Test Setup

Obviously valve is pretty excited about what can be done with additional processing power, and they have invested a lot of time and resources into building tools that will take advantage of the possibilities. However, Valve is a software developer as opposed to a hardware review site, and our impression is that most of their systems are typical of any business these days: they are purchased from Dell or some other large OEM, which means they are a bit more limited in terms of what kind of hardware is available. That's not to say that Valve hasn't tested AMD hardware, because they have, but as soon as they reached the conclusion that Core 2 Duo/Core 2 Quad would be faster, they probably didn't bother doing a lot of additional testing. We of course are more interested in seeing what these new multiprocessor benchmarks can tell us about AMD and Intel hardware -- past, present, and future -- and we plan on utilizing these tests in future articles. As a brief introduction to these benchmark utilities, however, we thought it would be useful to run them on a few of our current platforms to see how they fare.

In the interest of time, we did not try to keep all of the tested platforms identical in terms of components. Limited testing did show that the processor is definitely the major bottleneck in both benchmarks, with a variance between benchmark runs of less than 5% on all platforms. Besides the processor, the only other area that seems to have any significant impact on benchmark performance is memory bandwidth and timings. We tested both benchmarks three times on each platform, then we threw out the high and low scores and took the remaining median score. In many instances, the first run of the particle simulation benchmark was slightly slower than the next two runs, which were usually equal in performance. The variability between benchmark runs of the map compilation test was less than 1%, so the results were very consistent.

Here are the details of the tested systems.

Athlon 64 3200+ 939
CPU Athlon 64 3200+ (939) - 2.0GHz 512K
OC 3200+ @ 10x240 HTT = 2.40GHz
Motherboard ASUS A8N-VM CSM - nForce 6150
Memory 2x1GB OCZ OCZ5001024EBPE - DDR-400 2-3-2-7 1T
OC DDR-480 3-3-2-7 1T
GPU X1900 XT
HDD Seagate SATA3.0Gbps 7200.9 250GB 8MB cache 7200 RPM

Athlon X2 3800+ 939
CPU Athlon X2 3800+ (939) - 2.0GHz 2x512K
OC 3800+ @ 10x240 HTT = 2.40GHz
Motherboard ASUS A8R32-MVP - ATI Xpress 3200
Memory 2x1GB OCZ OCZ5001024EBPE - DDR-400 2-3-2-7 1T
OC DDR-480 3-3-2-7 1T
GPU X1900 XT
HDD Western Digital SATA3.0Gbps SE16 WD2500KS
250GB 16MB cache 7200 RPM

Athlon X2 3800+ AM2
CPU Athlon X2 3800+ (AM2) - 2.0GHz 2x512K
OC 3800+ @ 10x240 HTT = 2.40GHz
Motherboard Foxconn C51XEM2AA - nForce 590 SLI
Memory 2x1GB Corsair PC2-8500C5 - DDR2-800 4-4-4-12
OC DDR2-960 4-4-4-12
GPU X1900 XT
HDD Western Digital SATA3.0Gbps SE16 WD2500KS
250GB 16MB cache 7200 RPM

Core 2 Duo E6700 NF570
CPU Core 2 Duo E6700 - 2.67GHz 4096K
OC E6700 @ 10x320 FSB = 3.20GHz
Motherboard ASUS P5NSLI - nForce 570 SLI for Intel
Memory 2x1GB Corsair PC2-8500C5 - DDR2-800 4-4-4-12
OC DDR2-960 4-4-4-12
GPU X1900 XT
HDD Western Digital Raptor 150GB 16MB 10000 RPM

Core 2 Quad QX6700 975X
CPU Core 2 Quad QX6700 - 2.67GHz 2 x 4096K
OC QX6700 @ 10x320 FSB = 3.20GHz
Motherboard ASUS P5W DH Deluxe - 975X
Memory 2x1GB Corsair PC2-8500C5 - DDR2-800 4-4-4-12
OC DDR2-960 4-4-4-12
GPU X1900 XT
HDD 2 x Western Digital Raptor 150GB in RAID 0

Pentium D 920 945P
CPU Pentium D 920 - 2.8GHz 2 x 2048K
OC 920 @ 14x240 HTT = 3.36GHz
Motherboard ASUS P5LD2 Deluxe - 945P
Memory 2x1GB Corsair PC2-8500C5 - DDR2-667 4-4-4-12
OC DDR2-800 4-4-4-12
GPU X1900 XT
HDD Western Digital SATA3.0Gbps SE16 WD2500KS
250GB 16MB cache 7200 RPM

