Our testing methods
Due to time constraints, ATI limited reviewers to 90-minute benchmarking sessions with Half-Life 2. Each benchmarking run at a given resolution consisted of three separate demos, techdemo, bugbait, and e3_c17_02, so one run could take 20 minutes or more on slower hardware. Because of this, we teamed up with Dave Baumann of Beyond3D, Lars of Tom’s Hardware, and Bob Colayco from GameSpot, pooling all of our numbers together so we could bring you results at multiple resolutions, rendering modes, and with eye candy features such as AA enabled.
Even with this, time was still a huge limiting factor, despite the fact that we were running up to four test systems simultaneously. The flat panel displays that were used on the test systems didn’t support 1600x1200, so 1280x1024 was the maximum resolution we could test with. The RADEON 9800 PRO and GeForce FX 5900 Ultra were running in Dell XPS rigs equipped with Intel’s 800MHz FSB 2.8GHz Pentium 4, and 1GB of DDR SDRAM. The RADEON 9600 PRO, GeForce FX 5600 Ultra (which was donated by Lars for testing) and GeForce FX 5600 were also running on 2.8GHz systems, but we’re not certain if the FSB was 800MHz or 533MHz. The ATI systems were using CATALYST 3.7, while the GeForce FX cards utilized Detonator 45.23.
The demos themselves came from Valve’s E3 presentation, so if you’ve seen the video from May, you know what we’re talking about. The first demo, techdemo, starts off towards the beginning of the E3 presentation, inside the cave with the G-Man and the beautiful pixel shaded water. Bump maps are everywhere, the walls of the cave are composed entirely of them; you can also see 2.0 pixel shaders in action with the fire.
This demo is mainly meant to demonstrate the incredible effects that the engine is capable of, not real gameplay (which you’ll see in the other demos) hence its name. The second demo, bugbait, picks up a little later in the E3 presentation, showing Gordon knocking out automated turrent guns, as well as using pheromones to attract swarms of bugs to his target. Finally, you’re taken out by the queen bug herself.
The final demo, e3_c17_02 is an outdoor level, with combat inside City 17 as the primary focus. This is the environment with the gigantic tripods that shoot beams at you, towards the end Gordon flings an “F” and “U” at one tripod, which quickly turns and puts you out of your misery.
The benchmarking utility itself is incredibly powerful, logging your current frame rate on a frame-by-frame basis. For instance, in frame 5,439, we recorded a frame rate of 24.35 fps on the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra running at 1280x1024 with 4xAA enabled, down from 24.49 in frame 5,438. The logs are saved as .csv files, so you can open it up as an Excel worksheet. You can also capture screenshots of any frame within a given demo, making Half-Life 2 perfect for taking AA screens.