Futuremark’s benchmarking suites of the 3DMark series are well known to any person who’s interested in consumer 3D graphics hardware. This suite is a powerful tool for getting detailed information about the performance of a modern graphics card and the developer is working hard to make it more objective and indicative of the real-life gaming experience. As a result, the 3DMark series has become an industry standard de facto. The different versions of the suite enjoy popularity among overclockers who record their achievements using 3DMark as well as among major graphics card and PC manufacturers who need advanced tests that make use of all the progressive technologies available at the current moment.
Graphics processors are evolving at a faster rate than any other PC component and benchmarking suites are becoming out-dated and inadequate just too rapidly. This is also the consequence of changes in the approach game developers take to creating their new products. As a simple example, pixel shaders are employed in games widely today and their complexity is higher than before to achieve a more realistic image, so older versions of 3DMark can’t correctly estimate the performance of a graphics card in such games. Furthermore, a benchmarking suite that aspires to be an industry standard must match not even today’s, but tomorrow’s games and serve to predict to some extent the performance of today’s graphics hardware in unreleased-yet next-generation applications.
As we noted in our 3DMark05 review, the 2003 version of the suite, 3DMark03, met the mentioned requirement by using stencil shadows and complex pixel shaders. It predicted quite well the performance of graphic cards in such popular games as Far Cry, Doom 3, Half-Life 2 and others. 3DMark05 came out next, stressing the use of a great number of pixel shaders in a single scene, i.e. exactly like in many today’s games like F.E.A.R., Battlefield 2, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Call of Duty 2, Serious Sam 2 to mention but a few. This version of the benchmark can use Shader Model 2.0, 2.0a, 2.0b and 3.0 modes, but all its shaders, with rare exceptions, are limited to Model 2.0; the other modes can only affect speed rather than image quality. It means 3DMark05 is still a working tool when it comes to compare today’s graphics cards, but it does not suit for testing next-generation graphics hardware since it doesn’t have specific Shader Model 3.0 tests, doesn’t support HDR and is generally too simple to give a clear picture of how graphics cards will perform in games that will appear in the next 12-18 months. A new, tomorrow-oriented version of the benchmark was called for and it was developed. So, it is about 3DMark06 that we are going to talk today.