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VGA Charts Update October 2006

VGA Charts Update October 2006
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More Cards For The Lineup

With a red-hot season of launches, graphics card manufacturers have been keeping us busy. In some cases, there are too many choices for the consumer and there needs to be more information available to make appropriate purchasing decisions. Tom's Hardware Guide has been publishing comprehensive VGA charts since 2002, and in late August, we our updated our VGA Charts again. Our latest Interactive VGA Charts are the most extensive we have put together to date.

With only two major players in the discrete graphics market, there still are lots of cards. From the ATI side we added the Radeon X1300 XT, X1650 Pro, X1900 XT 256 MB and the flagship Radeon X1950XTX. On the other side we added Nvidia's GeForce 7900GS and 7950GT. For multi-graphics platform performance we added the Radeon X1950 XTX in CrossFire as well as the X1650 Pro, and X1300 XT. From Nvidia we added the GeForce 7900 in SLI.

For the charts we kept the resolutions spectrum to that which 95% of gamers really use. While the majority of gamers still play at 1024x768, there has been a continued move to 1280x1024 as LCD panel sales push their native resolution. On the fringe are those who maximize their 1600x1200 CRTs or have a panel that can display it.

The new marketing term XHD for Extreme High Definition has emerged but with less than 5% of the populous using displays less than 2048x1536, we felt it was not yet time to put in two more resolutions. It takes a lot of extra time to run at four more settings per card, and when the time is right, we will make the move to fit them all in.

We will adopt new games for the new year and the next round of test will incorporate the latest feature sets. However, we are at the mercy of the three parties, game developers, the hardware manufactures and Microsoft's Direct X specification. We are confident that DX10 parts will be available soon as we have started getting specs on the new cards - and wow are these things big and consume a lot of power (No teasers for you... for now)..

Test Setup

One note I would like to make is about the difference between the testing for the VGA charts and the single card reviews seen here on Tom's Hardware Guide. The VGA charts use Oblivion to test features such as HDR, with Oblivion used as a torture test with AA and almost all of the settings turned up in the single card tests. The scores will be totally different but will show the same trend: high-end cards will perform better than inferior cards. That should be obvious but we have had some readers send us "why are they different" messages, and we needed to clarify this. For these tests the game is set up at levels a typical gamer might choose.

We tested without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering as well as with 4x AA and 8x AF settings at all resolutions. To incorporate all of the configurations (CrossFire, SLI, PCIe and AGP), we had to run three platforms. The components and configurations are listed below.

Nvidia Single Graphics and SLI, ATI Single Graphics Setup
CPU AMD Athlon 64 FX-60, 2.6 GHz
System Interface 1 GHz HT-Link
Motherboard Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe
Chipset Nvidia nForce4
Memory Mushkin 2x1024 MB PC3200, CL2.0-2-3-2
Hard Drive Western Digital Raptor WD1500, 150 GB, Serial ATA, 10,000 RPM
DVD Gigabyte GO-D1600C
LAN Marvell
Audio Realtek AC97
Power Supply Silverstone SST-ST56ZF, 560 W
ATI Crossfire Setup
CPU AMD Athlon 64 FX-60, 2.6 GHz
System Interface 1 GHz HT Link
Motherboard ATI Reference Board
Chipset ATI CrossFire Xpress 3200 (RD580)
Memory Mushkin 2x 1024 MB, PC3200, CL2.0-2-3-2
LAN Marvell
Audio AC97
AGP Graphics Cards
CPU AMD Athlon 64 FX-60, 2.6 GHz
System Interface 1 GHz HT-Link
Motherboard Asus AV8 Deluxe
Chipset VIA K8T800 Pro
Memory Mushkin 2x 1024 MB, PC3200, CL2.0-2-3-2
Chipset Marvell
Audio Realtek AC97
Drivers & Setup
Graphics ATI Catalyst 6.6
Nvidia Forceware 91.31
OS Windows XP Professional, SP2
DirectX Version 9.0c
Chipset Software Nvidia Nforce4 6.86
AGP VIA Hyperion Pro V509A
Test Matrix Details
Application Benchmark Anti Aliasing (AA) Anisotropic Filtering (AF) Possible Problems and Settings
Half Life 2: Episode One Fraps/THG-Savegame, Max Details /Quality /HDR-Rendering Application-driven Application-driven, ATI X1000 high quality AF 6200 TC does not support HDR, but bloom only
Hard Truck Apocalypse Fraps/THG-Savegame, Max Details /Quality Application-driven Application-driven, ATI X1000 high quality AF AF via game settings
Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls 4 Fraps/THG savegame outdoor and indoor, max details /quality /HDR rendering No support for AA + HDR rendering, no support for Nvidia AA + HDR rendering, ATI AA not visible, ran X800, X850 without AA for the sake of better comparison Driver-driven, ATI X1000 high quality AF AF not offered by the game, 6200 TC, X600, X700, X800, X850 do not support HDR rendering, but bloom only.
Prey THG-Timedemo, max details /quality Application-driven Application-driven ATI X1000 high quality AF
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends THG record game, max details /quality Application-driven Driver-driven, ATI X1000 high quality AF AA selectable in game settings (medium), no AF support, 128 MB 3D memory without full screen filters and with medium shadow setting only
Titan Quest Fraps/THG savegame, max details /quality Application-driven Driver-driven, ATI X1000 high quality AF AA selectable via game settings, no AF support
3DMark06 (v1.0.2) Default Benchmark Application-driven Application-driven, ATI X1000 high quality AF Nvidia HDR rendering + AA not supported, 6200 TC, X600, X700, X800, X850 don't support HDR rendering
Test Matrix for SLI and Crossfire
Application Best Performance Settings Nvidia SLI Best Performance Settings ATI Crossfire
Half Life 2: Episode One Single-GPU rendering, 7300 GS TC SLI, 7600 GS SLI, 7600 GT SLI, 7800 GT SLI Split-frame rendering, Quad-SLI Alternate frame rendering 2 Single-GPU rendering, Crossfire alternative: Install first card, then second card, then the applications
Hard Truck Apocalypse Single-GPU rendering, 7300 GS TC SLI Split-frame rendering X1900 XTX Crossfire mode: Install one card first, install the second card, then install applications. X1300 to X1600 do single GPU rendering only
Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls 4 Alternate frame rendering Crossfire mode: Install both cards at the same time, then install applications
Prey Split-frame rendering, 6800 GT SLI, 6800 Ultra SLI, Single GPU rendering Crossfire mode
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends Alternate frame rendering, 7800 GTX 512 MB SLI, 7900 GTX, Quad SLI Single GPU rendering Single GPU rendering
Titan Quest Alternate frame rendering 2, Quad SLI Split-frame rendering, 6600 GT SLI Single-GPU rendering Crossfire-Modus: Install both cards at the same time, then install applications. Exception: 1024x768 in Crossfire mode. 1280x1024 does single-rendering only.
3DMark06 (v1.0.2) Auto select Install both cards at the same time, then install applications.

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