Before looking at the performance of the GeForce3 Titanium, it becomes important to first discuss the latest Detonator XP drivers which were officially released by NVIDIA on September 11th. Looking back to when the GeForce3 debuted in April, there were heated debates in regards to the benefits of the GeForce3 over the GeForce2 Ultra. The GeForce3 was the first consumer level graphics chipset with a programmable transform and lighting unit and it's hardware-based multisampling antialiasing provided superior antialiasing performance. But during these past six months, the number of published games that haven taken advantage of the GeForce3's nfiniteFX Engine have been few and antialiasing isn't an important feature for everyone.
However, the GeForce3, which was configured with the same memory speed as the GeForce2 Ultra along with a lower processor clock speed, still managed to outpace it's predecessor during memory bandwidth intensive settings. This includes games running at super high resolutions such as 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 in 32-bit color, when using advanced texture filtering techniques, and when antialiasing is enabled.
How did the GeForce3 manage to outperform the GeForce2 Ultra in these situations? It basically boiled down to how effectively the high-speed graphics memory was being utilized. Realizing that the brute force method of increasing performance by using faster and more expensive memory was becoming economically unfeasible, NVIDIA turned to a memory architecture that has long been used in the most complex of computers - the crossbar memory architecture. The crossbar memory architecture consists of four memory controllers which are used in forming a sophisticated data network with the physical graphics memory and the graphics processing unit.
GeForce3 Crossbar Memory Architecture
NVIDIA's driver development team is finally beginning to tap into the potential of the GeForce3 crossbar memory architecture with the Detonator XP drivers. This can be confirmed based on CG Online's interview with Dwight Diercks who is NVIDIA's Vice President of Software Engineering.
We have also found that there were some optimizations available to us in the LightSpeed Memory Architecture. Essentially, we found places where the hardware's independent memory controllers were not always fully busy, and by rethinking our memory management for video memory, we were able to improve things here significantly.
A comparison of drivers in Quake 3 can be used as an example to illustrate specific performance benefits of the Detonator XP drivers, which have been initially tagged as version 21.81. Although the official drivers prior to Detonator XP were version 12.41, the following results are in comparison to the beta 12.90 drivers I had been using. And for those of us that think the Detonator XP drivers have been optimized for Quake 3, I would agree. Quake 3 engine continues to be the premier 3D graphics engine which happens to be very responsive to faster processors, faster memory, or to the memory load balancing optimizations in Detonator XP.
Quake 3 Performance - Detonator 12.90 vs 21.81
Results are from a 1.0GHz Pentium 3, Asus CUSL2 motherboard, OCZ Technologies GeForce3 running at stock speeds of 215MHz core and 515MHz memory, 384MB of Mushkin PC150 memory running at 2-2-2, Windows 98 and DirectX 8.1, with vsync and sound disabled. Version 1.17 of Quake 3 was tested using the default high quality setting using demo001.
Who would have thought that we would see Quake 3 run over 100 fps at 1600x1200 in just a few months following the debut of the GeForce3?
Designed With Windows XP In Mind
Based on the Unified Graphics Architecture, certain enhancements in Detonator XP are closely tied to the upcoming Windows XP operating system. While the XP connotation in the name originates from the new XPress Link technology, this technology is specific to Windows XP. From NVIDIA's Detonator XP press release we find the following excerpt.
Detonator XP contains the new-patented Detonator XPress Link technology utilizing the patented Direct Memory Access (DMA) found on all NVIDIA hardware, Detonator Xpress Link provides a direct connection from the hardware to the operating system. As a result, Detonator XPress Link assists in accelerating the new optimizations made in the I/O Subsystem and Memory Management portions of Windows XP’s core.
This is certainly encouraging news for those of us who own NVIDIA based graphics cards and are planning on upgrading to Windows XP. Unlike Windows 2000 where initial 3D graphics performance was a bit shaky, the ever-increasing collaboration between NVIDIA and Microsoft should provide some assurance that an upgrade to Windows XP should be less prone to malfunctions.
On the other hand, there are many of us that continue to use Windows 98, Windows ME and Windows 2000. However, upon closer inspection of the press release, these operating systems are also said to benefit from additional performance.
Detonator XP also features a complete OpenGL 1.3 ICD with NVIDIA extensions– allowing developers to create content that fully exposes the hardware features of NVIDIA’s GPUs. Detonator XP also includes custom DirectX pipelines specifically designed to fully accelerate Windows XP and all other operating systems. By way of these new enhancements, Detonator XP delivers up to a 50% performance gain in Microsoft DirectX and SGI OpenGL applications.
While it's doubtful that we will see 50% gains in performance in everyday use from these drivers, the statement lends itself to further investigation. This section has only skimmed the surface on the performance of the Detonator XP drivers and I have furnished links to articles on the subject to read at your leisure.