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A brief history of video cards: 64 GPUs tested from the last five years

How do older graphics cards compare to more current ones?

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Introduction

When we review a new graphics card on Hardware.Info and list the benchmark results, the charts also include other cards from the current and previous generation to put things in perspective. We typically don't go back further in time to avoid clutter, but also because we change the benchmarks at least once a year to stay up-to-date. That means we don't have the results of the old graphics cards in our latest benchmarks. When we add a new game to our benchmarks, we typically go back and test the most current two generations of cards.

Readers do wonder sometimes how a new graphics card compares to the older one in their desktop PC. How much faster is a GeForce GTX 680 really than a GeForce GTX 8800 GTX? How much more powerful is an AMD Radeon HD 7970 compared to the ATI Radeon HD 4870 or even 3870? Normally we can't answer a question like that in our GPU reviews, because too much time has passed between the two cards.

But curiosity finally got the best of us. We opened our vault, and after some spelunking we found 64 different graphics cards, starting with the ATI Radeon HD 3000 series and the Nvidia GeForce 8000 series. That means we are drawing the line at the moment when DirectX 10.0-supported cards appeared, which is about five years back in graphics card history.


We ran five benchmarks on each of the 64 graphics cards: 3DMark Vantage (the DirectX 10 version), Aliens vs Predator, BattleField 3, Dirt: Showdown and Spec Ops: The Line. We ran the games in Full HD resolution (1920x1080) on Medium settings.

We used the latest drivers. For Nvidia cards we use the GeForce driver 310.33 for all of them. AMD's claim that "one driver fits all" proved to be not entirely true. For the Radeon HD 3000 and 4000 series we had to rely on Catalyst 12.6, while the other were tested with version 12.11.

We focused purely on performance. Many of the cards obviously do not support DirectX 11, and in those cases the games run in DirectX 10 or 9 mode instead. Also, with Medium settings DirectX 11 effects are usually disabled anyway.

Our test PC consists of an Intel Core i7 3960X, 16 GB Corsair DDR3-1600 memory, an ASUS P7X79 Pro motherboard and Windows 7 x64.


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