Marking Time: 3DMark 11 Performance Explored

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Performance Comparisons

We tested 3DMark 11 on the following systems:

Graphics Comparison System
Phenom X6 1100T (3.3GHz)
OCZ-built single-stage phase changer.
6GB DDR2-800
Asus M3A78-T (AM2+, 780GX + SB750)
Windows 7 64-bit

For our AMD/NVIDIA tests we used an AMD HD 5970 and an NVIDIA GTX 480. Both cards were tested with the latest drivers (Catalyst 10.11 and Forceware 260.990. We opted to use 5970's in both systems for our AMD vs Intel comparison. Our AMD rig was configured as above, our Intel rig is below:

Additional Processor Comparison System
Intel Core i7-920 @ 3.3GHz
Koolance KIT1000BK water cooler
6GB DDR3-1067
EVGA X58 SLI Deluxe
Windows 7 64-bit

We chose the older AMD motherboard because it's currently the only AMD board we have on hand that's fitted for sub-zero cooling. Despite its age, the M3A78-T had no trouble running AMD's fastest Phenom II X6 once the BIOS was updated.

AMD vs NVIDIA


Keep in mind that the ATI 5970 is a dual-GPU solution. We would've preferred to match our tests by either price or number of GPUs, but the only ATI cards available were 5970s and NVIDIA doesn't yet support SLI for 3DMark 11. The results below shouldn't be considered an endorsement of any video card but keep in mind that the GTX 480 is ~$200 cheaper than the HD 5970.


The total 3DMark 11 score shows the GTX 480 at just 74 percent of the Radeon HD 5970s performance, but that's far from the only story here. The four game tests show very disparate results.



In the first test, which doesn't use tessellation, the HD 5970 is over 70 percent faster than the GTX 480. The second test does use tessellation; the gap between the two cards decreases to 'just' 54 percent. This shrinks to 25 percent in test three and the two cards are just eleven percent apart in test four. We know the last graphics test consists largely of tessellation processing, which has always been a traditional strength of Fermi-based GPUs. What we like about 3DMark 11 is that it tests various API features without going overboard on any single aspect and it offers end-users the opportunity to adjust the degree of tessellation in a scene (though such adjustments result in no official 3DMark score).



The gap between the two cards expands in Extreme mode. The GTX 480 is 80 percent as fast as the HD 5970 in Performance but just 67 percent as fast at the higher preset. The GF100 loses ground in Tests 3&4, for reasons that aren't entirely clear.

AMD vs. Intel



We tested our AMD and Intel systems at multiple clock speeds but ran into some performance scaling oddities that we've since sent back to Futuremark for further analysis. Ultimately we decided to discuss clock-for-clock performance between the two architectures while we waited for other information. The graph below shows both processors at 3.3GHz with HT disabled on the Intel system.


In a word, ow. The clock-for-clock performance gap between Intel and AMD here is huge, especially since we're comparing six AMD cores against just four from the Core i7.  If we assume that last year's agreement between AMD and Intel actually did mark the end of all compiler/benchmark shenanigans, then AMD's Bulldozer will have to deliver in spades in order to close the performance differential core-for-core and clock-for-clock between the two companies.

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