NVIDIA vs ATi Grahics Card Shoot-out

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NVIDIA vs ATi - Page 3

Graphic Card Roundup
A comparative look at what's out there now

By Robert Maloney
March 29th, 2004

Comparative Screenshots
Fighting for freedom never looked so good
Since it worked so well in our AA5700U review, we once again used Electronic Arts' action game Freedom Fighters for some comparative screen shots.  There are a few reasons that make this particular scene perfect for our purposes.  The juxtaposition of the lighted elements versus the dark background, and vice versa, really highlights the effects of anti-aliasing.  Also, the grating in the lower-left of the screen shows what some Anisotropic filtering can do to clean up an image.  We took a few shots of the "freedom fighter's" home-base, with and without anti-aliasing and then again after applying Anisotropic filtering.

Freedom Fighters Screenshots
1600x1200x32 - High Quality Settings

GeForce FX 5700 Ultra
Standard                        2xAA                             4xAA

     8xAA                      8xAA+4xAF                 8xAA+8xAF

GeForce FX 5900XT
Standard                        2xAA                             4xAA

   8xAA                      8xAA+4xAF                 8xAA+8xAF

GeForce FX 5950 Ultra
Standard                        2xAA                             4xAA

   8xAA                      8xAA+4xAF                 8xAA+8xAF

NVIDIA's latest Forceware drivers offer up AA settings from 2x to 8x, with a little 6XSAA thrown in for some variety.  6XS only effects Direct3D gaming, and consists of a combination of anti-aliasing and texture sharpening, which cannot be compared directly to ATi's methods.  Thus, we have opted not to include any 6XS screenshots in our collection.  Technically, NVIDIA and ATi drivers also differ in the top level of AA and in the number of Anisotropic Filtering samples used as well.  Thus, the first three pictures from each card can be matched up directly, but the latter three should not.  Instead, with these three, we hope to show the best display that each card can offer and leave it at that.

The Forceware 56.56 drivers have merged together the OpenGL and Direct3D settings, and individual options exist for the anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, image quality, etc.  As seen in the screen captures, the latest Forceware drivers have really taken to cleaning up the images, something which used to be a sore point with the older sets.  At the standard driver setting, we've got noticeable "jaggies" along any of the separator lines where light meets dark.  A quick glance at the handrail can affirm this.  Now, start switching between the screenshots and you can see how the line gets "cleaner"You may need to switch your attention to the diagonal lines near the characters left knee at 8xAA to really get the effect.  Comparing anisotropic filtering at this level is somewhat tricky, however.  Normally, we would point to the grate, but at 8XAA it already started to look pretty good.  AF brings out the effects just a bit better there, as well as with the plank of wood in the back.

A new addition to the Forceware driver suite are the game profiles, where you can define what settings are to be used with certain games.  This means that you won't have to go back and change the driver properties when you switch from one game to the next.  Thus, for simpler games we could have 8XAA with AF enabled, but switch on the fly to 4XAA without AF for more demanding game engines.

ATi Radeon 9600XT
Standard                        2xAA                             4xAA

        6xAA                      6xAA+8xAF                 6xAA+16xAF

ATi Radeon 9800 Pro
Standard                        2xAA                             4xAA

        6xAA                      6xAA+8xAF                 6xAA+16xAF

ATi Radeon 9800XT
Standard                        2xAA                             4xAA

        6xAA                      6xAA+8xAF                 6xAA+16xAF


ATi's ongoing Catalyst release program had us using Catalyst 4.2s at the time of writing.  As we've mentioned with the Forceware drivers, Catalyst drivers have their own levels and methods of optimizing the graphics.  AA settings run from 2x up to 6x, and from there we can set the level of anisotropic filtering from 2x - 16x.  The first three screenshots can be compared, more or less, directly with those from the GeForce cards.  The latter three are examples of the highest level of graphical optimization.  In general, they should be matched up in the same order.

As with the GeForce, check out the railings and the slopes of the structure on the left, especially where they contrast with the background.  The graphics are consistently jagged with all three cards without anti-aliasing, but these lines smooth out more and more at each level of AA.  Adding in the anisotropic filtering "cleans" up some sections, most readily noticed in the grating in the lower left.  Unlike the 8XAA screen captures, ATi's 6XAA images were just as blocky at no-AA as they were at 6XAA.  Using anisotropic filtering turns them into nearly perfect grids, although no difference could really be seen switching from 8XAF to 16XAF.

It's nearly impossible to look at any two images in comparison, and say that one is really doing a much better job than the other.  While we may have said with certainty in the past that ATi held a distinct advantage with it's optimizations, we really have to admit that NVIDIA has covered a lot of ground in catching up.  ATi's anti-aliasing still has an edge over NVIDIA's current generation, but NVIDIA's anisotropic filtering looked a bit better to us.

The Test System and our first benchmarks  

Tags:  Nvidia, ATI, Car, shoot, card, SHO, ICS, RAH, id, AR

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