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
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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.
  • msva124 - Thursday, November 9, 2006 - link


    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.'re kidding, right?
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 9, 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.
  • msva124 - Thursday, November 9, 2006 - link


    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.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 9, 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.
  • msva124 - Thursday, November 9, 2006 - link

    Fine. You win.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 9, 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.

  • cryptonomicon - Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - link">

    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
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - link


    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 ;)
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - link

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

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