How to optimize and test a videocard

Introduction

This Hub is intended to explain how to optimize and benchmark your videocard. This is also part of my hobby and I would like to share it with all of you. You can optimize you videocard in a number of ways like configure the right settings or installing new updated drivers. Also overclocking your GPU will increase the performance. I am going to talk about:

-Driver Settings

-Overclock Tools

-Benchmark Tools

Driver settings

I already explained a lot about videocards in my other hub called: Everything you need to know about a videocard. There are 2 manufacturers of videocards that are the biggest names when it comes down to videocard performance namely Nvidia and ATI. I’ll discuss the driver settings of both of them.

Nvidia

The Nvidia Control Panel can be accessed by either right clicking on your desktop or going to the Windows Control Panel and then select the “Nvidia Control Panel” there. Then you get to look at the settings of your videocard.

The settings are based on the latest drivers downloadable and also some settings may differ because you may have an older videocard that doesn’t have certain options. Also some options can differ between Windows XP, Vista and 7. But all options available for all graphics cards are in this Hub and the latest drivers can be found here: http://www.geforce.com/Drivers. You can choice between “Automatic Driver Detection” and “Manual Driver Search”. Choice the correct series, type, Windows version and language.

3D Vision

When you install the Nvidia drivers a separate Stereoscopic 3D driver is installed that enables 3D functionality in games. The setup is pretty intuitive if you follow your on screen wizard so I won’t go into details for this.

If you look into your Nvidia Control Panel you should see a section, which means the Stereoscopic 3D Driver and the services for it are active and operating. If you’re not going to use this feature you can prevent its installation. Be sure you have a TFT screen that supports this feature, otherwise it’s a waste of resources and disks space.

3D Settings

3D settings consist of 3 sub components:

Adjust Image Settings with preview

This section is recommended for users that are beginners. Advanced users don’t use this method to configure there settings. It allows you to choose “Let the 3D Application Decide” (not recommended), “Use the Advanced 3D Image Settings” (recommended) or “Use my preference emphasizing”. The last option you can adjust the overall image quality with the use of a slider. The rotating Nvidia image is used to see if you are happy with the preview image quality that is shown (see picture right).

The downside of this is that although the preview image you see works well at all the quality levels this doesn’t mean you’ll get the same performance in game. In fact it could be extremely poor! When you slide the slider to the far right (Quality), this enables options that could be stressful for you hardware (4x anti aliasing). If you have a low or mid-end videocard enabling anti aliasing will kill your performance. You need to adjust settings manually and that’s why I’ll discuss them in the next section.

Anti aliasing will be discussed in detail later on.

Manage 3D Settings

This section is for most users, just click on the “Global Settings” tab. Here you can configure changes that apply to all 3D software and games. You can also apply separate changes to specific games on the “Program Settings” but I won’t go into that because it exactly the same as the general settings. If you know the general settings you can apply them to separate games and problems with no problem.

-Ambient Occlusion: This setting can force Ambient Occlusion and the settings available are Quality, Performance and Off. When enabled the lighting realism of ambient light shadows is enhanced. More depth and shadows that are richer in scenes will be the result. But it can also reduce FPS (frames per second) significantly so that’s the reason you can choice between Quality and Performance. If you have high end videocard you can go for Quality otherwise I’ll recommend Performance.

-Anisotropic Filtering (AF): AF helps make 2D images that cover the surface of any 3D object appear clearer. The higher the sample rate of AF used the more cleaner and crisper the object surfaces will stay, especially in the distance when things fade away. The higher you set your AF sample rate the lower will your performance be. Although my own experience is that the highest setting of 16x doesn’t impact performance that much. Especially when you have a high end GPU you won’t experience any difference in performance whatsoever $6. You can select “Application Controlled” so each game has its own AF setting. This is recommended when you don’t have a high end videocard, so the game will manage the sample rate from within the game. The level of AF you have to configure in game (if available).

If not you can select the following sample rates manually: 2x, 4x, 8x or 16x then it forces this AF sample rate on all games. For performance you should use "Off" to force AF not being used!

Antialiasing – Gamma Correction: This option only works when you have at least an Nvidia Geforce 7800 or up. Set it to “On” so it will improve colour quality and also reduces jaggedness.

Anti aliasing (AA) – Mode: What anti aliasing is I already described in my other hub called: Everything you need to know about a videocard. It smooth out aliasing (jagged lines) and the higher the sample rate the smoother those jagged lines will appear. If you want your games to each use there own setting on AA choice “Application Controlled” and you can configure your AA settings in your specific game.

