Particle Systems Benchmark

The more meaningful of the two benchmarks in terms of end users is going to be the particle simulation benchmark, as this has the potential to actually impact gameplay. The only problem is that the map is a contrived situation with four rooms each showing different particle system simulations. As proof that simulating particle systems can require a lot of CPU processing power, and that Valve can multithread the algorithms, the benchmark is meaningful. How it will actually impact future gaming performance is more difficult to determine. Also note that particle systems are only one aspect of game engine performance that can use more processing cores; artificial intelligence, physics, animation, and other tasks can benefit as well, and we look forward to the day when we have a full gaming benchmark that can simulate all of these areas rather than just particle systems. For now, here's a quick look at the particle system performance results.

Valve Multithreaded Source Engine

There are several interesting things we get from the particle simulation benchmark. First, it scales almost linearly with the number of processor cores, so the Core 2 Quad system ends up being twice as fast as the Core 2 Duo system when running at the same clock speed. We will take a look at how CPU cache and memory bandwidth affects performance in the future, but at present it's pretty clear that Core 2 once again holds a commanding performance lead over AMD's Athlon 64/X2 processors. As for Pentium D, we repeatedly got a program crash when trying to run it, even with several different graphics cards. There's no reason to assume it would be faster than Athlon X2, though, and we did get results with Pentium D on the other test.

Athlon X2 performed the same, more or less, whether running on 939 or AM2 - even with high-end DDR2-800 memory. Our E6700 test system generated inconsistent results when overclocked, likely due to limitations with the nForce 570 SLI chipset. For most of the platforms, the 20% overclock brought on average a 20% performance increase, showing again that we are essentially completely CPU limited. The lack of granularity makes the scores vary slightly from 20% but it's close enough for now. Finally, taking a look at Athlon 64 vs. X2 on socket 939, the second CPU core improves performance by ~90%

VRAD Map Compilation Benchmark

As more of a developer/content creation benchmark, the results of the VRAD benchmark are not likely to be as interesting to a lot of people. However, keep in mind that better performance in this area can lead to more productive employees, so hopefully that means better games sooner. (Or maybe it just means more stress for the content developers?)

Valve Multithreaded Source Engine

The results we got on the map compilation benchmark support Valve's own research and help to explain why they would be very interested in getting more Core 2 Quad systems into their offices. We don't have a single core Pentium 4 processor represented, but even a Pentium D 920 still ends up taking more than twice as long as a Core 2 Duo E6700 system, and about four times as long as Core 2 Quad. Looking at the CPU speed scaling, a 20% higher clock speed with the Pentium D resulted in 19% higher performance. If Intel had tried to stick with the NetBurst architecture, they would need dual core Pentium D processors running at more than 6.0 GHz in order to match the performance offered by the E6700. We won't even get into discussions about how much power such a CPU would require.

Performance scales almost linearly with clock speed once again, improving by 20% with the overclocking. Moving from single to dual core Athlon chips improves performance by about 92%. Going from a Core 2 Duo to a Core 2 Quad on the other hand improves performance by "only" 84%. It is not too surprising to find that moving to four cores doesn't show scaling equal to that of the single to dual move, but an 84% increase is still very good, roughly equal to what we see in 3D rendering applications.

Test Setup Closing Thoughts


View All Comments

  • yacoub - Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - link

    sorry about that. got a little too excited. Reply
  • Ruark - Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - link

    Page 6: ". . . everything crawls to a slow." Reply
  • duploxxx - Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - link

    page 8 test setup, clear a cut/paste job... all of the cpu's are the same Athlon.

    put an allendale in the benchmark, lot's of people want to see how cache related this multithread sw is.

    Valve talks about 64-bit... tests are 32bit? Since some competitors are talking about 64-bit code in there gaming also, should be interesting to see what the difference is vs 32bit.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - link

    Sorry 'bout that - I've fixed the CPU line. All systems were tested at stock and 20% OC. The problem with Allendale is that it has different stock clock speeds, so you're not just comparing different CPU speeds (unless you use a lower multiplier on Conroe). Anyway, this is a first look, and the next CPU article should have additional benches.

    The tests are all 32-bit. This is not full Episode 2 code, and most people are waiting for Vista to switch to running 64-bit anyway. All we know is that Episode 2 will support 64-bits natively, but we weren't given any information on how it will perform in such an environment yet.
  • brshoemak - Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - link

    Nice to know where things are headed. Great article.

    Jarred, 2nd page, 2nd paragraph


    place it into a pan and start beating the oven

    should be 'heating the oven' - although quite funny as is, you may want to keep it ;)
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - link

    Darn speech recognition. And "b" and "h" looked close enough that I missed it. Heh. No ovens were harmed in the making of this article. Reply
  • MrJim - Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - link

    This was a very interesting article to read, the future looks bright for us with multi-core systems and Valve games. Excellent work Mr Walton! Reply
  • timmiser - Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - link

    Shoot, I didn't make it past the dinner description. Got too hungry!
  • George Powell - Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - link

    I quite agree. Top notch article there. It is great to see how Valve are committed to giving us the best gaming experience. Reply
  • Regs - Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - link

    The future looks bright for people willing to buy valve and multi-core CPUs!! Reply

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