Benchmarking analysis

In 3DMark 05 the 7900 GTX surprised us by coming in consistently behind the X1900 XTX by some margin. It’s ahead of the 7800 GTX, but the early indications are that the refresh isn’t enough to outpace ATI’s flagship.

The trend continues in 3DMark 06 with ATI ahead in all resolutions save for the default 1,280 x 1,024. More significantly NVIDIA scores nothing when FSAA and HDR are enabled as like the 7900 still can’t do it, there being no architectural changes over the 7800. However, games that can actually offer this are very limited indeed right now. Black and White 2, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory are the only two that spring to mind.

The synthetic tests imply then, that NVIDIA refresh isn’t enough to take the performance crown from ATI. What about the game tests?

Starting with Call of Duty 2, the 3DMark results are borne out with ATI taking a commanding lead, though as the resolutions increase this is chipped away. Notably, at 1,600 x 1,200 an X1900 XTX can run with 4x FSAA and 8xAF at a playable 42.3fps, whereas the 7900 GTX only has 36.3fps to offer.

In Counter-Strike: Source NVIDIA finally pulls ahead of ATI though there’s not much in it and all three are pretty playable all the way up to 2,048 x 1,536 with all IQ on. Finally in Quake 4, NVIDIA’s traditional dominance continues,, often though once IQ is enabled it barely keeps ahead of the powerful XTX.

In SLI vs CrossFire a similar pattern emerging. 7900 GTX is a nice speed boost over 7800 GTX SLI but still not enough to catch ATI except in Quake 4. CrossFire also proves to be faster than SLI 7900 GTX in Counter-Strike: Source.

A lot of reviews pay a lot of attention to the difference in image quality between ATI and NVIDIA, often going into great depth into the different methods they employ for FSAA and AF. NVIDIA is known to use more optimisations with its AF, which essentially means it uses algorithms to perform smart filtering, lowering precision where it feels it can do so without sacrificing image quality. Many enthusiasts get their knickers in a twist over this, claiming that NVIDIA is essentially cutting corners and as such produces lower quality images than ATI.

Both claim the image quality high ground though. In SLI, NVIDIA offers a massive 16x FSAA mode, while ATI has a 14x FSAA mode. There’s also NVIDIA’s Transparency AA vs ATI’s Adaptive AA the latter a feature introduced with the X1800 series.

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