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Image Quality: DirectX 11 Vs. DirectX 9

Aliens Vs. Predator: DirectX 11 Game Performance Analyzed
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Before I say anything else, I'm going to mention the experience I had in evaluating DiRT 2's DirectX 11 implementation: it turns out that people see what they expect to see. I'm as guilty of this as anyone, which is why we collect objective data like screenshots to support any conclusions we make. Despite the proof, you would not believe how many people have accused me of making a mistake when comparing DiRT 2's  DirectX 9 and DirectX 11 visuals. Some folks assume that the difference is huge, and the mind tends to play tricks to convince its owner that expectations will be met. I've had discussions with readers claiming that the difference between DirectX 9 and DirectX 11 in DiRT 2 is like night and day, that it's incredibly obvious to them, and if the evidence doesn't support that opinion, then the evidence must be flawed. But the evidence shows that the differences are minor at best, and completely unnoticeable during gameplay at worst.

Why am I mentioning this? It's a pre-emptive strike, because Aliens vs. Predator falls in the same boat. Folks, it is almost impossible to tell if this game is running in DirectX 9 or DirectX 11 mode during actual play. Despite the impressive tessellated alien mesh on the previous page, I am convinced that there is no realistic way to tell if the game is running in DirectX 9 or 11 mode while playing it unless AA is enabled, assuming your style of gameplay doesn't involve spending time standing still and staring at alien corpses until they melt away.

While the potential for tessellation to improve the detail of a 3D model is undeniable, any noticeable increase in the final result depends on the difference between the appearance of the standard version vs. the tessellated version. The standard alien model is extremely well-detailed, and so meticulously crafted, in fact, that I don't think it's at all practical to assume anyone would see the difference while playing this game. Perhaps a player might notice something if they scrutinize a non-moving alien body, but while actually playing the game and fighting the aliens, it's completely unapparent.

What about high dynamic-range AO and DirectX 11-enhanced shadows? These features are even subtler than the tessellation effect. In a static screenshot comparison, you need to struggle to find any difference whatsoever.

The only DirectX 11-exclusive feature with noticeable teeth is AA, which is no surprise. I'm not sure what the technical reason is that prevents AA from running on DirectX 9 hardware, but the DiRT 2 developers managed to include AA in the DirectX 9 code path. The great majority of DirectX 9 games out there support AA, and to me the feature is important enough to spend development time on for a universal solution. In any case, none of this is the API's fault. If you want to use AA in this game, you will need a DirectX 11 graphics card. End of story.

What's the good news? In our testing, the DirectX 11 code path provided superior performance compared to DirectX 9 in many cases, even though the enhanced effects were enabled. That means that all the DirectX 11 goodness is often free, and in this light, the miniscule visual impact doesn't seem so bad. It's one thing to trade performance for tiny details, but it's quite another to have your cake and eat it, too.

Our final verdict is that this game will look fantastic with a DirectX 9 graphics card, but if you do have a Radeon HD 5000-series card in your machine, there's no reason to turn DirectX 11 features off.

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  • 32 Hide
    Kelavarus , April 22, 2010 6:19 AM
    The thing is, same with DirectX 10, you aren't going to see considerable difference unless it's coded specifically for that API. I have seen some absolutely amazing things done with DirectX 10, but only because the engine was purely for DirectX 10, and to my knowledge, no one has even attempted that with DirectX 11 yet anyway.

    To reach the broader audience, games are coded with DirectX 9 in mind then have DX10/11 tacked on with a few features.

    We're not going to see much of a jump until DX9 is dropped completely, and especially with consoles running around DX9-ish, it's not going to happen till they upgrade, probably. Just my 2c.
  • 14 Hide
    Tridec , April 22, 2010 9:07 AM
    I really can't understand why you didn't use the older ATI 48xx series cards in your review. It would seem logical to do so as there are a lot of your readers with previous gen cards that are thinking about upgrading. You guys did use the Nvidia 260 and even the older Nvidia 9800 GT, but not the "populair" Ati cards.
Other Comments
  • 32 Hide
    Kelavarus , April 22, 2010 6:19 AM
    The thing is, same with DirectX 10, you aren't going to see considerable difference unless it's coded specifically for that API. I have seen some absolutely amazing things done with DirectX 10, but only because the engine was purely for DirectX 10, and to my knowledge, no one has even attempted that with DirectX 11 yet anyway.

    To reach the broader audience, games are coded with DirectX 9 in mind then have DX10/11 tacked on with a few features.

