by Tim Tscheblockov , Alexey Stepin , Anton Shilov
05/04/2004 | 07:16 AM
Today ATI Technologies announced new RADEON X800 architecture and RADEON X800 XT and RADEON X800 PRO video processors, having added the last missing element to the picture of the 3D graphics market for the coming summer.
The peculiarities and features of the new RADEON X800 have been already discussed in the previous article called ATI RADEON X800: R420 Totally Exposed. And now we are going to take a closer look at the performance of the today’s fastest graphics solutions: ATI RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition, ATI RADEON X800 PRO, ATI RADEON 9800 XT, NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra and NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra in the whole bunch of gaming benchmarks.
As always, we believe that it is impossible to build a complete vision of the graphics card potential without the benchmarks in the majority of contemporary games. If you are a gamer, you will definitely agree with us. And this is absolutely true: the major application field for the contemporary 3D graphics accelerators installed in home systems is gaming.
We did our best to make the investigation of the testing participants’ gaming performance as adequate as possible keeping in mind the current situation in the market. Alongside with the games we have been using for a long time now, we would also like to introduce a few new ones, which will be included into the set of our benchmarks from now on. They are: 3D shooter called Painkiller, Stealth-action Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow , RPG Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic and autosimulator aka Colin McRae Rally 04.
Let me say a few words about each of these new games.
Painkiller belongs to the class of most orthodox first-person 3D shooters, which started with the well-known Doom game. You can see if the game belongs to this class or not if there is no complicated plot, role elements or other secondary features not typical of the genre forefather. On the other hand, these games are usually highly bloody and gloomy, and very often you can see some middle-ages mystics involved. Painkiller is exactly this type of game: there is the whole bunch of reversed pentagrams, crucifixes, a lot of blood, zombies, Hell creatures and other dark symbols and characters. If you remember, Doom also was full of these attributes. The story here is very simple: kill or they will kill you. In order not to get killed the player has 5 types of original weapons, including triple-blade disk-shaped saw, which also serves as a laser and disk-shooter, the good old double-barreled gun, and the most unusual weapon I have ever seen in my life: automatic shooter of aspen stakes (!).
The gaming engine uses all the options offered by API DirectX 9.0 and the special effects in this game deserve all our praise for the implementation quality: just look at those soft light columns coming through the windows! One of the special effects looks even more impressive: when the player picks up some bonus, he gets into some world of spirits. Everything around turns block and white and very blurry, and the enemies look like bloody silhouettes, and all this happens in real time! Nevertheless, the game works well enough on the previous generation graphics accelerators, although I wouldn’t recommend running it on anything slower than RADEON 9600 PRO. So far, Painkiller is available only as version 1.0, although the developer promises to release a patch for version 1.1 very soon. It will allow recording some new demos. But in the meanwhile we measured the performance manually and with the help of FRAPS utility.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic doesn’t need too many comments, I suppose. The name states clearly that this is another continuation to the famous Lucas sequel about Star Wars. This time, the action takes place 4000 years before the events described in the original movie. The gamer again can turn into a Star Wars universe character, develop and take the side of Strength.
We were interested in this game first of all because it uses OpenGL API, which is not a frequent thing lately. Moreover, pretty high-quality graphics and a lot of shader special effects, make this game very suitable for our testing purposes. The last SW:KOTR is marked as 1.03, but even this version wouldn’t run on NVIDIA graphics card if you have ForceWare 60.72 driver installed. Hopefully, the release of the new ForceWare version and/or new game patch will allow to resolve the issue with NVIDIA’s solutions.
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is a continuation of the well-known shooter called Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, which we have been using for our tests all this time. Now a new game has come to replace it. The game is still based on Unreal engine, note that it is the first version of the engine used here, which has undergone radical modifications. This so-called “plastic surgery” is a definite success: despite the age of this engine it acquired DirectX 9.0 support, which you see almost every single second: look at the shader ocean with the moon light reflection washing the tropical island, look at the lighting effects and the whole bunch of other cool things. The game is really worth taking a look at and should have already won the hearts of Splinter Cell fans by now.
Unfortunately, Pandora Tomorrow (at least its current version) doesn’t have the test mode that is why we had to run the test manually. By the way, ATI Technologies recommends measuring the performance of its new solution manually, if the game doesn’t have any implemented test mode or demo recording options.
Colin McRae Rally 04 attracted our attention because we used to have only one single race simulator in our list of benchmarks. Moreover, the game we have been using didn’t boast any impressive graphics and couldn’t be regarded as a really functional benchmarking application.
