Doom III maker compares high-end Nvidia, ATI graphics

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Id Software co-founder and the programmer behind the forthcoming game Doom III John Carmack recently updated his .plan files with his musings on the latest graphics hardware from rivals ATI Technologies Inc. and Nvidia Corp. Carmack doesn't come out solidly in favor of either technology, but he weighs the pros and cons of each.

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Carmack refers repeatedly to Nvidia's NV30 -- an internal code designation for the graphics chip soon to be available called the GeForce FX. Carmack also talks about ATI's R300 -- the internal code designation for the chip known to the outside world as the Radeon 9700 Pro, the product just announced as a build-to-order option for Power Mac G4s. To date, Apple has not announced plans to support the GeForce FX, but Apple uses Nvidia's graphics hardware across its product lines, including making the current high-end chip -- the GeForce4 Ti -- available as a build-to-order option on the Power Mac G4.

Carmack said that overall, Nvidia's hardware is "is slightly faster," but he can find some scenes where ATI's hardware "pulls a little bit ahead." Carmack admits his perspective is clouded by the fact that each graphics chip can render the game differently. Because of the different modes supported by each chip, the cards return different levels of floating point precision and can each process data quickly in their own way.

Carmack adds that the NV30 takes up two expansion slots, due to a huge fan that's installed on the surface of the card itself, to draw hot air away from the Nvidia chip itself. He said that the fan noise from the Nvidia offering is annoying -- a complaint echoed by other reviewers that have used prototypes of GeForce FX-equipped cards.

"For a typical consumer, I don't think the decision is at all clear cut at the moment," Carmack said. "As always, better cards are coming soon."

Carmack also noted that his implementation of vertex programs for Doom III has switched from vendor-specific to industry-standard methods -- a move supported by both ATI and Nvidia. He also talks about issues related to OpenGL and DirectX -- of particular concern to Mac users, as Apple has adopted OpenGL as its graphics technology of choice, while Microsoft continues to promulgate its own DirectX as the preferred technology for Windows 3D work.

He said that "reasonable arguments" can be made for either camp. "With central planning, you can have 'phasing problems' between hardware and software releases, and there is a real danger of bad decisions hampering the entire industry, but enforced commonality does make life easier for developers. Trying to keep boneheaded-ideas-that-will-haunt-us-for-years out of Direct-X is the primary reason I have been attending the Windows Graphics Summit for the past three years, even though I still code for OpenGL," Carmack noted.

As always, Carmack's comments express a technical depth not well suited for a quick wrap-up like this, so if this sort of technology interests you, your best move is to check out his comments yourself.

This story, "Doom III maker compares high-end Nvidia, ATI graphics" was originally published by PCWorld.

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