Thereís plenty of debate online if youíre looking for somewhere to speculate on whether ATI or NVIDIA will perform better in Half-Life 2, once itís released. Weíve run our own benchmarks, drawn some early conclusions, and seen Valve make various code changes to throw off some of our predictions. Itís still beta software; go figure. But while itís not a secret that game performance varies wildly across different video card configurations, we also wanted to explore the effect your processor has on gaming speed, specifically in the Half-Life 2 Video Stress Test and Valveís Counter-Strike: Source Beta.
Earlier this year, when the X800 and GeForce 6800 designs emerged, ATI and NVIDIA were proclaiming that their creations boasted so much power, not even the fastest processors could keep up. Indeed, the most intensive benchmarks demonstrated resolutions right up to 1600x1200 were often limited by processor performance. However, we wanted to test the validity of that claim using cutting-edge graphics Ė in this case with a game that isnít even available, but expected any day now (just as it has been for the last year, right?).
We took a handful of the fastest processors currently available to determine if and when the Video Stress Test, included with the Counter-Strike: Source Beta test, and CS beta itself were hampered by processor performance. The contenders include Intelís Pentium 4 Extreme Edition at 3.4 GHz, the 3.6 GHz Pentium 4 560, both 130nm and 90nm 3.4 GHz Northwood and Prescott chips, an older 3.2 GHz Pentium 4, AMDís Athlon 64 FX-53 on Socket 939, the Athlon 64 3800+, the 3400+, and an Athlon XP 3200+ for good measure.
In order to make the distinction between processor and graphics performance limitations, we ran one set of tests at 800x600, using trilinear filtering, no anti-aliasing, model, texture, and shadow detail set to high, vsync disabled, and water detail set to world. Then we ran the same settings, only with 6x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering at 1600x1200 to see if there were any changes in scaling.
Of course, all of that was after downloading the freshly updated beta several times at 889MB per transfer. While thereís economical genius to the way Valve plans to sell Half-Life 2 through Stream, itís little more than a pain in the neck for loading several times on freshly formatted hard drives.
Also, in order to normalize for graphics performance, the PCI Express RADEON X800 XT we used was overclocked to 520/560MHz to match the AGP RADEON X800 XT PE using RadLinker. Any performance differences that spring up as a result of the 925X chipsetís DDR2 memory support simply have to be attributed to the platform itself