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Part 2: 2D, Acceleration, And Windows: Aren't All Graphics Cards Equal?

Part 2: 2D, Acceleration, And Windows: Aren't All Graphics Cards Equal?
By , Igor Wallossek

First things first: if you  haven't yet read 2D, Acceleration, And Windows: Aren't All Graphics Cards Equal?, please feel free to check that one out first, since it's the Part 1 to this Part 2 exploration into the history of 2D in Windows and current issues seen on high-end discrete graphics cards.

In this second part, we focus on the relevance of GDI, explain 2D graphics output more completely, and present to you our 2D benchmark (for the folks who haven't already discovered it on Tom's Hardware DE). In order to fully understand the results from that benchmark, we must first dig into some related theoretical fundamentals.

Direct2D or GDI? Or perhaps both?Direct2D or GDI? Or perhaps both?

Why Do We Still Test GDI in the Era of Windows 7 and Direct2D?

In the first part of this series, a number of readers speculated that, with the introduction of DirectX 10-capable graphics cards and Windows Vista, older GDI methods for 2D graphics output were rendered obsolete. The WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), along with Direct2D, have been available to Microsoft developers for some time now. Nevertheless, there are plenty of good reasons why GDI (the Graphics Device Interface) remains unarguably meaningful and relevant, which means we must examine its behavior and performance, even for the brave new world of Windows 7. These reasons include:

  • The GDI continues to support older graphics cards, while Direct2D requires cards that can support DirectX 10 or better.
  • GDI is supported in every known version of Windows, whereas Direct2D is available only in Windows Vista and Windows 7.
  • Every graphics application that runs under Windows XP (and older Windows versions) uses GDI


Lots of software developers resist converting their software from older to newer APIs. Even today, many developers continue to turn to the same well-understood programming libraries, even if newer technologies are available. Converting from one library to another also means rewriting and retesting all affected code modules. Because performance improvements that result from converting from an older library to a newer one may be barely perceptible, software developers also balk at making such changes on purely economic grounds (too much time and effort for too small of a result). If you take the implementation of Direct2D in various components of Mozilla Firefox as an illustrative example, you get a sense of the industry’s leisurely pace in carrying out this conversion process. In addition, it would be a form of business suicide for many of these firms to lock the entire community of XP users out of their latest releases. All of this adds up to a single compelling observation: the GDI is likely to stick around until Windows XP no longer represents any significant component of the end-user community.

Then there are technical reasons to explain the persistence of GDI. Key GDI code modules (those that are included and invoked most often in Windows applications) aren't completely portable. Direct2D also consumes significant processing power and system resources, but can do nothing that Direct3D cannot also deliver. And those who elect to skip using Direct3D have usually considered this decision quite carefully. In addition, the GDI works independently of the output devices, such as monitors or printers, that may be in use. Thus, the same routine in a program can render graphics on a monitor, and output to a printer, thereby reducing the code (and its subsequent maintenance and error risk) by as much as one-half. Many of the most affordable printers are GDI devices nowadays, and this situation is unlikely to change any time soon, even in Windows 7, where plenty of drivers for GDI-only printers remain widely available.

Direct2D as a part of Direct3D-Output (D3D)Direct2D as a part of Direct3D-Output (D3D)

The Whole Is More Than the Sum of All Parts

We ourselves view the conversion to WPF and Direct2D as a move that’s being pushed forcibly by Microsoft, and as an irreversible technical step forward. But those who get all hot and bothered by new technology should think back to previous introductions, which we'll recap in this piece. Windows XP included, there is more than enough legacy technology hanging around that you can really only face the future if you’re willing to ignore the past. But alas, this disregards the realities in which most users operate, such as the well-known phobia for Windows XP shown by 780G and 785G on-board graphics chips.

We want to revisit our benchmarks from Part 1 here, but this time we’ll use our own custom-built software (readers can also download this tool from our site, and run it on their own PCs). We'll observe that even the most expensive graphics cards fall flat on some of these tests, if they’re affected by drivers that haven't been optimized for what many folks consider an older technology.

