What's the Fastest Current Graphics Card?

Written by Harry Butler

September 17, 2009 | 11:32

Tags: #best #fastest #generation #gpu #gtx-285 #gtx-295 #hd-4870-x2

Companies: #ati #bit-tech #nvidia

Fallout 3

Publisher: Bethesda

Fallout 3 is the revival of Interplay’s excellent Fallout series of games following many years out of the limelight. It’s developed and published by Bethesda and, judging by the success of the game, we’ll be seeing more Fallout games in the future.

Despite using the Oblivion engine which is now a few years old, the game looks absolutely stunning. Bethesda has spiced up the graphics a bit since Oblivion and has extended the engine – there are some great explosions, soft shadows and smoke effects that are particularly noteworthy.

We tested the game by manually playing a section of the game that incorporates a number of explosions and effects that you’re likely to experience during your time in post-apocalyptic Washington DC. We recorded the frame rate using FRAPS.

The in-game details were set to their highest values and both anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering were controlled by the application settings instead of through the driver control panel. This meant that transparency anti-aliasing was enabled, along with HDR and all of the cool smoke effects.

Fallout 3’s engine is by default capped to 60 frames per second, which can make benchmark results very unclear, especially when testing at lower resolutions or with high end graphics cards. To remove the 60FPS cap you’ll need to find the Fallout3.ini file in \Documents\My Games\Fallout3 and edit the file so that iPresentInterval=0. This removes the frame rate cap, and allows us to get a much better idea of a card’s true abilities.

What's the Fastest Current Graphics Card? Round 1 - Fallout 3 What's the Fastest Current Graphics Card? Round 1 - Fallout 3
Click to enlarge

All graphs are ranked by minimum rather than average frame rates, as we feel that this is a more important metric when deciding if a card delivers smooth, playable performance.

Fallout 3

1,680 x 1,050 0xAA 16xAF, Maximum Detail

  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 1,792MB
  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 1GB
    • 81.0
    • 48.0
    • 82.0
    • 47.0
    • 80.0
    • 47.0
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
Frames Per Second
  • Average
  • Minimum

Fallout 3

1,680 x 1,050 4xAA 16xAF, Maximum Detail

  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 1GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 1,792MB
    • 80.0
    • 47.0
    • 76.0
    • 28.0
    • 80.0
    • 0.0
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
Frames Per Second
  • Average
  • Minimum

Fallout 3

1,920 x 1,200 0xAA 16xAF, Maximum Detail

  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 1,792MB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 1GB
    • 82.0
    • 47.0
    • 82.0
    • 40.0
    • 79.0
    • 39.0
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
Frames Per Second
  • Average
  • Minimum

Fallout 3

1,920 x 1,200 4xAA 16xAF, Maximum Detail

  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 1GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 1,792MB
    • 81.0
    • 45.0
    • 71.0
    • 22.0
    • 80.0
    • 0.0
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
Frames Per Second
  • Average
  • Minimum

Fallout 3

2,560 x 1,600 0xAA 16xAF, Maximum Detail

  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 1,792MB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 1GB
    • 81.0
    • 41.0
    • 80.0
    • 36.0
    • 73.0
    • 36.0
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
Frames Per Second
  • Average
  • Minimum

Fallout 3

2,560 x 1,600 4xAA 16xAF, Maximum Detail

  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 1,792MB
  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 1GB
    • 77.0
    • 39.0
    • 78.0
    • 31.0
    • 59.0
    • 25.0
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
Frames Per Second
  • Average
  • Minimum

See, we told you this wouldn't be as clean cut as you might think. While performance at 1,680 x 1,050 with 0xAA is certainly CPU limited, even despite our 3.2GHz Core i7 system, it soon gets interesting when AA is enabled, and it's clear that the HD 4870 X2 has the advantage over the GeForce cards, with the GTX 295 stuttering terribly from driver issues.

Our manual play benchmark in Fallout 3 involves a number of large explosions, and it's during these that the issue occurs, with the GTX 295's framerate momentarily dropping to zero as the card grunts and splutters through rendering the sudden atomic explosion. This issue is fully repeatable using other SLI setups on other systems, and is an clear example of the pitfalls of multi-GPU solutions. Looking at the GTX 285 in comparison, minimum frame rates drop as you'd expect, but the single core Nvidia card obviously benefits from a much smoother experience.

Bizarrely though, at 2,560 x 1,600 with 4xAA the 295's issues vanish, and with a minimum frame rate of 39 to the 4870 X2's 31fps it's clearly the better option for those playing Fallout 3 at the most luxurious of resolutions.

However, as it's faster than both the Nvidia cards in seven of the eight resolutions we've tested here, it's the Radeon HD 4870 X2 that's the winner here, especially when you enable AA. The Radeon card just gobbles up the jaggies at 4xAA without so much as dropping 5fps at both 1,920 and 1,680, making it the comfortable best choice for those obsessed with wandered the Capital Wasteland.
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