This appeared to be a worthy addition to our list: the car models are built of a great number of polygons, and hence look very realistic. The water fountains and dust clouds coming from under the wheels, highlights on the wet road and more - this is what you can load the contemporary graphics accelerator with. The gaming process is also arranged on a very high level, that is why if you are fond of auto-racing, you will love this game, for sure.
All in all, there are 22 games, 2 semi-synthetic benchmarks and 1 synthetic benchmark. It is more than enough to be able to evaluate the performance of the new RADEON X800 XT and RADEON X800 PRO against their major competitor – NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra. As for the testsystem configuration, it looked as follows:
In “raw-speed” mode with no full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled, all results seem to be limited by the power of central processing unit as well as system in general. Nevertheless, there is some slight performance advantage of the GeForce 6800 Ultra over the remaining cards in the Return to Castle Wolfenstein game.
When the full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled, NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 Ultra leaves the RADEON X800 XT behind by a tiny margin.
If we disable the optimizations of trilinear-filtering from NVIDIA’s control panel, the NV40 product will lose the battle against the RADEON X800 XT technology. We should bear in mind that graphics cards based on ATI’s chips also have quite some optimizations of trilinear filtering that cannot be disabled; for instance, when both anisotropic and trilinear filtering modes are turned on, the trilinear filtering will only be present on the first texture layer.
We honestly think that there is no point to talk much about performance of the previous generation GPUs and VPUs – they lag behind the leaders by a huge gap.
Well, that is probably the first and clear win for the RADEON X800 series of graphics chips: both RADEON X800 XT and X800 PRO beat the NVIDIA’s top offering GeForce 6800 Ultra in “pure mode” in the Call of Duty game.
In eye-candy mode when FSAA and anisotropic filtering are applied, the GeForce 6800 Ultra delivers slightly higher speed compared to the RADEON X800 XT. The RADEON X800 PRO falls behind the more expensive graphics cards because of reduced number of pixel pipes and less efficient HyperZ operation.
In Unreal Tournament 2003 on the “Infeno” level, NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra again demonstrates faster speed compared to the RADEON X800 XT when trilinear optimizations are switched on. When they are deactivated, the GeForce 6800 Ultra goes head-to-head with the RADEON X800 XT.
The 12-pipeline ATI RADEON X800 PRO falls behind the higher-end parts, but provides substantial performance increase over the previous generation top-of-the-line SKUs.
On “Antalus” level we see that CPU limits performance pretty significantly, though, the RADEON X800 XT is still a bit faster than the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra.
Thanks to Hyper Z HD and its highly-efficient method of reducing the load on memory bandwidth in scenes with massive overdraw, graphics cards based on the latest VPUs from ATI Technologies get a huge speed benefit over the GeForce 6800 Ultra in UT2003’s “Inferno” level with all the eye-candy capabilities like full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are turned on. At the end, the RADEON X800 PRO finds itself competing with more expensive GeForce 6800 Ultra.
On the “Antalus” level ATI’s win over the competitor in “eye-candy” mode is even more impressive, especially when we see the RADEON X800 PRO beating the $499 card from NVIDIA once again.
Well, it seems that the new ATI Technologies’ graphics processors feel themselves like a fish in the water in situations when they have to render extremely complex scenes. NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 Ultra brings us some good speed too, but is behind the rival under heavy load – that’s for sure.
The results in Unreal Tournament 2004’s “Torlan” demo are clearly limited by the CPU and other system components not related to graphics cards.
The same can be said about the speed values for the “Bridge of Fate” level – performance mostly depends on the CPU, not graphics sub-system. Evidently, we need to switch the eye-candy stuff on to understand who is who in the UT2004.
In heady modes, just like in the Unreal Tournament 2003 game, the new RADEON X800 XT and RADEON X800 PRO graphics cards are obvious performance champs. The GeForce 6800 Ultra gets a yet another punch from the less expensive RADEON X800 PRO, uncovering the power of the latter.
In “Bridge of Fate” demo with 4x full-scene antialiasing and 16x anisotropic filtering activated, the situation is repeating again with the exception that the RADEON X800 PRO no longer outstrips the GeForce 6800 Ultra when the latter uses its trilinear filtering optimizations.
Performance numbers of the world’s most powerful graphics cards in Halo: Combat Evolved game seem to be limited by central processor, as there is only a very tiny speed change when going from 1024x768 to 1600x1200 resolutions. However, the GeForce 6800 Ultra from NVIDIA is capable of outdistancing the RADEON X800 XT from ATI in this title.
Maybe speed results for Halo with full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled would give more adequate results, but unfortunately the game does not support these capabilities because of the nature of its engine that renders the image into a special buffer where additional special effects are added and only then sends it to frame-buffer.
