Testbed and Methods
All graphics cards were benchmarked in a closed system case with the following configuration:
- Mainboard: Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD9 (Intel X58 Express, LGA 1366, BIOS F5i from 01/04/2011);
- CPU: Intel Core i7-980X Extreme Edition, 3.33 GHz, 1.225 V, 6 x 256 KB L2, 12 MB L3 (Gulftown, B1);
- CPU cooler: Thermalright Archon (2 x Thermalright TY-140 fans at 800 RPM);
- Thermal interface: Gelid GC-Extreme;
- System memory: DDR3 3 x 2GB OCZ Platinum Low-Voltage Triple Channel (Spec: 1600 MHz / 7-7-7-24 / 1.65 V);
- Graphics cards:
- System drive: RAID-0 of 2 x Kingston V-series SNV425S2128GB SSD (SATA-II, 128 GB, MLC, Toshiba TC58NCF618G3T controller);
- Drive for programs and games: Western Digital VelociRaptor (300GB, SATA-II, 10000 RPM, 16MB cache, NCQ) inside Scythe Quiet Drive 3.5” HDD silencer and cooler;
- Backup drive: Samsung Ecogreen F4 HD204UI (SATA-II, 2 TB, 5400 RPM, 32 MB, NCQ);
- System case: Antec Twelve Hundred (front panel: three Noiseblocker NB-Multiframe S-Series MF12-S2 fans at 900 RPM; back panel: two Noiseblocker NB-BlackSilentPRO PL-1 fans at 900 RPM; top panel: standard 200 mm fan at 400 RPM);
- Control and monitoring panel: Zalman ZM-MFC2
- Power supply: Xigmatek “No Rules Power” NRP-HC1501 1500 W (with a default 140 mm fan);
- Monitor: 30” Samsung 305T Plus.
In order to lower the dependence of the graphics cards performance on the overall platform speed, I overclocked our 32 nm six-core CPU with the multiplier set at 24x and “Load-Line Calibration” (Level 2) enabled to 4.5GHz. The processor Vcore was increased to 1.475V in the mainboard BIOS:
The 6 GB of system DDR3 memory worked at 1.5 GHz frequency with 7-7-7-16_1T timings and 1.64V voltage. Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading technologies were disabled during our test session.
Besides two graphics cards discussed above we also included two AMD Radeon HD 6970 graphics cards and a pair of Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics cards working at the nominal frequencies:
The graphics cards were tested in CrossFireX and SLI tandem configurations as well as individually.
The test session started on March 19, 2011. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:
- Intel Chipset Drivers 126.96.36.1993 alpha for the mainboard chipset;
- DirectX End-User Runtimes from November 30, 2010;
- Catalyst 11.2 (02/15/2011) drivers for HD 6970 and Catalyst 11.4 Early Preview (03/16/2011) for HD 6990;
- Nvidia GeForce/ION 266.77 WHQL (02/18/2011) driver for GTX 570 and GeForce/ION 267.71 beta for GTX 590.
We had to use different driver versions this time, because at the time of tests we didn’t have two Radeon HD 6970 and two GeForce GTX 570 graphics cards available to us at the same time when the drivers were released. Nevertheless, we performed a few additional tests aimed at comparing the performance of a single Radeon HD 6970 using Catalyst 11.2 and Catalyst 11.4 Early Preview drivers. The table below shows the obtained results:
Yes, there are a few performance changes, but they are not critical and should not affect the overall outcome.
The graphics cards were tested in games in two currently most popular resolutions: 1920x1080 and 2560x1600. The tests were performed in two image quality modes: “High Quality+AF16x” – maximum texturing quality with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and “High Quality+ AF16x+AA4(8)x” with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and 4x full screen anti-aliasing (MSAA) or 8x if the average framerate was high enough for comfortable gaming experience. We enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing from the game settings or configuration files. If the corresponding options were missing, we changed these settings in the Control Panel of Catalyst and GeForce/ION drivers. Vertical sync was always off in driver control panels.
