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Frame Rating Part 3: First Results from the New GPU Performance Tools

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Manufacturer: PC Perspective

In case you missed it...

UPDATE: We have now published full details on our Frame Rating capture and analysis system as well as an entire host of benchmark results.  Please check it out!!

In one of the last pages of our recent NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN graphics card review we included an update to our Frame Rating graphics performance metric that details the testing method in more detail and showed results for the first time.  Because it was buried so far into the article, I thought it was worth posting this information here as a separate article to solict feedback from readers and help guide the discussion forward without getting lost in the TITAN shuffle.  If you already read that page of our TITAN review, nothing new is included below. 

I am still planning a full article based on these results sooner rather than later; for now, please leave me your thoughts, comments, ideas and criticisms in the comments below!


Why are you not testing CrossFire??

If you haven't been following our sequence of stories that investigates a completely new testing methodology we are calling "frame rating", then you are really missing out.  (Part 1 is here, part 2 is here.)  The basic premise of Frame Rating is that the performance metrics that the industry is gathering using FRAPS are inaccurate in many cases and do not properly reflect the real-world gaming experience the user has.

Because of that, we are working on another method that uses high-end dual-link DVI capture equipment to directly record the raw output from the graphics card with an overlay technology that allows us to measure frame rates as they are presented on the screen, not as they are presented to the FRAPS software sub-system.  With these tools we can measure average frame rates, frame times and stutter, all in a way that reflects exactly what the viewer sees from the game.

We aren't ready to show our full sets of results yet (soon!) but the problems lie in that AMD's CrossFire technology shows severe performance degradations when viewed under the Frame Rating microscope that do not show up nearly as dramatically under FRAPS.  As such, I decided that it was simply irresponsible of me to present data to readers that I would then immediately refute on the final pages of this review (Editor: referencing the GTX TITAN article linked above.) - it would be a waste of time for the reader and people that skip only to the performance graphs wouldn't know our theory on why the results displayed were invalid.

Many other sites will use FRAPS, will use CrossFire, and there is nothing wrong with that at all.  They are simply presenting data that they believe to be true based on the tools at their disposal.  More data is always better. 

Here are these results and our discussion.  I decided to use the most popular game out today, Battlefield 3 and please keep in mind this is NOT the worst case scenario for AMD CrossFire in any way.  I tested the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition in single and CrossFire configurations as well as the GeForce GTX 680 and SLI.  To gather results I used two processes:

  1. Run FRAPS while running through a repeatable section and record frame rates and frame times for 60 seconds
  2. Run our Frame Rating capture system with a special overlay that allows us to measure frame rates and frame times with post processing.

Here is an example of what the overlay looks like in Battlefield 3.

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Frame Rating capture on GeForce GTX 680s in SLI - Click to Enlarge

The column on the left is actually the visuals of an overlay that is applied to each and every frame of the game early in the rendering process.  A solid color is added to the PRESENT call (more details to come later) for each individual frame.  As you know, when you are playing a game, multiple frames will make it on any single 60 Hz cycle of your monitor and because of that you get a succession of colors on the left hand side.

By measuring the pixel height of those colored columns, and knowing the order in which they should appear beforehand, we can gather the same data that FRAPS does but our results are seen AFTER any driver optimizations and DX changes the game might make.

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Frame Rating capture on Radeon HD 7970 CrossFire - Click to Enlarge

Here you see a very similar screenshot running on CrossFire.  Notice the thin silver band between the maroon and purple?  That is a complete frame according to FRAPS and most reviews.  Not to us - we think that frame rendered is almost useless. 

Continue reading our 3rd part in a series of Frame Rating and to see our first performance results!!

 

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Data gathered from FRAPS

Here is a typical frame rate over time graph as generated by FRAPS.  Looks good right?  CrossFire and SLI are competitive with the advantage to the HD 7970s.

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Data gathered from Frame Rating Capture

This is the same graph with data gathered from our method that omits RUNT frames that only represent pixels under a certain threshold (to be discussed later).  Removing the tiny slivers gives us a "perceived frame rate" that differs quite a bit - CrossFire doesn't look faster than a single card.

 

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Data gathered from FRAPS - Click to Enlarge

This is the raw frame times as captured by FRAPS - again we are looking for a narrow band of frametimes to represent a smooth experience.  Both single cards do pretty well, but SLI sees a bit more variance and CrossFire sees a bigger one.  Quite a bit bigger.

