Half Life 2 Performance

Given our recent focus on Half Life 2 performance, it should be no surprise that we start off our performance coverage with Valve’s latest title.  The benchmarks we used for this review were created in house and are all documented (as well as available for download) in Parts 1 and 2 of our Half Life 2 GPU Roundups.  One word of caution however, the benchmarks in those reviews used NVIDIA’s 67.02 drivers, however those drivers in particular do not yet have SLI support, thus we were forced to use older 66.93 drivers for this review – thus making our NVIDIA Half Life 2 numbers not directly comparable between these reviews. 

Half Life 2: AT_canals_08

In this first demo we notice a couple of things; for starters, there is a small but consistent performance drop when enabling SLI.  The reason behind this performance drop is because at lower resolutions we are still CPU limited with the higher end 6800 based GPUs, thus the additional overhead of splitting up the rendering and forwarding data from one GPU to the next for recombination ends up making SLI slightly slower than just a single GPU.  That being said, no one would realistically have $800+ worth of video cards and run at 1024 x 768. 

Half Life 2: AT_canals_08

Looking at 1280 x 1024 there begins to be more of a performance benefit to SLI, but the benefits are not really significant until we hit 1600 x 1200.  At 1600 x 1200 the 6800GT and Ultra are still somewhat CPU limited, but the 6600GT is far from it.  Moving to two 6600GTs increases performance by 67% and delivers higher performance than a single 6800 Ultra, 9.5% faster to be exact.  This scenario alone showcases the upgrade potential for SLI; purchasing a single 6600GT today allows you to run Half Life 2 at 1024 x 768 quite well, but adding a second card later on will let you run at higher resolutions (or more GPU intensive games).  Assuming you can add that second card later on for less than you purchased the first one, your upgrade path actually puts you in a better situation overall than had you just purchased a single, more expensive card at the start.  Keep an eye on this comparison between two 6600GTs and a single 6800GT/Ultra to evaluate the mainstream upgrade path benefits of SLI.

With 4X AA and 8X AF enabled, the situation changes dramatically.  Although the performance gains are impressive, the pair of 6600GTs isn’t able to outperform a single 6800GT/Ultra.  For 6800GT/Ultra owners, SLI enables smooth playability at high resolutions with AA and AF enabled.  We play tested much of Half Life 2 with two 6800GTs at high resolutions with AA/AF enabled and for the most part the game was butter smooth; at 1600 x 1200 with 4X AA/8X AF enabled however there were some areas where even two 6800 Ultras would get choppy.  But most resolutions and settings that were not smooth before on a single card were definitely playable thanks to SLI. 

Half Life 2: AT_canals_08

The Test Half Life 2: AT_coast_05


View All Comments

  • bob661 - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    I found one here.
    I don't know if they actually have one in stock though.
  • jshuck3 - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Where are they getting the 6800GT PCI Express cards? I can't find them anywhere...are they even out yet or are these just review boards? Reply
  • L1FE - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    #28 If the nextgen video cards are also SLI capable, then SLI offers even more performance for a new GPU launch. If you don't want SLI that's your choice, but SLI offers consumers a wider range of choices just because cominations now make it that much more complicated. Whether that's a good or bad thing is yet to be seen, but I like how it makes things exciting between new GPU releases. Reply
  • T8000 - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Altrough it is nice to see Nvidia take PC gaming quality one step further, these solutions are more expensive than ever before.

    But where does this money come from, you ask. Well, since CPU's are stuck at around 3 Ghz (or almost equal) for some time now, people look for other upgrades to buy.

    And SLI is an easy way to explain that a top-end GPU solution now costs $1000 instead of $500, because it now contains two $500 cards.

    But since SLI is much cheaper than pre-overclocked (Falcon/Alienware) solutions, it is currently worth its premium for a lot of users.

    It also creates an interesting problem for ATI, to sell technology that is way behind for lowewr prices or to copy the SLI concept, hoping that their users are willing to wait.
  • miketheidiot - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    #28 the next gen of both nVidia and ATI will be only a tiny jump over the current generation. We won't see another big jump until DX10 has been out for a while. The next jump will be a 9700 to 9800 style jump, if that.

  • VIAN - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Yeah, where is 8xAA/16xAF. I want that tested. I mean with all that power, who wouldn't want to see the results of the fabulous 8xAA IQ. Reply
  • FICo - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    So does Nvidia now want everyone to buy 2 of their cards? I really hope its not popular. They should just design faster GPUs rather then relying on such a sledgehammer approach. Nvidia seem to bring out new GPUs once a year, and updates 6 months into a products life. So the new "Geforce 7" chip will be out end of spring time next year. Of course the performance of a single card "GeFroce 7 Ultra" will be a big jump as usual, and will most likely out perform todays PCs with dual 6800 Ultras. Nvidia's SLI technology is certainly interesting, shame its such poor value for money. Surely a dual core approach would be cheaper for the public to buy, yet still offering extra performance. Reply
  • Filibuster - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Dual Voodoo2 cards is what, 200Mpixel/s? :) Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Thinking about it more, I think I'd rather just see some 32 pipeline GPU's with 512 MB of RAM and it's very own nuclear reactor to power it :) Reply
  • Souka - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Anyone want SLI cheap? don't even have to upgrade your moherboard.....

    For sale.... two 8mb 3dFx Voodoo2 boards wih SLI cable...PCI interface of course..... it rocked in the 90's....why not now?



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