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February 2003, people at Futuremark, previously known as MadOnion.com (and before that – the same as now – Futuremark), released their 3DMark03 benchmarking package intended for measuring speed characteristics of modern PCs in 3D games. Right after its appearance, 3DMark03 provoked a lot of critical remarks from both: graphics chip makers (NVIDIA was among the most disappointed) and graphics cards reviewers. One of the main concerns was the low performance of modern graphics cards, particularly GeForce4 Ti4600 based ones, which didn’t correspond well to their pretty fast performance in present-day computer games.

Anyway, 3DMark03 is a benchmarking tool that helps to check the performance of graphics cards in next generation 3D applications. It means we can have a peep into the future and get to know beforehand the behavior of existing graphics cards in games that are going to use the latest advances in computer graphics.

We tested a bunch of thirteen graphics cards available in the today’s market. So, we are sure that you will find some really useful information in our article.

Testbed Configuration

  • Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU;
  • ASUS P4S8X (SiS648) mainboard;
  • 512MB DDR333 SDRAM;
  • IBM DTLA 15GB, 7200rpm HDD;
  • Windows XP Professional SP1.

We tested the following graphics cards:

  • ATI RADEON 9700 PRO (128MB);
  • ATI RADEON 9500 PRO (128MB);
  • ATI RADEON 9500 (128MB);
  • ATI RADEON 9500 (64MB);
  • ATI RADEON 9100 (128MB);
  • ATI RADEON 9000 (128MB);
  • NVIDIA GeForceFX 5800 Ultra (128MB);
  • NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti4800 (128MB);
  • NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti4600 (128MB);
  • NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti4200-8x (128MB);
  • NVIDIA GeForce4 MX440-8x (64MB);
  • NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200 (128MB);
  • SiS Xabre 600 (64MB).

So, we gathered together nearly all the graphics chip now offered by ATI and NVIDIA and added a card based on SiS’ chip. Ten of the cards have 128MB of graphics memory onboard. It’s the most optimal and usual memory amount found in high-performance gaming graphics cards. Three cards have 64MB of memory. We can single out RADEON 9500 among them as the only DirectX9-supporting card with 64MB memory. One graphics card, GeForceFX 5800 Ultra, has 128MB of memory of the new type – DDR II. So far, the future of this card is not clear, so we can’t tell whether we will see it in the open. Anyway, it’s the newest and fastest GPU from NVIDIA for today.

The cards worked with the following drivers:

  • ATI Catalyst 3.2 (.622);
  • NVIDIA Detonator 42.86;
  • NVIDIA Detonator 42.68;
  • SiS Xminator 3.10.51;
  • SiS AGP Driver 1.14.

You see that we used two versions of Detonator drivers. When 3DMark03 appeared, the 42.86 drivers were fresh, but soon Detonator 42.68 appeared. Some sources say the last version was optimized for 3DMark03. GeForceFX based cards do show notably higher performance with these drivers in 3DMark03, but GeForce4 Ti GPUs experience some problems. For example, there may be image artifacts like a wide horizontal band across the screen:

You can’t play like that! So we tested all GeForce4 based cards with Detonator 42.86 and GeForceFX – with Detonator 42.68.

Testing Methodology

The major goal of our testsession was to reveal the performance of the above listed graphics cards in 3DMark03 as well as the performance drop they would suffer on turning on post-processing, full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. We ran each gaming test in the following modes:

  • Post-processing off, tri-linear filtering;
  • Post-processing on, tri-linear filtering;
  • Post-processing off, anisotropic filtering;
  • FSAA 4x, tri-linear filtering;
  • FSAA 4x, anisotropic filtering.

All the cards were tested with “default” driver settings except those cases when we had to force full-screen anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering via the drivers. It looks like 3DMark03 can’t always determine whether the card supports FSAA or anisotropic filtering, as well as the maximum supported anisotropy level. That’s why when forcing these settings we set FSAA 4x and 8x anisotropy level. As NVIDIA GeForce4 MX440-8x allows setting only 2x anisotropy, we used this as a maximum level for this card.

All we have to do now is to test each card in each mode and compare their results. We will explain all cases when a card cannot pass a test, and also show screenshots with image artifacts indicating a failure.

So, let’s get started.

 
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