We did test all of the systems with the same graphics card configuration, just to be consistent, but it really made little to no difference. On the Athlon 64 configuration, for example, we got the same results using the integrated graphics as we got with the X1900. We also tested at different resolutions, and found once again that on the graphics cards we used resolution seemed to have no impact on the final score. 640x480 generated the same results as 1920x1200, even when enabling all of the eye candy at the high resolution and disabling everything at the low resolution. To be consistent, all of the benchmarking was done at the default 1024x768 0xAA/8xAF. We tried to stay consistent on the memory that we used -- either for DDR or DDR2 - though the Pentium D test system had issues and would not run the particle simulation benchmark. Finally, to give a quick look at performance scaling, we overclocked all of the tested systems by 20%.

For now we are merely providing a short look at what Valve has been working on and some preliminary benchmarks. We intend to use these benchmarks on some future articles as well where we will provide a look at additional system configurations. Note that performance differences of one or two points should not be taken as significant in the particle simulation test, as the granularity of the reported scores is relatively coarse.

Other Multi-Core Benefits Benchmark Performance
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  • edfcmc - Thursday, November 23, 2006 - link

    I always thought the dude with the valve in his eye was Gabe Newell. Now I know better. Reply
  • msva124 - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    quote:

    As Valve sees things, however, the era of pretty visuals is coming to an end. We have now reached the point where in terms of graphics most people are more than satisfied with what they see.


    Um.....you're kidding, right?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Nope. That's what Valve said. Graphics and animations can be improved, but there are lots of other gameplay issues that have been pushed to the side in pursuit of better graphics. With cards like the GeForce 8800, they should be able to do just about anything they want on the graphics side of things, so now they just need to do more in other areas. Reply
  • msva124 - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    quote:

    With cards like the GeForce 8800, they should be able to do just about anything they want on the graphics side of things

    And 640K of RAM should be enough for anybody? Yeah right. There are certainly other things besides graphics that need to be tended to, but when even rendered cutscenes don't look convincing, it's extremely premature to say.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    So you would take further increases in graphics over anything else? Personally, I'm quite happy with what I see in many titles of the past 3 years. Doom 3, Far Cry, Quake 4, Battlefield 2, Half-Life 2... I can list many more. All of those look more than good enough to me. Could they be better? SURE! Do they need to be? Not really. I'd much rather have some additional improvements besides just prettier graphics, and that's what Valve was getting at.

    What happens if you manage to create a photo-realistic game, but the AI sucks, the physics sucks, and the way things actually move and interact with each other isn't at all convincing? Is photo-realism (which is basically the next step -- just look at Crysis screenshots and tell me that 8800 GTX isn't powerful enough) so important that we should ignore everything else? Heck, some games are even better because they *don't* try for realism. Psychonauts anyone? Or even Darwinia? Team Fortress 2 is going for a more cartoony and stylistic presentation, and it looks pretty damn entertaining.

    The point is, ignoring most other areas and focusing on graphics is becoming a dead end for a lot of people. What games is the biggest money maker right now? World of WarCraft! A game that will play exceptionally well on anything the level of X800 Pro/GeForce 6800 GT or faster. There are 7 million people paying $15 per month that have basically said that compelling multiplayer environments are more important to them than graphics.
    Reply
  • msva124 - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Fine. You win. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Sorry if I was a bit too argumentative. Basically, the initial statement is still *Valve's* analysis. You can choose to agree or disagree, but I think it's pretty easy to agree that in general there are certainly other things that can be done besides just improving graphics. I don't think Valve intends to *not* improve graphics, though; just that it's not the only thing they need to worry about. Until we get next-gen games that make use of quad cores, though, the jury is out on whether or not "new gameplay" is going to be as compelling as better visuals.

    Cheers!
    Jarred
    Reply
  • cryptonomicon - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/tradeshows/200...">http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/tra...2006/val...

    So, what are those steel or aluminum models at the end? Are they the real world references for the Team fortress source weapon models? :D
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    quote:

    We will take a look at how CPU cache and memory bandwidth affects performance in the future, but at present it pretty clear that Core 2 once again holds a commanding performance lead over AMD's Athlon 64/X2 processors.


    I'm pretty sure 'it' in this sentence should be "it's", or "it is" (sorry, but it was bad enough to stop me when reading, thinking I mis-read the sentance somehow).

    Good article, and it will be interresting to see who follows suite, and when. Hopefully this will become the latest fad in programming, and has me wanting to code my own services here at home for encoding video, or anything that takes more than a few minutes ;)
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    meh, sorry, that 'typo' is on the second to the last page, I guess about half way down :/
    Reply

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