IntroductionAs we near Christmas, we had another ATI Catalyst driver release hit our inbox but this one did come through at the very last minute. With the recent releases of F.E.A.R. and Quake 4, our monthly Catalyst analysis has grown.We struck a deal with our friends at ATI to post our driver article 24 hours before the official launch of the driver. For this reason, we don't have the usual release notes this time around but we'll update this article once they become available.There's a big bonus for you all this month! We're hosting the driver and our monthly performance analysis exclusively on TweakTown one day before the actual launch through ATI's website. The driver is just like the final version except it is not WHQL approved by Microsoft in its current state and it is not officially supported by ATI. You can pickup the Windows XP CCC version of the driver from our brand new File Library; it weighs in at around 36MB and we have a few other sites that kindly helped us with mirroring, so everything should go fine... *fingers crossed*The biggest addition in the Catalyst 5.11 (November 2005) driver we think is going to be the bug fixes with the OpenGL code. We hope to see some nice performance increases in the newly released Quake 4 game. One of the biggest additions is also the fact that they are the first official driver to support the new Radeon X1800XL and X1800XT graphics cards.We will see how the latest drivers impact the performance of the X1800XT in another article to be posted later today but for now let's have a look at the latest driver to come from the boys at ATI in Canada and see how it performs with the previous generation cards. Should you update your drivers? Well, let's find out!
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and 3DMark03
Test System SetupProcessor(s): AMD Athlon X2 3800+ Motherboard(s): ASUS A8N SLI Premium (Supplied by ASUS)Memory: 2 X 512MB Mushkin PC4000 DDR (Supplied by Mushkin)Hard Disk(s): WD Raptor 74GB 10,000RPM SATA (Supplied by Western Digital)Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP1Drivers: ATI Catalyst 5.10 and 5.11 and DX9cNothing has changed with the test system again this time around so we won't delay - let's see what the latest driver release has done for our monthly analysis.3DMark03Version and / or Patch Used: Build 360Developer Homepage:http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage:http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark03/Buy It Here
By combining full DX8 and partial DX9 support with completely new tests and graphics over the previous version, 3DMark03 continues the legacy of being the industry standard 3D benchmark.
The whole line up doesn't see anything new and exciting in 3DMark03.
3DMark05 is the latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and higher.For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here.
A similar picture is seen in 3DMark05 with no performance gains.
There is no denying that Far Cry is currently one of the most graphic intensive games on the market, utilizing PS2.0 technology (the latest versions support Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c) and offering an exceptional visual experience there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards struggle.
Far Cry performance at the lower resolution seemed slightly weaker yet at the higher resolution we find no change.
By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism and responsiveness, Half-Life 2 opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviors even the emotions of both friends and enemies.We benchmark Half Life 2 with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here.
Half Life 2 performance was also a bit up and down with the higher end cards on both resolutions. It isn't something we would be too concerned about.
Doom 3 is the latest game to hit our test lab and is one of the most intensive games to dates. With our own custom time demo we are able to give a realistic rating on what kind of FPS you will be achieving.For more information on benchmarking Doom 3 we recommend you check out our extensive article regarding it here.
Doom 3, the first of our OpenGL tests, sees a significant increase on the X850XT at the higher resolution. This might mean good things for the newly released Quake 4 which utilizes the same engine yet is slightly more intensive.
Quake 4 is one of the latest new games to be added to our benchmark suite. It is based off the popular Doom 3 engine and as a result uses many of the features seen in Doom. However, Quake 4 graphics are more intensive than Doom 3 and should put more strain on different parts of the system.
Quake 4 sees a good performance jump at the lower resolution on the X850XT and sees a slight jump in both resolutions for the X700.
F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) is an intense combat experience with rich atmosphere and a deeply intense paranormal storyline presented entirely in first person. Be the hero in your own spine-tingling epic of action, tension, and terror...and discover the true meaning of F.E.A.R.
F.E.A.R. performance has not been affected one bit and we must mention that watching a time demo of F.E.A.R. at an average of 3FPS is exceptionally painful.
Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF
High Quality AA and AFIn our High Quality tests we bump the Antialiasing (AA) and Anisotropic Filtering (AF) up causing the card(s) to be put under more load.This usually helps us remove the CPU limitation. We use 4 x AA and 8 x AF as this is quite a common setup for most people who are venturing into the AA and AF area.
3DMark05 like our non AA and AF tests show no difference in performance with the latest driver release.
Far Cry sees a small improvement on the X550 and X700 but nothing on the higher end X850XT due to the CPU limitation.
Quake 4 performance with AA and AF on isn't all that exciting with the X850XT offering the only playable setup with these settings.
Final ThoughtsThere we have it, another month and another set of drivers for us to look at. It would seem that the biggest emphasis on this driver release was performance particular for OpenGL. We think that ATI have mainly concentrated on the new flagship Radeon X1800XT this month but in the mean time the higher and mid range cards both get a noticeable performance increase in games like Doom 3 and Quake 4.There is no denying that OpenGL has always been one of ATI's weakest points but it is fantastic to see that they have stuck their heads together and figured out how to get more performance from games.If you're only playing F.E.A.R. at the moment, upgrade anyway for the list of bug fixes that come with each new driver release and if you're playing anything that utilizes OpenGL, upgrade for more performance. All in all we have a great driver this time around and it does make writing so much easier when we start gaining a few FPS here and there in games. After all, it comes back to "free performance" and of course we don't have to tell you how much we love it.The next big thing we want to see is better support for Dual Core processors, so come on ATI give us some more FPS and make nVidia sweat a bit more!Editor Note: Later today we're talking about the new Catalyst drivers again in an article which will look fully at performance with the new X1800XT - make sure you check on the front page for the link.
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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.
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