For another time, the results in all three resolutions in Tron 2.0 game demonstrate a clear limitation of performance by the system’s CPU.
Fortunately, the enablement of anisotropic filtering and full-scene antialiasing draws a pretty interesting picture.
The victory of the new ATI RADEON X800-series seems to be more than solid. In the Tron 2.0 game the graphics engine relies on complex geometry with high overdraw as well as pixel shaders, but not on tough textures. Basically, it’s very natural that ATI’s products perform excellently here.
The Highly Anticipated DirectX 9 Game X-bit labs’ readers are pretty familiar with, brings some surprises. Firstly, the RADEON X800-series is overtaken by NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra. Secondly, there is something strange with the R420’s performance in this game in general, as the 12-pipe and 16-pipe flavours of the chip demonstrate equal speeds. This is probably another example of suspected CPU limitations or some issues with ATI’s beta drivers.
On the “Under Two” level the situation with the performance is different: RADEON X800 XT seriously leads in high-resolutions, which is probably because the level has plethora of pixel shaders and complex geometry.
Those, who are looking forward the new generation of 3D games like Half-Life 2, Serious Sam 2 and others, should be satisfied with the results delivered by all the new graphics solutions from ATI and NVIDIA: there will be no slide-show in those games if you have the RADEON X800 XT, the GeForce 6800 Ultra or the RADEON X800 PRO graphics card in your computer.
In preliminary version of a yet another Highly Anticipated DirectX 9 Game on the “Danger” level the latest products of ATI Technologies have lost the battle against the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra. The level is not really complex from geometry and shaders standpoint, therefore, ATI’s R420 simply did not get enough space to spread its wings, though, this is a good example of the fact that NVIDIA’s NV40 chip is capable of running DX9 games rapidly.
When FSAA and AF are enabled, Powered by ATI RADEON X800-series revenge themselves on the GeForce 6800 Ultra by winning the comparison. The latter only gets its chance once the trilinear-filtering optimizations are engaged.
The “Escape Run” level puts the facts straight for the new graphics architectures. With complex geometry, the RADEON X800 XT really has enough space to spread its wings. However, even here the GeForce 6800 Ultra sometimes wins the battle.
When we turn the anisotropic filtering and full-scene antialiasing on, the winner takes it all and that’s the RADEON X800 XT.
You may be aware that the FarCry game had some issues with working on NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 Ultra GPU. Well, after installing the 1.1 patch we are happy to say that the things improved greatly for the NV40. Moreover, now even FSAA and anisotropic filtering function without problems at all!
The picture FarCry demonstrates is pretty clear. In 1024x768 resolution performance is limited by central processing unit, but in higher resolutions ATI RADEON X800 XT is becoming the leader in performance thanks to excellent shader-processing engines.
Where even the GeForce 6800 Ultra gives up, the new RADEON X800-series from ATI Technologies demonstrate astonishing results because of very efficient HyperZ HD technology in addition to fast shader processing.
This is FarCry with the highest settings possible. This is 1600x1200 resolution with 4x full-scene antialiasing and 16x anisotropic filtering activated. This is the RADEON X800. And this is absolutely playable. No comments are required for 85% performance improvement over the competing GeForce 6800 Ultra.
As our readers already know, the Firestarter use pretty strange resolution 1600x1024 that does not work on ATI-based graphics cards. As a consequence of this issue, we only present results in 1024x768 and 1280x1024 resolutions.
In pure mode that uses neither anisotropic filtering nor full-scene antialiasing, the GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics cards wins the battle pretty easily. Well, Firestarter is not a really complex game from geometry or shaders standpoint, therefore, it relies on the TMUs of graphics processors, something that is more advanced on NVIDIA’s GeForce-series.
But once the eye-candy features are switched on, the RADEON X800 XT manages to strongly outperform the rivaling NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra. While the 12-pipeline part RADEON X800 PRO did not demonstrate as excellent results as the fully-fledged R420 flavour, it left all the older-generations products behind.
Painkiller boasts with pretty innovative graphics engine that uses pixel and vertex shaders, realistic lighting and other techniques to bring you into the world of realistic massacre. No surprise – the mighty RADEON X800 XT wins the crown here.
After the task for graphics processors got harder, the RADEON X800 XT delivered a yet another flashy win over the GeForce 6800 Ultra. Moreover, with the exception of the highest resolution, the RADEON X800 PRO also outstrips NVIDIA’s most powerful graphics card today.
By the way, notice the difference in performance of NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 Ultra with trilinear optimizations on and off. For instance, sometimes the GeForce 6800 Ultra is left behind the RADEON 9800 XT with the optimizations disabled.
