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Tessellation: HAWX 2 Gives Us Real-World Numbers

GeForce GTX 570 Review: Hitting $349 With Nvidia's GF110

AMD’s contention with HAWX 2 was that the game doesn’t employ a realistic degree of tessellation—that it purposely loads up on geometry to showcase Nvidia’s architecture. Fortunately, you can run this one in DirectX 11 mode without tessellation to measure scaling here as well. Note, though, that there is an appreciable difference in environmental realism thanks to tessellation. If you have a DirectX 11-capable card that’s fast enough, the feature is worth turning on.

The howling probably would have resonated more soundly had AMD’s performance with tessellation turned off been more competitive. With that said, every single one of these cards exceeds 100 frames per second at 1920x1200, even with 8x MSAA enabled.

Flip the switch, though, and it’s a little easier to see why AMD is unhappy with Ubisoft’s implementation of tessellation. All of the cards remain playable. However, even the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 drops below a single GeForce GTX 470. It takes a pair of Radeon HD 6850s, with their improved tessellation engines, to crack 100 FPS.

The scaling in HAWX 2 falls somewhere in between Unigine’s Normal and Extreme settings at 1920x1200, as a percentage. Again, all of the Nvidia boards hit 72-73% of their original frame rates, suggesting that adding PolyMorph engines wouldn’t really help speed anything up here. AMD does see more scaling action. Unfortunately, the 5870 sheds half of its performance. The 6870 retains 60% of its frame rate with tessellation on. The Radeon HD 5970 falls between the two single-GPU boards.

So there we have it. A real-world demonstration of what Unigine has been showing us for months. Don’t read into it too heavily—this is only the first real-world example of heavy geometry in a DirectX 11 game, and we know it was massively influenced by Nvidia’s desire to justify some of its design decisions. But it could be a harbinger. After all, tessellation does positively affect this title’s on-screen impact.

Before we shift away from HAWX 2 and onto another bit of laboratory drama, let me just say that Ubisoft’s mechanism for playing this game is perhaps the most invasive I’ve ever seen. If you’re going to require your customers to log in to a service every time they play a game, at least make that service somewhat responsive. Waiting a minute to authenticate over a 24 Mb/s connection is ridiculous, as is waiting another 45 seconds once the game shuts down for a sync. Ubi’s own version of Steam, this is not.

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