Testing Methods and System Setup

Testing Method

Graphics card testing has become the most hotly debated issue in the hardware enthusiast community recently.  Because of that, testing graphics cards has become a much more complicated process than it once was.  Where before you might have been able to rely on the output of a few synthetic, automatic benchmarks to make your video card purchase, that is just no longer the case.  Video cards now cost up to $500 and we want to make sure that we are giving the reader as much information as we can to aid you in your purchasing decision.  We know we can’t run every game or find every bug and error, but we try to do what we can to aid you, our reader, and the community as a whole.

With that in mind, all the benchmarks that you will see in this review are from games that we bought off the shelves just like you.  Of these games, there are two different styles of benchmarks that need to be described.

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 precisly 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 type of benchmark you’ll see in this article are manual run throughs of a portion of a game.  This is where we sit at the game with a mouse in one hand, a keyboard under the other, and play the game to get a benchmark score.  This benchmark method makes the graphs and data easy to read, but adds another level of difficulty to the reviewer — making the manual run throughs repeatable and accurate.  I think we’ve accomplished this by choosing a section of each game that provides us with a clear cut path. We take three readings of each card and setting, average the scores, and present those to you.  While this means the benchmarks are not exact to the most minute detail, they are damn close and practicing with this method for many days has made it clear to me that while this method is time consuming, it is definitely a viable option for games without timedemo support.

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.

Our tests are completely based around the second type of benchmark method mentioned above — the manual run through.

Test System Setup

For comparing the 6600GT AGP card to, I went online and looked for the best card from ATI that fit this price range in AGP format.  The answer I came up with was the Radeon 9800 Pro card.  Priced at around $225 or so most places ($250 at Best Buy) this card is what ATI has to run up against the 6600GT from NVIDIA on the AGP form factor.  Of course the 9800 Pro has an inherent disadvantage that it is based on older technology, but ATI has told us that it doesn’t have plans to release the X700 line to the AGP market any time soon. 

We tested using the latest drivers from ATI and NVIDIA, released just last week.

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 Radeon 9800 Pro

Video Drivers

NVIDIA 66.93
ATI Catalyst 4.11

DirectX Version

DX 9.0c

Operating System

Windows XP w/ Service Pack 1


  • Doom 3 1.1
  • Far Cry 1.3
  • Battlefield: Vietnam
  • Madden 2005 1.0
  • Rome: Total War 1.1

If you have any suggestions for new benchmarks for our graphics or other articles, please feel free to drop me a line.

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