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Data gathered from Frame Rating Capture - Click to Enlarge

Here is the same data gathered by our new capture system - the CrossFire configuration looks MUCH worse with many frames hitting near 0ms of screen time.  That would be great if they were ALL like that but unfortunately they also scale up to 20ms and higher quite often.  Also notice NVIDIA's is actually MORE uniform indicating that there is some kind of smoothing going on after the frame leaves the game engine's hands. 

 

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Data gathered from FRAPS - Click to Enlarge

Let's zoom in a bit - here is 100 frames of the FRAPS frametimes from above.  Notice the see-saw effect that the CrossFire output has...

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Data gathered from Frame Rating Capture - Click to Enlarge

And see how much worse it is here in our Frame Rating Capture configuration.  The pattern is actually exaggerated on the CrossFire solution while the SLI configuration is smoother. 

 

Here are a couple more screenshots from our captures.

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Frame Rating capture on Radeon HD 7970 CrossFire - Click to Enlarge

 

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Frame Rating capture on GeForce GTX 680s in SLI - Click to Enlarge

 

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Frame Rating capture on Radeon HD 7970 CrossFire - Click to Enlarge

 

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Frame Rating capture on GeForce GTX 680s in SLI - Click to Enlarge

 

This is just a preview of what we have planned for our new Frame Rating Capture performance testing method.  We have gone through many games with this and the results can vary from looking better than FRAPS to looking much, much worse. 

I am eager to get your feedback - please feel free to leave comments below and the follow on to the conclusion of our GeForce GTX TITAN review!

 

February 23, 2013 | 12:28 AM - Posted by serpinati of the wussu (not verified)

are you sure about this? I don't have crossfire or SLI, but from what I understand, both default to AFR and you don't really have any option to change it unless the programmers made a specific profile to change it.

This would also make sense since microstutter is really only present in AFR and not in other modes.

February 23, 2013 | 10:55 AM - Posted by Circuitfeak (not verified)

http://techreport.com/review/8826/ati-crossfire-dual-graphics-solution/3

Check this out.

February 23, 2013 | 06:07 PM - Posted by serpinati of the wussu (not verified)

I'm not sure that's relevant anymore, since they are discussing ati x800's, which are pretty old cards.

I dont believe any modern drivers give you the option to switch modes (again, please someone correct me, i dont have SLI or crossfire) and I'm pretty sure they all default to AFR if no profile is found.

This also wouldn't be surprising because AFR usually gives the highest reported FPS, so companies would usually want it to default to this for reviewing and benchmarking purposes.

February 23, 2013 | 09:23 PM - Posted by Circuitfeak (not verified)

You can switch modes in CCC for AMD and Nvidia SLI control panels, most games and benchmarks just have predefined profiles.

February 25, 2013 | 03:28 PM - Posted by kn00tcn

CF uses AFR, it's even listed in the CF best practices documentation pdf as default & what devs should adjust their engine to

plus if you look at the CAP xml, AFR is listed constantly

i have forced the other modes with radeonpro in the past, it did not go so well, from artifacts to a hard lockup that killed my whole GFWL profile

February 22, 2013 | 10:27 PM - Posted by tackle70 (not verified)

You pretty much have to use a framerate limiter with crossfire. It's not perfect, but you can remove stutter with it entirely.

Anytime you have an average fps of your refresh rate or higher, you set the framerate limit to your refresh rate. Otherwise, you do it somewhere around your average fps (I typically find smoother play if I limit the framerate to just under the average fps).

My tool of choice to do this is Afterburner but Radeon Pro can do it too.

February 23, 2013 | 05:53 AM - Posted by Seravia (not verified)

Yes, PCPerspective should have a look, because we've been using this for more than a year and RadeonPro made it easier:
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/radeon-hd-7990-devil13-7970-x2,3329-...

February 23, 2013 | 08:43 AM - Posted by tackle70 (not verified)

I've honestly found MSI Afterburner's framerate limiter a much better option than Radeon Pro. It more or less accomplishes the same effect but without having to make a profile for each game you want to play.

Also, Radeon Pro doesn't always work with all games e.g. it's currently not working with Crysis 3.

