MFAA Technology Recap
In mid-September NVIDIA took the wraps off of the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 GPUs, the first products based on the GM204 GPU utilizing the Maxwell architecture. Our review of the chip, those products and the package that NVIDIA had put together was incredibly glowing. Not only was performance impressive but they were able to offer that performance with power efficiency besting anything else on the market.
Of course, along with the new GPU were a set of new product features coming along for the ride. Two of the most impressive were Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) and Multi-Frame Sampled AA (MFAA) but only one was available at launch: DSR. With it, you could take advantage of the extreme power of the GTX 980/970 with older games, render in a higher resolution than your panel, and have it filtered down to match your screen in post. The results were great. But NVIDIA spent as much time talking about MFAA (not mother-fu**ing AA as it turned out) during the product briefings and I was shocked when I found out the feature wouldn't be ready to test or included along with launch.
That changes today with the release of NVIDIA's 344.75 driver, the first to implement support for the new and potentially important anti-aliasing method.
Before we dive into the results of our testing, both in performance and image quality, let's get a quick recap on what exactly MFAA is and how it works.
Here is what I wrote back in September in our initial review:
While most of the deep, architectural changes in GM204 are based around power and area efficiency, there are still some interesting feature additions NVIDIA has made to these cards that depend on some specific hardware implementations. First up is a new antialiasing method called MFAA, or Multi-Frame Sampled AA. This new method alternates the AA sample pattern, which is now programmable via software, in both temporal and spatial directions.
The goal is to change the AA sample pattern in a way to produce near 4xMSAA quality at the effective cost of 2x MSAA (in terms of performance). NVIDIA showed a couple of demos of this in action during the press meetings but the only gameplay we saw was in a static scene. I do have some questions about how this temporal addition is affected by fast motion on the screen, though NVIDIA asserts that MFAA will very rarely ever fall below the image quality of standard 2x MSAA.
That information is still correct but we do have a little bit more detail on how this works than we did before. For reasons pertaining to patents NVIDIA seems a bit less interested in sharing exact details than I would like to see, but we'll work with what we have.
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 14, 2014 - 11:46 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: sli, nvidia, N980X3WA-4GD, maxwell, GTX 980, gigabyte, geforce, 3-way
Earlier this week, a new product showed up on Gigabyte's website that has garnered quite a bit of attention. The GA-N980X3WA-4GD WaterForce Tri-SLI is a 3-Way SLI system with integrated water cooling powered by a set of three GeForce GTX 980 GPUs.
That. Looks. Amazing.
What you are looking at is a 3-Way closed loop water cooling system with an external enclosure to hold the radiators while providing a display full of information including temperatures, fans speeds and more. Specifications on the Gigabyte site are limited for now, but we can infer a lot from them:
- WATERFORCE :3-WAY SLI Water Cooling System
- Real-Time Display and Control
- Flex Display Technology
- Powered by NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 GPU
- Integrated with 4GB GDDR5 memory 256-bit memory interface(Single Card)
- Features Dual-link DVI-I / DVI-D / HDMI / DisplayPort*3(Single Card)
- BASE: 1228 MHz / BOOST: 1329 MHz
- System power supply requirement: 1200W(with six 8-pin external power connectors)
The GPUs on each card are your standard GeForce GTX 980 with 4GB of memory (we reviewed it here) though they are running at overclocked base and boost clock speeds, as you would hope with all that water cooling power behind it. You will need a 1200+ watt power supply for this setup, which makes sense considering the GPU horsepower you'll have access to.
Another interesting feature Gigabyte is listing is called GPU Gauntlet Sorting.
With GPU Gauntlet™ Sorting, the Gigabyte SOC graphics card guarantees the higher overclocking capability in terms of excellent power switching.
Essentially, Gigabyte is going to make sure that the GPUs on the WaterForce Tri-SLI are the best they can get their hands on, with the best chance for overclocking higher than stock.
Setup looks interesting - the radiators and fans will be in the external enclosure with tubing passing into the system through a 5.25-in bay. It will need to have quick connect/disconnect points at either the GPU or radiator to make that installation method possible.
Pricing and availability are still unknown, but don't expect to get it cheap. With the GTX 980 still selling for at least $550, you should expect something in the $2000 range or above with all the custom hardware and fittings involved.