If you want the best performance you should choice “Off” so it forces AA of regardless of the game settings.

Choice “Enhance the Application Setting” to first set a AA level in a game then add a higher sample rate to the AA already configure in game. So in game would be 2x and in the control panel you could set it to 4x so it enhances the AA with 2x.

Finally you can choice “Override any application setting” to set the sample rate of AA regardless of the in game settings of a game. The options you have depend on the model of Nvidia graphics card you have. Older models don’t support some sample rates or certain special AA modes (Q,S,G). Options are: 2x, 2xQ, 4x, 4xG, 4xS, 6xS, 8xS, 16, 16xQ and 32x.The higher the better and the smoother all the lines will be (see picture on the right) but will take performance and this you will see in reduced FPS.

Anti aliasing ending in “Q” give a better image quality but cost performance when you compare it to standard anti aliasing. Those ending with “S” have a sub pixel coverage that is greater which means the anti aliasing is better, also performance will be lower.

Nvidia uses different types of anti aliasing then ATI like CSAA (Coverage Sampling Anti Aliasing) which produce nicer results than the default MSAA (Multi Sampling Anti Aliasing). MSAA is a newer AA to optimize hardware for more efficient AA. Both ATI and Nvidia use it and it still can reduce performance especially at high resolutions, but much less then simple AA. It’s a perfect compromise between performance and image quality.

Antialiasing – Transparency: It improves the jaggedness of images like grass, fences, chain-links, etc which are transparent textures, the options are: Off, Multisampling or Supersampling. Off will not use this option so performance will be best, Multisamling will give some image improvement with a performance hit that is minimal. Supersampling provides you with the most noticeable image improvement quality, although it has the most significant performance hit of all (especially at higher sample rates). Turn it to “Off” if you don’t want to use AA and Multisampling for an excellent balance between image quality and performance when AA is enabled.

CUDA – GPUs: CUDA stands for Compute Unified Device Architecture which I already described in my other hub called: Everything you need to know about a videocard. This software developed by Nvidia and it’s a parallel computing architecture designed to utilize a GPU and its power for general tasks apart from graphics. The GPU is used as a CPU and the software is supported from the Geforce 8 series hardware and at least 256 MB is needed. Globally you should leave it at its default. However if you have more then 1 GPU you could specify 1 GPU for dedicated PhysX. If you keep it at its default settings (All) then all your GPUs will spread the load evenly but this will have an impact on performance for the GPU that primary renders your graphics.

Maximum Pre-Rendered Frames: is the number of frames your processor prepares in advanced for the GPU being rendered. Recommended is to keep it at its default value of 3. If you set it higher then it will result to smoother but also laggy game play, and lower could help with keyboard and mouse lag.

Multi-display/Mixed-GPU Acceleration: Options are “Single Display Performance Mode”, Compatibility Performance Mode” and “Multi Display Performance Mode”. If you only have 1 TFT screen you should use Single Display Performance Mode. If you have multiple TFT displays then choice Multi-Display performance Mode. In case of using multiple TFT displays and you experience issues with some software then select Compatibility Performance Mode.

Power Management Mode: This mode is available from Geforce 9 series and above and is the ability to support different performance levels. This is depending on the power that is required by 3D software. Options are “Adaptive” and “Prefer Maximum Performance”, Adaptive is the default so the GPU will lower its clock speed and power usage when 3D applications don’t need it. Adaptive is recommended because it reduces power usage if it’s not required and it always runs at full speed if required and steps back in clock speed and power consumption when it can. Only use Prefer Maximum Performance if you want to ensure your GPU is always running its maximum clock speed. This does not apply to the Windows Desktop environment!

Texture Filtering – Anisotropic Sample Optimization: This option is available if “Texture Filtering” is on “Quality” and you have the options of On or Off. On will optimize the texture sampling technique, which will give a slight drop in the image quality but will give faster performance. Off for best quality graphics and On for best performance.

Texture Filtering – Negative LOD Bias: This is the level of details that can be altered to sharpen details with the LOD Bias. If you enable it aliasing can be introduced. Due to Anisotropic Filtering also improves the image sharpness without the addition of aliasing, it’s recommended to change the setting to “Clamp”. So you can use any level of Anisotropic Filtering for an overall better image quality.