    We're not going to see much of a jump until DX9 is dropped completely, and especially with consoles running around DX9-ish, it's not going to happen till they upgrade, probably. Just my 2c.
  • 2 Hide
    Annisman , April 22, 2010 6:29 AM
    I will say one thing, DX11 is a new api, and though the differences in screenshots is minute, it's great to see no performance loss going with DX11. I think it took a whole year or more to actually see performance increases with DX10 vs. DX 9.

    So that is one thing you can take out of this.
  • -2 Hide
    haplo602 , April 22, 2010 6:42 AM
    "Rebellion Gets A Third Swing At AvP" I thing that should be second swing, as AvP 2 was done by Monolith. Or swing at the third installment :-)

    Anyway, the original AvP was the best single and multiplayer pure FPS I ever played. The Alien was the king there, incredibly fast and agile and if done right, one hit killing anything in the game except a marine with a smartgun and head on (or predator with plasma guns in the same situation) :-) ...

    The second AvP failed miserably in all aspects maybe except story telling ... I have to have a look at the current one still ... but from your description, I guess I won't like it. Marine with melee against Aliens ? W T H !!!!
  • 3 Hide
    matt87_50 , April 22, 2010 7:12 AM
    KelavarusThe thing is, same with DirectX 10, you aren't going to see considerable difference unless it's coded specifically for that API. I have seen some absolutely amazing things done with DirectX 10, but only because the engine was purely for DirectX 10, and to my knowledge, no one has even attempted that with DirectX 11 yet anyway.To reach the broader audience, games are coded with DirectX 9 in mind then have DX10/11 tacked on with a few features. We're not going to see much of a jump until DX9 is dropped completely, and especially with consoles running around DX9-ish, it's not going to happen till they upgrade, probably. Just my 2c.


    good points, all true.

    the biggest thing with DX10 was that it was vista only, no XP. as people flock to win7 with dx11 built in, that won't be such a big problem. also, dx11 doesn't really add much, it just kinda improves on dx10 and adds a couple of really useful things that should actually make life easier for everyone (kinda like win7 compared to vista I suppose) it adds proper multi threading in the drivers and allows the rendering engines to be multi threaded now. this is just a software thing too, so its not really hardware dependant (you don't need dx11 hardware to benefit) the other really useful feature added is tessellation. which is something that devs already do manually, and painfully in dx9 games. if anything its probably better for developers production times than it is for the end user! no complex art pipelines or engines, automatic performance scaling (the card knows how fast it is and can dynamically allocate the right proportion of triangles to every object in order to reach an exact total frame poly budget). it also adds compute shader. all of these things don't really add anything new, we had tessellation on GPGPU before, but it was all third party and more convoluted, so its more about ease of development than new stuff. don't take that the wrong way though. ease of development should lead to much bigger leaps and bounds in graphics than new features that everyone was too scared to use anyway.
  • 2 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , April 22, 2010 7:27 AM
    Sounds like the new avp faces the same problem borderlands does - it's too easy! I compare borderlands with fallout 3 as they feel about the same. But in borderlands you've got this constant pointer to exactly where you're supposed to go - which makes you not even try to read the actually mission briefings - and when you've just downed a boss you stop and think 'what ? this easy?'
    Dumbing down's been seen in wow since burning crusade too. I suppose developers are just broadening their potential customer base by making the games so simple that any 10 year old can play them sufficiently well.
  • 1 Hide
    XxOsurfer3xX , April 22, 2010 7:56 AM
    Depends on how you play borderlands, if you go to misions over your level is not that easy..
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , April 22, 2010 8:06 AM
    XxOsurfer3xXDepends on how you play borderlands, if you go to misions over your level is not that easy..

    Yes it is.
    Sure 3 levels over you, and you do next to no damage - but you don't die, you simply run out of ammo!
    I solved the difficulty level problem by running a lan game and have two other of my chars join. Now there's a feeling of difficulty in playthough 2, but given the directions you're still just following pointers and aren't really immersed in the plot at any rate. You don't have to think, just shoot. Could's well play cs or some other shooter
  • 14 Hide
    Tridec , April 22, 2010 9:07 AM
    I really can't understand why you didn't use the older ATI 48xx series cards in your review. It would seem logical to do so as there are a lot of your readers with previous gen cards that are thinking about upgrading. You guys did use the Nvidia 260 and even the older Nvidia 9800 GT, but not the "populair" Ati cards.
  • 0 Hide
    Tomtompiper , April 22, 2010 9:31 AM
    Third swipe, the first AvP was for the Atari Jaguar, by Rebellion and was a cracker.
  • 3 Hide
    ssddx , April 22, 2010 11:40 AM
    Don Woligroski, I must say that is a very nicely written article! I've only been seeing your name more recently; are you new to Toms?