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  • 19 Hide
    Anonymous , February 16, 2010 6:45 AM
    It would be great if you can run the test on some "pro" cards (quadroFX, quadroNVS, firePro & fireMV). Just to see if the "pro" drivers change standard UI rendering or the optimizations are only for the professional DCC software.
  • 18 Hide
    wxj , February 16, 2010 8:20 AM
    I’ve always preferred GDI operations over those of the NOD. GDI have more basic operations set verses NOD’s more complex and sometimes unreliable operations.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    mdm08 , February 16, 2010 6:01 AM
    I have a 5850 with 10.1 drivers and it seems Photoshop CS4 doesn't recognize it as a graphics card that can improve performance so all those cool new features like animated zoom, kinetic panning, and such seem to be disabled. Also, it when you have a very complex group of objects and you try to nudge it ( move it one pixel with arrow keys) the computer actually shows the spinning wheel and has to process this instead of being instantaneous like it was on my older 7600GT. Is this an issue related with what this article is saying about apps written for GDI or is this a different issue i'm experiencing?
  • 0 Hide
    jrharbort , February 16, 2010 6:03 AM
    Scores on 9600M GT and T9600 Core 2 Duo with Windows XP and latest graphics drivers. Only 11 active background processes no including benchmark, and themes disabled.

    BENCHMARK: DIRECT DRAWING TO VISIBLE DEVICE

    Text: 8556 chars/sec
    Line: 47513 lines/sec
    Polygon: 7757 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 6564 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 3874 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 13974 operations/sec
    Stretching: 266 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 10510 splines/sec
    Score: 984
  • 19 Hide
    Anonymous , February 16, 2010 6:45 AM
    It would be great if you can run the test on some "pro" cards (quadroFX, quadroNVS, firePro & fireMV). Just to see if the "pro" drivers change standard UI rendering or the optimizations are only for the professional DCC software.
  • -1 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , February 16, 2010 7:02 AM
    mdm08I have a 5850 with 10.1 drivers and it seems Photoshop CS4 doesn't recognize it as a graphics card that can improve performance so all those cool new features like animated zoom, kinetic panning, and such seem to be disabled. Also, it when you have a very complex group of objects and you try to nudge it ( move it one pixel with arrow keys) the computer actually shows the spinning wheel and has to process this instead of being instantaneous like it was on my older 7600GT. Is this an issue related with what this article is saying about apps written for GDI or is this a different issue i'm experiencing?

    Oh great, more news on a 5xxx series not being able to handle simple apps like CS4.... I have yet to use CS4 on my desktop with my 5850..... I hope Ati comes out with more patches if this is a problem.
  • -7 Hide
    taltamir , February 16, 2010 7:25 AM
    windows XP is dead... get on the windows 7 64bit bandwagon already you Luddites! (not referring to the authors of the article, they raise good points; I am referring to those customers who insist that XP is some sort of holy grail of windows bliss never seen before or after)
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , February 16, 2010 7:48 AM
    Scores on P4 2.8 HT Northwood W ati 2600 pro drivers 10.1 aero Win 7 :
    BENCHMARK: DIRECT DRAWING TO VISIBLE DEVICE

    Text: 8106 chars/sec
    Line: 6528 lines/sec
    Polygon: 249 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 1484 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 6127 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 379 operations/sec
    Stretching: 80 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 5263 splines/sec
    Score: 362
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , February 16, 2010 7:55 AM
    Scores on P4 2.8 HT Northwood W ati 2600 pro drivers 10.1 aero Win 7 :

    BENCHMARK: DIB-BUFFER AND BLIT

    Text: 12633 chars/sec
    Line: 21067 lines/sec
    Polygon: 4087 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 535 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 5604 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 1443 operations/sec
    Stretching: 213 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 12213 splines/sec
    Score: 607
  • -4 Hide
    giovanni86 , February 16, 2010 7:58 AM
    BENCHMARK: DIRECT DRAWING TO VISIBLE DEVICE

    Text: 54466 chars/sec
    Line: 73135 lines/sec
    Polygon: 23943 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 3927 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 26911 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 9827 operations/sec
    Stretching: 464 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 41911 splines/sec
    Score: 2600
  • 1 Hide
    helle040 , February 16, 2010 8:10 AM
    Rdaeon 4670, amd 7750be, winxp, drivers 10.1, resolutie 1280x1024, 32bit
    Text: 45746
    line: 40508
    Splines/beziers: 20466
    Poygon: 322
    Rectangle: 1954
    Arc/E.: 3494
    Biting: 2406
    Stretching: 211
    Score: 1150
  • 18 Hide
    wxj , February 16, 2010 8:20 AM
    I’ve always preferred GDI operations over those of the NOD. GDI have more basic operations set verses NOD’s more complex and sometimes unreliable operations.
  • 1 Hide
    snemarch , February 16, 2010 8:46 AM
    A couple of ideas...

    First, try adding a DDB (device dependent bitmap) test mode as well - even if your DIBs are using the same colordepth as the display mode, perhaps some drivers fail to optimize for this?

