We began to wind
down our testing with a few runs of the great looking new
title from Eidos, Tomb Raider: The Angle Of Darkness.
This game engine makes heavy use of DX9 Pixel Shader 2.0
effects, like DOF (depth of field) blur, under water blur
and some really nice dynamic lighting effects.
However, all was not rosy for NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5900
Ultra, that we tested versus the Radeon 9800 XT. Here
are a few image captures, to illustrate what we saw.
Head-to-Head / Performance
With Tomb Raider Angel Of Darkness
Pixel Shader 2.0 and 1.4 Performance - NVIDIA's
First and foremost, we should
point out that the .49 patch, that is available for Tomb
Raider AOD, provides an excellent benchmarking mode that
allowed us to record our own time demo and then play it back
with both Pixel Shader 1.4 (DX8) and Pixel Shader 2.0 (DX9)
effects and precision employed. In the shots below,
you can see the impressive "cinematic" quality that Depth Of
Field blur can add to a scene's imagery. Here the
garden area, that we recorded in our timed demo run in, has
a complete sense of depth and vastness, that is rendered
with blurred images in the far background, slightly blurred
images in the mid range area and crisp images in the
foreground. That is of course, if you are running the
game on an ATi card.
R9800 XT PS20
Surprisingly, the depth of
field effect seems to be not functioning properly with
NVIDIA's Detonator 51.75 drivers currently, as the DOF blur
effect ends up bluring the entire scene and produces a very
undesirable effect. However, enable PS1.4 mode and
things look a lot better on the NVIDIA card. Although,
you then lose that impressive looking DOF effect, that runs
so well on the ATi card. This points us to a very important
issue that has not been covered well in the media lately,
relative to NVIDIA's recent heart-burn with DirectX 9
benchmarks and Valve Software's coming out with regards to
Half Life 2.
We had a very candid
discussion with NVIDIA's Chief Scientist, David Kirk
regarding NVIDIA's current situation with DirectX 9 gaming
in general. We went through the company's recent
trials and tribulations in great detail and the general
point of issue that we came away with was the following.
Simply put, NVIDIA is still playing catch up, in a major
way, as a result of their late arrival to market with a
Direct X 9 capable GPU. Many game developers have been
working on their game engines with ATi hardware and as such,
the leading edge games, that are just coming to market now,
have not been optimized at the compiler level, for NVIDIA
hardware. Here in lies the rub and the reason we've
seen NVIDIA take significantly more aggressive measures, to
optimize performance at the driver level. NVIDIA is
reportedly working hard to update and improve their
compiler, such that performance, as well as image quality
with DX9 effects, will improve significantly in the months
ahead. Also, hopefully issues like the broken DOF blur
effect we've seen here in Tomb Raider AOD, will be a thing
of the past. For now however, the road continues to be
a bumpy one ahead for NVIDIA.
Now for the benchmarks.
Again, these scores were taken with another custom demo run
we recorded with the version .49 benchmarking patch.
can't even seem to "buy a vowel" Vanna, in this little spin
of the wheel of fortune. No matter how you slice it,
Pixel Shader 1.4, Pixel Shader 2.0, AA or no AA, the Radeons
all blew the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra out of the water.
The Radeon 9800 XT also sports a respectable 10% lead over
it's siblings, the Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB and 256MB cards.
If the Tomb Raider AOD is indicative of the way the numbers
will stack up for ATi's product versus NVIDIA's, in future
DX9 gaming situations, they certainly have a lot of catching
up to do indeed.
Overclocking With The 256MB Radeon 9800 XT
Looking For That Sweet Spot
Before we close
things out here, we decided to see if there was any
additional performance that we could wring out of the Radeon
9800 XT. Our friends at ATi informed us that this was
a highly overclockable card and it seems as though they were
being truthful for sure.
We were testing
our card on an open air bench-test setup, so your results
could indeed be different than that we achieved here.
However, we also made sure that there were no visual
artifacts whatsoever, throughout a full hours worth of demo
looping in AquaMark3. The board, in our environment,
was completely stable and artifact free, at a core clock
speed of 455MHz and a DDR memory speed of 800MHz. This
equates to roughly a 10% increase in both core and memory
clock speeds with the Radeon 9800 XT 256MB card we tested.
Not surprisingly, the benchmark scores above scaled an
additional 10% higher across the board. As the old
saying goes "easy money baby"... of course this new ATi card
isn't cheap though.
ATi informs us
that as of today, Radeon 9800 XT boards will be shipping to
the retail channel. With this new product launch, ATi
has accomplished their objective in maintaining their
performance edge in the high end segment, over NVIDIA's
GeForce FX 5900 Ultra. The Radeon 9800 XT was faster
in many of the test scenarios we threw at it, with the
exception of the Wolfenstein Enemy Territory test and Unreal
Tournament, the latter with which NVIDIA has been
aggressively optimizing Anisotropic Filtering performance,
at the expense of image quality. Other than that, if
you plan of doing your share of DirectX gaming, especially
(which is the majority of titles on the market), the Radeon
9800 XT is currently the fastest graphics card on the
market. Additionally, it seems as though ATi's product line
runs current DX9 titles faster and with better image
quality, than competitive NVIDIA products. Again, this
is due largely to the fact that game devs have been coding
on ATi DX9 hardware for so long now. NVIDIA should be
able to turn this situation around however, with upcoming
compiler and driver optimizations. We'll just have to
see how things play out in this continuing saga.
Radeon 9800 XT is easily the nicest looking piece of
graphics hardware we've seen in the HotHardware labs in a
long time. Best in class performance, great image quality
and killer good looks, is a powerful combination that is
hard to resist. Once again however, you've got to pay
to play. The Radeon 9800 XT also retails for $499.
We expect to see street prices well below that range
eventually but once you get into the $400+ territory for a
Consumer 3D Graphics solution, it's obvious that the product
is clearly targeted exclusively toward the high end niche´
enthusiast end user. From a price / performance
perspective, the real sweet spot in ATi's product line-up,
will be either the Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB cards or the
upcoming impressive looking Radeon 9600 XT. By all
rights, Radeon 9800 Pro prices should drop like a rock, once
this new high end card gets out on the street. So keep
an eye out for deals on R9800 Pros.
Additionally, ATi will of course be bundling Half Life 2
with both Radeon 9800 XT and Radeon 9600 XT boards, so
there is some additional incentive to upgrading, if you are
still a few product cycles behind in the technology.
there's another rumbling coming out from "The Valley".
NVIDIA is also poised to release their NV38 and NV36 based
products, also with higher clock speeds and better
performance, for both the enthusiast and mid-range markets.
The NV36 will also be the first product shipping from
NVIDIA, based on silicon built by their new fab partner,
IBM. We'll be taking a look at those products in the
weeks ahead, so it should be an interesting and fun-filled
holiday buying season for HotHardware readers. New
technology and these fierce competitions will only help
deliver better products to the masses. We'll be here
to tell you all about them. On a side note, we
recently got a heads-up from our friends at Asus. They
informed us that their Radeon 9800 XT board has shipped to
our New York lab for testing, so stay tuned for that
Updated 9:50PM -
In our haste to get this article up and live here today, we
were unable to sit back and come to a general consensus on
the product, from a rating perspective, with our Heat Meter
rating metrics. Regardless, based on its fantastic
performance, great image quality and high quality, as well
as impressive board design, we're giving the ATi Radeon 9800
XT a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of 9 and
well as our
coveted Editor's Choice Award.
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