The benchmarking games and applications list hasn’t changed since our last review. It included two popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suites, one technical demo and 18 games of various genres. Here is the complete list of tests used with the settings (all games listed in their release order):
- 3DMark Vantage (DirectX 10) – v188.8.131.52, Performance and Extreme profiles (basic tests only);
- 3DMark 2011 (DirectX 11) – version 184.108.40.206, Performance and Extreme profiles;
- Unigine Heaven Demo (DirectX 11) – version 2.1, maximum graphics quality settings, tessellation at “extreme”, AF16x, 1280x1024 resolution without AA and 1920x1080 resolution with AA 4x;
- Crysis (DirectX 10) – game version 1.2.1, “Very High” settings profile, two runs of “Assault harbor” test from Crysis Benchmark Tool version 220.127.116.11;
- Far Cry 2 (DirectX 10) – version 1.03, “Ultra High” settings profile, two runs of the Ranch Small test from Far Cry 2 Benchmark Tool (v18.104.22.168);
- BattleForge: Lost Souls (DirectX 11) – version 1.2 (02.10.2011), maximum image quality settings, shadows enabled, SSAO technology enabled, two runs of the built-in benchmark;
- Resident Evil 5 (DirectX 10.1) – version 1.2, variable benchmark with maximum graphics quality settings without motion blur, we took AVG values from the third scene for further analysis, because it was the most resource-hungry;
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (DirectX 11) – version 1.6.02, Enhanced Dynamic DX11 Lighting profile with all parameters manually set at their maximums, we used our custom cop03 demo on the Backwater map;
- Borderlands: the Secret Armory of General Knoxx (DLC) (DirectX 9) – version 1.4.1, “timedemo1_p” demo with maximum image quality settings;
- Grand Theft Auto IV - Episodes From Liberty City (DirectX 9) – version 22.214.171.124, the test from “The Ballad of Gay Tony” scene, “Very High” image quality settings, “View Distance” = 23%;
- Left 4 Dead 2: The Sacrifice (DirectX 9) – version 126.96.36.199, maximum graphics quality settings, d60 demo (two runs) on “1. Docks” map of the “Sacrifice” level;
- Metro 2033: The Last Refuge (DirectX 10/11) - version 1.2, maximum graphics quality settings, official benchmark, “High” image quality settings; tesselation, DOF and MSAA4x disabled; AAA aliasing enabled, two consecutive runs of the “Frontline” scene;
- Just Cause 2 (DirectX 11) - version 188.8.131.52, maximum quality settings, Background Blur and GPU Water Simulation enabled, two consecutive runs of the “Dark Tower” demo;
- Aliens vs. Predator (2010) (DirectX 11) – Texture Quality “Very High”, Shadow Quality “High”, SSAO On, two test runs in each resolution;
- Lost Planet 2 (DirectX 11) – version 1.0, maximum graphics quality settings, motion blur enabled, performance test “B” (average in all three scenes);
- StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty (DirectX 11) – version 1.0, all image quality settings at “Ultra”, Physics “Ultra”, reflections On, two 2-minute runs of our own jt1 demo;
- Mafia 2 (DirectX 11) – version 184.108.40.206, maximum graphics quality settings, two runs of the built-in benchmark;
- Sid Meier’s Civilization V (DirectX 11) – version 220.127.116.11, maximum graphics quality settings, two runs of the “diplomatic” benchmark including five heaviest scenes;
- F1 2010 (DirectX 11) – version 1.01, built-in benchmark at Ultra quality settings including one lap on the “Silverstone” track;
- Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 (DirectX 11) – version 1.04, maximum graphics quality settings, shadows On, tessellation Off (not available on Radeon), two runs of the test scene;
- Crysis 2 (DirectX 9) – beta-version, “Hardcore” graphics quality profile, two runs of the demo in “Central Park” scene.
If the game allowed recording the minimal fps readings, they were also added to the charts. We ran each game test or benchmark twice and took the best result for the diagrams, but only if the difference between them didn’t exceed 1%. If it did exceed 1%, we ran the tests at least one more time to achieve repeatability of results.