All of the
recent controversy over Valve's Half Life 2 presentations at
ATi's Shader Day, relative to NVIDIA's GeForce FX
performance (or lack thereof), has prompted many of us here
at HotHardware to try and further substantiate GeForce FX
and Radeon 9XXX performance in DirectX 9 gaming scenarios.
Meanwhile, the folks at
Massive Development have been hyping the upcoming
release of their 3rd generation game engine as a benchmark,
AQM3 is based on Massive's "Krass"
engine which certainly can render impressive game scenery.
So, it was with great interest that we recently received the
AquaMark3 beta release, for evaluation and comment on its
launch day. Could this benchmark, with its claimed
use of DX9 Pixel and Vertex Shader effects and its tag line,
"the reality benchmark", assist us in the appraisal of current
generation NVIDIA and ATi DX9 hardware? We were eager
to find out.
coming out of Valve's Half Life 2 struggle with the GeForce
FX line of products, certainly was a splash in a major
league sort of way, one game engine is hardly a basis for
trashing an entire product line. So, with that in
mind, we set out to look at DX9 performance from yet another
data-point, with Massive's newly claimed "reality
benchmark". Does AquaMark3 have the ability to measure
a true DX9 gaming experience? Let's peel back the
onion a bit (no Futuremark puns intended) and find out!
Options, Controls and Features
good tool for benchmarking, easy, configurable and
full of features
AquaMark3 is a very well
equipped benchmark. There are a number of ways to
run a test or a series of tests, with either custom
settings or standard configurations. The freeware
version of the software, allows users to run only the
default 1024X768 benchmark or "TRISCORE", which reports
back a total AquaMark score, as well as system and CPU
scores. Users then have the ability to upload
their scores to an online database engine called "ARC",
the AquaMark3 Result Comparator.
professional and commercial versions of the benchmark,
allow you the ability to dial in specific settings for
resolution, color depth, AA, Aniso Filtering etc.
In addition, within these versions, you also have the
ability to run the "Special Features" tests and
utilities. A screen capture utility is available,
as well as Overdraw Visualization, Shader
Visualization and Pixel Performance Measurement scripts.
We took some time to look at the Shader Visualization
feature, since it provides a very easy way to see the
use of the engine's various Pixel Shader
implementations, through the use of colorized overlays,
which highlight the types of shaders used in a given
scene. Blue colored pixels represent no pixel
shader effects, yellow pixels represent PS 1.x effects
and red pixels indicate PS 2.0 (DX9) effects.
Speaking of which, let's
take a look at they various types of Pixel Shader
effects that are utilized in AquaMark3.
Shader Specifications Of AquaMark3
DX9 benchmark or a mixed bag of DX8 and DX9?
The table above
shows exactly the number and types of Pixel and Vertex
Shaders utilized in AquaMark3. Look at the last column
on the right. Herein lies the rub, so to speak.
Some quick addition tells you that there are 7 DX9 Pixel
Shader or Vertex Shader 2.0 effects, in this benchmark.
There are also 225 other PS or VS 1.x shaders, used in
conjunction with the 7 PS and VS 2.0 shaders. This
seems pretty light for a benchmark that claims to be a "DX9
benchmark". However, Massive did inform us that about
30% of the pixels rendered in the AquaMark3 benchmark, are
rendered with DX9 shader effects. Regardless, we feel
that based on this realization, that AquaMark3 is much more
of a blended DX8/DX9 benchmark, rather than a "pure" DX9
benchmark per se. Massive calls AquaMark3 a "reality
benchmark" and perhaps for now it is.
technology in the market today is based on a mix of
different shader types. However, just as DX7 effects
fell to the wayside to make room for DX8, so too will DX8
shaders in favor for DX9. It's just a matter of time.
Half Life 2 for example uses about 1200 or so DX9 PS 2.0
Shaders and Tomb Raider Angle of Darkness is cut from the
same cloth. So perhaps Massive is a bit over zealous
in their claim that AQM3 is a DX9 benchmark. For
certain, AQM3 utilizes DX9 shaders and delivers a well
rounded benchmark suite, with scoring based on those
performance metrics. However, we feel it falls short
of being a true DX9 benchmark. Even 3DMark03's "Mother
Nature" test, which has nearly 100% coverage of DX9 shaders
to render the pixels in its scenery, may be a better
indicator of DX9 performance it seems.