The first of the Shader Model 3.0 tests is another old favourite â€“ Canyon Flight. If you were ever in doubt about how much difference Shader Model 3.0 and HDR can make, just compare this version of Canyon Flight to the old one.
This test really does look awesome and whereas it all looked a little â€œchildrenâ€™s toy boxâ€ in 3DMark05, it now looks like a real graphical spectacle. The bright light of the sun flares over the canyon walls, while this is reflected in the water, making the surface look far more realistic than before.
The textures on the dragon are much improved and the sense of depth when itâ€™s swimming under water is far more convincing. But the subtle lighting effects on the boat mixed with softer shadows also add more atmosphere making this feel more like a proper game than just a pre-rendered demo.
The fourth and final graphics test is completely new and it puts all the others in the shade. Deep Freeze shows a massively open environment in what looks like the Antarctic. The effects here are subtle but incredibly effective â€“ the way the top layer of powder blows off the snow drifts is stunning.
The use of HDR here is definitely more subtle than in Canyon Flight, but the effect is breathtaking. Futuremark has implemented over 11,000 HDR levels in this test, which is why the floating point method had to be used. The way the light changes and the shadows move as the sun is setting has to be seen to be believed.
Thereâ€™s been a lot of talk over the past few years about cinematic visuals, but Deep Freeze really could be a scene from a movie â€“ in fact every time I run the test I canâ€™t help but think of John Carpenterâ€™s The Thing!
Thereâ€™s no doubt that 3DMark06 will give the latest batch of hardware a very tough run for its money and like me, youâ€™re probably keen to find out how the fastest hardware copes with this new benchmark. Well Iâ€™m afraid youâ€™re going to have to wait a little while, because although Iâ€™ve been running 3DMark06 on some very high-end hardware, I canâ€™t actually publish those results until next week. Suffice to say, that even the most expensive and powerful graphics cards out there will struggle with this new version of 3DMark â€“ to find out just how hard they have to struggle come back next week for the full rundown of test results.