I just want to say before I get started that what we're doing today isn't really practical in any sense of the word, except for the fact that it can be done. Before we really get into it, let's just put into perspective what this is going to cost to set up. With the HD 5970 TOXIC being rumored at $999 U.S. and the GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 480 we're using today costing about $500 U.S. - you're talking about a $1500 U.S. video card setup alone.
While for some that's not the end of the world, a Tri-SLI GTX 480 setup is going to cost the same, HD 5970 in CrossFireX setting you back around $1200 U.S. and CFX Sapphire HD 5970 TOXICs closer to $2000 U.S. - the thing you have to remember about what we're doing today is that the $500 US GIGABYTE GTX 480 is doing nothing more than providing PhysX. In a game that doesn't offer PhysX that extra $500 US isn't going to do anything more for performance whatsoever.
I'm going to be honest, though, and say I really wanted to combine the world's fastest video card with what is not only the world's fastest single GPU card, but also the world's fastest PhysX card. Now, we know that NVIDIA frown about the whole mixing NVIDIA and ATI cards together thing, but like most people, we don't care and thanks to a bright individual we're able to do it today.
Let's talk about how we got it all up and running before we get into the actual performance numbers.
Getting PhysX on our Sapphire HD 5970 TOXIC
The whole process is actually pretty easy; while there are two options to get the whole thing up and running generally, because we wanted to use the GTX 480 the sideband driver option wasn't a choice, as it hasn't been updated yet.
A smart cookie over at NGOHQ forums named GenL does a Hybrid PhysX Mod which we mentioned recently in our news column here. Apart from this, the only other pieces of kit you'll need are drivers. Today we used the ATI Catalyst 10.3a drivers and NVIDIA ForceWare 197.41 drivers.
First we install both driver packs and then we run the Hybrid PhysX Mod. Once we reboot we right click our Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit desktop and select Screen Resolution and next to the monitors hit detect. Now, in the notes for the PhysX Mod it says that you need to assign a monitor etc. - But we didn't have to.
Once this was done we fired up the NVIDIA Control Panel and enabled PhysX. Now, people say you can run Fluidmark to see if it's working, but we opted to just go straight for Vantage which we know makes use of PhysX. Before we got stuck into the performance, though, we did take the time to overclock our cards again using MSI Afterburner.
Our HD 5970 TOXIC was bumped from 900MHz on the core to 960MHz, while we moved the memory from 4800MHz QDR too 4920MHz QDR. Not the highest overclock from the card we've had, but it was a little more squashed in our testbed than last time, so we didn't want to push the card quite as hard.
The GIGABYTE GTX 480 got the same overclocking love; we moved that from 701MHz on the core and 1401MHz on the Shader to 800MHz and 1600MHz respectively. As for the memory, that got a bump from 3696MHz QDR to 3900MHz QDR.
Due to the fact that the Sapphire HD 5970 TOXIC is a three slot card, we had to throw the GTX 480 in our x4 slot. However, testing has shown a limited difference in performance when compared to being in a x16 one; especially in a situation where the card is only doing PhysX.
Test System Setup and 3DMark Vantage
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASRock, Kingston, Western Digital, Noctua and Thermaltake.
Due to the nature of what we're testing today the benchmark line-up will be smaller than usual. What we'll be including are benchmarks in which only PhysX is used. We'll also be including the power draw of the setup.
What this means to our line-up is that 3DMark Vantage will be used along with Darkest of Days, Batman Arkham Asylum and Dark Void. Not the biggest benchmark line-up to date, but an interesting one none the less. As always, though, we'll be testing at all resolutions up to 2560 x 1600.
Let's get started!
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/
Buy It Here
3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.
3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.
In the X preset it's interesting that we saw no performance gains over the single HD 5970 TOXIC. With the clocks being slightly lower the score seemed to be slightly lower. In the Performance preset, though, we saw a significant boost of almost 5000 Marks which equates to an increase of more than 10% of the single card clocked slightly higher.
Benchmarks - Darkest of Days
Darkest of Days
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.4
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.darkestofdays.com/index.php
Product Homepage: http://www.darkestofdays.com/index.php
Darkest of Days takes the player through time into historic battles in an effort to save key individuals from certain death. The battles range from Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 to fighting in Pompeii as ash and fire rain down from an erupting Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Other locations include the battles of Antietam and Tannenberg, and a German World War II P.O.W. camp. There are different missions in every time period and the game takes about 4 hours to complete.
The game features over twenty weapons, both from the original time period as well as those brought back from the future. In addition, there are artillery weapons from different time periods to assist in battle.
Note: With the PhysX set to Medium or High Darkest of Days take advantage of the NVIDIA PhysX abilities. For that reason we will test ATI cards at the Low preset, NVIDIA based cards though will be tested at Low and High.
