The following configuration represents the testbed used throughout the review process.
AMD Athlon XP 2400+ (operating at default 133MHz FSB)
MSI KT4 Ultra KT400 Motherboard
(2) 256MB Corsair XMS PC3200 CAS2
Western Digital WD800JB 80GB 8MB HDD
Chieftec Aluminum Case With Deer 430W Power Supply
128MB EK Argos "Special Edition" GeForce4 Ti 4200
64MB Abit GeForce4 Ti 4200 OTES
Gateway VX1100 21-Inch CRT Monitor
Windows XP Professional SP1/ DirectX 8.1
NVIDIA Detonator 40.72 drivers
VIA 4-in-1 443 Chipset Drivers
After months of waiting for the next breed of AMD processors, I was able to purchase a new Athlon XP 2400+. Running at 2GHz, this processor would provide enough headroom in applications and games to allow me to identify each cardís limitations. Available for less than $199 at the time this review was written, the combination of this CPU and the GeForce4 Ti 4200 represents a potent budget combination with an exceptional price/performance ratio.
In an effort to rate each cardís performance in a number of possible game engines, the software chosen for benchmarks spans a variety of genres and titles. The following software was used in this review for benchmarking purposes.
3DMark2001 SE Build 330
Quake 3 Arena Version 1.32
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo Version 1080
Comanche 4 Demo
Jedi Knight 2 Version 1.04
Battlefield 1942 Version 1.1
Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2
Return to Castle Wolfenstein Version 1.4
NBA Live 2003
Given the fact that only a handful of the selected applications contain a built-in benchmarking feature, I also relied on version 1.9 of FRAPS to measure performance. In doing so, I made certain that each benchmark test used the same constraints and was accurately measured. In addition, this method of testing provides realistic gameplay scenarios in lieu of fixed loop scenarios, which are used in traditional benchmarks. One exception of this methodology is in use of HardOCP's UT2K3 Demo Benchmark version 1001.
Throughout testing, performance is measured through a variety of image quality settings and resolutions. Here, initial testing was done for each resolution using default image quality settings at default clock speeds. A second running of the application was then done with core and memory frequencies overclocked to the maximum stable levels. This scenario was then repeated for each application using 4XS antialiasing. The final test involved repeating the sequence one last time with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic texture filtering enabled to represent maximum image quality settings.
For each benchmark, the game was run with maximum quality settings which includes maximum detail, shadow, and texture settings with 32-bit color. In an effort to replicate a real gaming scenario, high quality sound was enabled for every benchmark with the exception of Unreal Tournament 2003 where it is not an option. Through the use of RivaTuner, V-Sync was disabled throughout testing to give a more accurate depiction of the system's performance.
EFFECTS OF ENHANCED IMAGE QUALITY
As game developers push to bring new levels of realism to today's titles, graphics card developers work to do their part as well. The introduction of image quality enhancing features such as antialiasing and anisotropic filtering allow graphics to become more crisp and life-like. Unfortunately, these features come at the cost of performance. As a result, developers have provided us with multiple levels of each setting so that each individual can find the optimum combination of performance and image quality for their system. In an effort to illustrate the impact each setting has upon the image quality of the graphics, the following images have been condensed and compared in the following animated sequences. Click the images to compare.
Comparison Set 1
In this set of images, one should focus their attention on a few specific areas where the effects of the image quality settings are best illustrated. Here, one can focus upon the logo on the back of the jersey. As the resolution and image quality settings increase, this logo gradually evolves from a blur into a discernable logo of EA Sports. In addition, one can watch the double doors to the right of the screen. Once the resolution and image quality settings are maximized, there is a dramatic increase in the imageís overall quality. By focusing your attention on a particular point as the images progress, one can clearly see the effects these settings have upon the image quality of the graphics.
Comparison Set 2
As in the previous case, one can easily detect the enhancements the increased image quality settings present if they focus upon a specific point. With this image set, one should focus upon the playerís facial details as well as upon the railings in the top right portion of the screen. Here, we find that even resolutions as high as 1600x1200 can benefit greatly from antialiasing, as there is a dramatic difference in quality in the fore-mentioned areas.