Articles: Graphics

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Not so long ago Discreet, the company dealing with the development of software packages for video production and 3D content creation released the fifth version of its most popular 3D modeling software - 3ds max. This version is completely different from all the previous ones, as it boasts extended animation options, functionally richer final rendering, new shadowing algorithms, and many other key innovations, which will take a lot of time to list even. Also they introduced a lot of changes to the viewports renderer, so that the image built by the graphics cards in viewports now looks much more realistic, in other words is much closer to what we actually get after the final rendering is complete. The best example here will be the famous "cottage":

3ds max 4.xx viewports renderer

3ds max 5 viewports renderer

Final Renderer

However, in this article I am not going to focus on the functionality or usability of the new version, and not about its abilities in terms of viewports displaying. All these issues will be discussed in greater detail in a separate review, which is to come out quite soon. The today's article will be devoted to the performance of contemporary gaming graphics cards in 3ds max 5. Among the testing participants you will find: the respectful NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti4600, the powerful (in games) ATI RADEON 9700 Pro and the so long-awaited Matrox Parhelia-512. To make our comparison more illustrative, we will also include the results for the "professional" NVIDIA Quadro4 900XGL, which differs from the gaming GeForce4 Ti4600 by slightly higher working frequencies and the drivers optimized for professional 3D modeling applications (read more about professional graphics cards in the article called: ATI FireGL 8800 against NVIDIA Quadro 4 in 3ds max).

Testbed and Methods

Our test system was configured as follows:

  • Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU;
  • ABIT TH7II mainboard;
  • 1024MB PC800 RDRAM;
  • NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti4600, ATI RADEON 9700 Pro, Matrox Parhelia, NVIDIA Quadro 4 900XGL graphics cards;
  • 20GB IBM DTLA 7200rpm HDD.

We used the following software:

  • Windows XP SP1
  • 3ds max 5 (OpenGL rendering), 1280x1024 32bit

The graphics cards listed above were tested with the following drivers:

  • NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti4600: Detonator XP version 30.82;
  • ATI RADEON 9700 Pro: Catalyst version 6166;
  • NVIDIA Quadro 4 900XGL: Detonator XP version 30.82 and NVIDIA Maxtreme version 4.00.25;
  • Matrox Parhelia: 101.00.

The driver settings for NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti4600, ATI RADEON 9700 Pro and Matrox Parhelia looked as follows:

The Maxtreme driver settings for NVIDIA Quadro4 900XGL were as follows:

During the tests we disabled V-Sync for all graphics cards involved.


Benchmark 1

This benchmark checks if the graphics card is capable of refreshing more than one viewport in 3ds max simultaneously. There is some animation played in all viewports, and to load the graphics accelerator even more each viewport is displayed in a different mode: from Wireframe to Smooth + Highlights.

  • Polygons: 40088;
  • Light source: 2;
  • Mode: Wireframe, Smooth + Highlights, Smooth + Highlights + Edged Faces.

The tested graphics accelerators get into conditions pretty far from real gaming. Unlike games, all the four viewports are refreshed simultaneously instead of one, three viewports are working in Wireframe mode, while most games use shadowed rendering.

The results of this test once again prove that the driver support of wireframe modes, which are quite specific for gaming accelerators, is very important in professional applications. It is much more important than the common raw power.

Benchmark 2

Here the graphics cards have to work with animation in a single viewport. During the test the camera is flying above the rocks and hills of the moon surface landscape, which is built by 400 thousand polygons displayed in Smooth + Highlights mode.

  • Polygons: 400008;
  • Light source: 1;
  • Mode: Smooth + Highlights.

The testing conditions in this benchmark are more common for the gaming solutions, however, they would be unable to quickly display massive geometry like that without the properly written driver units responsible for geometry processing.

As you can see, the driver quality, namely their "professionalism" play a much more important part in this test, than in the previous one. RADEON 9700 Pro appears twice as slow as GeForce4 Ti4600, and Matrox Parhelia completely failed this benchmark.

Benchmark 3

This test is none other but the same moon surface picture from the previous benchmark. However, besides the landscape itself, we now have some flying objects, like pace crafts or planes.

  • Polygons: 742128;
  • Light source: 1;
  • Mode: Smooth + Highlights.

The result here is similar to what we have already seen: NVIDIA's gaming solution takes the lead due to better implemented geometry processing in its drivers. While the professional graphics card from the same manufacturer demonstrates twice as high performance only due to proper driver optimization.

Benchmark 4

This benchmark deal with the processing of multiple light sources. Since most graphics cards do not support more than 8 light sources, this test as well as the next two work with 8 lights of different types. Here we will have 8 SpotLight light sources, which move and light some geometrical object.

We should point out that imitating the effect made by SpotLights is a much more resource-hungry process than the imitation of Omni or Directional lighting.

  • Polygons: 60500;
  • Light sources: 8;
  • Mode: Smooth + Highlights.

All gaming graphics cards show almost identical results, and the professional Quadro4 gets 15-20% ahead.

Benchmark 5

Here we have the same object, but this time it is lit by 8 Directional lights. Directional lights in 3ds max 5 are the fastest unlike the previous package version.

  • Polygons: 60500;
  • Light source: 8;
  • Mode: Smooth + Highlights.

As for Directional lights processing, ATI RADEON 9700 Pro shows better results than GeForce4 Ti4600, and gets really close to Quadro4 900XGL.

Benchmark 6

Again we've got the same object and 8 light sources. But this time these are all Omni lights, which involve average resources between SpotLight and Directional lights described above.

  • Polygons: 60500;
  • Light source: 8;
  • Mode: Smooth + Highlights.

Summing up the results of the lighting tests we can say that the contemporary gaming graphics cards prove nearly equally fast.

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