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

Skyrim – HD 7970 versus GTX 680

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Skyrim continues to be a big game for PC users but is often cited as being CPU bound in some instances.  That obviously isn’t completely the case as we can see the GTX 680 SLI configuration does scale from the 10 second to 30 second section of our test run while the HD 7970s in CrossFire do not. 

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One trait I found in nearly all of our Skyrim testing, regardless of card or configuration, was large stutters or hitches.  You can clearly see them here as spikes in the frame time.  You can also see that the largest variance group is the GXT 680s in SLI and even though the 7970s in CrossFire aren’t seeing any variance they also aren’t improving performance over a single card.

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There are no runts or drops in our testing, which makes observed FPS mirror that of FRAPS.

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The Skyrim Min FPS percentile graphs definitely look unique from the other games we have tested with more linear pattern.  SLI has an advantage until the 80th percentile mark (though minimal) with all card bunching together at the end.

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All the frame variance and potential stutter measurements are showing pretty clean results here considering the scale of the graph only reaches 3ms maximum.  What this does NOT really show are the large hitches in game play seen as the spikes in frame times.  Another stutter metric is going to be needed to catch and quantify them directly.

 

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At 2560x1440 with these high powered graphics cards the results look very similar, but with a larger advantage for the GTX 680s in SLI. 

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The frame times at 25x14 are again pretty similar to the first resolution with very little gap between the GTX 680, HD 7970 and HD 7970 CrossFire results.  Only the GTX 680 SLI stands out for being a bit faster (lower frame times) and a bit more inconsistent.

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Again, there are no runts or drops so the observed FPS is identical.

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GTX 680s in SLI show up well here with consistently faster frame rates starting with the average of around 140 FPS compared to the 80 FPS of a single card.

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Overall frame variance and potential stutter is low on all of the configurations.

 

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Our 5760x1080 results are sans-CrossFire once again but are still worth showing and without a doubt SLI is making a difference for NVIDIA users.

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The frame times of both single cards a good and tight resulting in minimal frame rate variance though the SLI results are a noticeably more diverse.

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No change here.

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With an average frame rate for the entire run of 70 FPS, the SLI configuration is definitely scaling over the 48 FPS of the single GTX 680. 

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Potential stutter is seen with the GTX 680 SLI results at 5760x1080, but for both the single GPU options are pretty good.

Overall the story with Skyrim is pretty good – it performs well with both single cards from AMD and NVIDIA though only NVIDIA’s GTX 680s see performance scaling up when configured for multi-GPU.  The good news however is that for CrossFire owners, the situation doesn’t get WORSE.

March 27, 2013 | 06:16 AM - Posted by grommet

Hey Ryan, is the variable "t_ready" that the text refers to "t_present" in the diagram two paragraphs above?

March 27, 2013 | 06:22 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yes, fixed, thanks.

March 27, 2013 | 07:20 AM - Posted by Prodeous (not verified)

I was just wondering.. since the capture and analysis system relies on the left bar only, why doesn't it trunckate the rendered frame it self and keep only 1-3 pixels from the left side of the frame?

For some tests if you want to show off the specific "runts" "stutters" then you can keep it the entire frame captured.

But for most tests, you can record only the left colour bar and do analysis on that bar only, therefore you will not have to save the 600GB per second of uncompressed frames.

Just a thought.

March 27, 2013 | 07:40 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

We have that option (notice the crop capture option in our software) but we often like to reference recorded video down the road.

March 28, 2013 | 05:53 AM - Posted by Luciano (not verified)

If you write a piece of software with that "colored" portion only in mind you dont need any of the additional hardware and any user could use it just like Fraps.

March 28, 2013 | 04:02 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

LOL - AMD you are soooo freaking BUSTED !

Runt frames and zero time ghost frames is an AMD specialty.

AMD is 33% slower than nVidia, so amd pumped in ghosts and runts !!

Their crossfire BF3 is a HUGE CHEAT.

ROFL - man there are going to be some really pissed off amd owners whose $1,000 dual gpu frame rate purchases have here been exposed as LIES.

Shame on you amd, runts and ghosts, and all those fanboys screaming bang for the buck ... little did they know it was all a big fat lie.

March 28, 2013 | 11:42 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

true words of a fan boy.

May 26, 2013 | 05:23 PM - Posted by Johan (not verified)

Even i have Nvidia, but his comment, was really a fan-boy comment.

March 27, 2013 | 06:43 AM - Posted by Anon (not verified)

Run the benchmarks like any sane gamer would do so!

Running v-sync disabled benches with 60+ fps is dumb!

Running v-sync enabled benches with 60- fps is way more dumb!

YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!

March 27, 2013 | 07:00 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

Don't forget that V-sync also sometimes fucks shit up.

The best solution is to limit the frames on the game end, or using a 3rd party frame limiter.

March 27, 2013 | 07:51 AM - Posted by Anon (not verified)

And sometimes disabling it fucks physics like in Skyrim.

Your point?

March 27, 2013 | 07:18 AM - Posted by grommet

Read the whole article before commenting- there is an entire page that focuses on your argument (surprise- you're not the first to suggest this!!)

March 27, 2013 | 07:32 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

And if you have actually watched one of his streams, you'd have seen that he INDEED IS doing it "wrong".