Can I get two please?
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 13, 2014 - 12:46 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, geforce, gtx 960, maxwell
It is possible that a shipping invoice fragment was leaked for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960. Of course, an image of text on a plain, white background is one of the easiest things to fake and/or manipulate, so take it with a grain of salt.
The GTX 960 is said to have 4GB of RAM on the same, 256-bit bus. Its video outputs are listed as two DVI, one HDMI, and one DisplayPort, making this graphics card useful for just one G-Sync monitor per card. If I'm reading it correctly, it also seems to have a 993 MHz base clock (boost clock unlisted) and an effective 6008 MHz (1500 MHz actual) RAM clock. This is slightly below the 7 GHz (1750 MHz actual) of the GTX 970 and GTX 980 parts, but it should also be significantly cheaper.
The GeForce GTX 960 is expected to retail in the low-$200 price point... some day.
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 12, 2014 - 09:03 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: Unity, ubisoft, assassin's creed
Over the last couple of days there have been a lot of discussions about the performance of the new Assassin's Creed Unity from Ubisoft on current generation PC hardware. Some readers have expressed annoyance that the game is running poorly, at lower than expected frame rates, at a wide range of image quality settings. Though I haven't published my results yet, we are working on a story comparing NVIDIA and AMD GPUs in Unity, but the truth is that this is occurring on GPUs from both sides.
For example, using a Core i7-3960X and a single GeForce GTX 980 4GB reference card, I see anywhere from 37 FPS to 48 FPS while navigating the crowded city of Paris at 1920x1080 and on the Ultra High preset. Using the Low preset, that frame rate increases to 65-85 FPS or so.
Clearly, those are lower frame rates at 1920x1080 than you'll find in basically any other PC game on the market. The accusation from some in the community is that Ubisoft is either doing this on purpose or doing it out of neglect with efficient code. I put some questions to the development team at Ubisoft and though I only had a short time with them, the answers tell their side of the story.
Ryan Shrout: What in the Unity game engine is putting the most demand on the GPU and its compute resources? Are there specific effects or were there specific design goals for the artists that require as much GPU horsepower as the game does today with high image quality settings?
Ubisoft: Assassin’s Creed Unity is one of the most detailed games on the market and [contains] a giant, open world city built to the scale that we’ve recreated. Paris requires significant details. Some points to note about Paris in Assassin’s Creed Unity:
- There are tens of thousands of objects are visible on-screen, casting and receiving shadows.
- Paris is incredibly detailed. For example, Notre-Dame itself is millions of triangles.
- The entire game world has global illumination and local reflections.
- There is realistic, high-dynamic range lighting.
- We temporally stabilized anti-aliasing.
RS: Was there any debate internally about downscaling on effects/image quality to allow for lower end system requirements?
Ubisoft: We talked about this a lot, but our position always came back to us ensuring that Assassin’s Creed Unity is a next-gen only game with breakthrough graphics. With this vision, we did not degrade the visual quality of the game. On PC, we have several option for low-scaling, like disabling AA, decreasing resolution, and we have low option for Texture Quality, Environment Quality and Shadows.
RS: Were you looking forward or planning for future GPUs (or multi-GPU) that will run the game at peak IQ settings at higher frame rates than we have today?
Ubisoft: We targeted existing PC hardware.
RS: Do you envision updates to the game or to future GPU drivers that would noticeably improve performance on current generations of hardware?
Ubisoft: The development team is continuing to work on optimization post-launch through software updates. You’ll hear more details shortly.
Some of the features listed by the developer in the first answer - global illumination methods, high triangle counts, HDR lighting - can be pretty taxing on GPU hardware. I know there are people out there pointing out games that have similar feature sets and that run at higher frame rates, but the truth is that no two game engines are truly equal. If you have seen Assassin's Creed Unity in action you'll be able to tell immediately the game is beautiful, stunningly so. Is it worth that level of detail for the performance levels achieved from current high-end hardware? Clearly that's the debate.
When I asked if Ubisoft had considered scaling back the game to improve performance, they clearly decided against it. The developer had a vision for the look and style of the game and they were dedicated to it; maybe to a fault from some gamers' viewpoint.
