Authour: Mark "Ratchet" Thorne
Date: July 30th, 2006
Test Setup

Rage3D doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the “real-world” method of benchmarking graphics hardware. Instead, we think it’s important to reduce the impact other system components have on the graphics hardware as much as possible. This gives the graphics hardware some breathing room and allows the reader to gain some perspective on what it is capable of.

However, since in this article we are testing entire platforms and not necessarily individual components like graphics cards, we’ve decided to take a different approach and have made some changes to our normal benchmarking methodology.

First of all, all of the test results you will see in this article were produced using Fraps to record frame-rates for each setting and resolution. In most cases, resolution and setting scores are an average of several passes at that resolution and setting. The number of passes depended on the reported frame-rate variation for each game; the higher the variation, the more passes we would make.

Some games, such as Pacific Fighters, have accurate track recording and replaying capability and are very reliable when benchmarked with Fraps. In those cases, we generally made only two passes to ensure that no anomalies existed. Other games, such as Colin McRae Rally 2005, which have no replay capability and require us to manually play the game, were tested five times per resolution and setting. The lowest and highest scores were then discarded and an average of the remaining three gave us a final score.

Each pass was as close to what you would normally experience in a normal gaming session while at the same time keeping the game-play as repeatable as possible. This usually meant taking things a little slower around the corners in the racing sims to avoid any unrepeatable mistakes, not engaging difficult enemies and flying the same routes in the flight sims, and taking the same actions in the military squad based sim.

To get realistic results for each platform, an average best fame-rate per game was determined and in-game settings were adjusted to reach that frame-rate. This doesn’t mean that we adjusted settings per resolution but rather a resolution was picked that we thought most gamers would be using if their display matched the platform*, playable frame-rates were obtained at that resolution (“playable” is a purely subjective where frame-rate is concerned, but that’s entirely unavoidable), then we used those same settings throughout the resolution range. The settings used were determined on the ATI test system and kept consistent on the NVIDIA system it was being compared with (ATI was used as the base system simply because the $2,000 ATI system was the first one we could put together at the time. We then decided to stay consistent with the other system levels and use ATI as the base there as well). This keeps the ideals of the platform tests intact, while still allowing us to see how well the graphics hardware scales over resolutions.

While this approach won’t give you the exact performance characteristics of any one game on your system (there are simply far too many variables for us to be able to realistically claim otherwise), it should be able to accurately tell us which platform is performing best.

For the NVIDIA systems, their graphics Driver control panel graphics settings were adjusted on a platform by platform basis. Simply put, this means that for the $1,000 platform, the drivers were left at their default values, for the $2,000 platform the system was tested at both the default and highest image quality, and for the Unlimited platform high image quality was used exclusively. For ATI hardware, the default control panel settings were used throughout each platform.

This might not seem fair at first, to adjust the image quality on the NVIDIA platform while leaving the ATI platforms at their default values, but you will understand why we think this is important when you check out our image quality tests on the next page.

*generally this meant 1280x1024 on the $1,000 platform, a balance of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 on the $2,000 platform, and 1920x1200 or higher on the unlimited platform.

 

System Specifications

$1,000 Platform ATI NVIDIA
Motherboard
( chipset )
ABIT AT8
( ATI RD480/ULI m1575 )
ASUS A8N-SLI Premium
( NForce 4 SLI )
CPU
( Socket )
AMD Athlon X2 3800+
( Socket 939 )
Graphics Card
( Drivers )
Sapphire X1600 Pro x2
( Catalyst 6.6 WHQL )
BFG 7600 GS OC x2
( Forceware 91.33 Beta )
Memory
( Timings )
1GB (2x512MB) Samsung PC-3200 DDR
( 2.5-3-3-7 )

$2,000 Platform ATI NVIDIA
Motherboard
( chipset )
ABIT AT8-32X
( ATI RD580/ULI m1575 )
ABIT AN8-32X
( NForce 4 SLI x16 )
CPU
( Socket )
AMD Athlon X2 4400+
( Socket 939 )
Graphics Card
( Drivers )
Sapphire X1900 GT x2
( nforce4_hotfix )
NVIDIA 7950 GX2
( Forceware 91.33 Beta )
Memory
( Timings )
2GB (2x1024MB) Corsair PC-3500 DDR
( 2-3-2-6 )

Unlimited Platform ATI NVIDIA
Motherboard
( chipset )
MSI K9A Platinum
(ATI RD580/SB600)
Foxconn C51XEM2AA
(NForce 590 SLI)
CPU
( Socket )
AMD Athlon FX-62
( Socket AM2 )
Graphics Card
( Drivers )
ATI X1900 Crossfire/X1900 XTX
( Catalyst 6.6 WHQL )
BFG 7900 GTX OC x2
( Forceware 91.33 Beta )
Memory
( Timings )
2GB (2x1024MB) SuperTalent PC2-6400 DDR2
( 4-4-3-8 )

Components common to all systems were a Silverstone Strider ST56F 560W PSU (Crossfire and SLI Certified), 160GB Seagate Barracuda 7900.9 SATA HDD, and Windows XP SP2 with the latest updates and patches.

If you’ve not read the previous articles in the series I suggest you go back and check them out. They contain a thorough rundown of most of the graphics hardware and motherboard components use in this article.

Game Benchmarks

  • GTR2, demo version
  • Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, v1.20
  • GT Legends, v1.1.0.0
  • Pacific Fighters, v4.04
  • Richard Burns Rally, v1.02
  • Lock On: Modern Air Combat, v1.02
  • Colin McRae Rally 2005, v1.0

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