The new version of Splinter Cell game allows us to use the full-scene antialiasing which makes it possible for us to benchmark graphics cards in both “raw-performance” and “eye-candy” modes using the title.
In low resolutions performance of all graphics cards is limited by the speed of our CPU, nevertheless, with resolutions climbing to 1600x1200 point, the RADEON X800 XT leaves the competitors behind.
The comment above is effective for the case with full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering mode too – the RADEON X800 XT wins again.
The latest tale about the adventures of Lara Croft – the Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness game – heavily uses Pixel Shaders 2.0, which causes ATI hardware to process the graphics a bit faster. The RADEON X800 XT is unrivalled, while the RADEON X800 PRO is only a bit behind the GeForce 6800 Ultra.
Under heavy workloads in the Tomb Raider game the margin between performance of the two $499 cards is getting bigger, while between the GeForce 6800 Ultra and ATI RADEON X800 PRO is shrinking.
Prince of Persia, seems to be favoring high texturing speed that is why GeForce 6800 Ultra wins here.
The results of graphics cards based on the new generation graphics processors appeared limited by the CPU speed in all resolutions.
The same happened in the “heavy” modes. More or less remarkable results can be observed only in 1600x1200, where the leadership belongs to RADEON X800 XT.
The game wouldn’t run on GeForce card with the new ForceWare drivers even despite the fact that we used the last patch version. Therefore, we are offering you the results obtained on ATI Technologies’ graphics cards only.
So far I cannot say anything definite about the results: we have to wait for the new ForceWare version to arrive first. Otherwise we will not be able to draw any conclusions about the performance of the new NVIDIA based graphics cards.
NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra takes the lead over the RADEON X800 XT, but the lead is, frankly speaking, insignificant - the results of the graphics cards in all resolutions proved to be limited by the speed of the central processor.
ATI RADEON X800 XT/PRO passes ahead of the GeForce 6800 Ultra once we enable the anisotropic filtering and FSAA since ATI still seems to have more efficient patterns for these capabilities.
In Lock On game the GeForce 6800 Ultra is able to conquer the rivals in simple modes because of highly-efficient texturing mechanisms.
But as soon as full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are turned on, the RADEON X800 XT takes the lead.
In X2: The Threat game the RADEON X800 XT demonstrates another slight lead over NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 Ultra GPU, however, in low resolutions performance of the both is limited by the central processor. That’s basically why in low resolutions the RADEON X800 PRO goes on par with its higher-end brother, while with the increase of the resolutions, the gap between the performance delivered by the two cards is broadening.
The times of slide-show in the X2: The Threat game are finally over. Both high-end graphics cards from ATI Technologies and NVIDIA bring decent performance even in situation when all eye-candy features are switched on. Results of the RADEON X800 XT and the GeForce 6800 Ultra are practically equal, while the RADEON X800 PRO quite substantially lags behind the leaders.
The performance of all graphics cards proved to be limited by the speed of the central processing unit in the Formula 1 simulator. In this case, which is remarkable, the results of GPUs from NVIDIA seem to be higher – either NVIDIA’s ForceWare driver allocates less CPU resources, or the game itself runs a bit different code-paths on hardware from ATI and NVIDIA.
Only in high-resolutions with FSAA and anisotropic filtering modes enabled graphics cards are no longer limited by the CPU. The GeForce 6800 Ultra is the winner, but the gap between it and ATI’s RADEON X800 XT is negligible.
Colin McRae Rally 04 has considerably more advanced graphics engine; therefore the performance results shown by various graphics cards are radically different from the results in the previous test. The RADEON X800 XT leads with the solid advantage.
Under heavy workloads the RADEON X800-series of graphics processors have another chance to expose their perfection.
The NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra demonstrates results comparable to the RADEON X800 PRO, but once optimizations of the trilinear filtering are disabled, the speed of NVIDIA’s high-end GPU drops to the level of the RADEON 9800 XT. This allows us to assume that the major factor which influenced the results in eye-candy mode in the Colin McRae Rally 04 game is the speed of anisotropic filtering, as only this feature gets a boost from tri-linear filtering optimizations.
As we mentioned in our NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra review, problems with NVIDIA’s ForceWare drivers did not make possible for the latest graphic processor from NVIDIA to show adequate results in this game. Obviously, there are still some issues with image quality on the GeForce 6800 Ultra in C&C: Generals game.
All we can say about the performance in C&C Generals: Zero Hour now is that the graphics cards based on the RADEON X800-series visual processing units strongly lead, but situation may change with the release of a new driver from NVIDIA.
