Synthetic tests can be useful for evaluating features that will be common in tomorrow's games, but performance in real games is far more important. We tested with five modern games that can push a modern graphics card to the limit.
Codemasters' rally racer Dirt 2, one of the first DirectX 11 games, features an excellent built-in benchmark. We used the demo version (whose benchmark track differs from the track in the retail game), so you can run the game at home and compare your results. We enabled DirectX 11 and turned all of the detail levels up to full. The GeForce GTX 580 delivered very strong performance here, easily outpacing the Radeon HD 5970 (by 25 to 40 percent) and the Radeon HD 5870 (by as much as 80 percent). The new GTX 580 is about 20 percent faster than the GTX 480.
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is a graphically rich arcade flight game that uses DirectX 10.1 to enable features such as Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO), God Rays, and Soft Particles. Again, we turned all of the detail levels up to the maximum for our testing. Historically, AMD's cards have performed extremely well on this test, and the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 outpaced the GeForce GTX 580 as well (though both cards achieved extremely high frame rates). The GTX 580 was about 20 percent faster than the GTX 480 on H.A.W.X., and roughly 30 to 50 percent faster than the Radeon HD 5870.
World in Conflict is aging a bit, but it's still a beautiful real-time strategy game with a DirectX 10 based graphics engine that can stress all but the most powerful graphics cards when you maximize the detail levels, as we did. This is another game that AMD cards usually handle quite well. In our tests, the GTX 580 ran about 15 percent faster than its top-of-the-line nVidia predecessor, and 25 to 40 percent faster than the Radeon HD 5870. Only the dual-chip 5970 outpaced it.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series has always been on the leading edge of graphics technology. We used the demo benchmark for the Call of Pripyat sequel with DirectX 11 lighting enabled and all detail settings maximized. The scores charted below represent the average of the four tests that the benchmark rans. With antialiasing applied, nVidia's new card matched the Radeon HD 5970, and it dramatically outperformed the single-GPU Radeon HD 5870.
Last but not least, we used the excellent benchmark built in to Just Cause 2. We maximized graphics settings and ran the Concrete Jungle test, which is the most strenuous of benchmarks. Again the 5970 performed well, thanks to its essentially combining two Radeon HD 5870s on a single long card. The GTX 580 handily beat the solo 5870, especially when we turned on antialiasing. Interestingly, on this game only, the new GTX 580 was no faster than the GTX 480 with antialiasing off. This odd behavior is probably attributable to immature drivers.
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