System Setup and Benchmarks

Testing Methodology

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 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 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.

System Setup and Benchmarks

Continuing on with our other recent GPU reviews, the Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 is our processor of choice.  We used the EVGA 680i motherboard for our testing this time.

GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB Test System Setup


Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 – Review


EVGA nForce 680i MotherboardReview


Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C4

Hard Drive

Western Digital Raptor 150 GB – Review

Sound Card

Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Value

Video Card

BFG Tech 8800 GTS OC 320MB
BFG Tech 8800 GTS – Review
ATI X1900 XTReview
ATI X1950 XTXReview

Video Drivers

Forceware 97.92 – NVIDIA
Catalyst 7.1 – ATI

Power Supply Silverstone Zeus 650 watt – Review

DirectX Version

DX 9.0c

Operating System

Windows XP Professional SP1

The pricing scheme on the new 8800 GTS 320MB cards setup an interesting comparison between the NVIDIA and ATI cards.  The direct competitor to the 8800 GTS is somewhat blurred, as the X1950 XTX is current selling for as low as $350 in some places like while the X1950 XT (we are using the X1900 XT in our tests here, with a memory clock difference being the only change) card sells for more like $260 — both cards are on either side of the price spectrum to the 8800 GTS 320MBs suggested NVIDIA MSRP.  Also note that the X1900 XT we used only has 256MB of memory, while the X1950 XTX uses 512MB. 

I’ll try to sort it all out in our conclusion as well after seeing all of the performance results.


  • 3DMark06
  • Battlefield 2 (Battlefield 2142 scores are comparable)
  • Call of Duty 2
  • FEAR
  • HL2: Lost Coast (HL2: Episode 1 scores are comparable)
  • Prey

I tested these games at 1600×1200, 2048×1536 and 2560×1600, all running at 4xAA and 8xAF in-game settings.  High-end systems like the one we have here demand minimum resolutions of 1600×1200 to be worth your money!

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