Tom's Hardware Readers Rate Two Of The Most Expensive Graphics Cards
Let’s say that you’re buying a new car tomorrow. It’s your first car, and you don’t know what to get. You have one friend who swears by Fords, but only because the company didn’t take any bailout money, you suspect. That sort of fanaticism doesn’t help you—you’re going to actually be driving this thing. You want a recommendation based on performance, mileage, reliability, and not some random factoid that ignites misplaced loyalty.
What’s better, then: one recommendation or several corroborating opinions from folks with no skin in the game?
Yeah, that’s an easy one. But when you hop on a forum and ask, “Which graphics card should I buy, AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 or Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 770?” get ready for an epic war of words, often waged by folks who don’t own either one.
This is why sites like Tom’s Hardware exist. We’re the guys who put in the hours to figure out whether A is faster than B. Almost exclusively, the recommendations we make are based on data generated in the lab. That information is conveyed to you in the form of benchmark results. But when it comes to multi-GPU graphics card configurations…well, we all know how complicated the story can get.
Does Radeon HD 7990 Redeem Itself?
Yesterday, Don Woligroski published his look at AMD’s Catalyst 13.8 beta driver, which adds frame pacing support. The purpose of frame pacing, as many of you already know, is to measure the rate at which frames are being rendered and deliver them in a more consistent cadence, rather than allowing each of the card’s two GPUs to simply output them as quickly as possible.
Don’s piece took our conventional data-driven approach. He used video capture and the FCAT tool set to analyze the output of AMD’s Radeon HD 7990 before and after Catalyst 13.8, compared to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 690. He measured average frame rate, charted frame rate over time, and frame time latency.
What we hoped to see from AMD’s work was fewer dropped and runt frames. In fact, we were looking for frames to show up on-screen for about as long as the ones before and after them. Using the image below as an example, the red bars are more desirable than the black, despite the fact that both average 24 FPS. For more on this concept of consistent frame delivery, check out this page.
According to the numbers Don generated, Catalyst 13.8 beta does notably reduce the variance between individual frames, indicating that the Radeon HD 7990 performs more consistently with frame pacing enabled. However, Don’s videos also sometimes contradicted the outcome of FCAT, appearing choppy when the analysis tool suggested otherwise.
You'll have to excuse the video and audio quality; it's both loud and dark inside the brewery, and I didn't take my wireless mics with me.
Crowdsourcing Benchmark Data
Rather than drawing a definitive conclusion from the FCAT data or videos, we planned an event that’d run concurrent with Don’s testing. This event would bring in volunteers who’d play on two identically-configured platforms for a few minutes per game in popular titles. After switching from A to B, they’d jot down their preference and explain why the system they picked was the favorite. We’d collate the data and look for patterns in the subjective testing compared to Don’s benchmark numbers.
After such an inconclusive report yesterday, could we even hope to definitively answer whether AMD’s Catalyst 13.8 beta driver improves gaming on the Radeon HD 7990? Does it fare any differently against Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 690? That’s exactly what we hoped to figure out.