Summary: We've gathered a dozen different GPUs ranging from the GeForce 7900 GT and Radeon X1950 Pro all the way up to the 8800 Ultra to see how today's latest high-end cards perform with Call of Duty 4. We've also included SLI/CrossFire results as well. See how the cards compare to one another in performance in this article!
It has been a pretty wild week for PC gaming. Between the Half-Life 2 Orange Box and demos for both Call of Duty 4 and Unreal Tournament 3, PC gamers have had lots of goodies to play with lately. By the end of this month, we also should have the Crysis demo and Hellgate: London as well. So much for the supposed “death” of PC gaming…
Of all the shooters debuting this year, Call of Duty 4 is probably the one I’ve personally been looking forward to the most. Developer Infinity Ward really has a knack for recreating the mayhem that is war. You could see this in missions like Stalingrad from the original Call of Duty, or Point du Hoc in Call of Duty 2; no other game really immerses you in quite the same way as CoD: you really do feel like you’re part of a team that’s trying to accomplish a larger objective. The Call of Duty series focuses on squad-level combat, so it’s not you against the world, although certainly your character plays a key role in completing each mission.
Call of Duty 4 takes this basic formula and brings it to modern times. You’ll play the role of a member of the elite British SAS, or a Sergeant in the US Marines. The game also has close air support missions where you’ll man the gunner’s position in an AC-130 Spectre gunship or as an AH-1 Cobra pilot. Along the way you’ll be introduced to modern weaponry like the M16/M4 assault rifles, MP5 submachine gun, and M60 light machine gun, which are staples of the US military. You’ll even employ the Javelin anti-tank missile.
Most of the weapons can be upgraded with a secondary fire mode, and the game’s multiplayer component employs a class system where you can play certain roles (sniper, assault, heavy gunner, special ops, demolition) as well as customize yourself via the game’s “create a class” menu. Like most shooters, here you can tweak your character’s primary weapon, sidearm, and grenade type, but you can also choose from additional upgrades known as “perks”. For instance, you can make yourself harder to spot on radar, give yourself more health, or allow your bullets to do more damage, the game even offers a “Last Stand” mode which lets you fire one last shot before dying, or “Martyrdom” which drops a live grenade just as you die. You’ll have three different perks to choose from, so the game offers lots of ways to customize your character once you finish the single-player story and get online.
Call of Duty 4 Graphics
With all the buzz surrounding DirectX 10 and games that take advantage of these features, Call of Duty 4 skips this trend, utilizing DX9 shaders instead. The game also has a dynamic lighting system with bloom effects, rim lighting, and god rays.
On paper you’d think this would put CoD 4 at a disadvantage graphically compared to other shooters coming out this year, but Infinity Ward has managed to deliver a package that looks quite good from what we’ve seen so far: stand next to a member of your squad as he’s firing a long burst and you can see the heat haze from the barrel of his gun. Or as you stare down your gun sights depth of field kicks in, blurring objects in your peripheral vision properly as you focus in on your target.
All of these eye candy effects really flow well together, giving the game that extra layer of polish.
For this article we’ve gathered the latest high-end GPUs from AMD and NVIDIA, running them through the opening few minutes of the Call of Duty 4 demo. While the game provides a console and supports timedemo mode, this feature appears to be broken at the moment in the demo. We tried both Windows XP and Vista and every time we tried to play back one of our demos in timedemo mode, the game crashed to the desktop.
Instead we used FRAPS to evaluate performance. Now since we’re running FRAPS in an uncontrolled environment where enemies are firing AK47s and RPGs at you and your fellow squad members are firing back at them, we obviously can’t run 100% repeatable runs. We did the best we could, running through the same areas in the same manner, but obviously there are going to be some demo runs where we may take more hits than others, or an RPG may fly right over our head whereas in the previous run it may have exploded in front of us. These are all variables that we can’t control and will obviously affect our performance results, so instead of just taking the average of 3 runs like we’d normally do in a more controlled test, we’re going with seven runs.
