Final WordsBoth of our custom benchmarks show ATI cards leading without anisotropic filtering and antialiasing enabled, with NVIDIA taking over when the options are enabled. We didn't see much improvement from the new SM3.0 path in our benchmarks either. Of course, it just so happened that we chose a level that didn't really benefit from the new features the first time we recorded a demo. And, with the mangoriver benchmark, we were looking for a level to benchmark that didn't follow the style of benchmarks that NVIDIA provided us with in order to add perspective.
Even some of the benchmarks with which NVIDIA supplied us showed that the new rendering path in FarCry isn't a magic bullet that increases performance across the board through the entire game.
Image quality of both SM2.0 paths are on par with eachother, and the SM3.0 path on NVIDIA hardware shows negligable differences. The very slight variations are most likely just small fluctuations between the mathematical output of a single pass and a multipass lighting shader. The difference is honestly so tiny that you can't call either rendering lower quality from a visual standpoint. We will still try to learn what exactly causes the differences we noticed from CryTek.
The main point that the performance numbers make is not that SM3.0 has a speed advantage over SM2.0 (as even the opposite may be true), but that single pass per-pixel lighting models can significantly reduce the impact of adding an ever increasing number of lights to a scene.
It remains to be seen whether or not SM3.0 offer a significant reduction in complexity for developers attempting to implement this advanced functionality in their engines, as that will be where the battle surrounding SM3.0 will be won or lost.
UPDATE: CryTek has pointed out that the new lighting implimentation is essentially the same but uses branching in the pixel shader to accomplish what needed to be done in multiple shaders under the PS2.0 path. This indicates that the conditional rendering feature of SM3.0 is actually faster than using multiple shaders (which gives NVIDIA 6 series cards a performance advantage when multiple shaders would have been required).