It's almost ironic that the one industry we deal with that is directly related to entertainment has been the least exciting for the longest time. The graphics world has been littered with controversies surrounding very fickle things as of late; the majority of articles you'll see relating to graphics these days don't have anything to do with how fast the latest $500 card will run. Instead, we're left to argue about the definition of the word "cheating". We pick at pixels with hopes of differentiating two of the fiercest competitors the GPU world has ever seen, and we debate over 3DMark.

What's interesting is that all of the things we have occupied ourselves with in recent times have been present throughout history. Graphics companies have always had questionable optimizations in their drivers, they have almost always differed in how they render a scene and yes, 3DMark has been around for quite some time now (only recently has it become "cool" to take issue with it).

So why is it that in the age of incredibly fast, absurdly powerful DirectX 9 hardware do we find it necessary to bicker about everything but the hardware? Because, for the most part, we've had absolutely nothing better to do with this hardware. Our last set of GPU reviews were focused on two cards - ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro (256MB) and NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5900 Ultra, both of which carried a hefty $499 price tag. What were we able to do with this kind of hardware? Run Unreal Tournament 2003 at 1600x1200 with 4X AA enabled and still have power to spare, or run Quake III Arena at fairytale frame rates. Both ATI and NVIDIA have spent countless millions of transistors, expensive die space and even sacrificed current-generation game performance in order to bring us some very powerful pixel shader units with their GPUs. Yet, we have been using them while letting their pixel shading muscles atrophy.

Honestly, since the Radeon 9700 Pro, we haven't needed any more performance to satisfy the needs of today's games. If you take the most popular game in recent history, the Frozen Throne expansion to Warcraft III, you could run that just fine on a GeForce4 MX - a $500 GeForce FX 5900 Ultra was in no way, shape or form necessary.

The argument we heard from both GPU camps was that you were buying for the future; that a card you would buy today could not only run all of your current games extremely well, but you'd be guaranteed good performance in the next-generation of games. The problem with this argument was that there was no guarantee when the "next-generation" of games would be out. And by the time they are out, prices on these wonderfully expensive graphics cards may have fallen significantly. Then there's the issue of the fact that how well cards perform in today's pixel-shaderless games honestly says nothing about how DirectX 9 games will perform. And this brought us to the joyful issue of using 3DMark as a benchmark.

If you haven't noticed, we've never relied on 3DMark as a performance tool in our 3D graphics benchmark suites. The only times we've included it, we've either used it in the context of a CPU comparison or to make sure fill rates were in line with what we were expecting. With 3DMark 03, the fine folks at Futuremark had a very ambitious goal in mind - to predict the performance of future DirectX 9 titles using their own shader code designed to mimic what various developers were working on. The goal was admirable; however, if we're going to recommend something to millions of readers, we're not going to base it solely off of one synthetic benchmark that potentially may be indicative of the performance of future games. The difference between the next generation of games and what we've seen in the past is that the performance of one game is much less indicative of the performance of the rest of the market; as you'll see, we're no longer memory bandwidth bound - now we're going to finally start dealing with games whose pixel shader programs and how they are handled by the execution units of the GPU will determine performance.

All of this discussion isn't for naught, as it brings us to why today is so very important. Not too long ago, we were able to benchmark Doom3 and show you a preview of its performance; but with the game being delayed until next year, we have to turn to yet another title to finally take advantage of this hardware - Half-Life 2. With the game almost done and a benchmarkable demo due out on September 30th, it isn't a surprise that we were given the opportunity to benchmark the demos shown off by Valve at E3 this year.

Unfortunately, the story here isn't as simple as how fast your card will perform under Half-Life 2; of course, given the history of the 3D graphics industry, would you really expect something like this to be without controversy?

It's Springer Time
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  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    Anand, when using the Print Article feature in Mozilla 1.4, I was shown only graphs from one map throughout. For instance, after clicking Print Article, all graphs were of the bug level. Hitting F5 showed them all to be of techdemo. In both cases, some graphs didn't correspond to your comments.

    This may be b/c the article was just posted, but thought I'd give you a heads-up anyway.

    Thanks for the interesting read, and hopefully we'll see screenshots of the differences between the DX8.0. 8.1, 8.2, NV3x, and DX9 modes soon (the only thing lacking from this article, IMO)!
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    .. goddammit, all the flashes are arranged improperly. (Techdemo on bugbait pages, city on techdemo...) FIX IT. Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    I was hoping anand would compair a 128mb 9800pro to a 256mb one, guess I'll still have to wait =( Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    Hey Anand, you have a 9500 Pro lying around?

    Eh, well, it doesn't need to be included anyway. We all know how it would do: 5% worse than the 9700 Pro.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    #5 & #6 : +1
    I ll keep my G4 Ti 4200@300/600.
    I m sure HL² will still rocks in DX 8.1
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    Where are the numbers with AA/AF enabled? I know the article intimates that there's a negligible performance hit, but I'd still like to see the numbers. Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    Man, the Ti series has been doing this for a while!

    http://www.amdmb.com/article-display.php?ArticleID...
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    I feel the same way about the GF4Ti series. Never did like the FXes much... Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    Hahahahaha.

    Go you Ti4600, GO! I BELIEVE IN THE Ti4600!

    If all I am going to lose is a bit of image quality, then no great loss. At least it isn't back to 640x480!

    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    Wow 9800 pro barely edges out 9700 pro. 9600 pro seems to be the best deal if people are still waiting to upgrade.

    Obviously Nvidia lost this round with nv30 and nv35.
    Reply

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