In the “raw” modes the results of the top-end graphics cards in the Final Fantasy XI Official Benchmark 2 are very close, which indicates the fact that the speed is affected by the limiting influence of the central processor. Nevertheless, ATI RADEON X800 XT and the RADEON X800 PRO insignificantly outrun NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra.
With the anisotropic filtering and full-scene antialiasing activated, the RADEON X800 XT maintains the lead, but the “younger brother” – RADEON X800 PRO – no longer able to compete with NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra.
In overall, NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra scores more in Aquamark3, but, once the eye candy features are enabled ATI RADEON X800 XT and the X800 PRO sharply depart forward.
We needed only 343 marks to hit the 12 000 milestone in 3DMark03, however, even without reaching the landmark, the RADEON X800 XT is still vaguely ahead of the GeForce 6800 Ultra. The result of the RADEON X800 PRO is also impressive – 1.5 times slam dunk over the previous-generation high-end hardware is a notable achievement.
Let us now consider the results of 3DMark03’s gaming tests in a little bit more in-depth way.
ATI RADEON X800 XT slightly lags behind the GeForce 6800 Ultra in “pure” mode, however, makes a leap over the rival once the full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled. RADEON X800 PRO is the No.3 performer in this test, but as the workload becomes higher with FSAA and anisotropic filtering turned on, the product is battling for the second spot.
In fact, the first gaming test of the 3DMark03 is not really interesting example of a test for contemporary graphics cards. It uses some DirectX 7.0 features and heavily relies on the efficiency of texturing. Perhaps, that is why the GeForce 6800 Ultra leads without FSAA and AF switched on.
The second and the third gaming tests from the 3DMark03 benchmark suite are very heavy for all graphics cards because they use numerous additional passes for generating shadows.
Graphics processors from NVIDIA have a speed-boost here, they are able to calculate up to 32 Z/stencil values per pass and the results confirm this: heavier the workload is, higher the benefit of the GeForce 6800 Ultra is.
In the most power-hungry game test of the 3DMark03, the high-end of ATI RADEON-based solutions outdistances the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra because of more efficient processing of pixel and vertex shaders. With the FSAA and AF stuff activated, the lead of ATI RADEON X800 XT and X800 PRO solidifies even more significantly.
So, the new RADEON X800 graphics processors from ATI Technologies demonstrated themselves as extremelly powerful rivals for the high-end of NVIDIA GeForce 6-series graphics products.
The top-of-the-line $499 RADEON X800 XT appeared to be faster compared to its main competitor – the GeForce 6800 Ultra – in plethora of applications where it was pretty natual to expect – the games that broadly use complex geometry and loads of math1-intensive pixel shaders. Additionally, the new graphics processors from ATI Technologies are also getting performance advantages over the rivalling NVIDIA’s solution when full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are switched on – that’s because of the new HyperZ HD technology that maximizes the efficiency of memory bandwidth utilization as well as because of high-performance anisotropic filtering method.
A little bit less speedy flavour of the R420 – the RADEON X800 PRO – that has only 12 pixel pipelines and clocked at lower speeds undoubtedly demonstrate an excellent performance rise over the previous generation RADEON 9800 XT and the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra hardware. But the final conclusion about this one should still be put on hold, as NVIDIA has not finalized specification of its $399 product. This is a kind of funny, but the RADEON X800 PRO is expected to be available in retail instantly, making the process of choice at $399 price-point pretty tricky, as the actual performance comparison with competing solution from NVIDIA is still to see the light of the day.
Regrettably for the Markham, Ontario-based company, due to some drawbacks with efficient texturing in the new VPUs from ATI, NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra manages to beat the rival in games where high fillrate and rapid texturing are important.
Furthermore, NVIDIA still has some more trumps in its hands. Firstly, the company’s GeForce 6800 Ultra GPU is able to calculate up to 32 Z/stencil values per pass, therefore, games that heavily use Z or stencil buffers for generation dynamic shadows will have loads of chances to run faster on NVIDIA’s hardware. Secondly, eventually game developers may implement Shaders 3.0 into their titles for the purposes of performance optimization, which will also boost the speed on NVIDIA’s latest hardware that supports the Shader Model 3.0, a capability that seems to be trimmed on the ATI’s RADEON X800 XT and X800 PRO.
Unfortunately for NVIDIA, right now there are no games that actually use the shaders 3.0 and there is also no DirectX 9.0c that will actually switch on the support for the SM 3.0. With that said, we should probably let the time to say its last word in the cruel battle between the R420 and the NV40 technologies, but based on current numbers achieved in benchmarks we believe that the RADEON X800 XT clearly packs the punch over the competitor in terms of performance in applications that use shaders 2.0/2.x and are available today.