It seems that under DOD the card was hitting a bit of a wall at the lower resolution. At 2560 x 1600, though, we see the card line up with the GTX 480. We have to remember that this solution is hardly official, so we don't expect everything to be perfect.
Benchmarks - Batman Arkham Asylum
Batman Arkham Asylum
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.batmanarkhamasylum.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.batmanarkhamasylum.com/
Batman: Arkham Asylum exposes players to a unique, dark and atmospheric adventure that takes them to the depths of Arkham Asylum - Gotham's psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Gamers will move in the shadows, instigate fear amongst their enemies and confront The Joker and Gotham City's most notorious villains who have taken over the asylum.
Using a wide range of Batman's gadgets and abilities, players will become the invisible predator and attempt to foil The Joker's demented scheme.
Batman: Arkham Asylum features an original story penned exclusively for the game by famous Batman author and five-time Emmy award winner Paul Dini, whose credits include Lost season one and Batman: The Animated Series.
Note: With support for PhysX NVIDIA based cards will be tested with the technology on and off, ATI cards will be tested with the technology off due to it not being supported on their cards.
To date we haven't been able to get an average of over 30 FPS under Batman AA with High PhysX on. Thanks to the power of the Sapphire HD 5970 TOXIC and the extra PhysX grunt from the GTX 480, we smash that minimum today. You can clearly see at the highest resolution we've gone from 26 FPS to 60 FPS.
Compared to the single card setup without the GTX 480, performance is down, but you have to remember with PhysX on and at High the cards are working a lot harder than with PhysX off.
Benchmarks - Dark Void
Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.airtightgames.com
Product Homepage: http://www.darkvoidgame.com/
The game's story takes place during World War II and centers around a cargo pilot named William Augustus Grey (voiced by Nolan North) who is teleported to another world while flying through the Bermuda Triangle. In this world, known as the 'Void', Will encounters an alien race as well as other humans, which are known as the Watchers and the Survivors respectively.
Will reluctantly joins the Survivors who are engaged in a feud with the alien race to satisfy his desire to return to Earth. While aiding the Survivors, Will discovers that the Void is a middle ground that connects both the Watchers homeworld and Earth. It also becomes apparent that the Watchers are supplying the Axis powers with various supplies for reasons unknown. With the help of Nikola Tesla, Will utilizes retrofited Watcher technology to combat the Watchers and eventually find a way to escape the Void.
Like Batman AA we again see some nice performance gains with the Sapphire HD 5970 TOXIC and GTX 480 as a PhysX card. While the demo only offers us a Low PhysX option, no doubt we could move it up in the full version to Medium or more with this setup.
Power Consumption Tests
Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).
There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.
The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD ROM or many cooling fans.
So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.
It hardly comes as a surprise that the setup draws some serious power. The HD 5970 TOXIC by itself draws a massive amount of power; throw the GTX 480 into the mix along with overclocking and we've got power draw of over 650 Watt.
It would be ridiculous to buy a GTX 480 as a PhysX only card for your Radeon setup. The high cost of the model combined with the fact that the whole setup is done with a hack makes it a real pain. If on the other hand NVIDIA gave ATI users the chance to officially support a standalone NVIDIA card as a PhysX one with their ATI option, then we could recommend the setup. Mind you, we would probably opt for something not quite as expensive; a GTX 470 or hopefully one of the newer mid-range GTX 400 series cards that are due out mid-year.
The bottom line, however, is that if you really want PhysX you need to know that unofficially you're not pigeonholed into an NVIDIA only option when it comes to your primary graphics card. If you're on something like the HD 5870 and wish you could make use of PhysX, picking up a second hand GTX 275 or GTX 285 could be a nice little option.
Why NVIDIA don't just give people the ability to use their card as a standalone PhysX card with an ATI offering is beyond me; the issue with PhysX is that it's not a big enough selling point to most people to buy an NVIDIA card at a higher price when compared to an ATI one. On the other hand, if they offered it officially, picking up one of the mid range GTX 400 series cards due out in the middle of this year could be a nice little option for HD 5870 and HD 5970 users.
This would also give companies more of a reason to offer PhysX support. With NVIDIA market share at its worst in a long time, when it comes to performance gaming why work hard on implementing technology that is only going to be used by a limited amount of people?
PhysX is a cool little piece of technology; to some it's having flappy pieces of paper moving around the screen, while to others it adds another dimension to their gaming experience.
While we wouldn't suggest that you go as wild on a setup as the one we tested today, it's good knowing that the setup is working on the latest NVIDIA offerings thanks to the Hybrid PhysX mod which we mentioned in our news recently here.
While certainly not for everyone, if you're looking at getting your PhysX fix on your ATI offering, it can be done; and with relatively no pain.
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