New NVIDIA Driver Enables MFAA for Maxwell GPUs

NVIDIA-MFAA NVIDIA today released GeForce Game Ready Driver 344.75 WHQL drivers and with the driver comes support for Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing (MFAA). MFAA is an implementation of Anti-Aliasing (AA) that NVIDIA hopes will replace MSAA in the years to come. MSAA is one of the oldest and most popular forms of AA. MSAA removes jagged edges that increases graphic quality, however it does cause a decrease in system performance. NVIDIA thought that this is something that could be improved and came up with a new solution on the new Maxwell GPU series. That means MFAA requires GeForce GTX 980 and 970 'Maxwell' GPU powered desktop cards or GeForce GTX 980M and 970M mobile GPU's to run as the new AA technology needs the latest hardware to run on.
"Previous-generation GPUs include fixed sample patterns for anti-aliasing (AA) that are stored in Read Only Memory (ROM). When gamers selected 2x or 4x MSAA for example, fixed sample patterns were used. With Maxwell, we have introduced programmable sample positions for rasterization that are stored on Random Access Memory (RAM), creating opportunities for new, more flexible, more inventive AA techniques that uniquely address the challenges of modern game engines, such as the increased performance cost of high-quality anti-aliasing. Maxwell's new RAM-based sample position technology can still be programmed with standard MSAA and TXAA patterns, but now the driver or application may also load the RAM with custom positions that are free to vary from frame to frame, or even within a frame." - NVIDIA
NVIDIA says that MFAA is able to render graphics of 4x MFAA quality with a performance hit equal to that of running 2x MSAA while having the image quality equal to that of 4x MSAA.  So, MFAA is said to deliver a 30% performance boost while maintaining smooth, high-quality edges by alternating sample calculations across each frame and each pixel. This means that users can increase the graphics quality without reducing their frame rate.  Confused? Here is a great video where Tom Petersen from NVIDIA goes over MFAA and how NVIDIA is alternating AA sample patterns both temporally and spatially to give you the performance you want when gaming with the best image quality possible. The one major drawback for MFAA is that only a handful of game titles support MFAA. Right now there are 20 game titles that support MFAA. NVIDIA has plans to expand the supported titles with future driver updates.  At time of release, the games that support MFAA will be:
MFAA Supported Games as of November 17, 2014
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Dirt Showdown Hitman: Absolution
Assassin's Creed: Unity F1 2013 Just Cause 2
Battlefield 4 F1 2014 Saints Row IV
Civilization V Far Cry 3 Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Civilization: Beyond Earth Far Cry: Blood Dragon Titanfall
Crysis 3 GrID 2 Wargame: European Escalation
DiRT 3 GRID Autosport
We were shocked to find out that Far Cry isn't on the MFAA supported games list and even double checked that it wasn't a mistake. We hope NVIDIA quickly updates the MFAA supported game list soon! Enabling MFAA is extremely simple as it takes a single change in the NVIDIA Control Panel to enable MFAA.  Once it has been enabled, any supported game configured with 2x MSAA or greater will automatically use MFAA.  Eventually NVIDIA has plans to integrate MFAA into the GeForce Experience and has it as an option in the Optimal Playable Settings profile. NVIDIA-MFAA-Enable Now that we know a little about MFAA, let's take a look at some of our performance testing.

Test System

Before taking a look at the games used in testing NVIDIA's MFAA implementation, let's get some information on the test system and the process we used to test the games.
The Intel Z97 Test System
Processor Intel Core i5-4690K Click Here
Motherboard Gigabyte Z97MX Click Here
Memory Kingston Blue 16GB 1866MHZ Click Here
SSD Intel 520 180GB Click Here
Cooling Corsair H105 Click Here
Power Supply Thermaltake 850W Click Here
GPU ASUS Strix GTX 970 OC Click Here
ASUS Strix GTX 970 As MFAA is supported on a handful of games, we will be taking a look at a few of them.  During the testing phase, we will test each game three times and average the results.  Between each test, the system will be rebooted and have no other software running in the background.  Since none of the games include an integrated benchmark, we will utilize FRAPS to monitor the FPS.

