3DMark didn’t interest me, really, but I gave it a shot because I have a fairly unique setup and thought it might be a good idea to see how it fared. My gaming computer is actually a mid-2011 iMac set up to dual-boot into Windows. That means it has a Core i5 running at 2.7 GHz with 8 GB RAM. The graphics card is a Radeon HD 6770M with 512 MB RAM with out-of-date drivers because Apple drags its feet on those. (For those who don’t know: Apple provides custom Windows drivers for people who dual-boot. You can’t use AMD’s software at all.) This setup scored 60880 in the Ice Storm test, which is designed for tablets and ultra-portable notebooks. The Cloud Gate test for Notebooks and home PCs with integrated graphics—i.e. setups like mine—scored 7056. Not very impressive numbers but, hey, it’s a Radeon M, so that’s what I expected.
The Fire Strike test froze every time I tried to run it, and this is where I have an issue with the program. The test is designed for high-end PCs and uses all the DirectX 11 bells and whistles. I knew my system wouldn’t be able to handle it, but decided to run it anyway, just to see what would happen. 3DMark let the test load, but the program stopped responding on the loading screen. My computer was still functional—I was able to open the task manager and force quit 3DMark—but I feel the software should have detected potential issues like that.
Overall, 3DMark is a nice curiosity. It was interesting to see what my scores were, but there was no way to know what they actually mean. The number may as well be arbitrary, because there’s no obvious correlation between the score and real-world applications. I’m left asking myself: now that I know my card’s scores, what settings should I use to get optimal performance when I game? Without an answer to that question, I can only see 3DMark being useful to two groups of people. The first are video card reviewers who need an objective benchmark to compare graphics hardware. The second are the ultra-hard-core PC gamers who post their system specs in their forum signatures.
Callan MacKinlay –
Benchmarks have always confused me. While I might understand their usage amongst the overclocking community, I never thought that they would ever become mainstream. Luckily, 3DMark has not changed my opinion of this. While I have built my own computers since I was 13, I never thought of actually adjusting the way the components worked in order to enhance performance. I guess it is like the difference between European car owners and North American ones. I would never take a car to a mechanic to enhance its performance because it might increase the chance that it would break down.
The same is true of European car owners. After-market parts are an extreme rarity in Europe, whereas in North America you can’t call yourself a gearhead if you haven’t bought a different muffler for your car and installed it. Obviously, for the people that think of these minor changes as useful, a program which can tell them which enhancements are improving their performance and which are detracting from it could be very useful. 3DMark is one of these programs and in my opinion it is totally pointless. Because benchmarking programs are only good if everyone has the same one, and I doubt that people who mod their computers to this degree are going to be willing to fork over $25 for a program they could get online for free.
3DMark is slick, fast and navigable software that assesses your PC’s ability to process things such as particle effects, tessellation, reflections, and high poly-count models. The Professional Edition comes with three distinct tests: Ice Storm, Cloud Gate, and Fire Strike. Each test will measure a myriad of elements and produce a score based on how well your CPU/Video Card and tangential components handle that task. Upon startup, the interface is very straightforward, allowing you to run all three tests in rapid succession right from the welcome screen. Each test is targeted to specific hardware utilizations, such a basic home PC’s/notebooks, all the way to i7 quad-SLI behemoths. After running a test, a results screen is presented where you can analyze not only almost every facet of the test specifics, but information about your PC performance as well.
The real meat of the software is the custom menu, which features a bevy of tweaks to fully customize how your tests are run. The options featured here should be the cornerstone of every PC game, and it is a shame that many lack these simple amenities. Options such as specifying a frame rate lock and exporting results to an XML file are available to those who choose to use the Professional version.
Despite all of this fanfare, your score will not provide any determinate information to aid you in deciding how well certain software will run. 3DMark is a synthetic benchmark, meaning that the numbers it produces are only useful in comparison to other PCs. Unless you have other systems to compare it to, the number will be wholly useless. Creating a Futuremark account will allow you to browse the many systems that have uploaded their scores for comparisons sake, but you still will be lacking crucial information, such as what the rigs architecture was tailored to. For example, you may run into a system similar to yours, but it was designed for AutoCAD or video editing, but may suffer in the gaming department.
