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Digital-Daily : Video : tests_of_flagship_video_cards

Tests of flagship video cards in 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2048x1536

Tests of flagship video cards in 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2048x1536
Author: Anton Rachko
Date: 03.07.2008

The past week was abundant with announcements of new video cards. On Monday, NVIDIA announced two video cards based on the most recent GPU GT200. You can take a look at the higher-end version of these in our review «NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 - fast and hot». Three days afterwards, the major competitor - AMD - announced its latest GPU RV770. You can browse through the tests of the "low-end" video card in the family - Radeon HD4850 - over here. But our research would be incomplete without tests of the new products in resolutions much higher than those used in the first "standard" tests. Widescreen monitors are coming. With 20-22" over the diagonal, such monitors are mainly aimed at resolutions as high as 1680x1050. But monitors of even wider diagonal size and resolution 1920x1200 is no longer something out of the ordinary. That is why we decided to use just these resolutions in our today's tests. We did not confine ourselves to only these resolutions and added the third resolution - 2048x1536. This resolution offers the "traditional" aspect ratio 4:3, whereas the previous resolutions are widescreen and their aspect ratio equals 16:10.

In these tests, the following video cards will take part:

Test configuration
CPU Intel Core 2 Quad X6850 3.0 GHz
Motherboard ASUS P5E3 (Intel X38)
RAM Corsair Dominator DDR3 2 x 2 GB 1333 MHz 6-6-6-18 1T
Operating system Windows XP+SP2+DirectX 9.0c / Windows Vista for DX10 tests
Power supply unit Thermaltake Toughpower 750 W

We used the following drivers:

  • for GeForce GTX 280 - ForceWare 177.34
  • for GeForce 8800 Ultra and GeForce 9800GTX - ForceWare 175.19
  • for Radeon HD4850 - Catalyst 8.6
  • for GeForce 9800GX2 - ForceWare 175.16. (the choice of driver for the lower-end version is caused by issues with the SLI mode in ForceWare 175.19.)

We ran the tests in the three resolutions: 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2048x1536. In so doing, we used 4x FSAA and 16x AF. We start introduction to the results with tests in the Crysis game.

Результаты в игре Crysis DX9, High Spec

At Crysis, set to high quality and under Windows XP, the one-one leader is GeForce GTX 280. The distribution of remaining places taken is disputable. For instance, in the case with GeForce 9800GX2 a flaw in the SLI technology was revealed. Note the sharp performance drop at 1920x1200 as compared to the previous resolution 1680x1050. That is caused by the lack of video memory since each GPU in this "sandwich" is capable of using only its "own" 512 MB (despite the overall video memory capacity 1 GB), which is not enough when such demanding modes are enabled. This is the Riva Tuner graph that demonstrates the amount of used video memory in Crysis set to high quality at 1920x1200:

Crysis 4AA/16AF, High - 1920x1200, график использования видеопамяти

This is the video memory usage in the "Very High" mode which was enabled in Windows XP through manual editing of the game's config files:

Crysis 4AA/16AF, Very High - 1920x1200, график использования видеопамяти

Even GeForce 8800 Ultra is hardly running with its 768 MB of video memory. Needless to say about GeForce 9800GX2 and GeForce 9800GTX with their 512 MB video memory per one one GPU.

Crysis 4AA/16AF, High - 2048x1536, график использования видеопамяти

With the resolutions raised to 2048x1536, even the 768 MB is no longer enough, to which the GeForce 9800GX2 responded in the following way:

Crysis 4AA/16AF, High - 2048x1536, проблема с отрисовкой в 9800GX2

Let's leave the picture without any comments.

Note that Radeon HD4850 with the same 512 MB video memory capacity performs much better and even does not fail because of the video memory shortage. As regards AMD's video cards, we have noted this several times. To all appearances, video memory usage in Radeon video cards is much more efficient, which allows avoiding such performance drops. You might say that at so high resolutions Radeon HD4850 does not show a result sufficient for a comfortable gameplay, and what's the difference if there are performance drops or not? However, there is a difference. Imagine what will happen if we merge two Radeon HD4850 video cards into a CrossFire combination. The video subsystem performance goes up, but the effective video memory capacity per each GPU remains equal to 512 MB. If there were performance drops, we wouldn't be able to make use of all the might of the resultant combination. The direct evidence to that are the results for GeForce 9800GX2. To be fair, we should note that GeForce GTX 280 avoided any issues, so it demonstrated the best result. This is no wonder because the new product is equipped with as much as 1 GB of video memory that communicated with the GPU through a 512-bit wide bus.

