Testbed Configuration and Testing Methodology
Starting today we are going to upgrade our testbed with a new Intel X79 Express based mainboard, a powerful LGA 2011 processor, fast system memory and a new SSD drive. As a result our testbed features the following configuration:
- Mainboard: Intel Siler DX79SI (Intel X79 Express, LGA 2011, BIOS 0380 from 11/28/2011);
- CPU: Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition, 3.3 GHz, 1.2 V, 6 x 256 KB L2, 15 MB L3 (Sandy Bridge-E, C1, 32 nm);
- CPU cooler: Noctua NH-D14 SE2011;
- Thermal interface: ARCTIC MX-4;
- System memory: DDR3 4 x 4GB Mushkin Redline (Spec: 2133 MHz / 9-11-10-28 / 1.65 V);
- Graphics cards:
- MSI N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition 3 GB/384 bit GDDR5, 772/1544/4008 MHz and 910/1820/4780 MHz;
- AMD Radeon HD 7970 3 GB/384 bit GDDR5, 925/5500 MHz and 1130/7000 MHz;
- Sapphire Radeon HD 6970 Dual Fan 2 GB/256 bit GDDR5, 880/5500 MHz;
- System drive: Crucial m4 256 GB SSD (SATA-III,CT256M4SSD2, BIOS v0009);
- 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 1020 RPM; back panel: two Noiseblocker NB-BlackSilentPRO PL-1 fans at 1020 RPM; top panel: standard 200 mm fan at 400 RPM);
- Control and monitoring panel: Zalman ZM-MFC3;
- Power supply: Xigmatek “No Rules Power” NRP-HC1501 1500 W (with a default 140 mm fan);
- Monitor: 30” Samsung 305T Plus.
Sapphire Radeon HD 6970 DualFan was tested at its default clock frequencies, and MSI N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition was tested at the nominal GeForce GTX 580 frequency of 772/1544/4008 MHz as well as at overclocked frequencies of 910/1820/4780 MHz (the maximum frequencies for this particular graphics card sample):
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 45x and “Load-Line Calibration” enabled to 4.5 GHz. The processor Vcore was increased to 1.385 V in the mainboard BIOS:
Hyper-Threading technology was enabled. 16 GB of system DDR3 memory worked at 2.133 GHz frequency with 9-11-10-28 timings and 1.65V voltage.
The test session started on January 4, 2012. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:
- Intel Chipset Drivers 188.8.131.529 WHQL from 12/22/2011 for the mainboard chipset;
- DirectX End-User Runtimes libraries from November 30, 2010;
- Nvidia GeForce 290.53 beta driver from 12/21/2011 for Nvidia based graphics cards;
- AMD Catalyst 11.12 driver from 12/20/2011 for AMD based graphics cards.
The graphics cards were tested in two resolutions: 1920x1080 and 2560x1600. The tests were performed in two image quality modes: “Quality+AF16x” – default texturing quality in the drivers with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and “Quality+ AF16x+MSAA4(8)x” with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and full screen 4x 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 Panels of Catalyst and GeForce drivers. We also disabled Vsync there. There were no other changes in the driver settings.
The list of games and applications used in this test session includes two popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suites, one technical demo and 13 games of various genres:
- 3DMark Vantage (DirectX 10) – version 184.108.40.206, Performance and Extreme profiles (only basic tests);
- 3DMark 2011 (DirectX 11) – version 220.127.116.11, Performance and Extreme profiles;
- Unigine Heaven Demo (DirectX 11) – version 2.5, maximum graphics quality settings, tessellation at “extreme”, AF16x, 1920x1080 resolution with MSAA 4x;
- 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;
- Left 4 Dead 2 (DirectX 9) – version 18.104.22.168, maximum graphics quality settings, d81 demo (two runs) on “Gold Stream (Beta)” map of the “Alpine Greek” 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 22.214.171.124, 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 9) – version 1.4.2, all image quality settings at “Ultra”, Physics “Ultra”, reflections On, two 2-minute runs of our own jt1 demo;
- Sid Meier’s Civilization V (DirectX 11) – version 126.96.36.1998, maximum graphics quality settings, two runs of the “diplomatic” benchmark including five heaviest scenes;
- 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;
- Total War: Shogun 2 (DirectX 11) – version 2.0, built in benchmark (Sekigahara battle) at maximum graphics quality settings;
- DiRT 3 (DirectX 11) – version 1.2, built-in benchmark at maximum graphics quality settings on the “Aspen” track;
- Hard Reset Demo (DirectX 9) – benchmark built into the demo version with Ultra image quality settings, one test run;
- Batman: Arkham City (DirectX 11) – version 1.2, maximum graphics quality settings, physics disabled, two sequential runs of the benchmark built into the game.
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.