Also worth nothing is that Ubisoft is continuing to work on optimization post-release; how much of an increase we'll actually see with game patches or driver updates will have to be seen as we move forward. Some developers have a habit of releasing a game and simply abandoning it as it shipped - hopefully we will see more dedication from the Unity team.
So, if the game runs at low frame rates on modern hardware...what is the complaint exactly? I do believe that Ubisoft would have benefited from better performance on lower image quality settings. You can tell by swapping the settings for yourself in game but the quality difference between Low and Ultra High is noticeable, but not dramatically so. Again, this likely harkens back to the desire of Ubisoft to maintain an artistic vision.
Remember that when Crysis 3 launched early last year, running at 1920x1200 at 50 FPS required a GTX 680, the top GPU at the time; and that was at the High settings. The Very High preset only hit 37 FPS on the same card.
PC gamers seems to be creating a double standard. On one hand, none of us want PC-ports or games that are developed with consoles in mind that don't take advantage of the power of the PC platform. Games in the Call of Duty series are immensely popular but, until the release of Advanced Warfare, would routinely run at 150-200 FPS at 1080p on a modern PC. Crysis 3 and Assassin's Creed Unity are the opposite of that - games that really tax current CPU and GPU hardware, paving a way forward for future GPUs to be developed and NEEDED.
If you're NVIDIA or AMD, you should applaud this kind of work. Now I am more interested than ever in a GTX 980 Ti, or a R9 390X, to see what Unity will play like, or what Far Cry 4 will run at, or if Dragon Age Inquisition looks even better.
Of course, if we can get more performance from a better optimized or tweaked game, we want that too. Developers need to be able cater to as wide of a PC gaming audience as possible, but sometimes creating a game that can scale between running on a GTX 650 Ti and a GTX 980 is a huge pain. And with limited time frames and budgets, don't we want at least some developers to focus on visual quality rather than "dumbing down" the product?
Let me know what you all think - I know this is a hot-button issue!
UPDATE: Many readers in the comments are bringing up the bugs and artifacts within Unity, pointing to YouTube videos and whatnot. Those are totally valid complaints about the game, but don't necessarily reflect on the game's performance - which is what we were trying to target with this story. Having crashes and bugs in the game is disappointing, but again, Ubisoft and Assassin's Creed Unity aren't alone here. Have you seen the bugs in Skyrim or Tomb Raider? Hopefully Ubisoft will be more aggressive in addressing them in the near future.
UPDATE 2: I also wanted to comment that even though I seem to be defending Ubisoft around the performance of Unity, my direct feedback to them was that they should enable modes in the game that allow it to play at higher frame rates and even lower image quality settings, even if they were unable to find ways to "optimize" the game's efficiency. So far the developer seems aware of all the complaints around performance, bugs, physics, etc. and is going to try to address them.
UPDATE 3: In the last day or so, a couple of other media outlets have posted anonymous information that indicates that the draw call count for Assassin's Creed Unity is at fault for the poor performance of the game on PCs. According to this "anonymous" source, while the consoles have low-level API access to hardware to accept and process several times the draw calls, DirectX 11 can only handle "7,000 - 10,000 peak draw calls." Unity apparently is "pushing in excess of 50,000 draw calls per frame" and thus is putting more pressure on the PC that it can handle, even with high end CPU and GPU hardware. The fact that these comments are "anonymous" is pretty frustrating as it means that even if they are accurate, they can't be taken as the truth without confirmation from Ubisoft. If this turns out to be true, then it would be a confirmation that Ubisoft didn't take the time to implement a DX11 port correctly. If it's not true, or only partially to blame, we are left with more meaningless finger-pointing.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 10, 2014 - 10:07 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, Unity, pcper, nvidia, live, GTX 980, geforce, game stream, assassins creed
UPDATE: If you missed the live stream event: good news! We have it archived up on YouTube now and embeded below for your viewing pleasure!
Assassin's Creed Unity is shaping up to be one of the defining games of the holiday season, with visuals and game play additions that are incredible to see in person. Scott already wrote up a post that details some the new technologies found in the game along with a video of the impressive detail the engine provides. Check it out!
To celebrate the release, PC Perspective has partnered with NVIDIA to host a couple of live game streams that will feature some multi-player gaming fun as well some prizes to giveaway to the community. I will be joined by some new NVIDIA faces to take on the campaign in a cooperative style while taking a couple of stops to give away some hardware.
Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA
5pm PT / 8pm ET - November 11th
Need a reminder? Join our live mailing list!
Here are some of the prizes we have lined up for those of you that join us for the live stream:
- 5 x Assassin's Creed Unity Steam Keys
- 10 x NVIDIA SLI Bridges - From NVIDIA Direct
- 1 x ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q G-Sync Monitor - PC Perspective Review
- 1 x Acer XB280HK 28-in 4K G-Sync Monitor - PC Perspective Review
Another awesome prize haul!! How do you win? It's really simple: just tune in and watch the Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA! We'll explain the methods to enter live on the air and anyone can enter from anywhere in the world - no issues at all!
So stop by Tuesday night for some fun, some gaming and the chance to win some goods!
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 10, 2014 - 03:45 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: asus, strix, GTX 970 STRIX DirectCU II OC, GTX 970, nvidia, maxwell
When ASUS originally kicked off their new STRIX line they gained popularity not only due to the decent overclock and efficient custom cooler but also because there was only a small price premium over the base model. At a price of $400 on Amazon the card has a price inline with other overclocked models, some base models can be up to $50 less. [H]ard|OCP investigated this card to see what benefits you could expect from the model in this review, comparing it to the R290 and 290X. Out of the box the card runs at a core of 1253 -1266MHz and memory of 7GHz, with a bit of overvolting they saw a stable core of 1473 - 1492MHz and memory of 7.832GHz.
With the new price of the 290X dipping as low as $330 it makes for an interesting choice for GPU shoppers. The NVIDIA card is far more power efficient and the fans operate at 0dB until the GPU hits 65C, which [H] did not see until after running at full load for a time and even then the highest their manually overclocked card hit was 70C. On the other hand the AMD card costs $70 less and offers very similar performance. It is always nice to see competition in the market.
"Today we examine ASUS' take on the GeForce GTX 970 video card. We have the ASUS GTX 970 STRIX DirectCU II OC video card today, and will break down its next-gen performance against an AMD Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X. This video card features 0dB fans, and many factors that improve its chance of extreme overclocking."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- Alien: Isolation - Video Card Performance @ [H]ard|OCP
- GTX 970 Roundup (EVGA, GALAX, Gigabyte) @ Hardware Canucks
- MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G Review @ OCC
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 @ X-bit Labs
- MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G @ X-bit Labs
- Gainward GTX 980 & GTX 970 Phantom @ Legion Hardware
- NZXT Kraken G10 Graphics Adapter: Cooler, and also Quieter @ Silent PC Reivew
- AMD's Windows Catalyst Driver Remains Largely Faster Than Linux Drivers @ Phoronix
- HIS R9 285 IceQ X2 OC 2GB GDDR5 Video Card Review @ Madshrimps
- Sapphire R9 290X Vapor X 8GB CF @ Kitguru
- Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Vapor-X OC 8GB @ eTeknix
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 6, 2014 - 12:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: radeon, r9 295x2, R9 290X, r9 290, R9, hawaii, civilization, beyond earth, amd
Why settle for space, when you can go Beyond Earth too (but only if you go to Hawaii)!
The Never Settle promotion launched itself into space a couple of months ago, but AMD isn't settling for that. If you purchase a Hawaii-based graphics card (R9 290, R9 290X, or R9 295X2) then you will get a free copy of Civilization: Beyond Earth on top of the choice of three games (or game packs) from the Never Settle Space Gold Reward tier. Beyond Earth makes a lot of sense of course, because it is a new game that is also one of the most comprehensive implementations of Mantle yet.
To be eligible, the purchase would need to be made starting November 6th (which is today). Make sure that you check to make sure that what you're buying is a "qualifying purchase" from "participating retailers", because that is a lot of value to miss in a moment of carelessness.
AMD has not specified an end date for this promotion.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 5, 2014 - 12:56 PM | Andre DeCoste
Tagged: radeon, R9 290X, R9, amd, 8gb
With the current range of AMD’s R9 290X cards sitting at 4 GB of memory, listings for an 8 GB version have appeared on an online retailer. As far back as March, Sapphire was rumored to be building an 8 GB variety. Those rumours were supposedly quashed last month by AMD and Sapphire. However, AMD has since confirmed the existence of the new additions to the series. Pre-orders have appeared online and are said to be shipping out this month.
