In the first part of our Half-Life 2 Performance Preview, we brought you Half-Life 2 numbers run by Valve for their presentation at ATI Shader Day. Needless to say, these benchmark results caused quite a bit of controversy online.
Half-Life 2 is among the first crop of games to take advantage of the 2.0 pixel and vertex shaders first introduced with DirectX 9, and due to the success of its predecessor, is arguably the most anticipated game (of any genre) for 2003. And based on what we’ve seen so far, Half-Life 2 is living up to all the hype surrounding it. But there was one task remaining for Shader Day attendees: hands-on benchmarking with Half-Life 2!
The following are our test results with Build 5 of Half-Life 2. Keep in mind that this is a game that’s still unreleased, so the numbers we’re presenting will likely be a little different with the final game. For instance, bugs were still present with anti-aliasing enabled on NVIDIA and ATI hardware, although we were told that Valve’s AA fix was not implemented in our build of the game. Also, the high dynamic range (HDR) lighting that was present in the DX9 video from Friday wasn’t implemented in Build 5. For now this feature will be unique to ATI’s DirectX 9 hardware as GeForce FX cards running in DX9 mode already perform very poorly in full-precision mode (without HDR) at the moment.
If the performance is there for RADEON users, HDR could be a real selling point for ATI, as it’s definitely one of those features that you’re not going to want to turn off once you’ve seen it in action. Remember the first time you saw the sun in Gran Tourismo 3? To the uninitiated, HDR is similar to that effect, only it’s about two times more effective. In addition, the light reflects off of reflective or shiny surfaces. When you combine this with the Half-Life 2 water (which is the most accurate representation of water we’ve seen in a game to date), can you imagine how good HDR would look at sunset over a large body of water? HDR will also be used for effects like muzzle flashes.
All this eye candy comes at a price however. For maximum fidelity, Half-Life 2 is going to require cutting edge hardware. We’re not just talking graphics cards here folks. You’re also going to need a fast CPU and gobs of system memory. The test machine in Valve’s numbers from last week was outfitted with a gigabyte of RAM. Likewise, the gaming rigs we ran our tests with were also equipped with 1GB of memory. Based on what we’ve been told, this was no coincidence. Serious gamers are going to want at least 512MB of RAM for optimum performance, while the hardcore will insist on a gigabyte.
Half-Life 2 also craves CPU performance. In many cases, we were CPU-limited with an ATI RADEON 9800 PRO and a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 (800MHz FSB) in our testing! And in case you were wondering, Half-Life 2 doesn’t take advantage of Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology nor AMD’s 64-bit extensions in Athlon 64/Opteron. The jury is still out on which CPU architecture it prefers.