Summary: Wondering how much of an improvement ATI's new beta driver for DOOM 3 brings to X800 XT Platinum Edition or X800 PRO? Or perhaps you'd like to see how a 256MB GeForce 6800 compares to a GeForce 6800 128MB card? We've got the answers to those questions plus GeForce 6800 Ultra versus GeForce 6800 Ultra Extreme, and DOOM 3 high quality versus DOOM 3 ultra quality performance. Read all about it and check out the screenshots in the first part of our DOOM 3 performance series of articles!
After four years of development, DOOM 3 is finally here! It goes without saying that gamers everywhere have been eagerly anticipating this title. We’re going to be taking a look at how it performs with today’s as well as yesterday’s hardware over a series of DOOM 3 performance articles, similar to what we’ve done with Far Cry and Call of Duty in the recent past. In today’s article we’re going to focus on DOOM 3’s performance with high-end DX9 hardware, follow-up articles will cover the mainstream cards as well as the high-end cards DX8 cards of yesteryear, the GeForce4 Ti series and RADEON 8500, while we’ll wrap things up with the value cards. Let’s cover the hardware first:
The new NVIDIA cards
Obviously by now you’re probably pretty familiar with NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 lineup, you wouldn’t be reading this site if you didn’t. But we’re including a pair of GeForce 6800 cards that you may not be familiar with, so we wanted to take the time out to properly introduce them to you.
If you recall NVIDIA’s reference GeForce 6800 clocks, the spec only calls for 700MHz DDR1 memory, so ASUS’ card provides significantly more memory bandwidth, 22.4GB/sec in GeForce 6800 versus 32GB/sec in the ASUS V9999 Gamer Edition, a 30% improvement. ASUS outfits their V9999 Gamer Edition with 256MB of the stuff.
But that’s not all. ASUS also bumps up the core clock to 350MHz, an increase of 25MHz over the GeForce 6800’s stock frequency of 325MHz. Since the GeForce 6800 core needs more power to run at higher clock speeds, ASUS also includes a second Molex connector on the V9999 Gamer Edition.
We specifically wanted to see how much DOOM 3 benefits from the extra memory, if at all, so we underclocked the Gamer Edition to the same 325/700MHz speeds of NVIDIA’s stock GeForce 6800.
The second card you may not be familiar with is eVGA’s e-GeForce 6800 Ultra Extreme Edition, this is another card tailored towards enthusiasts.
eVGA takes the stock GeForce 6800 Ultra and overclocks it for more performance. Whereas NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 Ultra core is clocked at 400MHz, the e-GeForce 6800 Ultra Extreme Edition’s core runs at 450MHz. Meanwhile, memory frequency goes from 500MHz (1.1GHz effective) on the stock Ultra to 600MHz (1.2GHz effective) on eVGA’s Extreme Edition card. We were curious to see how much of an improvement the higher clocks brings, as well as seeing how well a highly overclocked card ran in DOOM 3. John Carmack’s comments suggest that DOOM 3 responds a little differently to overclocking than other games currently out on the market.
If you’re familiar with Quake 3’s console commands, you’ll probably feel at home with DOOM 3, as lots of the commands are the same or similar. id continues to provide their timedemo mode for benchmarking, as well as the ability to play and record custom demos. Speaking of demos, the stock demo id provides out of the box, demo1, is quite intensive. It seems as if id went out of their way to make it as straining as possible on the graphics card, as during slower moments, they’ll whip out the flashlight to keep up the stress on the card. The level selected is also quite stressful, with tight corridors filled with lots of enemies and multiple light sources at times. We’re going to use demo1 for the first batch of articles, and switch to a more stressful custom demo we’ve made for our follow-on testing.
In order to benchmark with the game, drop the console by pressing the key combination of Ctrl+Alt+tilde. Then type “timedemo demo1” to run the stock demo for benchmarking.
id provides a ton of console settings, in order to see them all type “listcvars” at the console. If you also want to see descriptions of some of the settings, type “listcvars –help” You can then dump them all to a text file by typing condump [your name for the file].txt. Beyond3D is currently running a DOOM 3 FAQ and Tips thread that you may want to check out for more info.
We also wanted to check out the AA quality of ATI and NVIDIA’s latest hardware in DOOM 3. The following are a few screenshots we took with ATI’s X800 PRO:
GeForce 6800 Ultra:
As we’ve said in the past, judging AA quality has become a much more difficult (and subjective) task than it has been previously. NVIDIA’s new rotated-grid AA closes the gap significantly. In the first batch of screens, taken on the map DM5 “Lights Out”, the staircase looks a little bit sharper on the X800 card than the GeForce 6800.
RADEON X800 PRO 4xAA
GeForce 6800 Ultra 4xAA
In the second shot, AA quality is just as difficult to judge, although we’d give a slight edge to NVIDIA:
RADEON X800 PRO 4xAA
GeForce 6800 Ultra 4xAA
With the recent ATI trilinear filtering optimizations fiasco of a few months ago, we felt it was also important to check out the filtering quality of the ATI and NVIDIA cards. We should note that for all of our tests we used the default settings for both cards, “Quality”. In this mode, both ATI and NVIDIA’s trilinear filtering optimizations are enabled, ensuring an equal playing field. As it stands now things aren’t equal in the control panel of both company’s driver however. NVIDIA provides a little more flexibility than ATI, as you can turn off all filtering optimizations in the control panel. ATI on the other hand doesn’t provide this capability.
