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

    another thing i just noticed looking at the doom 3 and hl2 benchies.

    take a look at the performance of 9800pro and 9600pro...

    in hl2, the 9800pro is about 27% ahead of the 9600pro, in doom 3 the 9800pro is near 50% faster than the 9600pro. the whole thing just feels weird.

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

    I'm surprised that Anand mentioned nothing about the comparisons between 4x2 and 8x1 pipelines? Does he even know that MS is working to included paired textures with simutainious wait states for the nV arcitexture? You see the DX9 SDK was developed thinking only one path and since each texture has a defined FIFO during the pass the second pipe in the nV is dormant until the first pipe FIFO operation is complete, with paired textures in the pipe using syncronus wait states this 'problem' will be greatly relieved. Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    its fake.... HL2 test are not ready today , great fake Anandtech :) Reply
  • rogerw99 - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    Ooo Ooo Ooo... I know the answer to that one.
    It was Mrs. White, but it wasn't with the gun, it was the lead pipe.
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    ATI The Way It Should Be Played Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    Quote: '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.'

    Don't we? Wrong!

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

    one thing that i think is kinda interesting. check out this benchmark hardocp did - fx5900 ultra vs. radeon 9800 pro in doom 3 (with help from id software).

    after reading this, read carmack's Jan 03 .plan, where he states that under the default openGL codepath, the fx architecture is about half as fast as the r300 - something that is pretty much resembled in the hl2 benchmarks. furthermore he states that using the default path the r300 is clearly superior (+100%), but when converting to vendor-specific codepaths, the fx series is the clear winner.

    conclusions? none, but some possibilities
    .) ati is better in directx, nvidia in opengl
    .) id can actually code, valve cannot
    .) and your usual conspiracy theories, feel free to use one you specifically like

    bottom line. neither ati nor nvidia cards are the "right ones" at the moment, wait for the next generation of video cards and upgrade THEN.

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

    I'm so glad i converted to Ati, i have never regret it & now it feels even better. Ati rules Reply
  • notoriousformula - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    i'm sure Nvidia will strike back.. prolly with DOOM III..well till then i'll enjoy my little army of ATI cards: ATI 9800NP>PRO, ATI 9700, ATI 9600PRO :P..long live ATI!!! :D Reply
  • Anonymous User - Friday, September 12, 2003 - link

    Anand should have benchmarked on a more widely used computer like a 2400 or 2500+ AMD. Who here has the money to buy a p4 3Gb 8000mhz FSB cpu? Reply

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