Summary: Earlier this month id released a beta patch for Quake 4 promising performance improvements of up to 87% for gamers with dual-core processors. In this article Chris examines these claims and finds substantial performance improvements for both Athlon 64 X2 and Pentium D/HT users. See the complete results inside!
Of course, now that multi-core hardware is both available and affordable, plenty of software will inevitably follow, right? Well, I still havenít seen any games written with threading in mind and I do know that the development costs of a multi-threaded game are substantially higher. Not promising.
Nevertheless, Iíve spent some time talking to representatives at Intel and theyíre fairly convinced that the games capable of exploiting dual-core hardware will emerge sooner than later. Intel isnít even looking to take all of the credit on this one. Instead, the idea is that a combination of PC infrastructure and a new generation of highly threaded console hardware (think Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 here, possibly Nintendo Revolution as well depending on what IBM does with the processor) will lead to accelerated emphasis on threaded game development.
By splitting workloads into graphics rendering, physics, AI, and so on, the developer community is expected to improve realism beyond the gorgeous graphics now common to first-person shooters.
Sounds great, but perhaps youíre rolling your eyes, wondering when any of this will actually happen. Itís happening now, believe it or not. Intel recently alerted us to a fresh patch for Quake 4 (1.0.5) that enables threading in the game. Single-core chips with Hyper-Threading are said to benefit, multi-socket machines should pick up performance, and naturally, dual-core configurations will too.
Full disclosure mode: id Software and Intel independently confirm that they worked together on this project. Intel is anxious to demonstrate the potential of its latest technologies and id has the talent to make such a vision reality in short order. It helps that id has experience with threading, given Quake IIIís once-functional SMP support. But thereís no mention of AMDís role here, so Iím certainly not going to make any claims about impartiality. And thatís why the forthcoming benchmarks are separated.
Interestingly, neither Intel nor id has said exactly how threading is being handled now in Quake 4. Iíd venture a guess that it has something to do with graphics, given the previous assertions regarding timedemo benchmarks and their failure to incorporate AI and physics calculations. In any case, the quoted gains can get as high as 87 percent, according to idís readme file. Crazy, huh? Letís see if there is any merit to those claims.
A Range at 3.2 GHz
Returning the Favor
Naturally, youíll see the biggest difference at resolutions where youíre not bottlenecked by a graphics card. With our Radeon X1800 XT, the sweet spot seemed to be 1280x1024 on both platforms. Even 1600x1200 with 6xAA and 16xAF showed an appreciable difference, though. Thatís pretty remarkable when you consider most processor debuts demonstrate very little improvement at 1600x1200. And thatís with all of the graphics goodies turned off, too.
If this is what we can expect from threaded game engines, than weíll take more, please. And it just so happens that Activision has just followed up with a patch for Call of Duty 2 turning on the same functionality, also facilitated in part by Intelís efforts to get games threaded. The move is interesting because, supposedly, Call of Duty 2 moves away from the Quake 3 engine used on the first Call of Duty game toward a proprietary rendering platform. If adding thread-awareness is palatable enough, who knows which existing games might get the feature next?
If Intel is going to be the one working with developers to get threading enabled in todayís popular games, then we applaud the company. After all, Intelís Pentium processors arenít the only ones to benefit. In fact, AMDís Athlon 64 X2 gains significantly as well, maintaining a performance advantage over the Pentium 4 thanks to its efficient architecture. But if you have an older Hyper-Threaded chip and were accustomed to getting whipped by single-core Athlon 64s, these patches should be your equalizer. Go download them, and enjoy.
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