It’s all about the custom demos
If you recall our MSI GeForce FX5900-TD128 and e-GeForce FX 5900 Ultra reviews, you’ll remember that we used custom demos for games like Quake 3 and Splinter Cell for benchmarking purposes. By using custom demos, we ensured that our test results were indicative of real game play performance, rather than the performance of a stock timedemo. In what came as a huge surprise to us, ATI’s RADEON cards came out on top in Quake 3 once custom timedemos were used, completely contradicting the results we obtained with Quake 3’s stock timedemos a month earlier on our GeForce FX 5900 Ultra preview. If anything, this has empowered us to implement custom timedemos in all of our articles going forward.
Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get accurate results with our custom demos in Unreal Tournament 2003. Our demo playback numbers were considerably lower than the actual frame rate we witnessed while recording demos – it was literally a night and day difference! Fortunately Reverend of Beyond3D was able to steer us in the right direction, it turns out we needed to add the “?timedemo” command for proper benchmarking. Armed with this knowledge, we now had all the tools we needed to get accurate results! We’ve decided to cut into our usual hardware coverage to bring them to you, consider this article to be the follow-up to our reviews from two weeks ago.
New graphics cards
Besides adding a new demo to the equation, we’ve also decided to incorporate a few new graphics cards as well. Rather than focus exclusively on the very high-end segment of the market, we’ve also included graphics cards that are more affordable for the typical enthusiast. Representing one of the best bang-for-the-buck values among DX9 RADEON cards is the RADEON 9700. With its 256-bit memory interface and 540MHz memory, the RADEON 9700 delivers much of the performance of RADEON 9700 PRO. Its 275MHz core has also proven to be a wonderful overclocker; in fact Chris was able to take the Sapphire RADEON 9700 to 340MHz core/310MHz memory -- not bad for a card that’s selling for just over $200 online.
Replacing the RADEON 9700/9700 PRO is ATI’s RADEON 9800. The RADEON 9800 boasts all the features of the RADEON 9800 PRO, but ships at a lower 325MHz core/290MHz memory clock frequency. This matches the specs of the RADEON 9700 PRO core, but falls slightly short in the memory bandwidth department. The end result is a card that just misses the RADEON 9700 PRO in terms of performance. To simulate the performance of this card we simply clocked our RADEON 9800 PRO card to RADEON 9800 levels.
Now that you know the test conditions, lets get to the results!