possible levels of transparency on fake geometry using Alpha To Coverage.

In practice these first two changes haven’t had the effect we were hoping for. Coming from CES we thought this would greatly improve NVIDIA’s ability to anti-alias fake geometry using cheap multisampling techniques, but apparently Age of Conan is really the only game that greatly benefits from this. The ultimate solution is for more developers of DX10+ applications to enable Alpha To Coverage so that anyone’s MSAA hardware can anti-alias their fake geometry, but we’re not there yet.

So it’s the third and final change that’s the most interesting. NVIDIA has added a new Transparency Supersampling (TrSS) mode for Fermi (ed: and GT240) that picks up where the old one left off. Their previous TrSS mode only worked on DX9 titles, which meant that users had few choices for anti-aliasing fake geometry under DX10 games. This new TrSS mode works under DX10, it’s as simple as that.

So why is this a big deal? Because a lot of DX10 games have bad aliasing of fake geometry, including some very popular ones. Under Crysis in DX10 mode for example you can’t currently anti-alias the foliage, and even brand-new games such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2 suffer from aliasing. NVIDIA’s new TrSS mode fixes all of this.


Bad Company 2 DX11 Without Transparency Supersampling


Bad Company 2 DX11 With Transparency Supersampling

The bad news is that it’s not quite complete. Oh as you’ll see in our screenshots it works, but the performance hit is severe. It’s currently super-sampling too much, resulting in massive performance drops. NVIDIA is telling us that this should be fixed next month, at which time the performance hit should be similar to that of the old TrSS mode under DX9. We’ve gone ahead and taken screenshots and benchmarks of the current implementation, but keep in mind that performance should be greatly improving next month.

So with that said, let’s look at the screenshots.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285 ATI Radeon HD 5870 ATI Radeon HD 4890
0x 0x 0x 0x
2x 2x 2x 2x
4x 4x 4x 4x
8xQ 8xQ 8x 8x
16xQ 16xQ DX9: 4x DX9: 4x
32x DX9: 4x DX9: 4x + AAA DX9: 4x + AAA
4x + TrSS 4x DX9: 4x + TrSS DX9: 4x + SSAA  
DX9: 4x      
DX9: 4x + TrSS      

With the exception of NVIDIA’s new TrSS mode, very little has changed. Under DX10 all of the cards produce a very similar image. Furthermore once you reach 4x MSAA, each card producing a near-perfect image. NVIDIA’s new TrSS mode is the only standout for DX10.

We’ve also include a few DX9 shots, although we are in the process of moving away from DX9. This allows us to showcase NVIDIA’s old TrSS mode, along with AMD’s Adapative AA and Super-Sample AA modes. Note how both TrSS and AAA do a solid job of anti-aliasing the foliage, which makes it all the more a shame that they haven’t been available under DX10.


Click to Enlarge


Click to Enlarge

When it comes to performance, keep in mind that both AMD and NVIDIA have been trying to improve their 8x MSAA performance. When we reviewed the Radeon 5870 back in September we found that AMD’s 8x MSAA performance was virtually unchanged, and 6 months later that still holds true. The performance hit moving from 4x MSAA to 8x MSAA on both Radeon cards is roughly 13%. NVIDIA on the other hand took a stiffer penalty under DX10 for the GTX 285, where there it fell by 25%. But now with NVIDIA’s 8x MSAA performance improvements for Fermi, that gap has been closed. The performance penalty for moving to 8x MSAA over 4x MSAA is only 12%, putting it right up there with the Radeon cards in this respect. With the GTX 480, NVIDIA can now do 8x MSAA for as cheap as AMD has been able to

Meanwhile we can see the significant performance hit on the GTX 480 for enabling the new TrSS mode under DX10. If NVIDIA really can improve the performance of this mode to near-DX9 levels, then they are going to have a very interesting AA option on their hands.

