Counter Strike: Source: Performance Preview

Valve Software has just released its demo of Counter Strike: Source along with Half-Life 2 stress test for gamers around the globe to evaluate their six years work on the new incarnations of the world’s most-popular game titles. Specially for gamers and hardware enthusiasts we decided to compare different graphics cards in a yet another "judgment test".
UPDATE: X-bit labs have added performance scores of mainstream graphics cards along with more thorough image quality comparison.

by Anton Shilov , Yaroslav Lyssenko, Alexey Stepin
08/20/2004 | 11:50 AM

UPDATE: X-bit labs have added performance scores of mainstream graphics cards, such as GeForce FX 5900-series, 5700-series, 5600-series, RADEON 9800-series, 9600-series and 9500-series, along with more thorough image quality comparison that now includes FSAA. Also added more comments into the benchmark and conclusion sections.



While the masses enjoy massacre delivered by games like Unreal Tournament and Doom, there are quite a few gamers who are fond of more realistic games that reflect real-world situations, or, if fans of Counter Strike prefer, operations.

Valve Software, a well-known developer of games, has just released its latest iteration of the world’s most popular game – Counter Strike. The Counter Strike: Source not only continues traditions of the original Counter Strike, but improves the gameplay with new features like the Half-Life 2 graphics and physics engine. While the original engine of Half-Life delivers excellent realism for games like Counter Strike, the time goes on and gamers require something more advanced. Well, the Half-Life 2 and Counter Strike: Source tiles are nearly here to deliver it.

Initially available for selected Cyber Cafes, the Counter Strike: Source along with the Half-Life 2 stress test are now obtainable for those who have purchased certain Powered by ATI graphics cards containing a special coupon. In order to present the best possible gaming experience for our readers, we decided to write an article covering the majority of things they are going to run into when using the new game and include some performance numbers for your reference.

The Steam: iTunes for Games

The first thing you are a going to come by when getting a new game from Valve Software or its partners is Steam system. The Steam allows you to purchase games directly from Valve without visiting any software store around and getting the products as fast as the Internet connection permits you to. While for those who use are not keen in getting Internet services this may seem a bit weird, the Steam is definitely something you should point your attention to.

The Steam system can sell you any game that Valve Software offers and also propose you certain other services, such as chat with other gamers, monitoring available game servers, getting Valve-related news and so on.

Be aware that the Steam creates directories on users’ PCs and denies certain manipulations with the game, including some issues with uninstalling process. If you prefer to get hard copies of your software, you should probably get them via retail stores.

Generally speaking, Steam is a kind of iTunes for computer games: you are getting content legally without getting off you chair. Once you get it, it is yours and nearly as reliable as a hard copy. In any case, virtual purchasing allows customers saving precious time and gives ability to start gaming anytime anywhere. Excellent technology for both Valve and end-users, though, some may consider this as a treat for security.

Counter Strike: Source – Current State of the Game

Currently available version of Counter Strike: Source is hardly something that truly demonstrates the advantages of the new Half-Life 2 engine. Looks like the demo version was only released to test the Steam software along with communication protocols of the game.

The main message Counter Strike: Source sends is that it gained realizm: terrains are now curved and textures are a bit more detailed. Weapon and human beings now employ more polygons, which also helps to provide better atmosphere of the game. Still, the only map that is available today “de_dust” seems to be pretty primitive for 2004: buildings are simplistic and neither levels nor enemies can be damaged.

What is definitely good about Counter Strike: Source are exceptional physics and sound engines. Weapon shots and explosives are very realistic, while physics and animation of enemies deserve a credit.

Although the game engine seems to be ready, it is unclear whether the new Counter Strike will really make use of many shader effects and other peculiarities of the Half-Life 2. It is also unknown whether the game will bring anything new into this type of shooters.

Image Quality Comparison

1280x1024, Anisotropic Filtering 16x

Before we proceed with tests, as usual, we compare image quality on top offerings from ATI Technologies and NVIDIA Corp.: the RADEON X800 XT and the GeForce 6800 Ultra.

Since it is impossible to make saves in Counter Strike: Source, we cannot guarantee any pixel-by-pixel type of comparison, though, brief image quality still can be examined using our screenshots.



