The Source Engine has always surprised me with its versatility. I have always found it to be one of the best-looking engines on the market and the performance it gives even with its awesome detail has always been remarkable. In my mind, bugs aside, it is what the perfect engine should be: fantastic performance and fantastic visuals.
To start off the Source benchmarks, I used the Counter-Strike: Source Stress Test at various resolutions with various levels of antialiasing. All in-game settings were always at the maximum level allowed, the only variables being resolution and AA, as illustrated by the table below.
Source Engine Settings
The Stress Test reports in actual frames per second, including partial frames, however for simplicity's sake, all results have been rounded to the nearest whole number (x.0 - x.49 is rounded down, 0.5 - 0.99 is rounded up).
Counter-Strike: Source Stress Test
Rather impressive numbers, but much like 3DMark06, I take these scores with a grain of salt: they aren't real-world performance. So, in order to get that real-world preformance I craved, I decided to fire up Half-Life 2: Lost Coast to see what VALVe's video-card-breaking tech demo would do to the 8800 GTS SLI setup. Firs things first, I received a rather humorous error when I went to launch Lost Coast. Apparently, my CPU is not fast enough. :)
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast Performance Warning
Regardless of the warning, Lost Coast loaded and played just fine. Even though it is far too short, I enjoy this level for one-two punch of action and its incredible visuals. I really like how VALVe implemented HDR in the Source Engine. I find it to be very realistic and believable and of all the implementations of HDR I've seen, it's my favorite. The image below is from my favorite spot on this level, overlooking the entire bay. The screen was captured at 2560x1600 with all in-game settings at maximum and 4x antialiasing applied.
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast (in game)
Click Image to Enlarge - 2560x1600 (504KB)
The results are shown below in a point graph illustrating the gameplay in frames per second thanks to FRAPS. I was playing in the chapel right after blocking the cannon from firing which brings in the onslaught of Combine. A video of me playing at 2560x1600 with 4x AA can be viewed here (MPEG-1 4MB).
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast benchmarks
Apart from the initial explosion of the chapel's doors, even the most demanding technology demo VALVe has to offer at the highest resolution and graphic settings possible in-game on the 3007WFP were not enough to make the 8800 GTS SLI chug. Even with that initial burst of sub-20 frames per second at 2560x1600 with 4xAA, the cards came back and offered an average framerate of 47fps!
To see how the increased memory handled textures of insane sizes, I installed and played FakeFactory's Half-Life 2: Cinematic Mod which features completely reworked textures on character models and other areas that originally only had low-resolution textures. Most of these textures have been replaced with 2048x2048 tiles that demand a ton of RAM in order to offer smooth play. I went into the Nova Prospekt prison level and took on the bull antlion to capture a large enemy under numerous light sources in a large area with a number of very large, detailed textures to try and stress the cards as much as possible. The screenshot below was taken from this area at 2560x1600 with 4x antialiasing.
Half-Life 2: Cinematic Mod (in game)
Click Image to Enlarge - 2560x1600 (686KB)
I was very surprised at the benchmarks of this game. So surprised that I ran each one three times to make sure there wasn't a fluke. Even with the enormous textures, the 8800s ripped through the Cinematic Mod.
FakeFactory's Half-Life 2: Cinematic Mod
Very impressive results. The 320-bit memory bus is obviously very efficient and these cards have more than enough bandwidth to handle the Cinematic mod.
On the next page, I finally get to see how "true" HDR + AA look and run at the same time in Oblivion.