Last but not least, there’s anisotropic filtering quality. With the Radeon 5870 we saw AMD implement true angle-independent AF and we’ve been wondering whether we would see this from NVIDIA. The answer is no: NVIDIA’s AF quality remains unchanged from the GTX200 series. In this case that’s not necessarily a bad thing; NVIDIA already had great AF even if it was angle-dependant. More to the point, we have yet to find a game where the difference between AMD and NVIDIA’s AF modes have been noticeable; so technically AMD’s AF modes are better, but it’s not enough that it makes a practical difference


GeForce GTX 480


GeForce GTX 285


Radeon 5870

Compute The Test
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  • LuxZg - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - link

    Like I've said before - if you want FASTEST (and that's usually what you want if you have money to throw away), you'll be buying HD5970. Or you'll be buying HD5970+water cooling as well.. Reply
  • ViRGE - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure where you're getting that the HD5970 is a $600 card. In the US at least, that's a $700 card (or more) everywhere. Reply
  • wicko - Sunday, March 28, 2010 - link

    Honestly I don't even know if it should be mentioned at all even if it is 600, because there is almost no stock anywhere. Reply
  • LuxZg - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - link

    Oh, don't make me laugh, please! :D In that case this review shouldn't be up at all, or it should be called "PREview".. or have you actually seen any stock of GTX470/480 arround? Reply
  • LuxZg - Sunday, March 28, 2010 - link

    It's AMD's & nVidia's recommended prices, and you can see them all in Anandtech's own articles:
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3783">http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3783 (nvidia prices)
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3746">http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3746 (ATI single-gpu cards)
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3679">http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3679 (ATI single/dual GPU cards)

    It is not my fault that your US shops bumped up the price in the complete absence of competition in the high end market. But US is not only market in the world either.

    You want to compare with real world prices? Here, prices from Croatia, Europe..

    HD5970 - 4290kn = 591€ (recommended is 599$, which is usually 599€ in EU)
    GTX480 - not listed, recommended is 499$/€
    HD5870 - 2530kn = 348€ (recommended is 399$/399€ in EU)
    GTX470 - not listed, recommended is 349$/€
    HD5850 - 1867kn = 257€ (recommended is 299$/299€ in EU)

    So let's say that European prices for GTX will be a bit lower than recommended ones, GTX480 would still be ~120-130€ pricier than HD5870, and HD5970 would be same ~120-130€ more expensive than GTX480.
    As for the lower priced nVidia card, it's again firmly in the middle between HD5850 & HD5870.

    Point is that there's no clear price comparision at the moment, and article's conclusion should be clear on that.
    Person that wants the FASTEST CARD will stretch for another 100$/€ to buy HD5970. Especially since this means lower noise, lower consumption, and lower heat. This all combined means you can save a few $/€ on PSU, case, cooling, and earplugs, throwing HD5970 in the arm reach of the GTX480 (price-wise) while allowing for better speeds.

    As for GTX470, again, lower consumption/heat/noise with ATI cards which means less expenses for PSU/cooling, and saving money on electrical bills. For me, well worth the 50€/$ difference in price, in fact, I'd rather spend 50$/€ more to buy HD5870 which is faster, less noisy, doesn't require me to buy new PSU (I own HD4890, which was overclocked for a while, so HD5870 would work fine just as well), and will save me 50W per hour of any game I play.. which will all make it CHEAPER than GTX470 in the long run.

    So let's talk again - why isn't conclusion made a bit more straightforward for end users, and why is HD5890 completely gone from the conclusion??
    Reply
  • Saiko Kila - Sunday, March 28, 2010 - link

    These MSRPs are not entirely, I mean historically correct... The first MSRP (list price) for HD 5850 was $259, and that was price you had to pay when buying on sites like newegg (there were some rebates, and some differences depending on manufacturer, but still you had to have a very potent hunting sense to get a card of any manufacturer, I got lucky twice). Shortly after launch (about one month, it was October) the MSRP (set by AMD) hiked to $279 and problems with supply not only continued but even worsened. Now, since November 2009, it's $299. HD 5870 followed generally similar path, though HD 5850 hiked more, which is no wonder. Note that this is for reference design only, some manufacturers had higher MSRPs, after all AMD or nvidia sell only chips and not gaming cards.

    If you believe anandtech, here you've got a link, the day the cards were announced:
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3643">http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3643

    The whole pricing things with HD 5xxx series is quite unusual (though not unexpected) since normally you'd anticipate the street price to be quite lower than MSRP, and then to drop even further, and you would be right. I remember buying EVGA GTX260 just after its launch and the price was good $20 lower than suggested price. That's why we need more competition, and for now the outlook isn't very bright, with nvidia not quite delivering...


