CrossFireX Performance Preview

ATI CrossFireX - Triple CrossFire Running

We've had ATI CrossFireX running the past couple days here at Legit Reviews and while the drivers are not public yet, things are looking very good from what we have seen. Since we are still waiting on another Radeon HD 3870 X2 to be delivered by Fed Ex, we slapped together a Radeon HD 3870 X2 with a Radeon HD 3870, which in turn creates a Triple CrossFireX platform with just two x16 PCI Express slots. Down the road, once the drivers are official and out for the public, we will have Quad numbers for you, but for now, let's see what made this possible.

ATI CATALYST 8.3 Drivers

In March, ATI will be releasing CATALYST 8.3 drivers, which now offer support for CrossFireX in both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 applications.  For now only the Radeon HD 3800 series of video cards will support 3-way or 4-way CrossFire in compatible PCs.  ATI has stated in the open that performance still has a ways to go and that over the next few months performance is only going to get better.  The driver team at ATI is cranking away on CrossFireX and, as you will see in this article, they are off to a great start.

ATI CATALYST 8.3 Drivers

One of the other neat features of CATALYST 8.3 drivers is the ability to run an extended desktop while running CrossFireX.  This is something that NVIDIA has been unable to do since they first showed off Quad-SLI years ago with a pair of GeForce 7950 GX2 graphics cards.  If the rumors prove true, this is still something that NVIDIA will be unable to do once the GeForce 9800 GX2 is released. Other than support for CrossFireX and Hybrid CrossFire, the CATALYST 8.3 drivers bring a bunch of new features to the table like DirectX 10.1 support (useless until Vista SP1 comes out), Anti-Aliasing enhancements for all Unreal 3.0 engine games in DirectX 9 mode, HydraVision (yes, HydraGrid has been ported over from the XP drivers), digital panel GPU image scaling (the driver can now force the aspect ratio), new AVIVO video controls (sliders for the amount of noise reduction and edge enhancement that you want), support for GPU Folding (Stanford needs to release a new client though) and tessellation has been added for developers to play around with.  The CATALYST 8.3 drivers have a ton of new features, but we will be taking a closer look at the CrossFireX support today which seem to be the sexiest of all the new features.

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Nothing Like have a Radeon HD 3870 X2 and a Radeon HD 3870 in the same system!

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With both cards installed and CATALYST 8.3 installed, a quick look at the drivers showed that both cards are showing up and that CrossFire was enabled.  Time to play some games!

The Test System

The CrossFireX Test System

The test system was running Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit with all available Microsoft updates including the hotfixes required for enthusiast video cards to run correctly. The CrossFireX testing was done with CATALYST 8.3 beta drivers and CATALYST 8.1 drivers were used on all the other Radeon HD graphics cards.  NVIDIA Forceware 174.12 drivers were used on all GeForce graphics cards. All results shown in the charts are averages of at least three runs from each game or application used.

The GPU-Z Shot:

GPU-Z

The Video Cards:

All of the video cards were tested on the Intel X38 Express Test platform, which is loaded with the latest and greatest hardware.  The Intel Core 2 Quad QX9650 'Yorkfield' processor was used for testing as it proved to be the best desktop processor when it comes to game performance. The test system was also loaded with 4GB of memory and water cooled to ensure throttling of the processor or memory wouldn't cause any issues.

Intel Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Intel Core 2 Quad QX9650

Motherboard

Gigabyte X38-DQ6

Memory

4GB OCZ Reaper PC2-6400 

Video Cards

See Above

Hard Drive

Western Digital SATA 250Gb

Cooling

Corsair Nautilus 500

Power Supply

Corsair HX620W

Operating System

Windows Vista Ultimate

 Now that we know exactly what the test system is, we can move along to performance numbers.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl uses the 'X-ray Engine' to power the graphics. It is a DirectX 8/9 Shader Model 3.0 graphics engine. Up to a million polygons can be on-screen at any one time, which makes it one of the more impressive engines on the market today. The engine features HDR rendering, parallax and normal mapping, soft shadows, widescreen support, weather effects and day/night cycles. As with other engines that utilize deferred shading (such as Unreal Engine 3 and CryENGINE2), the X-ray Engine does not support anti-aliasing with dynamic lighting enabled. However, a "fake" form of anti-aliasing can be enabled with the static lighting option; this format utilizes a technique to blur the image to give the false impression of anti-aliasing. The game takes place in a thirty square kilometer area, and both the outside and inside of this area is rendered to the same amount of detail.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark Performance

Benchmark Results: A single Radeon HD 3870 was able to run S.T.A.L.K.E.R. at 1920x1200 at 66FPS and a pair of Radeon HD 3870 video cards bumped that level up to 123FPS.  This is an increase of 84.8% going from one card to two, which is great.  With CrossFireX and three Radeon HD 3870 cores we were able to get 164FPS, which a 33% increase from two cards in CrossFire.  Not bad scaling!

World in Conflict

World in Conflict Benchmarking

World in Conflict (also known as WiC or WIC) is a real-time tactical video game developed by Massive Entertainment and published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows and the Xbox 360. The game was released in North America on 18 September 2007 and was included in our testing as it is a recent DirectX 10 game title. It also has a threaded engine for multi-core processor support, which is ideal for this testing. The plot in World in Conflict is to defend their country, their hometown, and their families in the face of Soviet-led World War III, delivering an epic struggle of courage and retribution. You are a field commander leading the era's most powerful military machines in the heroic effort to turn back the invasion…one city and suburb at a time. Let's get on to the benchmarking! WIC was tested using the most recent patch available, which is patch number 002.

