Optimizing or cheating?
After posting our exploratory article
on the ATI RADEON 8500, we've received quite a bit of feedback from readers, both positive and negative. While some have no objections to the tweaks implemented in the 8500 driver, others see it as a clear form of cheating. While plenty of evidence is available in support of both camps, we still haven't found any conclusive proof for either side. In their defense, ATI wished to clarify the issue a bit with us and our readers, the following is the text of a brief interview we conducted with David Nalasco, technology marketing manager for ATI. As usual, our questions are in bold and ATI's answers are in normal font.
FiringSquad: Can you describe the history of these drivers and how they came about?
ATI: The latest RADEON-family drivers are simply the results of our efforts to continuously improve performance, quality, and stability. They are also the first publicly released drivers that take advantage of the unique new capabilities of the RADEON 8500.
FiringSquad: Approximately how long have they been in development?
The driver has been continuously in development since the design of the original RADEON graphics processor. Driver design begins almost at the same time the hardware design begins, and continues for years after the product is released.
FiringSquad: What other games/programs do the ATI drivers optimize for -- is 3DMark 2001 one of them? Will ATI next release benchmark-specific enhancements? Will ATI continue to release game-specific enhancements, and will they be undocumented?
As a general rule we do not comment on specific driver optimizations for competitive reasons. I can say that the vast majority of our optimizations are completely transparent to the end-user. Optimizing for a game involves much more than just cranking out the highest benchmark score. It involves delivering the best overall experience, which will include some combination of frame rate, image quality, smoothness, stability, and other factors. Whereas frame rate and smoothness might be the most important factor in a fast paced 3D shooter game, 3D role-playing and strategy games might require a heavier emphasis on image quality. Anything we can do in our drivers to enhance the experience of playing a particular game, or group of games, can be considered an optimization.
When we start optimizing our drivers for specific applications, we have to make a judgement call as to which games we think are most important, and what combination of factors will contribute to the best experience for that game. There are many ways to do this, but one way is to look at how the product gets evaluated in media reviews. Since these reviews are presumably trying to determine how good a product is, it's a reasonable assumption that they will test it using the most popular applications, and pay close attention to whatever factors they feel are most important. One look at the graphics card reviews that have appeared over the past several months will show that Quake 3 frame rates (not image quality, interestingly) have been one of the most commonly used means of judging the relative "goodness" of a product. If this metric really wasn't considered important to users, then you have to ask the question, why have reviewers given it so much attention?
Our goal for the RADEON 8500 is and always has been to deliver the best possible gaming experience to our customers. All of the decisions we make related to this product are made with that goal in mind. There are a lot of avid gamers here at ATI (myself included), and we all have input into these decisions. We also listen closely to any
feedback we receive that can help us make a better product. In fact, you can expect to start seeing some of the results of this feedback in our next driver release.