    And these European prices - most if not all European countries have a heavy tax (VAT), this tax is always included and you have to pay it, there are other taxes too. In the US the sales tax is not included in the street price, and usually you can evade it after all (harder for Californians). Europeans usually get higher prices. Comparing US prices is thereby better, particularly in us dollars (most electronics deliveries are calculated in dollars in Europe). So the prices in the rest of the world were also boosted, even in Europe, despite weak dollar and other factors :)

    One note - HD5xxx cards are really very big and most of them have very unfriendly location of power sockets, so you'd expect to pay more for a proper, huge case. Also note that if you have a 600 W PSU or so you'd be smarter to keep it and not upgrade, unless REALLY necessary. The lower load means lower efficiency, especially when plugged to 115V/60Hz grid. So if you have a bigger PSU you pay more for electricity. And it seems that more gamers are concerned with that bill than in any time before... You couldn't blame them for that and it's sad in its own way.
    Reply
  • LuxZg - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - link

    Well, current MSRP is like I wrote it above. If there is no competition and/or demand is very high, prices always tend to go up. We're just lucky it's not happening often because in IT competition is usually very good.

    As for European prices, what do taxes have to do with it? We've got 23% taxes here, but it's included in all prices, so if nVidia goes up 23% so do AMD cards as well. If I'm looking at prices in the same country (and city, and sometimes store as well), and if nVidia is 300$ and ATI is 100 and 500, than I just can't compare them and say "hey, nVidia is faster than this 100$ ATI card, I?ll buy that"... no, you can't compare like that. Only thing you can do in that case is say something like "OK, so I have 300$ and fastest I can afford is nVidia" .. or "I want fastest there is, and I don't mind the cost" and you'll take HD5970 than. Or you can't afford any of those. So again, I don't get why cards in this review are so rigidly compared one to another as if they have exact same price (or +/- 10$ difference). And at one hand they compare MORE expensive nVidia card to QUITE CHEAPER AMD card, but won't compare that same nVidia card to a more expensive AMD card.. WHY?

    And AMD cards are no bigger than nVidia ones, and last time I've checked bigger case is way way cheaper than a new PSU. And I'm running my computer on, get this, 450W PSU, so I'm not wasting any excessive power on inefficiences on low loads ;) And since this PSU keeps overclocked HD4890, it should work just fine with non-overclocked HD5870. While I'm pretty sure that GTX470 would already mean a new PSU, new PSU that costs ~100$/80€ .. So I'd pay more $ in total, and get a slower card.

    Again, I'm not getting why there's such a rigid idea of GTX470=HD5850 & GTX480=HD5870 ..
    Reply
  • LuxZg - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    Just re-read the conclusion.. something lacks in this sentence:
    "If you need the fastest thing you can get then the choice is clear, .."
    Shouldn't it finish with "... choice is clear, HD5970..." ? That's what I'm saying, HD5970 wasn't mentioned in the entire conclusion. Past are the days of "single-GPU crown" .. That's just for nVidia to feel better. ATI Doesn't want "single GPU crown", they want the fastest graphics CARD. And they have it.. Serious lack in this article, serious.. And again, there is exact same amount of money dividing GTX480 and HD5870, as is between GTX480 and HD5970..
    Reply
  • blindbox - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    I know this is going to take quite a bit of work, but can't you colour up the main cards and its competition in this review? By main cards, I mean GTX 470, 480 and 5850 and 5870. It's giving me a hard time to make comparison. I'm sure you guys did this before.. I think.

    It's funny how you guys only coloured the 480.

    PS: I'm sorry for the spam, my comments are not appearing, and I'm sorry for replying to this guy when it is completely off topic, lol.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    Yes, it did take a bit of work, but I did it for Ryan. The HD 5870/5970 results are in orange and the 5850 is in red. It makes more of a difference on crowded graphs, but it should help pick out the new parts and their competition. I'm guessing Ryan did it to save time, because frankly the graphing engine is a pain in the butt. Thankfully, the new engine should be up and running in the near future. :-) Reply

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