Texture Filtering – Quality: Options are: High Performance, Performance, Quality and High Quality. This is the level of Anisotropic/Trilinear texture filtering optimization done by the Nvidia drivers. The High Performance enables all the optimizations which mean lower image quality but the highest performance. With Performance some optimizations are disabled and with Quality even more optimizations. With High Quality the highest quality image will be assured but it will cost some performance. Performance mode is the best setting for a good balanced game play without any major image quality degradation. If you have a high end videocard then you can choose High Quality for the best visual experience.

Texture Filtering – Trilinear Optimization: If you didn’t select High Quality with “Texture Filtering – Quality” (above setting) then you have the options “On” or “Off”. If you enable this option it will result in better performance but reduces texture quality a bit. Recommended setting is On when you have a low/mid range videocard otherwise turn it off for the highest quality graphics.

Threaded Optimization: this is multithreaded optimization for all 3D games with multi core or Hyperthreaded processors. Highly recommended setting is “Auto” so the Nvidia drivers determine the appropriated setting for various games. If older games don’t support multi-core processors then use “Off”, and to see if you get improved performance in games that are recent use “On”.

Triple Buffering: If you set it to “On” it will improve VSync (Vertical Synchronization) so if you use VSync then it’s recommended to enable Triple Buffering to. If you have a videocard with lower vram then turn this feature to “Off” to prevent having mouse lag in your games.

SLI Performance Mode: If you are using SLI mode you can select the specific SLI rendering mode. Recommended is the default mode.

Vertical Sync: Called Vertical Synchronization is the synchronization of the TFT screen and your videocard abilities to draw an amount of FPS (Frames per second) on your screen. If disabled your FPS will get a boost but there is a change of “tearing”, which is a portions of the screen that can slightly be out of alignment during any fast motions. Recommended setting is “Off” so you’ll get performance improvements and more FPS. Because the latest games have an option to control VSync in game you can also use the option “Use the 3D application setting” and manually set VSync in each game.

ATI

The ATI Catalyst Control Panel can be accessed by right clicking on your desktop and selecting “Catalyst Control Panel”. Then you get see the settings of your videocard (second picture right).

Settings may differ depending on de videocard you have and the version of ATI drivers you have. Also options can differ depending on what Windows you have (XP, Vista or 7). All available options are in this Hub and you can download the latest drivers here: http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/Pages/index.aspx. To download the drivers you have to choice a type videocard (step 1) then the product range (step 2) then the series or choice “Auto Detect and Install” to automatic detect your videocard and install it (step 3). Step 4 you have to choice the Windows version if you didn’t select “Auto detect and Install”.

The Catalyst Control Panel is available in 2 views, the Standard View and the Advanced View. Like the Nvidia drivers it’s more suitable for your needs to use the Advanced View. I’ll only go into the Advanced View settings this time and you can enable it by clicking on Preferences in the upper right and then switch to Advanced View.

3D Application Settings

On the left side click on “Gaming” ->"3D Application Settings" to get to the 3D gaming options.

Anti Aliasing (AA): I already mention this in the Nvidia section it smooth out aliasing (jagged lines) and the higher the sample rate the smoother those jagged lines will appear. There are 3 Modes available to choice from.

If you want your games to each use there own setting on AA choice “Use Application settings” and you can configure your AA settings in your specific game.

Choice “Enhance Application Setting” to first set an AA level in a game then add a higher sample rate to the AA already configure in game. So in game would be 4x and in the control panel you could set it to 8x so it enhances the AA with 4x.

Finally you can choice “Override application setting” to set the sample rate of AA regardless of the in game settings of a game.

Filter: 4 filter modes are available:

-Box is standard mode that provides with the fastest performance but looks most jagged

-Narrow-tent: will expand the sampling around surrounding areas of the current pixel

-Wide-tent: very similar to narrow-tent but with a higher degree although not past the 1.25 times the radius distance from any current pixel.

-Edge-detect: totally different from the 3 previous modes and doesn’t soften or blurred areas on the edge of 3D objects. It will provide a higher sampling rate with the use of less. So if you use 4x you can compare it to an effective sampling level of 12x. Less will provide you with more so this mode is highly recommended. On the right the above picture doesn’t have AA and the below picture has 8x MSAA (Multi Sample Anti Aliasing).

Anisotropic Filtering (AF): Already mentioned this AF helps make 2D images that cover the surface of any 3D object appear clearer. The higher the sample rate of AF used the more cleaner and crisper the object surfaces will stay, especially in the distance when things fade away. Because games reduce some visual qualities of objects that are far away or appear to be, AF can preserve this quality. The High Quality AF checkbox will provide with an even higher, clearer and crisper image quality.

