With all of the tests available, I try to maintain a small but workable inventory of benchmarking utilities. On top of that, I do my best to make sure that anyone can get these programs at no cost so that anyone can run the tests themselves on their own systems to gauge their own levels of performance with the test system. This allows us to be able to compare directly and help us when it comes down to making buying decisions. After all, don't we keep up with the latest and greatest in the hopes that it will be in our personal system some day?
Testing today will include a trio of programs/utilities that are all available at no cost to anyone with an internet connection. This will include the tried and tested 3DMark2001SE from Futuremark (formerly MadOnion), the two benchmarking utilities available within Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo and the newly released 3DMark03 from Futuremark. While the 3DMark03 benchmark isn't being weighed too heavily in this article, it is included for comparison sake to help give a more complete picture of the capabilities of the video board being tested.
But before we go any further, its time to look at the test rig.
Motherboard: EPoX 8K9A2 (KT400 chipset)
Processor: Athlon XP 1800+ @ 1870MHz (Thoroughbred)
Memory: 512MB Crucial PC2700 DDR
Display: Hitachi SuperScan 814 21" CRT
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB
I will use the results from our previous review of the Sapphire 9500 Pro board for comparison as well as tests on a Prolink Ti4200-8x video board. I chose these two boards because both of them are very popular and a direct comparison will allow us to see whether or not an upgrade to the 9700 Pro is really worth it. While some may argue that we're not comparing apples to apples, I hope that folks will understand that it is the upgrade path that we're looking at. Most folks don't go from a GeForce2 straight to a new top of the line card, so we're not taking that approach at this time.
Results - 3DMark2001SE
Not too shabby so far. Our results have shown a very fast lead over the two lesser cards to the tune of a 12.9% gain over the Radeon 9500 Pro board and a 15.5% gain over the Ti4200-8x. While this isn't unexpected, it is nice to see performance boosts of more than just a few percentage points over older technologies. This has been a common trend in the past and the larger boost in power is a welcome sight.
But if you'll recall, that nasty little Nature test always seems to give video cards some fits when it comes to good frame rates. This particular test is a DirectX 8 benchmark that has sent many good video cards right over the edge. Let's look to see what we discovered here...
While a 13-15% performance gain is very nice, when it comes to some hardcore graphics rendering we see a whole new side of the 9700 Pro board. The bars are pretty self explanatory above, but the numbers work out to a very sweet 46.5% boost over the Ti4200-8x board and a huge 50.4% gain over the Radeon 9500 Pro. This is beginning to look like a very worthy upgrade choice.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
When you download the UT2003 Demo, it comes complete with a pair of built-in benchmarks. The first is called a Flyby Benchmark and consists of two demos that record a virtual tour of the levels. It is similar to being in Spectator Mode in the Quake series of games. During the virtual tour, it records the frames per second of each map and then gives you an average.
The second test is called the Botmatch Benchmark and consists of another pair of demos; this time with bots having a fragfest. Since there is movement involved with the characters on screen, this test will have a more drastic effect on the frame rates. After the two demos have run, the program again calculates the average frames per second and displays the result.
Results - UT2003 Demo Flyby
While the expected higher scores were visible during this series of testing, the results were not quite as high as I had expected to them. After some playing around, I realized that I had come to the limit of the processor being used for these tests. Of course, even getting close to the limits of the power available, the Sapphire 9700 Pro still managed to garner 6.4% and 14.1% gains in performance over the Radeon 9500 Pro and the Ti4200-8x boards respectively.
Results - UT2003 Demo Botmatch
As stated earlier, the testing at this level was straining the processor to the max so all results are within scant inches of each other; even when being put up against lesser boards. We'll call this test moot until we try again with a faster processor behind the driver's seat.
Results - 3DMark03
Since the release of the newest addition to the 3DMark series, there has been a lot of talk concerning its usefulness as a true benchmarking tool. Most of the controversy comes from the fact that it utilizes the brand new DirectX 9 API from Microsoft. At this current time there are a very limited number of graphics boards that truly support this new interface; the Radeon 9500 series boards, the Radeon 9700 boards and the (yet to be publicly seen) nVidia GeForceFX boards. That's it.
Since this is a brand new benchmarking tool and it relies heavily on a card that natively supports DirectX 9, it cannot be relied on too heavily yet. Just as when the 3DMark2001 program came out, newer cards will take advantage of the more modern technologies and then it will be used more extensively.
But in today's piece, we'll just take a peek at some results using the Ti4200-8x board from Prolink and the Radeon 9700 Pro board from Sapphire. But again, keep in mind the heavy emphasis put upon DirectX 9 compatibility (and nVidia's lack of support for this in their current line of boards).
Of course, it's still fun to see a 221% performance gain!