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I have already said this many times that modern graphics cards based on ATI Technologies chips have higher potential than those on GPUs from NVIDIA Corporation. In other words, if you’ve got a card with a RADEON in it, it is sure to be fast in more DirectX 9.0 games. Our testing in the AquaMark3 set confirms this statement. Both: expensive and mass graphics cards on RADEONs ensure good performance combined with excellent image quality.

As for NVIDIA, the company has corrected its mistakes by releasing the new driver, ForceWare. In fact, the release of a special code compiler was the only choice, since NVIDIA has no time to redesign the bulky NV3x architecture and is unlikely to have the time in the future. According to the test results, the ForceWare project is a success. The performance of NVIDIA’s GPUs has increased considerably. The performance gain is so high that NVIDIA regained the leadership in a number of tests. On the other hand, GPUs from ATI Technologies go unrivaled in the tests that use full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.

It means that if you want more fps, you may want to choose a GeForce FX 5950 Ultra card. Otherwise, if you go for a higher image quality, the RADEON 9800 XT and PRO may be your choice. If you cannot afford the top models, consider a GeForce FX 5700 Ultra or RADEON 9600 XT – these two solutions show similar level of performance. Besides that, other factors also should be considered. I am talking about physical dimensions and heat dissipation. From this point of view the RADEON 9600 XT looks advantageous over the competitor that carries hot chips of DDR-II memory and a hot GPU on its massive PCB.

As for the image quality, we noticed no visual artifacts during our AquaMark3 tests. This doesn’t mean the ForceWare driver needs no further improvement. In some modern games, like Splinter Cell, you lose or distort shadows with this driver. Anyway, the new driver from NVIDIA does provide a performance growth in every application and game rather than in a selected few. This approach should be considered appropriate, but needs further working upon.

The situation with the GeForce FX reminds me of the one with the Intel Itanium processor. This high-performance 64-bit processor, featuring the EPIC architecture, has to use a translator to execute 32-bit code. The result is obvious: the Itanium is very slow at running x86 programs, notwithstanding all the advantages of the EPIC architecture. Intel is constantly polishing off the translator and that’s what NVIDIA’s going to do with its ForceWare. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that the games of the new generation, like Doom III, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost and Half-Life 2, will have too complex engines for the software optimizer to digest. We are going to see soon, if it is really the case.

The AquaMark3 benchmarking set itself proved to be a handy and precise tool for measuring the performance of graphics cards. Based on a real gaming engine, AquaMark3 offers a number of extras that make your work easier. I can recommend it to any professional tester. Of course, the suite has minor drawbacks, but is often more convenient than Futuremark 3DMark03.

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