3DMark for Windows Overview

After a two-year hiatus, Futuremark is back with a new version of 3DMark, and in many ways this is their most ambitious version to date. Instead of the usual PC graphics benchmark, with this release, dubbed simply “3DMark” (there’s no year or other designation this time), Futuremark is creating a cross-platform benchmark—Windows, Windows RT, iOS, and Android will all be capable of running the same graphics benchmark, sort of. Today’s release is for Windows only, and this is the most feature-packed of the 3DMark releases with three separate graphics benchmarks.

Ice Storm is a DX9-level graphics benchmark (ed: specifically D3D11 FL 9_1), and this is what we’ll see on Android, iOS, and Windows RT. Cloud Gate is the second benchmark and it uses DX10-level effects and hardware, but it will only run on standard Windows; it’s intended to show the capabilities of Windows notebooks and home PCs. The third benchmark is Fire Strike, and this is the one that will unlock the full potential of DX11-level hardware; it’s intended to showcase the capabilities of modern gaming PCs. Fire Strike also has a separate Extreme setting to tax your system even more.

Each of the three benchmarks, at least on the Windows release, comes with four elements: two graphics tests, a physics test, and a demo mode (not used in the benchmark score) that comes complete with audio and a lengthier “story” to go with the scene. I have fond memories of running various demo scene files way back in the day, and I think the inclusion of A/V sequences for all three scenes is a nice addition. Another change with this release is that all resolutions are unlocked for all platforms; the testing will render internally to the specified resolution and will then scale the output to fit your particular display—no longer will we have to use an external display to test 1080p on a typical laptop, hallelujah! You can even run the Extreme preset for Fire Strike on a 1366x768 budget notebook if you like seeing things render at seconds per frame.

As has been the case with most releases, 3DMark comes in three different versions. The free Basic Edition includes all three tests and simply runs them at the default settings; there’s no option to tweak any of the settings, and the Fire Strike test does not include the Extreme preset. When you run the Basic Edition, your only option is to run all three tests (at least on Windows platforms), and the results are submitted to the online database for management. For $24.99, the Advanced Edition adds the Extreme Fire Strike preset, you can run at custom settings and resolutions, and you can individually benchmark the three tests. There are also options to loop the benchmarks and 3DMark has added a bunch of new graphs; you can also save the results offline for later viewing. Finally, the Professional Edition is intended for business and commercial use and costs $995. Besides all of the features in the Advanced Edition, it adds a command line utility, an image quality tool, private offline results option, and it can export the results to XML.

Before we get to some initial results, let’s take a look at one of the cool new features with the latest 3DMark: graphs. Above you can see the post-benchmark results from my personal gaming desktop with a slightly overclocked i7-965X and HD 7950, and along with the usual scores there are graphs for each test showing real-time frame rates and CPU and GPU temperatures. Something I’ve noticed is that the GPU temperatures don’t show up on quite a few of my test systems, and hopefully that will improve with future updates, but this is still a great new inclusion. Each graph also allows you to explore further details:

Along with the FPS and temperature graphs, the detailed view also adds the option for CPU clocks and CPU power (though again, power at least isn’t always available depending on the platform, e.g. it’s missing again on my Bloomfield desktop). Something you can’t see with the images is that you can also mouse over and select any of the points on the graphs to get additional details (e.g. frame rate at a specific point), and you can zoom in/out as well. It’s too bad that only paying customers (or press) will be able to get full access to the graphs, but for ORB and overclocking enthusiasts these new features definitely make the $25 cost look more palatable.

Along with the various updates, the UI for 3DMark has change quite a bit as well, presumably to make it more tablet-friendly. I’m not sure how it will work on tablets specifically, but what I can say is that there are certain options that are missing, and the new UI takes some getting used to. For example, even with the Professional Edition, there’s no easy way to run all the benchmarks without the demos. You can run the Ice Storm, Cloud Gate, and Fire Strike benchmarks individually, or you can do a custom run of any of those three, but what I want is an option to run all three tests with custom settings in one batch. This was possible on every previous 3DMark release, so hopefully we get an update to add this functionality (or at least give the Advanced and Professional versions a “run all without demo” on the Welcome screen). Besides that minor complaint, things are pretty much what we’re used to seeing, so let’s do some benchmarking.