When he was testing Tomb Raider, the card was artifacting and flickering and shimmering. It was complete and totally obvious that he didn't know what he's doing.

March 27, 2013 | 07:31 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

To the guy who says "you're doing it wrong".

Not true. He's doing it right. Many hardcore gamers run v-sync disabled over 60 fps, and only a few of the scenarios tested are consistently over 60fps.

And read the story to see the OBSERVED FPS is much less in many cases, not just the FRAPs FPS (which does not give proper info at the end of the pipeline (at the display) what users actually see).

March 27, 2013 | 07:38 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

There's absolutely nothing "hardcore" about running an old ass game at 1000 FPS with a modern card.

All it does is to waste resources and make the card work at it's hardest for no reason. It's no different than swapping a gear at a say, maximum, 6500 RPM on a car that revs 7000 per gear. You should keep it lower so that the hardware doesn't get excessively get stressed.

If the card is obviously way beyond the generation of the game you're playing, then you're best off, if possible, LIMITING frames/putting a frame lock on your end.

March 27, 2013 | 07:42 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Vsync does cause a ton of other issues including input latency.

March 27, 2013 | 07:44 AM - Posted by Anon (not verified)

You've said this already in both the article and comments but you only talked about input latency.

What are those other issues?

March 27, 2013 | 07:52 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

It makes the entire game laggy an unplayable depending on condition.

You can read up over that TweakGuides guy's site on Vsync.

March 27, 2013 | 08:09 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Some pretty fascinating implications about the entire game/rendering pipeline.  There are so many problems throughout, and the tradeoffs tend to impact each other in varyingly negative ways.  Seems like frames are essentially our biggest issue, but how do you get around that?  I had previously theorized that per pixel change in an asynchronous manner would solve a lot of these issues, but the performance needed for such a procedure is insane.  Essentially it becomes a massive particle model with a robust physics engine being the base of changes (movement, creation, destruction, etc.).

March 27, 2013 | 11:18 AM - Posted by Jason (not verified)

research voxels... the technology exists but is pretty far off.

March 27, 2013 | 02:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Regarding per-pixel-updates: Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pXZ33YoKu9w

It's obvious the result must be delivered in frames (no way around it with current monitor technology), but the engine in the vid clearly works differently from the usual by just putting the newly calculated pixels into the framebuffer that are ready by the time.

March 27, 2013 | 11:07 AM - Posted by bystander (not verified)

Due to many frames being forced to wait for the next vertical retrace mode, while others do not, it will result in some time metering issues. This can result in a form of stuttering.

March 28, 2013 | 11:49 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

hardcore gamer here play BF3 v-sync ON!

because:

1. My monitor (as 90% of us) is 60hz!
don't need the extra stress/heat/electric juice on card/system.

2. Fed up with frame tearing every time i turn around.

March 27, 2013 | 07:27 AM - Posted by Prodeous (not verified)

With regards to the Nvidia settings of v-sync, it seems that Addaptive (half refresh rate) was selected capping it at 30fps vs Addaptive which would cap at 60fps.

Was that on purpose?

March 27, 2013 | 07:31 AM - Posted by Noah Taylor (not verified)

I'm still interested to see what type of results you come up with when using amd crossfire with a program like afterburner's riva tuner to limit the fps to 60, which would seems to be everyone's preference for this situation.

March 27, 2013 | 07:42 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I think you'll find the same problems that crop up with Vsync enabled.

March 27, 2013 | 08:14 AM - Posted by Noah Taylor (not verified)

I have to admit observed FPS graphs are DAMNING to AMD, and I own 2 7970s and 7950s so I'm not remotely biased against them in any way. One thing i did notice is that dropped frames don't effect every game so hopefully this is something AMD may be able to potentially mitigate through driver tweaks.

I have to admit, crysis 3 can be a sloppy affair in AMD crossfire and now I can see exactly what I'm experiencing without trying to make guesswork out of it.

Regardless, the bottom line EVERYONE should take away from this, is that crossfire DOES NOT function as intended whatsoever, and we can now actually say AMD is deceptive in their marketing as well, this is taken directly from AMD's website advertising crossfire:

"Tired of dropping frames instead of opponents? Find a CrossFire™-certified graphics configuration that’s right for you."

They have built their business on a faulty product and every crossfire owner should speak up so that AMD makes the changes they have control over to FIX a BROKEN system.

March 27, 2013 | 08:17 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Just think how bad a X1900 CrossFire Edition setup would do here...  I think Ryan should dig up those cards and test them!

March 27, 2013 | 08:49 AM - Posted by SB48 (not verified)

I wonder if that one of the reasons why AMD never really released the 7990,
also if this was already a obvious problem with the 3870 X2...
or the previous gens card, like HD5000, 6000.

anyway, is there any input lag difference from NV to AMD (SLI-CF) without vsync?

also I would be curious to see some CPU comparison.

March 27, 2013 | 10:31 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

I had both a dual 3870 and a dual 2900 setup, both were more or less the same thing.

Both has driven a CRT at 160HZ for Cube and both were silk smooth.

This is a recent issue. It has nothing to do with cards of that age. The major problem with those old cards was the lack of CrossFire application profiles. Before the beginning of 2010, you had absolutely no application profiles like you have with nVidia. So CF either worked or you had to change the game ".exe" names, which either worked or, made the game mess up or just kick you out of Steam servers due to VAC.

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