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Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least twice, and the results were averaged.

Our test systems were configured like so:

 VIA KT333Intel 850E
Processor AMD Athlon XP 2200+ 1.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 2.53GHz
Front-side bus266MHz (133MHz double-pumped)533MHz (133MHz quad-pumped)
MotherboardEpox 8K3A+Asus P4T533C
ChipsetVIA KT333Intel 850E
North bridgeVT836782850E MCH
South bridgeVT8233A82801BA ICH2
Chipset driversVIA 4-in-1
Intel Application Accelerator 6.22
Memory size512MB (1 DIMM)512MB (4 RIMMs)
Memory typeCorsair XMS3000 PC2700 DDR SDRAMSamsung PC1066 Rambus DRAM
SoundCreative SoundBlaster Live!
StorageMaxtor DiamondMax Plus D740X 7200RPM ATA/100 hard drive
OSMicrosoft Windows XP Professional
OS updatesNone

The test systems' Windows desktops were set at 1024x768 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the very latest graphics drivers available online at each chip makers' website as of 8/17/02. Both systems were configured with AGP 4X enabled and 256MB AGP aperture sizes. Fast writes was enabled on the KT333.

Beyond the test rigs listed above, we managed to get test results from a couple of different systems and cards. One was a workstation-class box with dual Athlons on a 760MPX-based motherboard and a Quadro 750GXL with 128MB of DDR memory. The other was a Radeon 9700-equipped system with an Athlon XP 1800+ and a KT333-based motherboard.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Benchmark results
Here's how each of the cards we tested fared on the Serious Magic benchmark. We're reporting the results in megabytes per second, because that's the most important number for our purposes.

As you can see, pretty much every card we tested, regardless of chipset or motherboard, turned in an abysmal performance. The benchmark's 720x480 32-bit test images, which are about 1.3MB each, would only download at about 8 frames per second in most cases.

To put these results into perspective, a single frame rendered at 1600x1200 with 32 bits of color weighs in at about 7.5MB. Double that to 64-bit color, and it's 15MB per frame. And a single image at 1600x1200 in 128-bit color is over 30MB. That means even if you can render high-quality images at 30 frames per second, you won't be able to get them out of the graphics card at anything near that rate.

At least, not until graphics card drivers—and perhaps chipset drivers and whatever else—improve dramatically at AGP downloads. Right now, even the very latest graphics cards aren't ready to do much more than play games and put pretty pictures onscreen. If graphics companies really want to replace CPUs for professional rendering, they've got a bit more work to do. 

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