Summary: Wondering how BioShock performs under 2xAA and 4xAA with the latest high-end and mainstream GPUs? In today's final BioShock article, we explore AA performance with a handful of cards. See how they stack up in this article!
Our benchmarking extravaganza with BioShock concludes with today’s article. In Part 1 we evaluated the performance of today’s latest high-end graphics cards with the game and found that NVIDIA’s GeForce 8800 reigned supreme in DX10 mode, but AMD’s Radeon HD 2900 XT put up numbers besting NVIDIA’s GeForce 8800 GTS and GTX under DirectX 9 mode. Visually there are only subtle differences between BioShock’s DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 modes. Shadows are crisper under DX10, while particle effects like smoke and fog have soft edges. The most obvious difference is in the game’s water ripples.
Under DX9, water ripples are practically nonexistent. Instead a trail of white foam trails your character. Under DX10 water ripples beautifully. We also discovered Irrational integrated a hybrid DX9/DX10 mode that essentially fuses the conventional DX9 path with DX10 water ripples.
In Part 2 we then took a look at BioShock’s performance with today’s latest mainstream graphics cards. We found that cards like the GeForce 8600 GTS could deliver decent frame rates with the game under high quality settings provided the resolution wasn’t too high. On the graphics front, dropping down to medium quality provided a nice performance boost without impacting image quality too much (i.e. the game didn’t become an ugly mess), while the Radeon HD 2600 XT card delivered very impressive performance results under DX9 mode. The game also runs quite well on older hardware like the Radeon X1950 Pro.
Based on all this, it looks like you don’t have to shell out the cash for a GeForce 8800 or Radeon HD 2900 XT if you’re on a tight budget. But what if you want to play the game with AA? That’s what we’re here today to examine.
As it stands now, AA only works in BioShock’s DX9 mode, and only with GeForce hardware. We tried forcing AA with the Radeon HD 2900 XT under both Windows Vista and WinXP with all four custom filter AA modes (including edge detect) and couldn’t get AA to work properly in BioShock. We asked AMD if they plan on adding AA support to BioShock in a future Catalyst driver revision but couldn’t get a direct answer. The only way to enable AA under BioShock with Radeon cards is to rename the BioShock executable from “bioshock.exe” to “Oblivion.exe”. Keep in mind by doing this though, AMD’s driver-level optimizations for the game are automatically disabled, and as a result, performance suffers – we recorded a frame rate of just 26.7 fps for the 2900 XT with the executable renamed to Oblivion.exe running our manual walkthrough sequence under 4xAA at 1600x1200. (Surprisingly enough, the Radeon X1950 Pro delivered a frame rate of 20.9 fps under the exact same scenario) Because of this, AMD’s Dave Baumann told us flat out not to run the game with the renamed executable.
In order to enable AA for GeForce cards you have to use the driver control panel, and as we mentioned previously it only works under the game’s pure DX9 codepath. Neither the hybrid path nor the DX10 path can be run with AA, although NVIDIA is working on integrating AA support into DX10 for a future driver release.
BioShock AA Image Quality
We took the following screenshots with a GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB running the DX9 path under Windows Vista:
Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (for high-end cards)
Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (for mainstream cards)
EVGA nForce 680i SLI motherboard
2GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C4
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB
EVGA e-GeForce 8600 GTS Superclocked
EVGA e-GeForce 8500 GT
XFX GeForce 8600 GT XXX Edition
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit
BioShock – Direct3D
If you recall our original BioShock performance article, the performance between the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB and 640MB was very similar – all that changes once AA is enabled. As you can clearly see, the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB card pulls ahead of the 320MB board, running 19% faster at 1600x1200. The GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB can’t even run BioShock with 2xAA at 2560x1600; it lacks enough memory to run the game with AA and literally locks up the game.
BioShock – Direct3D
On paper the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB put up decent performance numbers here with 4xAA, but we noted the game ran very choppy. The game was so choppy in fact we’d call it unplayable. We also tested the game with two GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB cards running in SLI and noted the same choppiness. We discussed our problems with the 320MB cards to NVIDIA and they said they were aware of the issue and are investigating it. They hope to have the issue resolved with a driver fix.
BioShock – Direct3D
In order to get good frame rates with the mainstream cards, we’re running BioShock’s medium quality graphics settings with both shadow maps and high detail post processing disabled. Once these settings are turned off we were able to get very good frame rates for the GeForce 8600 GT and GTS with AA. Obviously with slower clock speeds and fewer stream processors, the GeForce 8500 GT wasn’t able to deliver very good frame rates in BioShock with AA, even at 1280x1024.
BioShock – Direct3D
As far as we understand, this problem could have been alleviated entirely if Irrational had provided proper AA support in their game. We know Epic for instance has added AA support to Unreal Engine 3.0 using DX10. DX10.1 should also help to clear up some of these issues as well.
In any case, today’s latest graphics cards are more than capable of handling BioShock with a little AA. GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB users may want to turn down the graphics settings, and/or keep the resolution at 1600x1200 (or lower) to avoid the choppiness we encountered. Fortunately NVIDIA is aware of the problem and working on a solution that can hopefully be fixed with a newer driver. If you’re cross-shopping the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB and 640MB, you may want to spend the extra $80 or so and get the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. If you recall, we found the 320MB card didn’t have enough memory to run World in Conflict well with AA either.
Mainstream cards like the GeForce 8600 GT and GTS can also run the game well with AA provided you keep the graphics settings in check. It’s actually refreshing to see just how well BioShock scales with slower hardware. You simply don’t have to spend $500+ on a graphics card to get good frame rates with this game.
That probably comes as a bit of a disappointment to AMD and NVIDIA, but to gamers everywhere else, this is great news.
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