Catalyst 8.12 vs. Geforce 180.48

Radeon versus Geforce: Visual quality compared in nine games

What visual quality is offered in diverse games by current drivers? Do the programmers lower the visual quality in order to increase the performance and which graphics card renders the visually superior image? We take a look at nine games and four drivers to check how the appearance on a Geforce and on a Radeon.
Geforce or Radeon – which graphics card offers the better visual quality?
Geforce or Radeon – which graphics card offers the better visual quality? [Source: view picture gallery]
Catalyst 8.12 vs. Geforce 180.48: Visual Quality compared: Introduction
Almost every month AMD and Nvidia release updated drivers for their Radeon and Geforce graphics cards. Each new version primarily fixes bugs but also delivers a performance benefit and/or adds new features. Especially the performance in current games is often topic of heated discussions - does the new driver deliver a performance benefit and if yes, is the visual quality lowered to achieve this?

It became obvious that the programmers like to optimize their drivers for current games, but sometimes go too far. While Shader Replacements or special DX10 features as in Far Cry 2 normally increase the performance at the same visual quality, observant gamers are bothered by the degradation of texture filtering. The latter one is still done by Nvidia under OpenGL; AMD on the other hand dropped a brick with bugs in Far Cry 2 and Unreal Tournament 3. While texture filter optimizations can be deactivated separately from the Shader Replacements on Geforce cards, AMD combines both in the Catalyst A.I. and even with deactivated A.I. several optimizations are active. Furthermore Catalyst A.I. tends to under-filter textures. The result: sharper but susceptible to flickering.

Catalyst 8.12 vs. Geforce 180.48: Visual Quality compared: Conclusion
As the comparison reveals, the performance benefits of the Catalyst 8.12 WHQL and the Geforce 180.48 WHQL don't negatively affect the visual appearance.

But in the direct comparison between a current Geforce and a current Radeon differences cannot be dismissed. While Call of Duty: World at War, Fallout 3, Need for Speed: Undercover, Left 4 Dead and Race Driver Grid look almost identical, other titles reveal small differences. In Assassin's Creed, Far Cry 2 and especially Crysis Warhead the textures are sharper on the Radeon indeed, but they also flicker more than on a Geforce if the player is moving. Furthermore it seems like the Radeon renders more shadows in Far Cry 2 since the 8.12 driver was applied.

So which producer offers the better visual quality in current games? AMD has sharper, but flickering textures by trend and Nvidia has the more settled textures. But since a Geforce has the option to force superior HQ anisotropic filtering, the AF is better.

For the sake of fairness it has to be mentioned that Radeon exclusive DirectX 10.1 in Stalker: Clear Sky and Assassin's Creed offer even better Anti Aliasing.

Catalyst 8.12 vs. Geforce 180.48: Visual Quality compared: Test procedure
On the next pages we try to exemplify the differences in visual quality between individual Geforce and Catalyst versions and which producer offers the better picture. We compare the following games in our Mouseover pictures:

• Assassin's Creed (DX10, 2.560 x 1.600, 1x FSAA/16:1 AF)
• Call of Duty: World at War (1.680 x 1.050, 4x FSAA/16:1 AF)
• Crysis Warhead (DX9, 1.680 x 1.050, 2x FSAA/16:1 AF)
• Fallout 3 (1.680 x 1.050, 4x FSAA/16:1 AF)
• Far Cry 2 (DX10, 2.560 x 1.600, 4x FSAA/ingame-AF)
• Left 4 Dead (1.680 x 1.050, 4x FSAA/16:1 AF)
• NfS: Undercover (1.680 x 1.050, 4x FSAA/16:1 AF)
• Race Driver Grid (1.680 x 1.050, 8x FSAA/16:1 AF)
• Stalker: Clear Sky (DX10/DX10.1, 1.680 x 1.050, 2x TAA/16:1 AF)

• Catalyst (Radeon HD 4870): default settings, Vsync off
• Geforce (Geforce 260-216): default settings, Vsync off

Personal opinion of PCGH editor Raffael With the default settings of the driver the following applies to both Ati and Nvidia: Sampling rules that have been created for good reason are regarded to be unimportant and are ignored. The algorithms under-filter, thus they cut samples/calculations. Under-filtering matches flickering. This may look great (see Crysis on the Radeon) on pictures, but flickers heavily in motion.
Something similar once happened on Nvidia’s NV40 aka Geforce 6800: On pictures often called “plainly sharp”, the filter in-game almost instantly caused a pain in the eye. And that was rightly criticized. If you want to simulate similar flickering/under-filtering, you should use the tool Rivatuner to set the Texture LOD to -0.5 (or better -2). ;-) HQ AF on the Geforce is close to flicker free perfection.

Author: Marc Sauter (Dec 15, 2008)

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