Tessellation: This is another technique to improve quality through the use of GPU acceleration but without the scarifies of too much graphics CPU cycles, memory bandwidth. The amount of polygons is increased to render a 3D object and that’s the enhancement. With it you get a well defined face or objects instead of blocky noses and ears. Keep the "AMD Optimized" checkbox checked to have the best performance possible. You can use the "Use application settings" option but it's not advisable because it could damage performance or image quality.

See the YouTube clip on the right to see the difference with or without tessellation (720P).

Catalyst A.I.: Texture Filtering Quality Is an option that finds the balance between 3D application image quality and performance. 3 options are available: Performance, Quality and High Quality. Performance gives you the best performance, Quality will give you better visual experience but impacts performance and High Quality impacts performance even more but provides the best visual experience. Enable Surface Format Optimization to optimize surface rendering internally, which results in improved performances with no significant quality decreases.

Wait for Vertical Refresh: Like I already said it is called Vertical Synchronization which is the synchronization of the TFT screen and your videocard abilities to draw an amount of FPS (Frames per second) on your screen. If disabled your FPS will get a boost but there is a change of “tearing”, which is a portions of the screen that can slightly be out of alignment during any fast motions. Recommended setting is “Off” so you’ll get performance improvements and more FPS.

Anti-Aliasing Mode: 3 modes are available SSAA (Super-sample AA), MSAA (Multi-sampling AA) and AAA (Adaptive AA). SSAA uses a brute force method that increases the resolution of the full image to remove all the jaggedness. It provides you with the best image quality available but has a massive impact on performance so don’t try this if you don’t have an up to date high end videocard.

MSAA is a newer AA to optimize hardware for more efficient AA. It is a good compromise between performance and image quality and will give you the fastest AA performance.

AAA: is a technique to improve the appearance of the images by analysing the current rendering, and will decide whether to use supersampling or multisampling to improve the transparent objects quality. With this option you have the best of both worlds and also the best of performance with a very good image quality. This setting is recommended!

Triple Buffering: Like I already said if you set it to “On” it will improve VSync (Vertical Synchronization) so if you use VSync then it’s recommended to enable Triple Buffering to. If you have a videocard with lower vram then turn this feature to “Off” to prevent having mouse lag in your games.

Overclock tools

Ati Graphics Overdrive

This is part of the ATI Catalyst drivers and can be found when you go to “Performance” -> Graphics Overdrive. With this tool you can boost (overclock) the speed of the GPU and the memory. First thing you have to do is unlock this tool and to do this you have to click on the lock above. Then you will see the lock change and you can check “Enable AMD Overdrive” and also “Enable Manual Fan Control” if you want your fan to run at a higher RPM then standard. There is an “Auto-Tune” button that will search for the optimum overclock speed automatically. If you start to overclock your videocard you have to keep in mind there will be extra heat involved. So if you overclock it’s a good idea to increase the RPM of your fan.

From personal experience I can tell you I overclocked my Club 3D Radion HD6970 from GPU Core: 880@940 MHz and Memory Clock: 1375@1440 MHz. I increased the fan to 58% so my GPU won’t get to hot (max 60 degrees). I searched on the internet of what the max would be of my GPU and memory so if you start overclocking first be prepared before you damage anything.

Rivatuner

Is a powerful tweaking program originally made for Nvidia videocards. You have Direct3D and OpenGL tuning options, driver-level and low-level hardware access modes. Diagnostic and realtime hardware monitor features, power user tools and patch scripts engines which make Rivatuner absolutely unmatched. This tool can be used with the Geforce 7 series videocards or up and is the right tool also to overclock your videocard. It can also be used in combination with ATI cards but some options are not available then.

On the above picture you can see where to find the overclock options and it’s 1 of all the features of this great tweak and tuning utility. On the picture below you can see the overclock page and the options are similar to Ati Graphics Overdrive.

