CS: Source and the Stress Test

Valve recently released Counter-Strike: Source to beta testing with a Source engine “stress test.” We take this test and run it through with the latest cards from ATI and NVIDIA to see if we might have a HL2 preview.

CS: Source Goes Beta

Earlier this week, Valve released the beta of Counter-Strike: Source to those people who had purchased either CS: Condition Zero or to buyers of ATI cards that received the coupons for free copies of Half-Life 2.  This beta opening is only temporary until the release of HL2, but it is giving the entire online community a new buzz and hype for the Source engine, which HL2 is obviously built on. 

The Stress Test

While I’ll be one of the first to admit that CS is a very fun and addictive game, there is no countering the argument that CS is not a graphically intense game.  And while the new CS: Source revision of this does had some nice graphical features and effects, the scenery remains much the same and unchanged.  And though CS: Source is more video card intensive than previous CS games, it really isn’t indicitive of HL2 game play simply because CS: Source is built for online gaming and that requires speed and low latency.  Including new objects such as barrels that are dynamic in the world, meaning they can be moved by users, means that in an online setting the server has to track those items and this produces a slight lag when you shoot said barrel.

Valve released this beta to get user input and feed back before the release of the CS: Source based game.  Another item they included was a “Stress Test” for the Source engine in the CS:S beta.  This stress test does a quick fly by on a generic under ground tunnel system that has some floating boxes with different effects implemented on them as well has have water in nearly all the shots.  There are fire and lighting effects everywhere as well.

Some people have been reading into this that the performance that video cards and systems get on the “stress test” is going to be indicitive of Half-Life 2 performance but we really can’t get a complete look at HL2 here.  The stress test is surely going to be generally telling of a system’s performance in the Half-Life 2 game, but there is surely going to be some differentiation between this very simple test and the incredibly complex HL2 game.  Also, the CPU utilization on the stress test is surely much much lower than it would be in a single player game of Half Life 2 and this will affect the gaming performance quite a bit. 

Either way, looking at the performance of each of the latest generation of video cards from NVIDIA and ATI can give us a quick preview of what may be to come.  But anything can change between now and Half Life 2’s release.

Our Testing

Our test bed remains the same from previous graphics cards reviews.  Here it is:

Test System Setup

Video Card Test System Setup


Intel P4E @ 3.4 GHz


Intel 875DP Motherboard

Power Supply 

Antec 460 watt


2x512MB Corsair PC3200LL DDR

Hard Drive

40GB 7200RPM Western Digital EIDE

Sound Card

Creative Labs Live!

Video Card

ATI X800 Pro
NVIDIA 6800 Ultra

Video Drivers

NVIDIA 61.77
ATI Catalyst 4.8

DirectX Version

DX 9.0b

Operating System

Windows XP w/ Service Pack 1

The “stress test” is a timedemo based benchmark, so our graphs and benchmarks that show real-time results will be a bit skewed.  To quote our eVGA 6800 GT article on our test methods:

“The first is the “timedemo-style” of benchmark.  Many of you may be familiar with this style from games like Quake III; a “demo” is recorded in the game and a set number of frames are saved in a file for playback.  When playing back the demo, the game engine then renders the frames as quickly as possible, which is why you will often see the “timedemo-style” of benchmarks playing back the game much more quickly than you would ever play the game.  In our benchmarks, the FarCry tests were done in this matter: we recorded four custom demos and then played them back on each card at each different resolution and quality setting.  Why does this matter?  Because in these tests where timedemos are used, the line graphs that show the frame rate at each second, each card may not end at the same time precisely because one card is able to play it back faster than the other — less time passes and thus the FRAPs application gets slightly fewer frame rates to plot.  However, the peaks and valleys and overall performance of each card is still maintained and we can make a judged comparison of the frame rates and performance.

The second graph is a bar graph that tells you the average framerate, the maximum framerate, and the minimum framerate.  The minimum and average are important numbers here as we want the minimum to be high enough to not affect our gaming experience.  While it will be the decision of each individual gamer what is the lowest they will allow, comparing the Min FPS to the line graph and seeing how often this minimum occurs, should give you a good idea of what your gaming experience will be like with this game, and that video card on that resolution.”

We tested both 0xAA and 0xAF versus 4xAA and 8xAF using the in-game settings from Valve.  We ran at resolutions 1024×768, 1280×1024 and 1600×1200.  We also look at image quality after the benchmarks.

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