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Frame Rating Dissected: Full Details on Capture-based Graphics Performance Testing

Capture Hardware and Extracting the Data

Capture Hardware

Once we have the overlay working, the next step in our Frame Rating process is to actually capture the video for later analysis.  While that sounds easy, it is far from the case.  Capturing the video on the testing system is out of the question. Instead we are using an external capture system built around an Ivy Bridge platform and a high-end capture card from Datapath, the VisionDVI-DL.

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This card is capable of capturing video at 2560x1600 at 60 Hz with throughput as high as 650 MB/s.  We were actually the first customer for this card in the US and have spent quite a few days on the phone with driver engineers to make sure this kind of testing process was successful.  Meant mainly for single frame captures, getting the VisionDVI-DL to really meet the specifications turned out to be a more complicated process than we’d hoped.  The good news is we have it all figured out now and can reliably capture the necessary video.

The VisionDVI-DL essentially acts like and shows up as a monitor to the system.  It reports an EDID (extended display identification data) to the graphics card that is set through the driver on the capture system.  I am able to emulate a 1920x1080 monitor at 60 Hz refresh and up to a 2560x1440 @ 60 Hz as well.  Using a Gefen dual-link DVI splitter we can connect a single display output to the NVIDIA or AMD GPU (to avoid the issues of power consumption and GPU utilization with multiple monitors attached) and split the signal to our capture card and to a monitor for us to actually play the games.

With a data rate of nearly 500 MB/s when capturing video at 2560x1440 @ 60 Hz, some serious storage speed was needed for this capture system.  I decided to use our Pegasus R4 Thunderbolt array coupled with a set of four Corsair Force GS 240GB SSDs running in an RAID 0 array, giving us about 900 MB/s of write capability.

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I cannot overestimate the importance of a completely correct capture in this step of the Frame Rating process.  If you deviate from the 60 Hz record rate even a single frame the data becomes basically useless.  Dropping a frame on the capture side would show up as dropped frames from the graphics card so avoiding that is paramount.  The software used for this capture will likely be VirtualDub on other sites that you see, and that was the program we used originally too.  However, the inability to automate the settings and having to re-adjust the options each time you load the program became a hassle so we developed our own that uses DirectShow filters and the Windows Platform SDK. 

 

Extracting the Data

Once you have the recorded raw AVI file, (that is about 25GB – yes GB – from a 60 second capture at 2560x1440) the next step is to actually read the colored bars and generate frame time data, runt data and drop data.  Using a basic DSP application, the extractor reads in each frame of the video sequentially and determines the number of scanlines in height that each color on the overlay bar has and records that information in an XLS file.

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This is probably the most fool-proof part of the process.  I have uploaded a few example XLS files right here for you to see the output.

April 9, 2013 | 11:18 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks Dan,

As you mentioned, there is certainly something to this stuttering. It is worthwhile to continue to optimize the test criteria so that it completely removes any Nvidia bias.

Ryan, can you comment about the possibility of raising the size of the scan lines for runts?

Thanks!

April 9, 2013 | 05:52 AM - Posted by Danieldp

Sorry, double post. XD

April 11, 2013 | 06:46 AM - Posted by Cookie (not verified)

Dan,

Just because Toms hardware is longer around does not mean that they do a better job. My vote goes to Pcper, I prefer to read something proper, no offence to Toms hardware.

April 11, 2013 | 11:53 PM - Posted by Danieldp

Hi,

Not really the point I was making, obviously both sites have sufficient expertise. The thing I was pointing at is the vastly different results...

Dan

April 11, 2013 | 08:22 PM - Posted by Dominic (not verified)

Can you do a test with an APU like the A10-5800K in crossfire with like an HD 6670 to see if this frame rate discrepancy occurs in this circumstance as well?

I would assume it would based on your results but nonetheless I'm curious on its results.

April 13, 2013 | 03:34 AM - Posted by JCCIII

Dear Mr. Stroud and friends,

Thank you for a tremendous amount of work, diligence, and integrity...

I thoroughly enjoyed the video with you and Tom Petersem. Although, I have to mention; I have been very disappointed in Nvidia since my purchase of a group of GTX 480s, believing, from day one, I had thrown away more than $1500 for three unmanageable 1500 Watt hairdryers marketed as graphics cards, which were subsequently relabeled GTX 580s, once the bugs were worked out, kind of like Microsoft's Vista to XP, kind of like scamming on people--no, definitely scamming.

I have always been an enthusiast of the Nvidia since the days of 3dfx and had likewise always enjoyed anticipating and buying Nvidia's new products, and the GTX Titan is awesome.

With memories of ATI, Matrox, and Nvidia (I still have my RIVA 128), a home has been found within my memories, and that is why I am excited about what you and the rest of PC Perspective have done and are going to do. With collaboration you-all are moving a beloved industry onward toward a better future for us and for the companies we want to succeed.