    As for the games themselves: I would have to disagree on the second avp being a failure. The game packs everything you state the first one got right. I would also have to say that the multiplayer is(was) excellent. Theres nothing quite like dropping 150 feet as an alien onto some poor guys head (and the things he would say too!)

    Do people still play AVP2 online? If so I might have to get myself into a match for a quick fix.
  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , April 22, 2010 11:44 AM
    ssddxDon Woligroski, I must say that is a very nicely written article! I've only been seeing your name more recently; are you new to Toms?


    Maybe you just didn't pay attention?
    He's the guy writing all the best graphics and best cpu for gaming every month.... and he's writing all the articles on new directx and most new gpu architecture articles ... basicly he is tom's grahpics expert.
    He's by no means new to toms.
  • 4 Hide
    Reynod , April 22, 2010 12:13 PM
    Well done again Don.

    The cpu utilisation bit at the end was also an interesting addon ... and of interest to those with lower end PC's ... they can buy a game like this with confidence providing they have a quality graphics card.

    The AMD Phenom box @ 2Ghz also outperformed the i7 @ 3Ghz ... chuckle ... 2 , 3, and 4 cores active.

    :) 
  • -7 Hide
    we_san , April 22, 2010 12:21 PM
    TridecI really can't understand why you didn't use the older ATI 48xx series cards in your review. It would seem logical to do so as there are a lot of your readers with previous gen cards that are thinking about upgrading. You guys did use the Nvidia 260 and even the older Nvidia 9800 GT, but not the "populair" Ati cards.

    Like you never know, Tom Is Always Towards Nvidia, perhaps ATi 48xx series beat Nvidia 260 and 9800GT in this game.
  • 4 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , April 22, 2010 12:27 PM
    we_sanLike you never know, Tom Is Always Towards Nvidia, perhaps ATi 48xx series beat Nvidia 260 and 9800GT in this game.

    Prove it! toms is as neutral as can be!
  • -4 Hide
    we_san , April 22, 2010 12:44 PM
    ATI2ndbestATIdiots, trolls get a grip. Your 5 series tested in DX9 is the same as the 4 series would give. Your 5 series is a rebrand of the 4 series with eyefinity, grey screening and monitor flickering thrown in for good measure. rofl

    Nvidiots are made first. So find another. Why just Nvidia can't make GTS250, GT220, GT240, (9 series also rebrand) support dx11.
  • -8 Hide
    kikireeki , April 22, 2010 12:52 PM
    I really don't get it! you have said that enabling DX11 features in this game has no down effect on the performance, but when the VERY UNIQUE ddx11 exclusive AA is enabled the frames dropped to the half, and in some cases the game became unplayable!
    So I think that this review proves that DX11 is still a concept!
    and AFAIK "Tessellation" is meant to make the game perform better, not to look better!
  • 3 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , April 22, 2010 12:57 PM
    kikireekiI really don't get it! you have said that enabling DX11 features in this game has no down effect on the performance, but when the VERY UNIQUE ddx11 exclusive AA is enabled the frames dropped to the half, and in some cases the game became unplayable!So I think that this review proves that DX11 is still a concept! and AFAIK "Tessellation" is meant to make the game perform better, not to look better!

    DX11 has no appearent visual improvement in store, it merely makes the game run a tad faster. On top of that the developers decided to not allow AA options in dx9 - which has nothing to do with directx, but everything with the developers.
    Did you read the article?

    Besides, the framerates only drop if you enable AA - which they would've done if it was available in dx9 as well.
  • 1 Hide
    we_san , April 22, 2010 1:03 PM
    kikireekiI really don't get it! you have said that enabling DX11 features in this game has no down effect on the performance, but when the VERY UNIQUE ddx11 exclusive AA is enabled the frames dropped to the half, and in some cases the game became unplayable!So I think that this review proves that DX11 is still a concept! and AFAIK "Tessellation" is meant to make the game perform better, not to look better!

    AFAIK, Tessellation is meant to adding more polygons (to look better) but without putting much more load to the GPU (low impact on performance). I think Neiro is right that AA is the cause of the frames drop.
  • 0 Hide
    ScoobyJooby-Jew , April 22, 2010 1:28 PM
    there was a massive change in fps when going from a 5750 to a 5770 whilst in dx11. 10 fps across all the benches. Man, its not playable on a 5750 in dx11. Dx11 is a bummer for me then. :( 
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