Image Credit: Overclockers UK
With 8 GB of GDDR5 memory and price tags between $480 and $520, these new additions, expectedly, do not come cheap. Compared to the 4 GB versions of the R9 290X line, which run about $160 less according to the online retailer, is it worth upgrading at this stage? For the people using a single 1080p monitor, the answer is likely no. For those with multi-screen setups, or those with deep enough pockets to own a 4K display, however, the benefits may begin to justify the premium. At 4K though, just a single 8 GB R9 290X may not provide the best experience; a Crossfire setup would benefit more from the 8 GB bump, being less reliant on GPU speed.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 31, 2014 - 03:45 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: sli, nvidia, GTX 980
Just in case you need a reason to be insanely jealous of someone, [H]ard|OCP has just published an article covering what it is like to be living with two GTX 980's in SLI. The cards are driving three Dell U2410 24" 1920x1200 displays for a relatively odd resolution of 3600x1920 but apart from an issue with the GeForce Experience software suite the cards have no trouble displaying to all three monitors. In their testing of Borderlands games they definitely noticed when PhysX was turned on, though like others [H] wishes that PhysX would abandon its proprietary roots. When compared to the Radeon R9 290X CrossFire system the performance is very similar but when you look at heat, power and noise produced the 980's are the clear winner. Keep in mind a good 290X is just over $300 while the least expensive GTX 980 will run you over $550.
"What do you get when you take two NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 video cards, configure those for SLI, and set those at your feet for four weeks? We give our thoughts and opinions about actually using these GPUs in our own system for four weeks with focus on performance, sound profile, and heat generated by these cards."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 SLI 4K @ [H]ard|OCP
- GeForce GTX 980 PCI-Express Scaling @ techPowerUp
- Inno3D GTX 980 'iChill Herculez X4 Air Boss Ultra' @ Kitguru
- NVIDIA's Linux Driver Can Deliver Better OpenGL Performance Than Windows 8.1 @ Phoronix
- 6-Way Ubuntu 14.10 Radeon Gallium3D vs. Catalyst Driver Comparison @ Phoronix
- Diamond Boost Radeon R9 270X Review @ OCC
- Sapphire R9 285 Dual-X OC Video Card Review @ TechwareLabs
- HIS Radeon R9 290X Hybrid IceQ 4GB - Liquid Cooled @ Legion Hardware
Mini-ITX Sized Package with a Full Sized GPU
PC components seem to be getting smaller. Micro-ATX used to not be very popular for the mainstream enthusiast, but that has changed as of late. Mini-ITX is now the hot form factor these days with plenty of integrated features on motherboards and interesting case designs to house them in. Enthusiast graphics cards tend to be big, and that is a problem for some of these small cases. Manufacturers are responding to this by squeezing every ounce of cooling performance into smaller cards that more adequately fit in these small chassis.
MSI is currently offering their midrange cards in these mini-ITX liveries. The card we have today is the GTX 760 Mini-ITX Gaming. The GTX 760 is a fairly popular card due to it being fairly quick, but not too expensive. It is still based on the GK104, though fairly heavily cut down from a fully functional die. The GTX 760 features 1152 CUDA Cores divided into 6 SMXs. A fully functional GK104 is 1536 CUDA Cores and 8 SMXs. The stock clock on the GTX 760 is 980 MHz with a boost up to 1033 MHz.
The pricing for the GTX 760 cards is actually fairly high as compared to similarly performing products from AMD. NVIDIA feels that they offer a very solid product at that price and do not need to compete directly with AMD on a performance per dollar basis. Considering that NVIDIA has stayed very steady in terms of marketshare, they probably have a valid point. Overall the GTX 760 performs in the same general area as a R9 270X and R9 280, but again the AMD parts have a significant advantage in terms of price.
The challenges for making a high performing, small form factor card are focused on power delivery and thermal dissipation. Can the smaller PCB still have enough space for all of the VRMs required with such a design? Can the manufacturer develop a cooling solution that will keep the GPU in the designed thermal envelope? MSI has taken a shot at these issues with their GTX 760 Mini-ITX OC edition card.