Summary: UPDATE 11/24: After originally posting this article, one reader posted in the news comments concerning the maxfps setting. It turns out that our original numbers were taken with the setting capped at 85, the default value for Call of Duty. With the "com_maxfps" console command we increased this value to 1,000, a frame rate that is much higher than what any of these cards are capable of. This impacted all results at low resolutions as well as the 9800 XT, while the lower-end cards and the RADEON 9500 weren't affected as much. The article now reflects these adjustments.
In today's article we examine Call of Duty's performance with 11 ATI cards, ranging from the RADEON 8500 all the way up to the RADEON 9800 XT. Along the way you'll see the 256MB RADEON 9800 PRO outperform the RADEON 9800 PRO 128MB by some significant margins. See what other surprises lie inside by reading this article!
UPDATE 11/24/03: After originally posting this article, one reader posted in the news comments concerning the maxfps setting. It turns out that our original numbers were taken with the setting capped at 85, the default value for Call of Duty. With the "com_maxfps" console command we increased this value to 1,000, a frame rate that is much higher than what any of these cards are capable of. This impacted all results at low resolutions as well as the 9800 XT, while the lower-end cards and the RADEON 9500 weren't affected as much. The article now reflects these adjustments.
Infinity Ward's WWII shooter, Call of Duty is earning praise from gamers and the media alike for its unique combination of action, game play, and flat-out immersion. You'll play the role of three soldiers: Private Martin of the legendary 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Sergeant Evans of Britain's special forces, and Alexi of the Russian infantry. In practically every shooter that's been released to date it's you against the world, but in Call of Duty you always feel as if you're a part of a team trying to accomplish an objective. The game's motto "No One Fights Alone" definitely isn't an exaggeration.
The game relives actual combat missions from the Second World War, as well as a few missions with exotic twists. For example, you'll take part in a daring prisoner rescue behind enemy lines in one mission, or shoot at Germans chasing you from a moving car in another, straight out of an action sequence you'd see in Indiana Jones. One of the most gripping missions however is Stalingrad, you'll watch as fellow soldiers are shot for trying to escape the mayhem, then storm the beach as the Germans fire at you from bunkered positions. It's an experience that's even more gripping than the D-Day invasion mission in Medal of Honor, and really illustrates the sacrifice that millions of Russian infantrymen made for their country.
Like so many other WW2 shooters, Call of Duty is based on a modified version of id Software's Quake 3 engine. Infinity Ward has taken the engine to a whole new level however, with scenes featuring higher polygon counts, a new lighting/shadow system, revamped animation/hit detection, and first generation pixel and vertex shaders.
The AI has also been enhanced, with an emphasis on squad combat. You'll work with friendly soldiers to take down enemy positions, for instance they can take the enemy head-on while you get in a flanking position, while other missions may have your group holding a bridge/building. We'll have a complete review online shortly, but the game has already earned a loyal following online. In fact, as of this article's writing, it has already surpassed Medal of Honor as the fifth most popular game played online.
Every once in awhile we like to take a new game and run benches with it before it makes way into a hardware review. Due to the popularity of Call of Duty, we felt that it would be a perfect candidate.
Benchmarking with Call of Duty is similar to Quake 3; in fact many of the same console commands are present in both games (timedemo 1 is used to invoke CoD's benchmarking mode). We simply joined an online server and recorded demos. For this article the demo we're using comes from the map mp_powcamp. Unfortunately, we haven't found a way to disable sound in Call of Duty, so all the sound effects are running while the benchmark is running. Normally, we like to leave sound disabled, as it's a variable that can affect your frame rate.
Call of Duty
Call of Duty
For optimal stability, we’ve found that ATI users should disable AGP fast writes. We decided to run a few quick tests with the XT cards to show that disabling this setting doesn’t significantly impact performance, if at all.
Call of Duty
The high-end RADEON cards are CPU-limited at low resolutions, which is why they perform similarly to the RADEON 9500 PRO and RADEON 9600 PRO at 800x600. The RADEON 9800 XT is essentially a 256MB RADEON 9800 PRO with higher clock speeds, which explains why it performs so similarly to the RADEON 9800 XT. Another trend you'll notice is that the RADEON 8500 significantly outperforms the RADEON 9000 PRO, this is because the 9000 PRO lacks the dual texture units present in the RADEON 8500.
Call of Duty 2xAA
Since we're limited by the CPU at low resolutions, 2xAA is essentially free on the high-end RADEON 9800 cards, the performance hit is negligible. You will also see that the RADEON 9800 and RADEON 9700 PRO offer virtually the same performance. Since ATI's DX8 cards utilize super-sampling, the highest resolution you'll want to play with the RADEON 8500 is 1024x768, and 800x600 for the RADEON 9000 PRO. For some, the RADEON 9500 may offer just enough performance to play at up 1280x1024 at 51.5 frames per second.
Call of Duty 2xAA 8xAF
Enabling 8x anisotropic filtering brings a performance hit of only 4% for the RADEON 9800 XT at 800x600, obviously you're going to want to crank the game up to a much higher resolution if you have this card. The RADEON 9500 PRO, 9600 PRO, and 9600 XT are good all the way up to 1024x768, and if you can live with 50 frames per second, 1280x1024 for all but the 9600 PRO.
Call of Duty 4xAA
With 4xAA enabled, we begin to see some real separation between the high-end, mainstream, and value cards in Call of Duty, even at the low resolutions. While the RADEON cards with 256-bit memory interfaces are able to push frame rates in excess of 100 fps at 1024x768, the greater demands of 4xAA are beginning to saturate the other cards. This is what makes these cards such great performers.
Call of Duty 4xAA 8xAF
With 8xAF enabled on top of 4xAA, we see the margin between the RADEON 9800 PRO cards swell to 35% at 1600x1200. The RADEON 9800 XT is the only card capable of delivering 60 fps at that resolution.
While it’s based on a four-year old game engine, Call of Duty is quite capable of pushing today’s latest hardware. We saw tangible performance benefits for the RADEON 9800 PRO 256MB and RADEON 9800 XT, while the RADEON 9500 PRO continues to represent the best performance among mainstream cards, despite the fact that it’s a year old itself. Even though we’ve been praising it since it first arrived on the scene last year, we never imagined it would be this successful for so long. ATI’s decision to stick with 600MHz DDR memory for the RADEON 9600 XT could certainly be argued as being rather shortsighted, if not flat-out disappointing.
The RADEON 9700 PRO and RADEON 9800 remain the best values if you’re looking to maximize price with excellent performance, although the latter has practically disappeared since we published our review in August -- when ATI wants to phase out a card, they certainly don’t waste any time doing it! RADEON 9700 PRO’s can be found for just under $250, which is a good price considering the performance you’re getting.
If you don’t want to spend more than $200, clearly the RADEON 9600 XT is the best choice among the cards we’ve looked at today. You might want to avoid the Built By ATI card however, and go with one of the cards from Sapphire or PowerColor, both of which will offer custom SKUs which ship with faster memory (just be sure to read the fine print if that’s what you’re looking for). 9500 PROs are practically impossible to find, and if you do find one it’s likely priced over $200, taking it out of your price range and priced too close to the 9700 PRO. The RADEON 8500 (and we’d bet the 8500 LE) continue to be a better solution than the RADEON 9000 PRO.
So there you have it, the first part of our findings with Call of Duty. NVIDIA’s batting next, and we’re sure many of you will be keeping score to see who comes out on top. Stay tuned folks!
SIDEBAR: Are you surprised by any of the results? What kind of performance are you seeing with Call of Duty? Speak up in the news comments!
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|