High DX10 Quality Settings -

World in Conflict Benchmark Results

Results: At a resolution of 1600x1200 the Radeon HD 3870 X2 and Radeon HD 3870 running in CrossFireX was able to run 6.7% faster than a pair of Radeon HD 3870's in CrossFire.  Not as good of a performance boost as we saw in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but still headed in the right direction.

BioShock

BioShock is a game published by 2K Boston/2K Australia, and designed by Ken Levine. The game is a PC and Xbox 360 title released on August 21, 2007 in North America. BioShock is a first-person shooter with role-playing game customization elements that was developed using the Unreal Engine 3.0 and is a DirectX 10 game title that is multithreaded.

BIOSHOCK on NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra

Since 2K didn't include a benchmark script or utility in BIOSHOCK, I used FRAPS version 2.9.2 to capture the frame rates for 240 seconds at scenes that I personally selected from the game. If you don't know anything about Bioshock, let me set the scene for you: After your plane crashes into icy uncharted waters, you discover a rusted bathysphere and descend into Rapture, a city hidden beneath the sea. Constructed as an idealistic society for a hand picked group of scientists, artists and industrialists, the idealism is no more. Now the city is littered with corpses, wildly powerful guardians roam the corridors as little girls loot the dead, and genetically mutated citizens ambush you at every turn and you get to kill them. Let's look at the benchmark results!

BioShock Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: The results from BioShock are close to what we saw with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as moving from CrossFire to CrossFireX resulted in a 34% performance increase.  With CrossFireX the game BioShock was finally smooth with the in-game settings at high and the resultion at 1920x1200. Those with 24" or larger monitors will finally be able to play stutter free at high resolutions thanks to 3-way and 4-way CrossFireX.

Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a first-person shooter developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision for Xbox 360 , Playstation 3 and PC. It is the fourth installment in the Call of Duty video game series. It was announced on April 25, 2007 and was released on November 6, 2007 in North America. The single player game can be completed in well under seven hours, but the graphics are awesome.  Click the image below to see Call of Duty 4 at 1920x1200 resolution with 4x AA enabled on the ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics card.

Call of Duty 4 Benchmarking

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare runs on a proprietary graphics engine, and has features such as true world-dynamic lighting, HDR lighting effects, dynamic shadows and depth-of-field. "Bullet Penetration" is calculated by the engine, taking into account things such as surface type and entity thickness. Certain objects, such as cars, and some buildings are destructible. This makes distinguishing cover from concealment important, as meager protection such as wooden fences, thin walls and such no longer provide sufficient protection. The bullet's speed and stopping power are decreased after penetrating an object, and this decrease is calculated realistically depending on the thickness and surface of the object penetrated. The game also makes use of a physics engine, which was not implemented in previous Call of Duty titles for the PC. Death Animations are a combination of pre-set animations and ragdoll physics. Some mistook the game's graphics to be DirectX 10 based, but it is stated that the graphics use DirectX 9.

Call of Duty 4 v1.2 Benchmark Results

Results: Call of Duty 4 showed great scaling of CrossFire as moving from one Radeon HD 3870 to a pair and then two the CrossFireX setup resulted in nice performance gains.  The single Radeon HD 3870 got just 25.80FPS at 1920x1200, which makes for stutters and game-play that most will get annoyed by. Running a pair of Radeon HD 3870's in CrossFire nearly doubled performance at 51.30FPS and is enough to enjoy the game enough to play it all the way through.  Adding that third GPU increased performance 50.8% over the CrossFire setup of two Radeon HD 3870's with 77 frames per second.

3DMark 2006

3DMark 2006

3DMark 2006

3DMark 06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking and the latest version in the popular 3DMark series! 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, advanced SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today.

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

Benchmark Results: The overall 3DMark06 score jumped up over 17,000, which is an increase of ~5% over that of the pair of Radeon HD 3870's in CrossFire.  The Shader Model 2.0 scores seem to have leveled off at 6400 3dmarks, which might mean we are being limited by something like the CPU.

Power Consumption and Final Thoughts

Power Consumption

For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Seasonic Power Angel. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers, we measured the peak wattage used by the system while running the game World in Conflict at 1600x1200 with medium graphics quality.

Total System Power Consumption Results

Power Consumption Results: Looking at just the Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards we can see how adding more GPU's to the mix also increases the amount of power used by the system. The CrossFireX setup with three GPU's used nearly 400W at load when running World in Conflict, which isn't bad considering how many GPU's are in the system.

ATI Radeon HD 3800 Series Cards

Final Thoughts

We've been talking about CrossFireX drivers since November 2007 and it's been a long four months of waiting, but it seems like it was worth the wait.  The drivers we used for testing are still in development, so once the final CATALYST 8.3 drivers are delivered we will take a closer look at CrossFireX, and by then, we should have another Radeon HD 3870 X2 in our hands and enough cards on the test bench to run any game and resolution.  CrossFireX looks good and the scaling from two cards to three shows performance gains of 5-50% with the average being right around 33%.  We can't wait to see what Quad-CrossFire looks like and what CATALYST 8.4 and 8.5 drivers will bring to the table.

Legit Bottom Line:  CrossFireX drivers are coming, so if you've been waiting for triple and quad CrossFire the time has nearly arrived.