After taking a look at Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory’s performance with high-end cards earlier this month, we’re now here today to evaluate the performance of Ubi’s latest shooter with less expensive cards. After all, we can’t all afford the latest $500 cards right?
So why are we only testing ATI cards today? Simple, NVIDIA’s only a few hours away from releasing newer ForceWare drivers. We were just wrapping up GeForce 6600 GT testing when we learned this. Rather than post results with an outdated driver, we figured it was better to just post the ATI results now, and write a follow-up article with the NVIDIA cards once we’ve had enough time to properly test the cards with the newer driver.
If you recall our first Chaos Theory article, hardware shadow mapping wasn’t available for RADEON X850/X800 XL cards, even though the hardware was capable of supporting this feature. As a result, we decided to turn it off for all cards.
Fortunately we can report that ATI was able to resolve this issue with the release of CATALYST 5.4 last week, so ATI users now have access to this performance-enhancing setting and you will want to turn it on (as we did in our testing). Unfortunately however, there’s still no support for 2.0 or 2.0b shaders, and based on all indications these shaders won’t be added by Ubisoft anytime in the near future, if ever. Instead Ubisoft is likely hard at work on preparing Splinter Cell 4 for Microsoft’s upcoming next-generation Xbox console.
Another change we’ve made in our testing is turning down the shadow resolution from high quality shadows to medium quality. We ran a few quick tests with the RADEON X800 XL to show the performance difference:
As you can see, turning down just the shadow quality can have a significant impact on performance; at 1024x768 with AA and AF disabled, performance improves by 15%, with a 10% improvement under 4xAA/8xAF at the same resolution. The performance benefits are even more significant on lower-end cards.
The final change we made is in our demo used for testing. Whereas in our first article we relied on the stock demo that ships with Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, from now on we’re going to use custom demos.