Testbed and Methods
We are going to investigate the gaming performance of EVGA GeForce GTX 275 CO-OP PhysX Edition and XFX Radeon HD 5850 Black Edition using the following universal testbed:
- Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition processor (3.33 GHz, 6.4 GT/s QPI);
- Scythe SCKTN-3000 Katana 3 CPU cooler;
- Gigabyte GA-EX58-Extreme mainboard (Intel X58 Express chipset);
- Corsair XMS3-12800C9 (3 x 2 GB, 1333 MHz, 9-9-9-24, 2T);
- Samsung Spinpoint F1 HDD (1 TB, 32 MB buffer, SATA II);
- Ultra X4 850 W Modular power supply;
- Dell 3007WFP monitor (30", 2560x1600 @ 60 Hz max display resolution);
- Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit;
- Nvidia GeForce 196.21 WHQL for Nvidia GeForce;
- ATI Catalyst 10.1 for ATI Radeon HD.
The graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:
- Smoothvision HD: Anti-Aliasing: Use application settings/Box Filter
- Catalyst A.I.: Standard
- Mipmap Detail Level: High Quality
- Wait for vertical refresh: Always Off
- AAMode: Quality
- Other settings: default
- Texture filtering – Quality: High quality
- Texture filtering – Trilinear optimization: Off
- Texture filtering – Anisotropic sample optimization: Off
- Threaded optimization: Auto
- Vertical sync: Force off
- Antialiasing - Gamma correction: On
- Antialiasing - Transparency: Multisampling
- Multi-GPU performance mode: NVIDIA recommended
- Multi-display mixed-GPU acceleration: Multiple display performance mode
- Set PhysX GPU acceleration: Enabled
- Ambient Occlusion: Off
- Other settings: default
Below is the list of games and test applications we used during this test session:
First-Person 3D Shooters
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Crysis Warhead
- Dark Void
- Darkest of Days
- Far Cry 2
- Left 4 Dead 2
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
Third-Person 3D Shooters
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Resident Evil 5
- Street Fighter IV
- Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta
- Colin McRae: Dirt 2
- Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
- World in Conflict: Soviet Assault
Semi-synthetic and synthetic Benchmarks
- Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
We selected the highest possible level of detail in each game using standard tools provided by the game itself from the gaming menu. The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way, because the ordinary user doesn’t have to know how to do it. We made a few exceptions for selected games if that was necessary. We are going to specifically dwell on each exception like that later on in our article. This time we tried to include as many gaming titles as possible that use PhysX engine and support hardware acceleration of physical effects.
We ran our tests in the following resolutions: 1280x1024, 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. Everywhere, where it was possible we added MSAA 4x antialiasing to the standard anisotropic filtering 16x. We enabled antialiasing from the game’s menu. If this was not possible, we forced them using the appropriate driver settings of ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers. Performance was measured with the games’ own tools and the original demos were recorded if possible. We measured not only the average speed, but also the minimum speed of the cards where possible. Otherwise, the performance was measured manually with Fraps utility version 3.0.2. In the latter case we ran the test three times and took the average of the three for the performance charts.
Since the primary goal of this review was to determine the efficiency of discrete PhysX accelerators, we decided to compare EVGA GeForce GTX 275 CO-OP PhysX and XFX Radeon HD 5850 Black Edition against the following solutions:
- GeForce GTX 275 + GeForce GT 220
- GeForce GTX 275 (PhysX acceleration enabled)
- GeForce GTX 275 (PhysX acceleration disabled)
Unfortunately, we had to give up the interesting idea of checking out a combination of GeForce GTX 275 + Asus PhysX P1: trying to do whatever it takes to promote PhysX acceleration by their GPUs, Nvidia decided to bury discrete PPUs built on Ageia chips. Although these cards are still supports for Windows XP and Windows Vista operating systems, there are no plans to introduce official support for Windows 7 and this is exactly the OS that has already become a de facto standard among gamers. With a few tricks you can install the drivers and enable the original PhysX accelerator in Windows 7, but this approach is not that obvious and absolutely unintuitive, although you can easily Google it. We could recommend resorting to it only if you have already bought an Ageia based physics accelerator and don’t want your money to go to waste, despite Nvidia’s insistent suggestions to buy another card. Unfortunately, even if you succeed, no one can guarantee stability of this card combination under Windows 7.
Users don’t have too many original Ageia PhysX accelerators, but the option of combining a Radeon HD 5970, 5870 or 5850 with an inexpensive card from Nvidia and use the latter as a physics effects accelerator is far more urgent. At the current moment, Radeon HD 5900 and 5800 series cards are far superior to their opponents in technical specs and performance, hardware PhysX acceleration being their only downside. And as we’ve already said, there are no fundamental obstacles to adding this feature to AMD’s cards except for Nvidia’s stubborn desire to keep the PhysX technology exclusive.
Enthusiasts have found a way to bypass the protection implemented by Nvidia on the level of the GeForce driver. The method is rather simple. You only have to install an unofficial PhysX mod patch that comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The latest version (1.02) is for all systems and can be downloaded from here.
Here is the full instruction for installing and enabling PhysX support for ATI Radeon HD cards:
- Download the latest version of the Nvidia GeForce driver and the appropriate version of the PhysX mod patch.
- Uninstall your current Nvidia GeForce/PhysX/Stereo drivers.
- Install the downloaded version of the GeForce driver.
- Restart your system in safe mode using the F8 button.
- Install the PhysX mod patch.
- Restart your system. Click the right mouse button on the Desktop to evoke the context menu. Choose the Screen Resolution option and then Detect. Then, select the gray monitor icon that refers to the Nvidia card installed in your system. Force the non-existing monitor on and expand the Desktop to that monitor.
- Evoke the Desktop context menu, choose Nvidia Control Panel, enable PhysX acceleration using the appropriate option.
Although these instructions may look simple, the installation process is not trivial and may not work at first attempt. Besides, our configuration with an XFX Radeon HD 5850 Black Edition and a GeForce GT 220 (as a PhysX accelerator) was very unstable. For example, it would disable PhysX acceleration automatically when the game changed its display resolution or prevented us from using the ATI Catalyst Control Center settings. Despite all these difficulties, we were still able to benchmark this unusual tandem in every game from our list. Let’s take a look at the results.