Radeon HD 7990 Vs. GeForce GTX 690: The Pepsi Challenge
Speaking of the subjective testing that helps us draw more confident conclusions throughout our benchmark analysis…
By rolling FCAT into our regular test suite and phasing Fraps out of multi-card coverage, we have a ton of new quantitative information that presents us with more insight into performance than we’ve ever offered before. In theory, we should be armed with the data to get even more authoritative.
But we’re still missing a vital piece of information: how do real gamers perceive various levels of latency between frames? Are we making a bigger deal about smoothness only because we have the tools to measure it? Is the issue getting overblown in the process?
We’re working on leveraging the audience size of Tom’s Hardware to generate experiential data that’ll go into a story of its own, exploring what gamers think about certain variables based on first-hand play. For this piece, though, I felt it important to bring a select few gamers into my home, where they could try out the Radeon HD 7990 and GeForce GTX 690, one card right after the other, in the same games.
I set two open test beds behind a pair of Auria EQ276W 27” displays. The systems were both running Z77-based motherboards with Ivy Bridge-based Core i7 processors and 16 GB of DDR3-1600 memory. Both featured 256 GB SSDs with identical drive images, too. The test subjects weren’t told which system had which card, or to which test bed their monitor was attached. Though, over the course of seven hours, I did let them know where their opinions were leading us. Each gamer spent between 10 and 15 minutes in front of each screen (I was only able to involve five folks for this; I’d like to at least double that in the future), before switching and repeating.
Unanimously, the entire group identified game play on Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 690 as the smoothest. Although I was worried about group pressures affecting the responses, or any of the other pitfalls associated with subjective analysis, each gamer was asked to identify the factors that affected his judgment, and we received specific answers.
This could have been done more scientifically, given more time, a larger sample size, and enough matching hardware. But I was satisfied enough with the discussion to include its outcome here.
The bulk of our gaming involved AMD’s Catalyst 13.5 Beta 2 driver. However, I surprised the group by dropping AMD’s special prototype driver onto the Radeon HD 7990-equipped machine. Without telling anyone what the software was supposed to do, I asked them to retry titles they had already played. Again, the response was universal: action on the dual-Tahiti board was noticeably smoother in most games, but seemed intermittently choppy in a couple of others (Crysis 3 and Tomb Raider). This is actually in contention with the benchmarks, which show the frame pacing-optimized software delivering higher practical frame rates in those two titles.
My working hypothesis, after also seeing a couple of titles that looked choppier under the prototype driver (Battlefield 3 is the one I singled out), is this: although deliberately inserting latency helps avoid runts and drops, benefiting the frame rate FCAT measures, it’s not always done precisely enough to prevent perceptible blips in the action. AMD is still working on the driver, though, and it certainly seems to achieve the company’s goal. Skyrim, in particular, elicited a few “whoa, nice” reactions from gamers who previously singled-out the Radeon HD 7990 under Catalyst 13.5 Beta 2.