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

The Radeon HD 5000's Symptoms And Their Relevance To Windows 7

We had to prove to ourselves that direct, unbuffered output of various GDI primitives (the geometric shapes) for the Radeon HD 5870 and the Radeon HD 5750 took much longer under Windows 7 than it did on other graphics cards. Before we tried to isolate the causes more precisely, we needed to examine the symptoms more carefully, because that'd determine the users most likely to be affected, and thus, whether or not anyone is likely to run into trouble as a result. This is not the kind of problem that every user is bound to encounter, but those who do have to cope with reduced 2D functionality can’t help but feel like helpless bystanders in the middle of a demolition derby.

Mouse-based selection of multiple objects in a drawing: dragging such an object around in realtime can turn into an exercise in patience and perseverance

Problems with Direct Drawing

As reported in Part 1 of this story, the main performance issue for the latest ATI cards centers on the output of lines, curves, ellipses, and polygons. We could only measure about 4,000 curves per second on the Radeon HD 5870 running under Windows 7, without individual buffers for the display device. When we moved a single graphics object consisting of 50 curves in real-time with help from the ROP, it could only redraw 25 individual instances per second while it was in motion (remember, though, that the XOR technique used to make objects disappear from their previous position requires a second redraw, so this is actually 50 operations).

If the object to be moved exceeds 100 curves, then the total number of curves to redraw (5,000 per second, given 100 curves at 50 operations per second) exceeded what the Radeon HD 5870 could handle! Ornaments and clip art elements normally consist of more than 100 curves, making a flicker-free drag of such objects (“float”) impossible. This causes major problems for productivity and functionality, even for the most basic graphics programs.

In addition, many applications use such simple graphics commands that developers see no need to buffer them, as long as direct output to the display behaves reasonably well. These are the programs hardest hit on the Radeon HD 5780.

Problems Drawing to a Buffer

Even when programs use their own internal buffers and handle updates for various types of geometric forms, you may encounter noticeable performance issues that lead to slow output. Likewise, the block-level transfer of buffer contents (called BitBlt, pronounced “bit blit”) also slows to a crawl.

Which Types of Programs Are Affected?

In short, every 2D program that emits GDI commands to draw objects on-screen can fall prey to this issue, particular when they must render lots of drawing objects. This also holds true for programs that manipulate graphics information, such as drawing programs, project planning software, and even productivity applications (like elements of the Microsoft Office suite).

For Which Programs Did We Find Concrete Issues?

  • CorelDraw, Adobe illustrator, Adobe Freehand MX, Nemetschek AllPlan (2D functions)
  • Adobe Photoshop CS3/CS4 (general vector objects on various layers)
  • Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft PowerPoint, and various home layout packages
  • Microsoft Excel when rendering larger charts, or big spreadsheets with area fills
  • Various construction tools, including those for electrical, plumbing, and HVAC drawings
  • Various industry-specific tools (drawing annotations, site plans, landscaping plans, etc.)

We’d also like to observe that all of these programs run reasonably well on other current consumer-level graphics cards. We’re not trying to suggest that these applications need workstation-class cards from the FireGL or Quadro families, either. In fact, we got satisfactory results from numerous low-cost graphics cards priced under $50. Neither craftsmen nor real estate companies need buy ATI's or Nvidia's stack to solve these problems.

Which Programs Are Generally NOT Affected?

  • All 2D programs that use Direct2D to render 2D graphics (and don’t work in XP)
  • All 3D programs that use Direct3D and that don’t output 2D content
  • All programs that use OpenGL for 2D rendering

Summary and First Set of Conclusions

Our best advice to you is to patiently wait for new drivers (which we have in-house and are currently testing), and only then decide which of the problems we document will affect your apps. There’s no need for an emotional response. These issues affect only 2D performance for Windows 7 when GDI or GDI+ are called upon to render 2D graphics info. Apps that run under Windows XP, on the other hand, will almost always fall prey to these problems. Finally, there’s the issue of which graphics primitives actually benefit from hardware acceleration (some do, some don’t).

Because the Radeon HD 5750 is also subject to these troubles, suggesting a driver issue rather than a more fundamental hardware issue (a suspicion ATI confirmed for us in Part 1), it's very likely that the entry-level 5000-series cards launched last month are subject to the same conclusions. Thus, even if what we've covered is not a widespread epidemic among all new graphics cards, it can still be a serious problem for those affected. This is why we believe it’s so important for the vendors to address their software as soon as possible.

  • mdm08
    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?
    Reply
  • jrharbort
    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
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • liquidsnake718
    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.
    Reply
  • taltamir
    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)
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • giovanni86
    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
    Reply
  • helle040
    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
    Reply
  • wxj
    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.
    Reply