NVIDIA GeForce 6800



NVIDIA GeForce 6800


As in the majority of today’s games, NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800-series and ATI’s RADEON X800-series produce more or less equal image quality. The same cannot be said about the GeForce FX product: it uses extremely aggressive texture filtering optimizations and works in DirectX 8.1 mode producing less-detailed or even noisy images.

1280x1024, Anisotropic Filtering 16x, Full-Scene Antialiasing 4x

In order to determine which of today’s graphics chips provides the best image quality n eye-candy mode we also enabled FSAA 4x.


NVIDIA GeForce 6800



NVIDIA GeForce 6800


The GeForce 6800 and RADEON X800 visual processing units deliver true candy for your eyes with FSAA and anisotropic filtering enabled.

In spite of some reports and earlier information, full-scene antialiasing worked on the GeForce FX hardware too, moreover, its quality was absolutely great!  The ForceWare drivers disabled extreme filtering optimizations we saw in the previous case and image quality was just fine with exception of the fact that the GeForce FX 5900-series functioned in DirectX 8.1 mode and some things were less detailed. Still, because of angle-independent anisotropic filtering the image quality produced by the GeForce FX 5900-series is sometimes even better compared to the latest visual processing units from NVIDIA and ATI.

Testbed and Methods

Along with the only level of Counter Strike: Source Valve supplies a special hardware stress test that heavily uses pixel shaders. This one probably should reflect speed of the Half-Life 2, but given its synthetic nature we would not recommend to treat its performance numbers too seriously – the real game will be totally different from this.


In order to present you performance of both stress test and Counter Strike: Source title we used the stress test along with two specially-recorded game demos.  For our tests we used our typical system for benchmarking with the following configuration:

For the first part of our Counter Strike: Source/Half-Life 2 hardware coverage we used the following graphics cards with driver settings set to match each others’ image quality:

Please note that the GeForce FX 5900-series graphics cards worked in DirectX 8.1 mode and employed rather extreme texture filtering optimizations, which is why the results of those graphics cards are pretty incomparable with others. Furthermore, the GeForce 5700- and 5600-series graphics cards rendered the game using DirectX 8.0 code-path, which resulted in the absence of certain effects, such as bump-mapping.

Keep in mind that current version of the Counter Strike: Source is not commercial and IHVs’ drivers may not be optimized for this type of software. Performance and image quality results of the final version of the game with new drivers may be different compared to those achieved today.


Half-Life 2/Counter Strike: Source Hardware Stress Test, Pure Mode

The hardware stress test is definitely not something that reflects any type of gaming process. The only action of the test is flyby through a cavern with water and all over the floor and a number of flying slabs created using pixel shaders. The test should emulate the Half-Life 2 load, but since there are no bots and open terrains, this one only emulates certain portions of the title.

The stress test puts pretty high load on pixel processors, which is why all modern graphics cards except the GeForce 6800 performed nearly equally in 1024x768 resolution achieving about 140fps with the GeForce 6800 Ultra hitting nearly 147fps. In 1280x1024 resolution high-end offerings from ATI and NVIDIA deliver equal results, while in 1600x1200 the RADEON X800 XT takes the lead, but the RADEON X800 PRO stays much behind the competing solutions from NVIDIA.


Generally speaking all graphics cards performed well in the video stress test. Even ATI’s previous-generation mainstream graphics cards perform pretty well in 1024x768. What you should keep in mind when comparing results of the GeForce FX-series to the rest is that they worked in DirectX 8.1 mode with aggressive optimizations of texture filtering, whereas others worked in DirectX 9.0 mode.

Half-Life 2/Counter Strike: Source Hardware Stress Test, Eye-Candy Mode

Eye-candy mode gives a clear sign to the RADEON X800 PRO and the GeForce 6800: 16 pixel pipelines is not a luxury, but something that high-end graphics cards must have these days. Additionally, the power of the GeForce 6800 seems to be limited by memory bandwidth and size.

Eye-candy mode gives a clear sign to the RADEON X800 PRO and the GeForce 6800: 16 pixel pipelines is not a luxury, but something that high-end graphics cards must have these days. Additionally, the power of the GeForce 6800 seems to be limited by memory bandwidth and size. In fact, the video stress test just loves framerate and additional rendering pipelines and high-speed memory, just notice huge difference between performance of the RADEON 9600- and RADEON 9800-series.