Occasionally for whatever reason Afterburner won't solve the problem, and then Radeon Pro can be a nice backup option.

February 23, 2013 | 02:45 AM - Posted by BiggieShady

So the FRAPS shows how CrossFire is bad, but the real truth is even worse - FRAPS was actually doing CrossFire a favor. It would almost be funny if it wasn't so sad.

February 24, 2013 | 12:26 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Could be that FRAPS with Vsysnc on actually give a more honest representation of whats happening.

Have to wait till the full review, as Ryan is not real clear on that.

March 28, 2013 | 02:00 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, and all we heard from AMD was fraps is not showing how good we really are, and "nVidia agrees with us on this".

L O L

AMD is the epitome of the disgusting lying corporate crime structure we all know so well since the '08 crash.

A bailout no doubt is in order, it's "too important" to the fanboys to fail, so continuous failure is preferred.

March 28, 2013 | 02:00 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, and all we heard from AMD was fraps is not showing how good we really are, and "nVidia agrees with us on this".

L O L

AMD is the epitome of the disgusting lying corporate crime structure we all know so well since the '08 crash.

A bailout no doubt is in order, it's "too important" to the fanboys to fail, so continuous failure is preferred.

February 23, 2013 | 05:48 AM - Posted by Seravia (not verified)

http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/radeon-hd-7990-devil13-7970-x2,3329-...

February 23, 2013 | 05:50 AM - Posted by Angry

I understand wanting to show the frame time results, but why not include the raw fraps numbers as well. That would satisfy both crowds at the same time.

February 23, 2013 | 10:46 AM - Posted by dreamer77dd

This is exciting and i wonder if any of the companies will be using this software or helping the community out to test there hardware out even more.
Like if your having a problem they will support you and explain more why their cared is not performing.

In the future will GPU companies be optimizing their cards like they do with other benchmark to sell more or show off the performance?
I wonder, hmm.

March 28, 2013 | 02:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You can be certain nVidia already had hardware analyzing this very thing, since they have a Smoother, and have talked about it.

AMD on the other hand said they had no idea, and "everyone suffers from frame time differences and stuttering" meaning they had given up before trying, were incapable of even checking and only got on the stick after being thoroughly exposed FIVE YEARS TOO LATE.

Years of AMD suckage under our belts, of course, for now, it's time for the amd fanboys to claim it doesn't matter while simultaneously claiming it has been fixed and also claiming "amd does best in this area".
I have indeed seen all 3 of those all the time now.

February 23, 2013 | 11:30 AM - Posted by RagingCain (not verified)

Hey guys, I am a member of the Overclock.net community, is there any chance you could bring your results, after pcper publication, and discuss with some of us more technically inclined on our forums?

I have been unfortunate myself in that I a seem to suffer the super power of feeling the affects of high latency frame rate and have been feeling it since release of 7970s and the entire 69xx generation.

What I would like to do is share some of the techniques I, and many others use, in overcoming this issue and alleviating it. I would love to see the physical results from your testing methodology and see if perhaps what we do actually alleviates, worsens them, or placebos our gaming experience.

Feel free to PM me any time on that site.

February 26, 2013 | 02:07 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Absolutely.  Send me an email: rshrout ==at== pcper.com

February 25, 2013 | 12:57 AM - Posted by Optimis0r (not verified)

Wow PC per. Just wow... top job keep it up. I think what you guys are doing is superb. A+++

February 25, 2013 | 02:17 AM - Posted by Orthello77 (not verified)

Owning two radeon 7970s i can only feel very dissapointed in seeing these results.

I mean wtf is going on with AMD and the driver team .. the runt frames at first glance look like attempt to falsify the fps readings , but then a deeper look into the single card performance will tell you that AMD don't need the runt frames to beat nvidia in this game. They just need the same scaling without the runt frames and a more even frame delivery.

Hopefully someone at AMD will see this. It would be great to see how this looks with radeon pro and dynamic frame control .. im sure it would almost fix it completely.

Can pcper please include radeon pro or afterburner frame limit in these types of reviews to see if it fixes the issue .. i mean nobody i know games without vsync anyway.

February 25, 2013 | 06:10 AM - Posted by tackle70 (not verified)

Just use a framerate limiter. I use afterburner and limit framerate to 60 and it's fine.