    Second, what about the power savings mode modern GPUs tend to run in, in 2D mode? I'm not sure what it takes to kick out of the power-savings mode, but perhaps it could be as simple as creating a D3D context and displaying a single frame?
  • 0 Hide
    helle040 , February 16, 2010 8:55 AM
    I have two more scores, 950, 1002,and the first was 1150 So how is this possible, more then 10% difference?
  • 0 Hide
    JonathanDeane , February 16, 2010 8:58 AM
    BENCHMARK: DIRECT DRAWING TO VISIBLE DEVICE

    Text: 45496 chars/sec
    Line: 44352 lines/sec
    Polygon: 12293 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 7013 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 9854 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 7265 operations/sec
    Stretching: 642 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 36955 splines/sec
    Score: 1853

    4870 Windows 7 running Cat 9.12
  • 0 Hide
    ljbade , February 16, 2010 9:18 AM
    When will they get curves/ellipses fixed?
  • 0 Hide
    proofhitter , February 16, 2010 9:22 AM
    BENCHMARK: DIRECT DRAWING TO VISIBLE DEVICE

    Text: 57405 chars/sec
    Line: 42421 lines/sec
    Polygon: 14198 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 10724 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 18070 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 16297 operations/sec
    Stretching: 615 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 37779 splines/sec
    Score: 2382

    BENCHMARK: DIB-BUFFER AND BLIT

    Text: 38521 chars/sec
    Line: 145631 lines/sec
    Polygon: 22599 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 2572 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 30395 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 10595 operations/sec
    Stretching: 1082 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 47304 splines/sec
    Score: 2904

    Windows 7 core i7 920@3.8 ati 4890 Catalyst 10.1
  • 0 Hide
    snemarch , February 16, 2010 9:32 AM
    ljbadeWhen will they get curves/ellipses fixed?
    Probably not the easiest thing to accelerate on a GPU - the prime candidates would be filled polys, rectangles (subset of polys) and blits (including stretched ones - easy to do with a 3D quad or two tris).

    Points, lines, bezier curves, arcs (and circles, a subset of arc), ellipses, unfilled polys/rectangles ... all those aren't easily/efficiently implemented with the core 3D primitive: filled polygons. Perhaps some of it can be efficiently implemented with shaders, but that's uncharted territory for me :) 
  • 0 Hide
    amdfangirl , February 16, 2010 9:36 AM
    BENCHMARK: DIRECT DRAWING TO VISIBLE DEVICE

    Text: 25419 chars/sec
    Line: 26376 lines/sec
    Polygon: 8153 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 1152 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 8672 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 3359 operations/sec
    Stretching: 455 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 15977 splines/sec
    Score: 1011

    CPU: C2D e4300
    GFX: GMA 3100
    MB: G31
    OS: Win 7
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , February 16, 2010 10:17 AM
    BENCHMARK: DIRECT DRAWING TO VISIBLE DEVICE (AMD FUSION: Max Performance)
    Text: 17806 chars/sec
    Line: 20636 lines/sec
    Polygon: 17975 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 3312 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 23234 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 6199 operations/sec
    Stretching: 321 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 20157 splines/sec
    Score: 1433

    BENCHMARK: DIRECT DRAWING TO VISIBLE DEVICE (AMD FUSION: Productibity)
    Text: 6140 chars/sec
    Line: 5109 lines/sec
    Polygon: 5233 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 1017 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 6819 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 1851 operations/sec
    Stretching: 104 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 5673 splines/sec
    Score: 427

    BENCHMARK: DIRECT DRAWING TO VISIBLE DEVICE
    Text: 43898 chars/sec
    Line: 73421 lines/sec
    Polygon: 17483 polygons/sec
    Rectangle: 2989 rects/sec
    Arc/Ellipse: 21805 ellipses/sec
    Blitting: 6082 operations/sec
    Stretching: 363 operations/sec
    Splines/Bézier: 35804 splines/sec
    Score: 2138

    Windows vista 64, Phenom2 x3 720 (4 core enabled), Catalyst 10.1, ati 5850
  • 4 Hide
    rickzor , February 16, 2010 10:23 AM
    Wow, voodoo4 actually made better than newer gpu proposals in some tests, despite the fact that it was running under win98.
  • 7 Hide
    gamerk316 , February 16, 2010 10:45 AM
    *Sigh*, again, why I prefer OpenGL instead; having two seperate operation pipelines for 2d/3d space is just madness...
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