Результаты в игре Crysis DX9, VeryHigh Spec

At Crysis in the Very High mode, the results have gone down a bit, but the alignment of forces has remained the same. Needless to say, the mentioned issues with GeForce 9800GX2 and GeForce 9800GTX have not gone anywhere.

Результаты в игре Crysis DX10, High Spec

After switching to Windows Vista, the situation with behavior of some video cards in the Crysis turned even worse. For instance, with the rise in resolutions the GeForce 9800GX2 lost much in speed and was even unable to pass the test at 2048x1536. The cause of that was the SLI mode, without which, as you can see on the example with GeForce 9800GTX, the situation is a bit better. The results for Radeon HD4850 which at 2048x1536 was able to leave even GeForce 8800 Ultra behind are really worth attention. On the other hand, this card at 1920x1200 issued a black screen, although the game and the computer did not hang, and the benchmark continued to run. That looks more like a minor flaw rather than a serious problem of the system character. And of course there were no issues found in GeForce GTX 280.

Результаты в игре Crysis DX10, VeryHigh Spec

On switching to the Very High mode, a few more video cards were discarded: GeForce 9800GX2 did not pass any test in all the three resolutions. GeForce 9800GTX joined the "ill-fated" colleague at 1920x1200, and Radeon HD4850 again showed a black screen at 1920x1200. It turns out in the end that you will be able to play this game comfortably at such settings with only the GeForce GTX 280, but even that video card shows lower speed than is required for a comfortable gameplay.

Результаты в игре Call of Juarez DX9

At Call of Juarez under Windows XP, GeForce 9800GX2 rules. GeForce GTX 280 takes the second place. The remaining positions are shared by GeForce 9800 GTX, Radeon HD4850, and GeForce 8800 Ultra.

Результаты в игре Call of Juarez DX10

On switching to Windows Vista, the alignment of forces is changing. GeForce 9800GX2 loses to the rivals because of the lack of video memory, whereas GeForce 9800GTX feels like a duck in the water. Here is another proof of the "raw" state of the SLI mode for Windows Vista, and in some cases it proves better without it. Radeon HD4850 which at two resolutions was able to leave GeForce 8800 Ultra behind merits a separate mention!

Результаты в игре Call of Duty

But at Call of Duty, the Radeon HD4850 took the last place. As they say, you can't win them all. On the other hand, there is no reason to be sad about that, because the lag is negligible and will be hardly felt while playing the game.

Результаты в игре Race Driver:GRID

Our kit of test games has been complemented with the latest game "Race Driver: GRID". The game is really exciting and at the same time is not so merciless to video cards, unlike Crysis. At this game, GeForce GTX 280 takes a lead, followed by Radeon HD4850 up to the highest resolutions. The new product by AMD is successfully competing against GeForce 8800 Ultra, sometimes even leaving it behind. GeForce 9800GX2 demonstrated a deplorable result. Judging by its results, they are very close to those for GeForce 9800GTX, because the SLI mode simply wouldn't work. Here is another advantage of the single-chip solutions which are not so dependent on the driver optimizations. By the way, our efforts to create a profile for the game, as well as forcedly enable the SLI mode for all 3D applications resulted in a failure.

Final Words

Today, we have tested flagship solutions of different generations for "sustainability". The indisputable leader is of course GeForce GTX 280, which became possible due to the 1024 MB of video memory and the 512-bit wide bus. A very good result was demonstrated by Radeon HD4850 which despite the 512 MB of video memory and the 256-bit bus showed results better than those for GeForce 9800GTX which is similar in specifications. And Radeon HD4850 often competed on par with GeForce 8800 Ultra which offers 768 MB of video memory and the 384-bit wide bus! But GeForce 9800GX2 has not shown its best, which is caused by the SLI mode used to merge two G92 chips it is based on. Because of that the competitive edge of GeForce GTX 280 is highly questionable, especially in new games for which it takes a while for SLI-profiles in the drivers to appear. Surprising was that the Radeon HD4850 originally positioned as a mid-end video card performs on par with the recent flagships 9800GTX, 9800GX2, and GeForce 8800 Ultra, even at very high resolutions which are the "reign" of top-end video cards. But even at these the video card feels quite confident.

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