I've got 7970s as well and nearly all of stutter is completely removable if you just play with framerate limiting functionality.

March 28, 2013 | 02:27 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Thus the "wins in frame rates" is a total joke.

I can't stand amd or their fans. AMD is better so long as one cripples it and lives with the disability and hacks and endless hassles and total lack of equivalent features.

A stuttering suckobot, it's the greatest...

BTW it's hammered to a pile of humiliated mud when we techs have to work on them, too, another reason I can't stand them.
Endless hours and in the end, the fingers are massively crossed, and for good reason. XML hacking, bios hacking, profile hacking, ATI tool (formerly) Omega drivers, it goes on and on, a bad website, bad information on that bad website, spamming ads in the driver forever (which nVidia has now taken up)...

AMD cannot fold soon enough for me. A restructure and some real leadership could do wonders. How about real communication with the end users and real fixes instead of total oblivion or completely failed promises or retrograde upgrades that rebreak what was broken before and fixed but now arises from the ashes of gehenna once again...

I always need about 3 shots at the bar after "amd video card" tech call day.

February 25, 2013 | 03:06 AM - Posted by Vbs (not verified)

Since you are doing a full article on this, you might just as well add some Lucid Virtu MVP 2.0 testing, as Virtual V-sync and Hyperformance are designed specifically for only showing frames that will be seen. Also, I-mode has been working pretty well on alot of games now.

February 25, 2013 | 09:08 AM - Posted by Anon (not verified)

Hello there, I have a few questions about this testing methodology.

- How's this method any good when you're using the screen tearing to measure it? Isn't screen tearing a bad thing?
- How can faster graphics solutions be any better than slower ones when they produce way more screen tearing?
- How can you claim "The basic premise of Frame Rating is that the performance metrics that the industry is gathering using FRAPS are inaccurate in many cases and do not properly reflect the real-world gaming experience the user has." when no one in his right mind would let his screen tear like yours?
- How can variations under 16.6 ms be any kind of a problem when you can't see them in a 60 Hz display?

February 25, 2013 | 03:39 PM - Posted by kn00tcn

even with tearing, consistency can be seen

the claim about frame rating is talking about how those fps numbers are an average, not realtime (30,60,30,60,30,60 will show up as 45fps in fraps, but you're not actually seeing a steady 45fps image), it has nothing to do with tearing specifically

me i'm looking for 60fps vsync minimum fps

pcper will test with vsync in the full article, so we'll see what happens

February 26, 2013 | 05:23 AM - Posted by Anon (not verified)

If I'm aiming for a smooth gameplay I don't want my screen tearing like crazy so consistency in these tests is far from useful for most ppl out there.

You're wrong about FRAPS. In fact you didn't even understand how this is being tested. FRAPS reports frame times and that's what's being used here.

PCPer will test Vsync? If the screen doesn't tear their capture hardware is totally useless.

February 26, 2013 | 02:09 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

We are going to include tests with Vsync, but keep in mind that basically ALL graphics performance testing is done with Vsync disabled.

February 28, 2013 | 07:30 AM - Posted by Anon (not verified)

That's why yours ain't any better than previous or current testings. You're focused measuring little variances no one will notice telling how far ahead one product is from the other. How having 5 spikes is worse than having 3. You're focused calling AMD liars when following your testing the fast your system is the worse the tearing gets.

It's like testing CPUs in a gaming perspective at 1024*768 resolution. Utterly dumb and misleading.

User experience is about real world, not the same crappy graphs even harder to understand than the previous while running unplayable options like having 15 FPS, screen tearing or your physics messed.

Test frame limiters that anyone in his senses will use if he's having stutter or screen tearing issues. And FFS don't dare to publish ever again a graph where every single card is getting less than 30 FPS. You're miles away from measuring the user experience, really.

February 28, 2013 | 07:35 AM - Posted by Anon (not verified)

Oh, forgot to tell you that cranking up every single option to play isn't a thing that a sensible gamer would do.

Stop preaching about user experience when you clearly have no idea.

February 25, 2013 | 05:15 PM - Posted by kukreknecmi (not verified)

How does the capture system distinguishes / timestamps consecutive frames? Does the capture system gets an trigger after the first system sends frame draw data and timetsamps that frame , so it can be saved as new frame? How much delay is getting added?

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