ATI RADEON X800 XT is the leader in both eye-candy and pure speed modes, while the GeForce 6800 Ultra and GeForce 6800 GT get the No.2 and No.3 spots respectively. RADEON X800 PRO is pretty far behind the leaders, though, it still delivers decent framerate. For an unknown reason the RADEON 9800 PRO with 256MB of memory appeared to be a bit faster than the RADEON 9800 XT.

While the GeForce FX graphics cards work using DirectX 8.x render path, in “eye-candy” mode they deliver nice image quality and good performance that is inline or higher compared to ATI’s RADEON 9xxx series.

Counter Strike: Source, Demo 1, Pure Mode

The first demo we recorded contains running all over the “de_dust” level with some shooting and quite some kicking of barrels and tires.

In the real-world demo both RADEON X800 visual processing units appear to be slightly faster compared to the GeForce 6800 competitors. The RADEON 9800 XT appeared to be better performer than the GeForce 6800, which is a good sign for this slightly outdated warrior. Fortunately for their owners, the RADEON 9500- and RADEON 9600-series graphics cards also perform pretty well in 1280x1024 and 1024x768 resolutions.


Even though the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra scores inline with the GeForce 6800, with respect to its rendering methods such victory cannot be considered as correct. The same applies to the rest GeForce FX products in the comparison as well.

Counter Strike: Source, Demo 1, Eye-Candy Mode

In eye-candy mode the situation changes: the RADEON X800 PRO can no longer keep up with the chips featuring 16 pixel pipelines. The RADEON 9800 XT and the GeForce 6800 provide nearly equivalent speed.

Graphics cards with 128-bit memory bus cannot perform well with FSAA enabled, which is why the RADEON 9600- and RADEON 9500-series score under 40fps.

The GeForce FX-series does less job than other graphics cards from the test, but since the final output is excellent we believe that comparison between the FXes and the rest in eye-candy mode and currently available demo is pretty much correct. In terms of performance the GeForce FX-series still deliver excellent numbers that are higher compared to the competing RADEON 9500-, 9600- and 9800-based graphics cards.

Counter Strike: Source, Demo 2, Pure Mode

Another demo we used for benchmarking is a real battle situation with sneaking, crawling and shooting with a sniper rifle.

The situation described with the Demo 1 clearly repeats with the Demo 2: the RADEON X800-series performs a bit faster than the competing GeForce 6800-series, while the RADEON 9800 XT seems to provide a slightly higher framerate compared to the GeForce 6800.

The RADEON 9500-series and 9600-series continue to demonstrate decent framerate in resolutions of 1280x1024 and lower. The same can be said about the GeForce FX-series, but since image quality produced by those graphics cards is much lower compared to others, we just leave it for you to judge whether they perform fast or slow…

Counter Strike: Source, Demo 2, Eye-Candy Mode

Eye-candy mode scores pretty naturally: visual processing units with 16 pixel pipelines deliver pretty identical numbers, while the RADEON X800 PRO is much behind. The RADEON 9800 XT performs a bit faster than the GeForce 6800, but is still outperformed by the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra that works in DirectX 8.1 mode.

Among previous generation graphics cards only the RADEON 9800-series perform well because of 8 pixel pipes and 256-bit memory bus. The RADEON 9500- and RADEON 9600-series work pretty slow with full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled. Doing rendering using DirectX 8.x code-path the GeForce FX-series outperforms the competitors while providing pretty nice image quality.


So far it is very hard to make any conclusions about the Counter Strike: Source game. Those who liked the original title will probably love this one, but at this point we cannot assume if the game will get new fans. So far its graphics part has been pretty primitive, even though physics and sound are impressive.

The game performs pretty fine on all high-end and performance mainstream graphics cards available today. The only exception is the GeForce FX-series that provides unpleasant image quality with NVIDIA’s latest drivers in pure mode. We do not know whether NVIDIA is going to correct this, but we hope that the company will: such dreadful optimizations of texturing are unacceptable in our days. In contrast, once FSAA is activated, the optimizations either get deactivated or are switched to much less aggressive level, which is why image quality gets astonishing improvement.

Now, a few words about performance:

We advice you to keep in mind that current version of Counter Strike: Source game is beta. With commercial version of the title performance numbers may change, current results reflect some general things about the speed only.