Personally, I do not utilize synthetic benchmarking for this very reason: I like clear-cut analysis to allow for accurate comparisons to programs I will be running. If I am looking for a calculation I can use for reference, I would like it to be a useful number rather than an arbitrary measuring tool to compare to other systems around the world. A secondary complaint that I have is that my official AMD drivers for my RADEON 7770 were classified as unauthorized, which prevented me from uploading my score to the database. While I understand that evaluating drivers to implement into their database takes time, it is rather useless for me to rollback my drivers when I will not be utilizing them after the test concludes.
Carlin Au –
It’s a little disheartening to see my AMD Radeon HD 6870 struggle to run the Fire Strike test. Just last year, I had spent around $400 upgrading my PC with an AMD Phenom II X4 955, AMD Radeon HD 6870, 4GB of Crucial DDR3 RAM 1066 MHz, ASUS M4N75TD Motherboard, and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit to get a combined score of 2988. 3DMark is a wonderful tool for people who want to know which build works the best when handling graphically-intensive games.
I can understand that for some people, 3DMark benchmark scores do matter when purchasing parts because the tests can really bring a computer to its knees, and provide information about how far someone could push a computer. Personally, I don’t factor in 3DMark benchmark scores when deciding on what my next video card will be because I normally just take a look at how they perform in games that I know are graphically intensive. I can see how 3DMark could be very useful as it’s very detailed in its results, including temperature and FPS rates at specific times during the course of the test, which do matter to some people.
Steven Smith –
In general I like running these benchmark tests. I feel it’s a much better scale than the obligatory “I can run Game X on max settings and get 40 FPS.” However not all benchmarks are equal. Let me tell you what I liked and didn’t like about 3DMark. When you run a test it shows you a 3D rendered cinematic that looks like it has a story line behind it. This makes it the most entertaining benchtest I have ever used. After that it runs a series of tests that isolate particles, lighting and physics. This can help give you an idea of what specific settings are effecting the performance for your machine.
I was a bit skeptical about the physics test as it is testing pre-rendered object collision. Object collision in a game is random, it is up to your graphics card to render what happens. It would be very easy to cheat a test like this as the collisions can be pre planned and calculated to give better results. I ran the tests a few times I and saw the FPS hits my system was taking. I’m now a bit more accepting to how 3DMark is handling the physics test. From a more practical standpoint it makes sense to have this level of consistency with the test. The only other issue I had were the disappointing results of my test. When I built my machine, 5 years ago, it was a pretty good gaming system. Now it’s rating as an “entry-level” machine. I think a few upgrades are in my future.
Adam Ames –
Futuremark certainly has come a long way since 3DMark 2001 was released then known as Mad Onion. I remember countless hours hoping those orange numbers during the off-road sequence would at least jump into the 30s. Fast forward 12 years and I still find myself behind in the PC gaming rat race.
It has been seven years since I built my current PC. To give a bit more technical detail to that statement, my 4GB of RAM is PC6400. My CPU is an early model Intel Core 2 Duo. The GTX 460 which provides my gaming pleasure is now two full generations behind the current 600 series. Just being able to run Fire Storm, albeit at 7FPS, brought a smile to my face. Of course, no PC gamer would attempt to play any game below 30FPS (there are some who demand 60), but it was still nice to even run the test.
The application itself was pretty straight forward. The one aspect I did not like was the inability to produce an official score based on custom variables. I play all of my games (where available) at 1920×1080, but 3DMark defaulted at 1280×720. Due to this one issue, 3DMark would not accurately give me sample of what I could expect compared to the scores of others.
3DMark is a $24.99 conversation piece. An antique firearm proudly displayed over the mantel. A curious painting hung in the foyer. Perhaps a collection of spoons, bells or stuffed animals. It gets people talking, and to that degree, Futuremark has done a fantastic job.
The one thing you have to remember is an average user can use the free Basic Edition of 3DMark and get all he/she needs in terms of scoring and tests. The paid Advanced Edition is targeted towards major enthusiasts who consistently overclock their systems and monitor performance management. The Professional Edition TPG was given is designed around press and businesses.