You can download Rivatuner here: http://downloads.guru3d.com/RivaTuner-v2.09-download-163.html

ATI Tray Tools

This tool is a very comprehensive utility to optimize tweak en overclock your ATI videocard. I use this great software tool myself to tweak my ATI Catalyst settings and balance out performance and overclock my videocard (like I describe early). You can download ATI Tray Tools here: http://downloads.guru3d.com/download.php?det=733

Some of the features of this program are:

  • Overclocking + fan control
  • Automatic overclocking with application 3D Mode
  • Monitoring of Temperatures
  • Testing of Artifacts to find the maximum stable clock speed of your GPU and Memory
  • Improvements to speed tweaks like Anisotropic and Trilinear filtering
  • Low Level colour correction on hardware level
  • Standard tweaks like overriding Pixel and Vertex Shader version etc
  • Advanced Register Tweaks concerning 3D and OpenGL
  • Enable Multi Thread Support to increase your working threads for graphics

From personal experience I can tell you that MT Support has increase my gaming experience to the max! To extra clarify an artefact is a furry object as result of a to high GPU and/or Memory increase. If you have a videocard that has artifacts without overclocking then most likely you have a damaged videocard.

Benchmark software

This software is designed to test and compare your videocard and pc against other people with similar hardware. All of your hardware in your pc contributes to the score you will achieve but your videocard has the biggest impact on this score. So the higher your score the better your performance will be in real games.

3DMark

This tool is created by Futuremark and is the most well known benchmark software available. It determines the performance of 3D graphics rendering and CPU processing workload capabilities. So the better your videocard the better your score will be. When you have your score you can compare it to people with similar hardware online.

The first version is available from 1998 and all the different versions are bases on a specific version of DirectX (DX). They are:

3DMark99: DX 6.0

3DMark99 MAX: DX 6.1

3DMark2000: DX 7

3DMark2001: DX 8.0

3DMark2001 SE: DX 8.1

3DMark03: DX 9.0

3DMark05: DX 9.0(c)

3DMark06: DX 9.0c

3DMark Vantage: DX 10

3DMark 11: DX 11

You can download 3D Mark here from version 06: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/ On the right side you can see a YouTube link (1080P) of this benchmark.

Unigine Heaven DX11 Benchmark

This is a 3D real time engine benchmark that runs on DirectX 11 and utilizes the advanced Unigine engine. It shows an very enchanted island that floats magically with a little village hidden inside the clouds. It shows all the great things of DirectX 11 that I already describe in my other hub called: Everything you need to know about a videocard. Features of this benchmark are:

  • Supports DirectX 9, 10, 11 and OpenGL 4.0
  • Tessellation technology
  • Advanced Ambient occlusion
  • Dynamic illumination
  • Dynamic sky
  • Interactive fly and walk through modes

These are the latest en most used benchmark around. Older benchmarks are still downloadable but won’t provide you with a score that can be useful with high end hardware. If you have low end hardware you could consider using older benchmark software like 3DMark 2001 or 2003.

Diagnostic Tools

FluidMark

This is a benchmark and diagnostic tool to test Nvidia PhysX. It shows fluid simulation with the use of SPH (Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics). Use this test to diagnose if Nvidia PhysX is working and if there are any problems with it. Nvidia PhysX will only work if you don’t have any ATI videocards present in your system, otherwise Nvidia will deactivate PhysX. Now there is a PhysX Mod available that lets you use PhysX in combination with any ATI graphics card. And this tool can determine without the use of a game if your PhysX works. Features of the software are:

  • CPU or GPU PhysX
  • Multi Core CPU support
  • Stability or Benchmark mode
  • MSAA support

You can download this tool here: http://www.ozone3d.net/benchmarks/physx-fluidmark/.

FurMark

This is an intensive OpenGL test and benchmark tool that uses fur rendering algorithms to determine the performance of any GPU. This software is designed to stress and overheat the GPU to test if your videocard is stable. So it’s the perfect stress and stability test tool for you graphics card. It renders some nice things and with that you have to keep it running for about an hour or so to get a good indication of stability. This tool is also called a GPU burner, but don’t worry you won’t see real fire! Features of the software are:

  • Benchmark and stability mode and burning test modes
  • GPU temperatures monitoring and logging
  • MSAA selection sample supported

You can download this tool here: http://www.ozone3d.net/benchmarks/fur/.

Video Memory Stress Test

This software is a diagnostic tool to test the vram of you videocard. You can test it when you overclock your videocard or to see if your videocard isn’t damaged. In windows you can only test a certain amount of memory because some is in use by windows.

If you want to test all the memory you have to start up from a boot cd that is included with the package you download. When you download the zipfile and unzip it, you see a directory called “VMTCE” and there you find the file vmtce.iso which you can burn to a cd-r/cd-rw.

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