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Written by Hanners   
Monday, 05 June 2006 00:00
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Half-Life 2: Episode One graphics performance
HDR, AA and AF performance hits

Half-Life 2: Episode One graphics performance

When it comes to gaming on the PC, there are a handful of franchises which are the equivalent of Hollywood blockbusters - Doom and Quake may be among the first to spring to mind in that category, but Half-Life is undoubtedly up there too, and arguably the sole contender that (thus far) has managed to keep the quality of its titles high during its lifespan - Or should that be half-lifespan?

Half-Life 2 may have been late, but there is no denying its success or popularity.  After such a long wait between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, and thanks to the advent of their Steam system for making content available via the Internet, Valve have now decided to change their strategy with regard to releasing future games based around the Half-Life franchise.  With a solid and easily upgradeable game engine already in place, the strategy has now moved from producing a single, mammoth game every few years to making available episodic content as and when it is finished.  Thus, the first of June saw the release of this first 'episode', following directly on from the end of Half-Life 2, as what was once known as Aftermath became Half-Life 2: Episode One.

Although the original Half-Life 2 quickly moved from being a graphics card intensive title to a far more easy to run game as GPU power has increased substantially since its release, the Source engine has continued to move forward with the addition of High Dynamic Range rendering and other cinematic effects.  Half-Life 2: Episode One leverages some of these techniques to create a more graphically intensive experience than its predecessor, thus today we will be examining graphics performance in this title using half a dozen graphics boards available on store shelves today.  Want to know how Episode One will perform on your system?  Read on...

Test setup

All of today's testing has been run on the following:

- AMD Athlon 64 3500+
- 1GB PC3200 DDR-RAM
- Asus A8N-SLI nForce 4 SLI motherboard (Socket 939, PCI Express)
- 74GB Western Digital Raptor
- Pioneer 16x DVD-ROM
- Leadtek GeForce 6600 GT 128MB
- Leadtek GeForce 7600 GT 256MB
- ASUS GeForce 7900 GT 256MB
- PowerColor Radeon X1300 PRO 256MB
- PowerColor Radeon X1800 XT 512MB
- ATI Radeon X1900 XTX 512MB
- 480W power supply
- Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2
- DirectX 9.0c

The following drivers were used:

- NVIDIA ForceWare 84.21 was used on all NVIDIA boards
- CATALYST 6.5 was used on all ATI boards

The drivers 'High Quality' mode was used for all testing on NVIDIA boards, and High Quality anisotropic filtering was also selected for all ATI parts, with CATALYST A.I. set to 'Standard'.

All of our testing of Half-Life 2: Episode One today uses a custom timedemo, recorded within the city's core reactor as Gordon races to stop it from exploding.  Our timedemo takes in two scenarios within its scope - Around half of the demo sees Gordon in smallish rooms and corridors, fighting off the Combine with his enhanced gravity gun, while the other half sees Gordon in the vicinity of the reactor's core itself, giving the graphics board a rather intensive workout with the core using a number of shader effects to give it a distinctive look, while the room it is present in contains a number of light sources for the games HDR rendering implementation to do its thing.  For our basic testing, we used the games full (Shader Model 2.0-based) HDR rendering mode, with all other settings on their highest levels.  Anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering were controlled by the application at all times.

So, let's go and take a look at how our various graphics boards fared with this latest instalment in the saga of Gordon Freeman.

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