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DOOM 3 mid-range, low-end, and vintage gfx comparo

Performance and image quality explored
— 12:57 AM on August 16, 2004

WE'VE ALREADY examined DOOM 3's performance on the newest generation of high-end graphics cards from ATI and NVIDIA, but we're not done with the game just yet. While DOOM 3 is obviously most comfortable running on the latest high-end graphics hardware (especially NVIDIA's GeForce 6800 series) the vast majority of gamers are equipped with older and more mainstream graphics cards. These cards may not have the features or horsepower necessary to churn out playable frame rates with the resolution and detail level cranked, but they'll still run the game. The question is how well.

To find the answer, I've assembled an eclectic collection of 17 low-end, mid-range, and former high-end graphics cards and run them through a gauntlet of DOOM 3 performance and image quality tests. I scoured the Benchmarking Sweatshop for cards, and with a little digging and dusting, I was able to come up with two GeForce4 Titaniums, two Radeon 8500 series cards, five GeForce FXs, six Radeon 9000-series cards, one Dustbuster, and even a Parhelia. How do these cards compare in DOOM 3? Read on to find out.

A note on the testing
Because this comparison includes so many different cards, there's a wide range graphics horsepower available. To segment things a little, I split the cards into two groups like so:

Group one Group two
GeForce FX 5200 64MB
GeForce FX 5200 Ultra 128MB
GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB
Radeon 8500LE 64MB
Radeon 8500 128MB
Radeon 9000 Pro 64MB
Radeon 9550 128MB
Parhelia-512 128MB
GeForce FX 5600 Ultra 128MB
GeForce FX 5700 Ultra GDDR3 128MB
GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB
GeForce FX 5900 XT 128MB
GeForce4 Ti 4600 128MB
Radeon 9500 Pro 128MB
Radeon 9600 Pro 128MB
Radeon 9600XT 128MB
Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB

The first set of cards was tested at Medium Quality and resolutions up to 1024x768. On these cards, the game just isn't playable at higher resolutions or detail levels. The second group of cards has a little more power, so they were tested at Medium Quality at resolutions up to 1280x1024. This second group was also tested at Medium Quality at resolutions up to 1024x768 with 4X antialiasing, and in High Quality mode.

To gain a better understanding of DOOM 3's image quality modes, you'll want to read id programmer Robert Duffy's July 26 .plan update. Duffy explains the differences between the Medium and High Quality modes we used for testing and why things look the way they do. Perhaps the most important thing to take away from that .plan update is that DOOM 3's High Quality mode uses 8X anisotropic filtering.

A shot from our single-player DOOM 3 demo
High Quality mode, of course

One more thing: although I've managed to include 17 different graphics cards in this comparison, this is by no means a complete collection of low-end, mid-range, and former high-end graphics cards. I'm limited by the stock in the Benchmarking Sweatshop, so if you don't see a specific card tested, it's because I don't have one on hand. I do have a couple of DeltaChrome cards in-house, but S3's current drivers don't work with DOOM 3, so I couldn't include the S8 and S4 Pro in the comparison, either.