Sincerely,
Joseph C. Carbone III; 13 April 2013

April 18, 2013 | 04:57 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

All you have to do is use RadeonPro and it will fix all these issues...

April 18, 2013 | 11:29 PM - Posted by CoderX71 (not verified)

This

April 22, 2013 | 09:07 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I dont see this huge problem i guess i am blind or only run 1 screen but i have played all titles listed and got better FPS in all of them using my GTX680's and My 7970's.

I still prefer my AMD cards for now for these reason:

1)In benchmarks my AMD cards kill my 680's in crossfire overclocked.

2)Graphics just look allot nicer on the AMD cards.

3)Biggest problem is Nvidia cards Cant Mine!!! (That's the big killer there for me)as id rather make $500.00 off my cards a week if i feel like it and be able to game as well.

I am not an Nvidia or AMD Fanboy as i have 680's in one of my builds and 7970's in a couple others plus have bought many of both cards in between.

I think maybe there is a problem for those running triple screens that hopefully AMD fixes as you have to admit they did a hell of allot on drivers recently that gave huge performance boosts.But 1920 x 1080 60 hertz i have no issues and def a big difference when i add a 2nd 7970 as i have swapped a card to other builds and put it back in do to loss of performance. The other thing i use my cards for is overclocking and Benchmarking and they def show huge performance there.I had my 680's over 1300mhz and they couldn't come close to 2 7970's at only 1225mhz.

So id have to say for working computers i will run my 7970's until there is no more money to be made and i will game on the 680's.

Pretty much not many games need more then 1 card anyway unless running multiple screens and high resolutions, Hell an APU can Max most console port games on the Market but the very few true PC games we actually have.

Yes i agree AMD fix the damn problem. But i also don't think Nvidia fan boys should be rooting for this because if they do the 7970 will be a nasty card all around that's capable of allot more then playing just games.

Just my opinion and experience on the to many cards i have owned to count in my life from both brands.

Take Care

May 5, 2013 | 12:13 AM - Posted by Evo (not verified)

If only we had a tool such as radeon pro to tweak the crossfire to make it operate properly. If only it existed...

The crysis 3 results are a bit questionable as in game vsync was causing havoc for nvidia (input lag) and amd (stuttering). Also crossfire was not engaging properly unless you alt-tabbed (this still occurs half the time). Not to mention the weird fix of opening an instance of google chrome to fix some of the problems with frame rate people were having with AMD setups.

My 7970 cf with radeon pro and other fixes works perfectly for me with Crysis 3, but there are some people still having issues. Also depends when the testing was done as when patch 1.3 was first released it caused massive problems for AMD cards that were later fixed.

May 20, 2013 | 02:17 AM - Posted by tigerclaws12894

Might have a typo or grammar error in the paragraph before the last in the Vsync topic. Anywho, have you ever considered triple buffering on AMD solutions as well as that config on 60Hz vs 120Hz as well? Input latency sure will be an issue but it'd be nice to know if it's better with 120Hz monitors.

May 20, 2013 | 07:11 PM - Posted by ServerStation668 (not verified)

This Dell T5600 has good video benchmarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uK1J3o1fks

August 13, 2013 | 09:04 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have read this article four or five times and I find it intriguing. I must admit to not understanding most of it though. However, I must say being the owner of THREE 7970's, MSI Lightning BE, MSI Ghz OC Edition & Club3D RoyalAce at a cost of around £1300.00 GBP, just shy of $2000.00 USD I feel somewhat cheated. I hope AMD's forthcoming "Fixes" will redress these issues. Brilliant article and I am looking forward to all the follow ups.

September 1, 2013 | 02:35 AM - Posted by BryanFRitt (not verified)

What would a game look like if

it got a smooth 120+ fps,
was on a 60Hz display,
and in addition to the regular 'vsync' spot, it would 'vsync' at the '1/2' way spot?
aka update the display at the top and middle, updating at these same two spots every time, and only updating at these two spots.

Would the middle 'vsync' spot be annoying? helpful? noticed? informative? etc...? (This sounds like a good way to see how important fps is)

What's a good name for this?
1/2 x vsync, 2 x vsync, vsync 1/2 x, vsync 2 x, or something else?
What's the logic behind your pick(s)?

September 2, 2013 | 04:39 PM - Posted by lyo (not verified)

(forward note: i have bad english.)
1) is there a diff in observer fps between cards with more ram?
i.e. sli of 2x gtx770 2g vs sli of 2x gtx770 4g?

2) can you publish a min/max/var of partial frame per frame?
insted of runt i wanna know how many different "color" are per frame, and if they are evenly spread.

January 30, 2014 | 12:03 PM - Posted by BBMan (not verified)

Nice review. I'm interested as to how this tech is evolving.
But now I'm curious- I've read some of your test methods- but I may have missed something. I've seen mostly games that are more single player/first-person. Is that part of your methodology? I'm thinking of more intensive object rendering titles like Rome Total War II that has to render myriads of objects and stress memory more. Have you considered something like that?

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