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3DMark03 image quality and driver optimizations
There are several screenshots below taken from frame 1,799 of 3DMark03's Mother Nature test. These images are fairly low-compression JPEGs, but you can click them to see full-screen versions of the images in lossless PNG format. I've performed a gamma correct 1.1 on the JPEG versions to make things more visible in them. The PNG versions are unaltered.

You'll want to notice several things about the images. The first image, for instance, was produced by the DirectX 9 reference rasterizer. It's a software-only tool that takes hours to produce this single image, which is useful for comparison's sake. The next image comes from the Radeon 9800 Pro, and it looks very similar to the output from the reference rasterizer.

The next two images come from the GeForce FX with two different driver revisions: 43.00, which hasn't been optimized for 3DMark03, and 43.45, which has. The 43.00 image has some corruption on the rock's edge, right beneath the flowing stream. Also, the butterfly's shadow is too large and exhibits artifacts in the 43.00 image. 43.45 corrects these problems, but creates a new problem of its own: the dynamic range on the sky simply isn't what it should be. Somehow, NVIDIA has cut the precision down enough in the process of optimization that the scene doesn't look as it should.

I asked NVIDIA how they'd optimized for 3DMark03 in their newer drivers, but they didn't answer me. Had they simply cut all pixel shader precision to 64 bits in floating point, I wouldn't have objected too strenuously. A case could be made for using 64-bit FP datatypes for this sort of performance test. However, whatever's going on with the sky in the 43.45 drivers looks like it goes well beyond such a reasonable adjustment.

Direct X 9 reference rasterizer

Radeon 9800 Pro

GeForce FX 5800 Ultra with 43.00 drivers

GeForce FX 5800 Ultra with 43.45 drivers