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Detonator Driver Report: Part 2

By: Mike Chambers - April 11, 2000


Introduction

It's been a little over a month since we posted our first look at NVIDIA's progress with the Detonator drivers. For those of us who follow NVIDIA closely, it's no secret that they're readying the next release of the Detonator drivers to coincide with the roll out of the NV15. Rumor has it that the official announcement of the NV15 will take place sometime towards the end of April.

Along the way, we've been given a sneak peak of what's in store by testing, and sometimes cursing, the latest unofficial drivers that were leaked a few weeks ago (3D Chipset / Reactor Critical). The latest version is 5.13 and were enhanced to include Display Property settings to support OpenGL and Direct 3D full scene antialiasing (FSAA). Check out our Detonator Driver Report for additional information on these features.

Note: S3 Texture Compression (S3TC) and antialiasing are new features for the GeForce and Quadro. Neither S3TC nor antialiasing will work on the TNT/TNT2. It is not know at this time if these features will be supported on the TNT/TNT2 once the drivers are finalized.

Direct 3D Antialiasing Option

OpenGL Antialiasing Option


S3 Texture Compression (S3TC)

A major feature of the Detonator 5.x series of drivers is software support for texture compression (S3TC). An application using S3TC, such as Quake 3 Arena, can significantly decrease the amount of texture data being sent across the graphics sub-system which results in increased performance. By encoding texture data and using a lookup table, texture compression can represent a texture map with fewer bytes of data.

S3TC Encoding & Decoding


Image provided by Hardware Central - "The Truth About S3TC"

However, there are some minor drawbacks with texture compression and image quality in particular. There are instances when the compression scheme doesn't translate optimally as can be seen with the following screenshots from the sky in Quake 3. With texture compression enabled, the effects of color banding are apparent as the transition between colors isn't as smooth as the screenshot with compression disabled (enlarge the thumbnails to get a good look):

Compression Enabled Compression Disabled
Full size is 135K Full size is 127K

On the other hand, there is no noticable difference when comparing the following images:

Compression Enabled Compression Disabled
Full size is 148K Full size is 145K

Texture compression can also be used to enhance the quality of games by providing higher resolution textures. The greater the texture resolution, the more lifelike the game environment appears. For example, the The Pulpit recently posted two high texture resolution screenshots (1.1MB) from the Quake 3 map developed by SPOG titled "Lonely Planet". This map was originally created to demonstrate S3TC with the S3 Savage2000 video card. This map can also be played using NVIDIA's GeForce and a special Quake3 executable from Diamond Underground along with the 5.13 Detonator drivers:

1024x512 Textures 2048x1024 Textures
Full size is 224K Full size is 231K


Benchmark Setup

OK, let's take a look at how Quake 3 Arena performs with texture compression. The benchmarks results are based on the default High Quality settings. In addition, texture detail levels 3 and 4 were used along with 16 and 32-bit texture quality.

Quake 3 - High Quality Settings

Color Depth 32-Bit
Lighting Lightmap
Geometric Detail Medium
Texture Detail 3 and 4
Texture Quality 16 and 32-Bit
Texture Filter Trilinear

To refresh your memory, just in case your not an avid Quake 3 player, here are some screenshots showing texture detail levels 3 and 4 (highest):

Detail 3 Detail 4 Detail 3 Detail 4
Texture Detail Level 3 Texture Detail Level 4 Texture Detail Level 3 Texture Detail Level 4

Now on to the system configuration:

  • Pentium 3-550E @ 683MHz
  • Abit BH-6 Rev. 1 Motherboard
  • 128MB Hitachi PC100 RAM
  • Creative Labs Annihilator Pro - GeForce DDR
  • 145MHz Core/345MHz Memory Speeds
  • NVIDIA Detonator Drivers - Version 4.12.01.0513
  • Quake 3 Arena Version 1.16n - Demo001
  • Vsync and Sound Disabled


Benchmark Results

Texture Detail 3 - Compressed vs Non-Compressed

16 and 32-Bit Textures

Using a texture detail level of 3 you can see that texture compression is doing its job, especially when 32-bit color textures are used (green and yellow bars). At 1024x768 using 32-bit textures, texture compression provides a 7.9% increase in frames per second (75.2 compressed vs 69.7 not compressed). This is based on the following graph which measures the percent increase in performance offered by texture compression:

Texture Detail 3 - % Increase of Texture Compression

16 and 32-Bit Textures

Next, let's up the texture detail another notch to it's highest level:

Texture Detail 4 - Compressed vs Non-Compressed

16 and 32-Bit Textures

Texture Detail 4 - % Increase of Texture Compression

16 and 32-Bit Textures

As expected, texture compression kicked into overdrive when the texture detail was increased to its highest level (4). At 1024x768 using 32-bit textures performance increased a whopping 16.3%! Even with 16-bit textures, modest gains in performance are realized.


Conclusion

Texture compression is a good technique which can be used to squeeze that extra bit of performance out of games that support it. What I really like is that it doesn't cost you anything to use it - it's free. While there are occasions when the image quality is less than optimal, in a game like Quake who the hell looks at the sky anyway?

Finally, to enable texture compression in Quake 3, enter "r_ext_compress_textures 1" in the console.  Immediately follow that command by entering "vid_restart" (only if your are changing compression on the fly).


Last Updated on April 11, 2000

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