Far Cry 3

FarCry 3 is a popular first-person shooter developed by Ubisoft.  Being released in December 2012 using the Dunia Engine 2, which is based on the CryEngine.  There is no built-in benchmarking utility, so using one of the built-in missions we will attempt to keep it as similar across the tests.  Setting the graphics quality to Ultra we begin the testing.
NVIDIA-MFAA-Far-Cry-3-Settings NVIDIA-MFAA-Far-Cry-3-Settings Running Far Cry 3 at 1920 x 1080, with MSAA set to 4x, we used the Ultra graphics setting to test the effects of MFAA. FarCry3-Chart MSAA 4x Enabled Screenshots-Far-Cry-3-MSAA MFAA Enabled Screenshots-Far-Cry-3-MFAA Benchmark Results:  Far Cry 3 we received an 18% performance increase when MFAA was enabled.  That's not too bad for a simple driver update; it's like getting an updated GPU.

Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 is a first-person shooter video game developed by Electronics Arts.  Released at the end of October 2013, it is the first game to use the latest Frostbite 3 engine featuring improved destruction of buildings and the environment very realistically and greatly improved animations. Battlefield 4 was also the first game to support AMD’s Mantle API, which we covered here.
NVIDIA-MFAA-BF4-Settings Battlefield 4, we were able to use the Ultra graphics quality setting along with setting MSAA to 4x. BF4-Chart MSAA 4x Enabled Screenshots-BF4-MSAA MFAA Enabled Screenshots-BF4-MFAA Benchmark Results:  Battlefield 4, we received an increase in performance resulting in a little more than a 9FPS gain in performance.  That comes to a huge 22% performance increase with MFAA.

Crysis 3

Like the others, it is a first-person shooter developed by Crytek, using their CryEngine 3.  Released in February 2013, it is well known to make even powerful system choke.  It has probably the highest graphics requirements of any game available today.  Unfortunately, Crytek didn’t include a standardized benchmark with Crysis 3.  While the enemies will move about on their own, we will attempt to keep the same testing process for each test
NVIDIA-MFAA-Crysis-3-Settings Crysis 3 was set to use the "Very High" graphics settings to push the graphics level up. Crysis3-Chart MSAA 4x Enabled Screenshots-Crysis-3-MSAA MFAA Enabled Screenshots-Crysis-3-MFAA Benchmark Results:  Crysis 3 received a 7FPS increase with MFAA, and while that doesn't seem like a lot, it is still around 15.25% boost in FPS.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

We are glad to see that NVIDIA has finally releasaed MFAA (Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing) as we first learned about it months ago when the GeForce GTX 980 and GeForce GTX 970 video cards were revealed to the world. The technology looks solid, but we were a bit dissapointed to learn that only 20 game titles are able to support MFAA.  It must be pretty time consuming to get the drivers optimized for MFAA as one would think that more games would have been supported especially NVIDIA game titles like Far Cry 4 that comes out today. That said, this is the first driver release to enable MFAA and we were able to see a significant improvement in performance and even graphics quality with MFAA when we compared to MSAA. NVIDIA-MFAA Across the three games we tested we saw double digit increase in performance on our ASUS STRIX GeForce GTX 970 video card when running the games at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and MFAA.  Battlefield 4 received the highest boost in performance of 22%, while Far Cry 3 received around 18%.  Crysis 3, the most graphic intensive game of the three received a 15% FPS increase.  The only thing that changed on our system was the AA mode and getting that type of increase in performance without needing to update the games is pretty incredible. NVIDIA tells us that with a Maxwell enabled GPU, when games become CPU bound, MFAA will still increase the image quality beyond the maximum setting. Legit Bottom Line:  MFAA looks to increase the graphics quality while reducing the system performance impact.  Receiving a boost to FPS by over 10% is almost like getting an updated graphics card just by updating your driver and changing the AA mode.  Hopefully NVIDIA can keep the driver updates coming to implement MFAA in more games quickly, making the Maxwell GPU even more appealing than it already is.