GeForce FX 5900 Ultra Preview

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The GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 
A Preview And Performance Analysis With NVIDIA's New Killer

By - Dave Altavilla
May 12, 2003

 

As with every new major Graphics launch, NVIDIA has prepared yet another technology demo for their new flagship GPU.  Behold, NVIDIA's "Vulcan"... Slightly more demonic by nature, than the NV30's sexy, nubile and flirtatious "Dawn", Vulcan displays an impressive rendering effect that has been challenging to perfect for many Game Developers.

NVIDIA Tech Demo - The Vulcan
Fire, Fire!   Arggh Arggh....

   

The effect of fire and especially its motion, like water, is very hard to replicate with computer animation.  Like water, fire is a fluid uncontrolled element that originates from a source but rarely repeats its movements, at least in nature anyway.  There is an interesting issue with many things in nature, in that they are very difficult to duplicate digitally on the screen.  Objects, such as trees, grass, fire, wind and water are all very challenging for the 3D Graphics artist and computer animator. Vulcan's is a creature that emanates fire form within its body and outward.  These images hardly do him justice however.  We're hopeful that NVIDIA will release the demo publicly, so you can see him in motion for yourself.  It is truly impressive to watch.  Vulcan's fire is easily the best looking fire we've seen to date, in any real-time computer animation effect.

Detonator FX  Drivers Version 44.03
Streamlined, Neat and Clean

NVIDIA hasn't changed their Detonator FX drivers much in the last few releases.  The version we tested is very similar to the 43.45 version that has been on NVIDIA's site for some time now.  Regardless, we've captured the essence of them and the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra card behind them, for you here.

   

   

   

Frankly, we're sort of torn, around the HH Labs, with respect to which driver suite we prefer, NVIDIA's or ATi's.  This version of the Detonator FX drivers, is very streamline and easy to use, with only one set of image quality controls for both D3D and OpenGL.  For D3D you have up to 8X AA available to you now, with the NV30 and NV35, as well as 4XS and 6XS mode, for additional texture sharpening that is sometimes needed in scenes that are blurred slightly from AA's smoothing effects.  In OpenGL, you have up to 8X available as well but only have the option of running in 4X mode below the 8X level, as 6XS is not available for OpenGL gaming.

There are also specific and dedicated clock sliders available, with the help of NVIDIA's "Coolbits" registry tweak, one for 2D or desktop clock speeds and one slider for 3D control as well.  These settings also work in conjunction with the Heat Sink and Fan assembly on the card and throttle the fan up slightly during game-play.  Again, fan speed and noise factor is very manageable with this card, so it's not all that surprising that NVIDIA carried this approach forward, with respect to thermal management.  Incidentally, the 48C temp you see in the temperature control panel above, is indicative of the reading we took after about 1/2 hour of in-game testing with the card and on a open test bench environment.

Image Quality Testing - "Intellisample HCT"  On Display - Anisotropic Filtering
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The first aspect of image quality we'll explore with the NV35, is Anisotropic Filtering.  This is a method of sharpening textures in a rendered scene, thus providing more detailed and vivid textures on visible surfaces.  All of the following in game screen shots, were taken at 1024X768 resolution and converted to very low compression JPEGs.  Analog modem users may want to take note of the large file size while downloading.  Also, we suggest you switch your desktop resolution to 1024X768, in order to view these images at their proper scale.

Ansiotropic Filtering Tests - Quake 3 Arena:
 

All Shots Taken In Quality Mode For Both Cards

NV35 No AF

NV35 2X AF

R9800 2X AF

NV35 4X AF

 
R9800 4X AF

 
NV35 8X AF

 
R9800 8X AF

 
R9800 16X AF

To the naked eye, the NV35's Aniso Filtering is on par, setting for setting, with ATi's.  There is a very slight advantage in 4X mode, for ATi here but the difference is completely negligible and really this gets into a very subjective topic.  You decide which you like better but for us it's pretty much a toss up.  Incidentally, 16X AF with the ATi card, is barely an improvement over 8X levels it seems, at least with respect to Quake 3's textures.

 

Color Mip Levels Activated

NV35 No AF
NV35 2X AF
R9800 2X AF
NV35 4X AF
R9800 4X AF
 NV35 8X AF
 R9800 8X AF

 R9800 16X AF

 

NV35 Performance Mode Shots

NV35 4X AF
Perf.  Mip

NV35 4X AF Perf.

With Color Mip Levels enabled in Quake 3, we're able to see exactly how much work each card is doing in a given scene.  As you can see here, it's pretty much a horse race but there is an ever so slight nod given to the Radeon card here, especially at 8X levels.  At 16 AF, the Radeon is clearly sharpening textures further off in the distance, which should equate to a sharper scene overall.  However again, don't let this test sway your judgment too much.  You don't play the game this way, so this test is merely for sake of discussion here and to highlight the differences between the two cards.  At end of the day, the standard mode shots we've shown you first, are what you'll be observing during game play. 

Finally, we enabled "Performance Mode" for the NV35, in order to show you the differences in the mip level blending for this setting.  Clearly the transitions aren't as smooth as quality mode.  However, fire up the same 4X setting in the quality shots above and A/B them on your screen.  Can you see the difference?  It is ever so slight but the Quality mode shots do look sharper at the far end of the scene.  Look at the floor textures for the tell tale details.  ATi's performance mode settings look pretty much the same as well, when you enable Color Mip Levels on Q3.  So again overall, it's pretty much a toss up between AF and the two top contenders. 

Let's look at Anti-Aliasing.

 

Anti-Aliasing
 


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