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nV News Home Page

Guide To Benchmarking - Page 1

By: Mike Chambers - June 20, 2000

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Introduction

Since I run a variety of benchmarks here at nV News, I thought it would be a good idea to put a game benchmarking guide together. Benchmarks serve a purpose in that they gauge the performance of your PC. In most cases, benchmarks concentrate on measuring the performance of a specific sub-system as there are benchmarks designed to test the processor, memory, hard drive, modem, etc.

This guide covers benchmarking the performance of the 3D graphics subsystem by testing with an assortment of popular games. The benchmarking process I cover in this guide is based on the procedures I normally use when benchmarking the performance of a graphics card for a review.

Getting Started

There are a few things you need to take care of before starting a benchmarking session. These steps are done to ensure that you get consistent results. First, reboot your system. Windows is not very efficient when it comes to managing system resources so it's best to start with a clean slate. After Windows is done loading, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to bring up a list of active programs. For example, these are programs that are running on my system after Windows loads:

Close Windows Programs

One by one, close all the programs, except for Explorer, by selecting a program and using the End Task command button. You want to keep programs from running in the background while benchmarking as they can affect your results. You can also control the programs that automatically startup by running msconfig.exe. Many of these programs will embed themselves in the task bar for quick access.

Windows Task Bar

To check your system recources, right click on the My Computer icon, choose Properties, then click the Performance tab. Before closing down Zonealarm and Systray, my system resources were at 96% free. After closing these two programs, the system resources went up to 98% free which is the best I can get.

System Properties - Performance

Let's cover running the game you'll be benchmarking. Instead of using Explorer to find the game you want to benchmark, create a shortcut to the game on your desktop or use the Start menu Run option to lauch the game. Otherwise, you'll lose a couple percent of your system resources that you won't be able to get back. As a test, open up Explorer and shut it back down. You will probably be back down to around 96%.

Start Menu - Run Program

Graphics Settings

One last thing you'll want do is check your graphics cards settings. First, disable vertical sync (vsync). This will ensure that the refresh rate of your monitor will not limit the frame rates being rendered by the graphics card. NVIDIA's Detonator drivers allow vsync for both Direct3D and OpenGL to be disabled:

Direct3D - Vsync Disabled

OpenGL - Vsync Always Off

You may also want to check that the monitor refresh rate is the same when running benchmarks as a higher refresh rate can impact performance. I normally benchmark using a 75Hz monitor refresh rate.

Monitor Refresh Rate

When you set the refresh rate, you may need to adjust the horizontal and vertical size of the screen. Use the monitor controls to do this and save these settings. Most monitors will automatically recall these settings (which are based on the resolution and refresh rate).

Game Benchmarks

Now we're ready to get to the benchmarking specifics. The first games covered in this guide will be Quake 1, 2, and 3. Benchmark instructions for the following games will be included shortly:

  • Kingpin
  • Starsiege Tribes
  • Soldier of Fortune
  • Unreal Tournament
  • MDK2
  • Motocross Madness 2

You should make a note of the game settings used when running benchmarks so they can be replicated in future benchmarking sessions. You may want to compare performance of different driver revisions or a new graphics card. I use Microsoft Excel to keep a record of benchmarks.

Also note that sound is normally disabled when benchmarking the performance of a graphics card. This is to ensure that performance will not be affected by the sound card.

While most of the benchmark settings in this guide can be run with a custom configuration file, you can also use the game menus to configure specific settings. Items such as resolution, color depth, and graphics detail can normally be set in a graphics options menu. Before running a benchmark, I delete all configuration (.cfg) files as they may contain custom settings which are not based on the default values.

Important! You should always make a backup/copy of your config files if you're going to be deleting them. I make a copy and save them with a file extension other than .cfg. You'll be really pissed if you end up trashing your favorite configuration files! Note that most games will automatically create a default config file if one does not already exist.

Guide to Benchmarking: Page 2

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Last Updated on October 22, 2000

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