Marking Time: 3DMark 11 Performance Explored

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We compiled a list of the more important changes based on information included in the Reviewer's Guide and technical whitepaper for both benchmarks. These are presented below in no specific order.

New Physics Engine
: Back when FM developed Vantage, it opted to include support for Ageia's PhysX PPU. If Ageia had stayed independent, the second CPU test would've been a nod to what consumers with a PPU (Physics Processing Unit) could potentially look forward to-but given how few people had bought Ageia cards, it would never have had much impact on the benchmark's comparative database.

After NVIDIA bought Ageia and ported PhysX to its G80-derived GPUs it became impossible to compare both the overall Vantage score and the CPU score in particular between AMD and NVIDIA systems. Although the CPU score counted for much less than the graphics score, CPU results for an NV card could be as much as 4x higher than when using its ATI counterpart. This problem could be fixed by tagging the "Disable PPU" option, but the flag was unset by default.

3DMark 11 avoids this snarl by using Bullet physics. Bullet is a FOSS (Free/Open Source Software) package that's been used in a number of commercial products and films. The project's open nature ensures the underlying software code is available to anyone and prevents last minute surprises.

3DMark 11 offers much improved fine-grain control over test workloads compared to Vantage

Different Benchmark Focus: Vantage's two gaming benchmarks, Jane Nash and New Calico, each tested on a different set of GPU capabilities. Part of New Calico's focus was GPU ray tracing, which made sense at the time. Intel had unveiled its Larrabee GPU not too many months before, promising that it would transform game visuals through the use of real-time ray-tracing. AMD and NVIDIA's collective response boiled down to "No, you won't," and the two established GPU manufacturers ended up winning that argument.

The four gaming tests in 3DMK11 focus on different areas of performance. Graphics Test 1 uses a large number of spot lights in both shadow casting and non shadow casting flavors. It also includes non-shadow casting point lights and volumetric illumination. This test contains no tessellation. Test two tones down the number of spot lights but includes a fair amount of tessellated geometry. (shown above) Test three takes place outside with the sun providing a shadow casting directional light—Futuremark states that tessellation is applied to various statues and some of the vegetation.

Is that jeep 80Plus?

Test 4 is by far the nastiest--it combines single shadow-casting directional light (moonlight), and a few shadow casting spot lights. This scene appears to use more tessellation than any of the others; Futuremark states that "the majority of the rendering workload comes from drawing tessellated geometry to shadow maps and [the] G-buffer.

Scaling and Scoring: 3DMark 11 weights the relative value of CPU and GPU performance differently than Vantage. 3DMK:V split GPU/CPU weighting 75/25 in Performance mode and 95/5 in Extreme mode. 3DMK11's Performance preset  uses a 75/15/10 split between Graphics, Physics, and Combined; its Extreme preset breaks down to 80/10/10. CPU performance counts for more at the upper end, possibly because DX11's multi-threading support is much improved over DX10s.

Enough talk. Let's do some numbers.

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