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Digital-Daily : Video : processor_dependency

CPU-boundedness of the video system Part I - Analysis

CPU-boundedness of the video system Part I - Analysis
Author: Dmitry Sofronov
Date: 26.07.2007

Preface

Every person who has a computer has certainly come to the idea of upgrade, or the performance boost, by one means or another. The reasons may be varied - say, the program does all slowly and needs to be accelerated. Or, say, the new program version requires a new operating system be installed, which in turn requires higher performance. Another typical example - a new game offering fantastic graphics has been released, but the old "hardware buddy" is no longer capable of running it and plays a "slide-show" instead of playing the normal "movie".
Those who can afford the upgrade simply buy a new more powerful computer,and the upgrade issue is no longer relevant. In reality, it is more frequent when things seem to be OK with the system, but it would be nice if "this or that" component were a bit more powerful, and the user is short for money to buy a new computer immediately. What to do then? Evidently, the only option is incremental upgrade. Of course, the direction of the upgrade strongly depends on the main tasks entrusted to the computer. If these are mathematical computations, programming tasks, databases, then the CPU speed, the RAM capacity, and the speed of the disk subsystem are much more important. If the computer is used for games, the "capacity" of the video card is among the most important components. although the above requirements also matter, and it is not easy to say which of them is of more priority over the others.

In fact, we'd like to destroy the settled delusion that a very powerful computer is needed for «serious work», whereas some «middling» computer would suffice for games. However strange it seems, but most of the «serious» tasks done by the average user at work, like texts, spreadsheets, databases, Internet surfing etc. it's just the performance of the very "middling" computer is enough.
On vice versa. Even not the most recent 3D game is rather demanding for the computer resources.

Just let me compare - Leo Tolstoy wrote his impressive work "War and Peace" without a computer, using only the pen and paper, and games of the "fun regiments" of Peter the Great (real-time strategies + 3D shooter simulator) required for substantial human and material resources.

Modern computer games are able loading all the available resources of even the most powerful computer to the full (solitaire games don't count) Why so? All is very simple. A game comprises a lot of objects, plus as a real-world simulator it tries to somehow simulate the "real" illumination, physics laws, uses artificial intelligence components to emulate verisimilar behavior of characters around etc.

Hence, we arrive at the conclusion - if we regard modern computer games as a serious "load" for the computer and not just as a "fun", then buying a computer just "for games" we should choose the most powerful one of those which we can afford.

At the same time, we should be aware of the system balance as a whole. Finding the balanced configuration of the computer is quite a difficult issue and strongly depends on the task. As regards our case, we have already determined our requirements imposed on the computer – 3D games. We'll be treating the issue of optimum balance a bit later, but for now just as an illustration let us bring in evident examples of misbalanced configurations. For example, a weak CPU and a powerful video card. Evidently, a weak CPU is unlikely to unveil all the video card's potentials. A contrary example – a powerful CPU with the explicitly weak video subsystem is unlikely to enjoy the high-quality picture.

So, we start our study with the analysis of results which we produce during a typical performance test of video cards.

Notes on the tests

A few words on the figures that you can see in our tests. The thing is so evident that it is almost not perceived intentionally, so to be precise let's put all things straight and in detail. Every figure produced in a test reflects the performance of a video card under certain conditions. What do these "conditions" mean? First, the test setup – the type and the CPU clock speed, RAM capacity, etc. Secondly, an application being tested – e.g., Half-Life2. Thirdly, a demo in the game itself. Clearly, all the absolute speed values (frames per second) will differ with games. Also, don't forget that the resultant figure will depend on the complexity of a selected demo.

There arises the question – how "true to life" are the results produced in such conditions? The configurations of user computers differ in a vast variety and far not all of them have a top-end CPU which is used in the test setup. On the other hand, demos may strongly vary in complexity, even for a single game. So, how should we interpret the results produced in this case?

Fortunately, all is not as bad as it seems at first glance. As regards the demos used in the tests, then the general rule which engineers at test labs adhere to says that a demo should be content-rich enough, "hard", and reflect the capabilities of the graphic engine, and the character of the game. If these conditions hold, then we have every reason to assert that in the other parts of the game the results will not be worse than those produced while testing the demo scene. That means the results produced with the "right" demo scene are the so-called "bottom level" of performance.

Then what to do about the difference in PC configurations (let alone the differences among platforms)? Our methodology allows finding the correct solution to this complex problem. However strange it is, one limitation that we have started coming across while testing the latest video cards of top performance will help us.

Content:

  • Page 1 - Background
  • Page 2 - Problem statement
  • Page 3 - Research into the CPU-boundedness
  • Page 4 - A criterion for correct comparison of video cards performance
  • Page 5 - Endorsement of the theory. First practical results




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