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3DMark05 arrives

Tomorrow's benchmark debuts today

THE LAST REVISION of Futuremark's 3D graphics benchmark, 3DMark03, brought a storm of controversy on the little Finnish company, largely because they'd incurred the wrath of NVIDIA. Futuremark survived, however, and their benchmark has proven itself over time. Our latest round of tests in our Radeon X700 XT review used a number of state-of-the-art games, including the Doom 3, Half-Life 2's Source engine, and Far Cry. The performance results we saw in those games tracked very well with the results we got from 3DMark03, somewhat vindicating the benchmark as a decent predictor of performance in the now-current wave of games.

Futuremark intends its new version of 3DMark to give us a glimpse of the future yet again, and if 3DMark05 is any indication, the future of 3D games looks very bright indeed. Read on to see what Futuremark has wrought and how thirteen of the latest graphics cards perform in this new benchmark.

The making of the new 3DMark
The limited time I've had with the final version of 3DMark05 has been dedicated almost entirely to benchmarking a wide range of graphics cards with it. As a result, I won't address the finer points of its technical implementation here. The most important thing to know about the three game tests that make up 3DMark05's composite score is that they are intended to represent future games. That means Futuremark has attempted to predict and use the same sorts of polygon budgets, dynamic shadowing techniques, and shader programming methods that game developers will use in future games. After reading over Futuremark's excellent whitepaper on 3DMark05, I'm largely persuaded that they have made a solid set of choices. The app uses "pure" DirectX 9, unlike the previous version, and the floating-point-enabled Shader Model 2.0 is now a baseline. 3DMark05 dynamically generates shader code in Microsoft's High Level Shader Language and supports a broad range of shader compile targets, so it can take best advantage of the Radeon X700/X800 series via Shader Model 2.0b and the GeForce 6 series via Shader Model 3.0.

Futuremark has also opted to support multiple code paths for dynamic shadowing techniques, so that graphics chips with support for depth stencil textures, like NVIDIA's, can make use of that capability. The decision to use multiple code paths seems like a reasonable concession to practicality and is very similar to the sorts of methods developers have been using in real-world games. It is, however, something of a new approach for Futuremark, and should be noted. FutureMark even acknowledges that the different shadowing code paths produce some slightly different images.

Let's have a look at some pictures of the three scenes that together determine 3DMark05's composite score.

Game test 1: Return to Proxycon
This first scene is a reprise of the space battle sequence from 3DMark03. This new version features much richer detail, including dynamic shadows, some big open spaces, and extremely detailed polygon meshes.