Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: February 24, 2013
Introduction & Closer Look:
Before being on staff for OCC, I was a math major and physics minor. Ironically, while my passions in math are the theoretical and algebraic topics, it was always the labs and data I enjoyed in my physics courses. Getting to work with a new tool, and seeing what all I can do with it, was always great fun. (I'll bet I am the only person you can name who has intentionally shot X-rays at pennies!) This curiosity also holds true when I get a new software tool such as the recently released 3DMark benchmark by Futuremark.
3DMark is the newest in the series of similarly named benchmarks from the company, and it is design to push more than just your computer to the limits, but I will come back to that in a moment. It has three pricing options and different features for each option. The screenshots represent some of the differences between the editions.
- 3DMark Basic Edition - FREE
- Includes all three tests: Ice Storm, Cloud Gate and Fire Strike.
- Test everything from tablets to gaming PCs.
- Easy to use, no technical know-how needed.
- Free online account to manage your results.
- 3DMark Advanced Edition - $24.99
- Run each test individually for faster benchmarking.
- Unlock the Fire Strike Extreme preset for extreme hardware.
- Explore your PC's performance limits with custom settings.
- Use benchmark looping for stability testing and burning in.
- Get in-depth insights with interactive performance graphs.
- Automatically save your results offline.
- 3DMark Professional Edition -$995.00
- Licensed for business and commercial use.
- Command line automation.
- Image Quality Tool.
- Private offline results option.
- Export results as XML.
(For this write up I used the Professional Edition.)
In the (near?) future more versions will be released, but these versions will not be for our computers, but for our other devices that run Windows RT, Android, and iOS. Additional testing and app store approvals are the only things holding up the release of those versions.
The three main tests are Ice Storm, Cloud Gate, and Fire Strike, and each test has been designed for devices of certain capabilities, though they all utilize DirectX 11. Ice Storm is designed for tablets and entry-level PCs, so while it runs the DirectX 11 engine, its feature level is limited to that of DirectX 9; a common target for modern portable devices. Its multiple sub-tests depict an intense space battle between a fleet and a colony based on large pieces of ice.
Cloud Gate is for notebooks and home PCs, so it has been limited to the DirectX 10 feature level, but does look quite good. It is possible some of you may recognize certain elements in this series of tests as much of it has been taken from the 2009, DirectX 10 game Shattered Horizon, which was developed by Futuremark. Cloud Gate is not Shattered Horizon though, as the astronauts are transporting ships to distant places instead of trying to kill each other.
Fire Strike is for high performance gaming PCs, and boy does it prove that fact. It utilizes the full DirectX 11 feature set and makes you impatient for the day PC games will be of the same intensity. It features a battle, between the opposites fire and ice, that can only end with the death of one.
At this point we really start to see the editions separate from each other as only the Advanced and Professional editions allow you to run the tests individually and closely examine test results. If you are wondering what the frame rate was at any point during the tests and how hot your GPU was running at the time, you will want one of the paid editions. Of course, most people do not need that level of detail; just the scores will suffice.
Also limited to the paid editions is the ability to customize the tests' settings, such as antialiasing type and quality, tessellation, shadow detail, and more. Here one can definitely have some fun trying to discover what is your computer's Achilles' heel, as some GPUs are better for some things than others. If you are just looking to melt your rig though, the paid editions also unlock the Extreme preset for the Fire Strike test. This preset is designed for multi-GPU systems, and I suspect even some of those will struggle to maintain 60 FPS during that test.
Exclusive to the Professional Edition is something I spent way too much time playing with I suspect. The Image Quality Tool allows you to capture any singe frame or series of frames from any of the benchmarks, and is subject to the custom test settings. This tool is useful for comparing the differences between settings, such as MSAA compared to FXAA, as well as demonstrating what something like tessellation does for a 3D environment. It could also potentially be used for judging changes to image quality due to drivers. I suspect the latter is its intended purpose, but it's too much fun not to play around with it for the former purpose.
The differences between MSAA and FXAA are subtle, but definitely present if you look carefully. For example, in these frames if you look carefully at the Ice character, you will find many differences between the two anti-aliasing methods. (Original images cropped to preferred OCC image resolution. MSAA on the left, FXAA on the right.)
The more obvious difference is between the maximum and minimum levels of tessellation. Here is an image with tessellation turned up to the maximum:
That also happens to be the wireframe image. Here is the same wireframe image with tessellation at its minimum setting, where you can really see it is a wireframe.
How about we get to some benchmark results?
Testing Setup & Results:
As I am not a hardware reviewer, I do not have multiple graphics cards on which I can run 3DMark. However, I did get a test result with the 313.96 Beta drivers before updating to the 314.07 WHQL drivers. Remember, the Ice Storm result is the Entry level equivalent for previous benchmarks, Cloud Gate is the Performance level equivalent, and Fire Strike is the Extreme level equivalent. (Fire Strike Extreme would be beyond the Extreme level equivalent, I guess.)
- Processor: AMD Phenom II 720 BE, 4-core, @3.40GHz (17.0x200)
- Cooling: Corsair H50 with Push-pull Akasa 120mm fans
- Motherboard: ASUS M4A785TD-V EVO 785G
- Memory: Corsair Dominator 2x2 GB and G.Skill Ripjaws 2x4 GB (12 GB total) @ 1600MHZ 9-10-9-28
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB (797/1594/1950)
- Hard Drive: 1 x Western Digital Caviar Black 750 GB SATA
- Power Supply: Corsair 750TX
- OS: Windows 7- Home Premium 64-bit
- NVIDIA GeForce 313.96 Beta Driver (64-bit)
- NVIDIA GeForce 314.07 WHQL Driver (64-bit)
As you can see, the newer 314 drivers do show an increase in average performance in every test, though the increase narrows for the more intensive tests. There were single tests in which the beta drivers did better than one of the WHQL drivers' tests, but this is not terribly surprising. Just as important as increased performance though is the smaller standard deviation of the release drivers, which means their performance is more consistent.
Overall this 3DMark is definitely proving to be a powerful tool with its many options, though they are only available to those who purchase a license. Even with the Basic edition though, you have access to the default tests, which is all that matters for comparing results and showing off your graphical prowess. It will be very interesting to see what happens once the mobile device versions are released though; these will usher in a consistent benchmarking tool for the most popular non-console gaming platforms currently available.