A year ago the gaming community called on NVIDIA to provide the capability to turn off their brilinear filtering in GeForce FX, it’s now time for ATI to do the same in their control panel. If there’s one thing we’ve noticed in the past 12 months, gamers don’t like hardware vendors forcing IQ on their users, which is why ATI needs to provide a way to disable their filtering optimizations in the control panel. Fortunately ATI’s optimizations look pretty good (which is why the outcry hasn’t been as large as NVIDIA’s brilinear), as you can see here (all shots taken with beta CATALYST 4.9 driver):
Notice in the colored mipmap transitions how smoothly the X800 card blends from one level to the next. With DOOM 3’s dark levels, a lot has been made about how AA isn’t necessary for enjoyable eye candy. We also feel that the same applies to 8xAF, which is the default setting in DOOM 3’s high quality and ultra quality modes. If you need the extra performance, you can turn it down to 4xAF (with the image_anisotropy setting) with little or no discernible difference, but you won’t want to turn it off completely:
NVIDIA’s optimizations for GeForce 6800 also look good:
NVIDIA GeForce 6800 card owners may also want to consider dropping down to 4xAF if they find their current DOOM 3 performance unacceptable, or would like to run at a higher screen resolution, but 8xAF causes too much of a performance hit:
DOOM 3 – OpenGL Remember that D3 enables 8xAF by default in high and ultra quality modes
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 cards dominate ATI X800 PRO and X800 XT Platinum Edition in DOOM 3 performance, with NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 GT outperforming the X800 XT Platinum in a lot of cases. The most startling part about it is that NVIDIA’s ace in the hole, UltraShadow, isn’t even enabled currently in DOOM 3. With the extensive use of stencil shadows throughout DOOM 3’s dark levels, UltraShadow could play a huge role in improving NVIDIA’s current performance even more. Could you imagine if NVIDIA’s $300 GeForce 6800 one day outperforms ATI’s $500 RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition in a benchmark as important as DOOM 3? This engine will be the basis of many titles for the next few years, just as Quake 3 was in the past for id and their Q3 licensees, Call of Duty being the most recent example.
To ATI’s credit, their driver team is working hard on improving their DOOM 3 performance. In fact, they’re currently in the middle of a complete rewrite of the OpenGL portion of their driver. Their release of CATALYST 4.9 beta months ahead of schedule is proof that they’re taking this issue seriously. And while we witnessed double-digit performance improvements (typically around 12-16% for X800 XT Platinum), they’re still a long way from catching up to NVIDIA. In fact, we’ll go out on a limb and say that odds are they won’t be catching up anytime soon.
Fortunately the RADEON X800 PRO and X800 XT Platinum Edition have enough horsepower to provide good performance in DOOM 3, and with the wealth of graphics options DOOM 3 provides, you can tweak settings to your heart’s content. We don’t think you’ll have any problems finding the right combination of performance and eye candy to suit your particular tastes and preferences.
If you’re looking for the ultimate card for DOOM 3, eVGA’s e-GeForce 6800 Ultra Extreme Edition is the obvious choice. With its faster core and memory clocks, it dusts a stock GeForce 6800 Ultra by up to 10% in our testing. Unfortunately, these cards are ultra rare, with eVGA conducting a raffle once every week just for the opportunity to purchase the card. 45 “winners” are listed on eVGA’s site as of today.
Carmack has mentioned that overclocked cards may behave differently in DOOM 3 than in other games, and we definitely saw this firsthand with the e-GeForce 6800 Ultra Extreme Edition. DOOM 3 has crashed three times since we first began testing with this card, while none of the other cards we’ve tested at stock speeds has had a single problem. We don’t think our board is overheating, as temperatures are nowhere near NVIDIA’s thresholds, and only slightly above stock 6800 Ultra temps, in fact, the underside of the X800 XT Platinum Edition reference board runs hotter than the eVGA card! Fortunately, the crashes we’ve seen have been minor, after DOOM 3 locks up we’re forced back to the desktop and are able to turn around and boot the game back up with the card running perfectly; it’s as if nothing ever happened.
If you run into similar issues with your overclocked card, it may not be a bad idea to turn the clocks down just a little bit.
UPDATE 8/10/04: eVGA has recently released an updated BIOS for the Extreme Edition GeForce 6800 Ultra board that resolves the issues we initially reported in DOOM 3. The new BIOS has increased the 2D core clock to 450MHz, this change has solved the stability problems we encountered last week.
Like Carmack’s previous engines, DOOM 3 is shaping up to be a highly scaleable, as it scales well with all kinds of hardware. Be on the lookout for more DOOM 3 performance articles, and of course, it will be included in future hardware reviews.
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