Summary: Now that we've evaluated DOOM 3's performance with the high-end cards, today it's time to look at how the mainstream cards perform with id's latest shooter. In part three of our DOOM 3 performance series, Brandon rounds up the latest $200 offerings from ATI and NVIDIA. Cards benchmarked include the RADEON 9800 PRO, 9600/9600 PRO/XT, 9500/9500 PRO and RADEON 8500, while the NVIDIA cards represented are the GeForce FX 5600/5600 Ultra, 5700/5700 Ultra, and GeForce FX 5900 XT. GeForce4 Ti 4200 and Ti 4400 are also throw in for good measure. See how all the cards stack up against each other in this mainstream card shootout!
In the previous two editions of our DOOM 3 3D performance articles, we focused on the high-end offerings from ATI and NVIDIA, now it’s time to take a look at both companies mainstream cards.
While the performance with these cards isn’t as high as the others, testing them is a little easier, as we feel that for most of these cards DOOM 3’s medium quality mode provides the most ideal combination of visual quality to performance -- dropping down to DOOM 3’s low quality mode yields a negligible performance increase for the most part.
On the ATI side we’ve rounded up the RADEON 9500 and 9500 PRO, as well as the 9600, 9600 PRO, and 9600 XT. While ATI’s high-end cards were stealing all the headlines, these cards were largely responsible for bringing DX9 gaming to the masses. We’ve also included ATI’s RADEON 8500 128MB, which is a proven DX8 card with a large following of its own.
In the past few months, ATI has also lowered the price on RADEON 9800 PRO cards. Today these boards can easily be found for attractive prices, even Fry’s/Outpost.com sells these cards for $199.99. Therefore we also decided to include a RADEON 9800 PRO in the mix.
From NVIDIA we’ve gathered the GeForce FX 5600/5600 Ultra, as well as the 5700/5700 Ultra. Representing the DX8 generation are NVIDIA’s wildly popular GeForce4 Ti 4200 and GeForce4 Ti 4600. These cards were widely considered to be the best of their generation and are still used by many gamers today. Meanwhile, taking on the RADEON 9800 PRO at the upper end of the mainstream segment is the GeForce FX 5900 XT.
Before we get started, one thing to keep in mind looking at the hardware we’ve included in this article is ATI and NVIDIA’s upcoming mainstream offerings. NVIDIA announced GeForce 6600 and GeForce 6600 GT at Quakecon last week, while ATI is rumored to be hard at work on a shader model 2.0b mainstream part that will compete directly with NVIDIA. Both of these upcoming offerings should offer significantly more performance than today’s mainstream cards, and should begin shipping in a matter of weeks.
We should also note that we’re continuing to test the ATI cards with the beta version of CATALYST 4.9. CATALYST 4.8 is based on an older OpenGL driver than beta 4.9, in addition, we also ran some quick tests with an X800 XT Platinum Edition and found that DOOM 3 performance with CATALYST 4.8 falls right in between CATALYST 4.7 and the beta 4.9 release. Basically, if you’re an ATI user that craves the highest possible frame rates, you should probably stick with 4.9 beta.
Intel Pentium 4 3.0CGHz
DFI 865PE INFINITY
512MB Corsair XMS3200 DDR SDRAM
ATI RADEON 9800 PRO
ATI RADEON 9600 XT
ATI RADEON 9600 PRO
ATI RADEON 9600
ATI RADEON 9500 PRO
ATI RADEON 8500
Sapphire RADEON 9500
beta CATALYST 4.9
eVGA e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra
eVGA e-GeForce FX 5700
eVGA e-GeForce FX 5700 Ultra
eVGA e-GeForce FX 5900 XT
MSI GeForce FX5600-VTDR128
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600 reference card
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 reference card
Windows XP with Service Pack 1
60GB Western Digital Special Edition with 8MB cache
DOOM 3 - OpenGL
DOOM 3 - OpenGL
DOOM 3 - OpenGL
DOOM 3 - OpenGL
It’s no surprise to see the GeForce FX 5900 XT and RADEON 9800 PRO 128MB leading all of the mainstream cards in our benchmarks. With their 256-bit memory interface and, in the case of the RADEON 9800 PRO, 8-pixel pipeline architecture (4x2 for the 5900 XT), both of these cards have all the raw ingredients to perform quite well in DOOM 3. It’s because of this that we have a strong suspicion that ATI RV410 and NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT will have a very tough time competing with these parts in terms of raw performance. While we don’t have either of these cards in hand yet, we do feel that for the smart shopper at least, the mainstream card to buy won’t be the GeForce 6600 GT or RV410, but the RADEON 9800 PRO.
We’d give ATI the edge over 5900 XT due to its proven performance with DX9 titles. In part 3 of our 3D Performance with Far Cry series of articles, RADEON 9800 PRO consistently came out ahead of GeForce FX 5900 XT, and while it isn’t a DirectX title, we saw the same results today in DOOM 3. In addition, NVIDIA’s GeForce FX architecture isn’t as robust from a features perspective, lacking support for geometry instancing, centroid sampling, and multiple render targets. It’s also doubtful if DX9 games will be able to utilize HDR lighting with GeForce FX as well as displacement mapping.
These are all features that the RADEON 9800 PRO supports today and it’s only priced a little bit more than the 5900 XT, coming in at around $199. Quite simply, with the dawn of GeForce 6800 and RADEON X800, the RADEON 9800 PRO has now become what the RADEON 9500 PRO was of its era. Like the RADEON 9500 PRO, we highly suggest you pick one of these cards up before they begin to disappear.
Looking further down at the results, the 5700 Ultra versus RADEON 9600 XT battle is a close one, with the 5700 Ultra taking a slight performance edge in our benchmarks. Again, you should also take into account the limitations mentioned above of the GeForce FX architecture when making your final decision. Fortunately, NVIDIA has resolved all of these issues with their GeForce 6 family, so the vanilla GeForce 6600 may not be a bad choice if you must spend $150 or less on a graphics upgrade.
Finally, GeForce4 performs remarkably well for such a dated architecture. Those of you with these cards can still get playable performance in DOOM 3 with a minimum amount of fuss. Medium quality mode runs just fine in DOOM 3. Who would have thought we’d be saying that one month ago?
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