Initial 3DMark Notebook Results
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  • IanCutress - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - link

    It is worth noting that FM have integrated a native rendering that scales to your monitor. So Fire Strike on extreme mode is natively rendered at 2560x1440 and then scaled to 1366x768 of the monitor as required. (source: FM_Jarvis on hwbot.org forums)

    Time to fire up some desktop four way, see if it scales :D
  • dj christian - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - link

    Thanks for a great walkthrough! However i am wondering about the Llano and Trinity systems. Are those mobile and if what brand and model do they run on?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - link

    All of the systems other than the desktop are laptops. As for the AMD Llano and Trinity, those are prototype systems from AMD. Llano is probably not up to snuff, as I can't update drivers, but the Trinity laptop runs well -- it was the highest scoring A10 iGPU of the three I have right now (the Samsung and MSI being the other two).
  • Alexvrb - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    I'm annoyed with Samsung for their memory configuration. 2GB+4GB? I'd like to see tests with that same laptop running a decent pair of 4GB DDR3-1600 sticks. On top of this, even if you can configure one yourself online... they gouge so bad on storage and RAM upgrades that it makes more sense for me to buy it poorly preconfigured and upgrade it myself. I could throw the unwanted parts in the trash and STILL come out way cheaper, not that I would do so.
  • Tuvok86 - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - link

    so, does the 3rd test look "next gen" and how does it look compared to the best engines?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - link

    In terms of the graphics fidelity, these aren't games so it's difficult to compare. I actually find even the Ice Storm test looks decent and makes me yearn for a good space simulation, even though it's clearly the least demanding of the three tests. I remember upgrading from a 286 to a 386 just so I could run the original Wing Commander with Expanded Memory [EMS] and upgrade graphics quality! Tie Fighter, X-Wing, Freespace, and Starlancer all graced my hard drive over the years. Cloud Gate and Fire Strike are more strict graphics demos, though I suppose I could see Fire Strike as fighting game.

    The rendering effects are good, and I'm also glad we're not seeing any rehashing of old benchmarks with updated graphics (3DMark05 and 3DMark06 come to mind). Really, though, if we're talking about games it's really the experience as much as the graphics that matter--look at indie games like FTL where the graphics are simplistic and yet plenty of people waste hours playing and replaying the game. Ultimately, I see 3DMark more as a way of pushing hardware to extremes that we won't see in most games for a few years, but as graphics demos they don't have all the trappings of real games.

    If I were to compare to an actual game, though, even the world of something like Batman: Arkham City looks better in some ways than the overabundant use of particle effects and shaders in Fire Strike. Not that it looks bad (well, it does at single digit frame rates on an HD 4000, but that's another matter), but making a nice looking demo is far different from making a good game. Shattered Horizon is a great example of this, IMO.

    Not sure if any of this helps, but of course you can grab the Basic Edition for free and run it on your own system. Or if you don't have a decent GPU, Futuremark posted videos of all three tests on YouTube I think.
  • euler007 - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - link

    Reminds me of the days where I had a bunch of batch files to replace my config.sys and autoexec.bat to change my setup depending on what I was doing. I used QEMM back in the days, dunno why I remember that.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - link

    QEMM or similar products were necessary until DOS 5.0 basically solved most of the issues. Hahaha... I remember all the Config.SYS tweaking as well. It was the "game before the game"!
  • HisDivineOrder - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - link

    Kids today have it easy.

    Remember when buying anything not Sound Blaster meant PC gaming hell? I mean, midi was the best it got if you didn't have a Sound Blaster. And that's if you were lucky. Sometimes, you'd just nothing. Total non-functional hell.

    I remember my PC screen being given its first taste of (bad) AA with smeared graphics because you had to put your 2d card through a pass-through to get 3dfx graphics and the signal degraded some doing the pass-through.

    I remember having to actually figure out IRQ conflicts. Without much help from either the system or the motherboard. Just had to suss them out. Or tough luck, dude.

    I remember back when you had all these companies working on x86 processors. Or when AMD and Intel chips could be used on the same motherboards. I remember when Intel told us we just HAD to have CPU's that slotted in via slot. Then told us all the cool kids didn't use slot any more a few years later.

    I can remember a day way back when that AMD used PR performance ratings to make up for the fact that Intel wanted to push speed over performance per clock. Ironic compared to how the two play out now on this front.

    I can remember when Plextor made fantastic optical drives on their own of their own design. And I can remember when we had three players in the GPU field.

    I remember the joy of the Celeron 300a and boosting that bad boy on an Abit BH6 to 450mhz. That thing flew faster than the fastest Pentium for a brief time there. I remember Abit.

    I remember...

    Dear God, at some point there, I started imagining myself as Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner at the end.

    "I've seen things you wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
  • Parhel - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - link

    I remember I bought the Game Blaster sound card maybe 6 months before the Sound Blaster came out, and how disappointed I was when I saw the Sound Blaster at the College of Dupage computer show. God, how I miss going to the computer show with my grandfather. I looked forward to it all month long. And the Computer Shopper magazine, in the early days. And reading newsgroups . . . Gosh, I'm getting old.

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