Call of Duty 4 Demo
While the CoD 4 demo doesn’t support SLI or CrossFire with today’s latest graphics drivers, we managed to force SLI support by setting the AFR rendering mode to “2” and CrossFire was forced by changing the Catalyst AI slider to “Advanced”. You can also force CrossFire support by renaming the executable to “Oblivion.exe” or “AFR-FriendlyD3D.exe” as well.
Call of Duty 4 – Direct3D
The GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra put up a really strong showing in Call of Duty 4 demo. The GTX ran 19% faster than the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB at 1600x1200, which managed to outrun AMD’s Radeon HD 2900 XT. We suspect the Radeon 2900 XT cards are being held back by their driver, simply because the X1950 XTX performs so similarly to the 2900 boards. The X1950 XTX trails the 2900 XT boards by just 11%. That margin should be considerably greater.
Call of Duty 4 – Direct3D
The GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra are able to pull even further away from the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB once 4xAA is enabled. The GTX holds an advantage of 26% over the GTS 640MB. Under 4xAA, we also begin to see the limitations of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB. The card just doesn’t have enough memory to keep up with the 640MB board under 4xAA, falling behind by 14% at 1600x1200 and the margin increasing to 25% at 1920x1200. We couldn’t even run the card at 2560x1600. The Radeon HD 2900 XT cards continue to under perform, although again we have a strong suspicion that the driver is the culprit and not the architecture of the hardware itself. Once AMD has had time to tune for CoD 4 we expect the 2900 XT numbers to improve sharply. SLI continues to scale well, particularly for the 8800 GTX.
The demo also gives us a preview of what kind of performance we can expect from the game, and here we saw the GeForce 8800 cards reigned supreme, particularly the GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra. At 1600x1200 with 0xAA/16xAF the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB trailed the GTX by 19%, with that gap increasing as you crank up the screen resolution. Under the increased demands of 4xAA/16xAF, the GTX pulls further away from the GTS 640MB. Here the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB also pulls away from its 320MB counterpart. The GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB just doesn’t have enough memory to run the game at the settings we chose at high resolutions of 1920x1200 with 4xAA/16xAF. And what about AMD’s Radeon HD 2900 XT?
At worst, the Radeon HD 2900 XT ran about 9% slower than the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB. This occurred at 1600x1200 with 0xAA/16xAF. As you increase screen resolution that gap narrows, by 2560x1600 the card pulled even with the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. With AA enabled, the 2900 XT runs faster overall than the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB and performs anywhere from 12-15% slower than the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, although keep in mind that at 2560x1600 with 4xAA/16xAF the cards are only separated by 2.7 FPS in our testing. That’s close enough to call it even, particularly considering the variability in our benchmark runs.
Since the Radeon HD 2900 XT is priced to compete with the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, some may consider this a decent showing for the 2900 XT, but we think the card is being held up a little by its driver. The X1950 XTX performs awfully close to the Radeon HD 2900 XT. CrossFire scaling needs a little more work as well.
If the rumors are true, the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB will be replaced shortly by NVIDIA’s upcoming G92 GPU. Some leaked documents suggest this card will be outfitted with more stream processors and memory than the GTS 320MB, as well as higher clock speeds: 600MHz on the graphics core (100MHz higher than the GTS today) and 900MHz memory, also 100MHz higher than the GeForce 8800 GTS. The card is expected to utilize a 256-bit memory interface versus the 320-bit interface of today’s cards, but the extra stream processors, memory, and higher speeds should be enough to offset the difference.
Of course, AMD is rumored to have a new mainstream part of their own based on the RV670 GPU. RV670 is expected to drop the 512-bit memory interface found in R600, but will carry over all of R600’s 320 stream processors and consume less power thanks to its smaller 55-nm manufacturing process.
These upcoming GPUs will make a huge impact on the mainstream segment and as such we suggest you wait if you plan on spending $200-$300 on your next graphics upgrade. These GPUs are expected to arrive sometime next month, which is just in time for the release of Call of Duty 4, and the plethora of other games coming out this year…
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