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Nvidia's Dawning trouble

Trouble at t'mill, not far from Cottingley nor Leprechaunia
Fri May 23 2003, 21:29
There-apos-s-fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden FROM WHAT we've heard through the grapevine, Nvidia is none too happy about the patching of Dawn so that it'd run on any ATI card capable of rendering DX9 function calls. I happen to run a Radeon 9700 in my main rig and have been curious about the Dawn demo ever since Nvidia released it, so I promptly grabbed the patch and spent the next 40 minutes experimenting with what the little pixie could do.

For those of who you've never seen the demo, it's an amazing program that demonstrates a level of visual precision and accuracy not seen before in computing. Dawn's facial expressions, movements, and skin tone all are orders of magnitude more advanced than the texture maps we've seen overlayed across a wire frame to form a face in games like Voyager: Elite Force, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, or even Jedi Knight II. It's incredibly impressive—and therein lies the problem.

I'd always personally wondered why Nvidia didn't release Dawn (even in a reduced-quality form) for other video cards. Granted, the demo might not have looked as good, but surely DX8-capable cards could've found workarounds. After all, it's still possible to play modern games that use DX8 using DX7 hardware. Keeping Dawn under wraps when she was supposed to represent the true potential of Nvidia's CineFX technology didn't make much sense. How, after all, are buyers supposed to buy a product based on future benefits they can't examine?

Now, however, we know why Nvidia never released Dawn for any other video cards. Not only can the Radeon 9700/9800 render the little pixie just as well as any GF FX-equipped card, there's some unofficial evidence that suggests ATI's flagship products are even better at it then Nvidia's, even when using an OpenGL wrapper, which, as we all know, degrades video performance.

When Nvidia released the ill-fated NV30 architecture last year the corporation knew it lacked the ability to compete on raw speed with the Radeon 9700, so it chose to focus on high-end features, support for its Cg programming language, and, of course, the wealth of visual splendour the new CineFX architecture would make possible. CineFX was, at least according to marketing, something special and unique, something that Nvidia implied that ATI cards couldn't do nearly as well or as completely.

Looks like that's not the case at all. Dawn appears to like ATI cards just fine, making us wonder if Nvidia will fire the little scamp and replace her with her evil sister Dusk, who put in quite an appearance at E3. Good help is evidently hard to find these days.

There's a number of ways Nvidia could respond to this and we wouldn't be surprised to see a little marketing muscle flexing and some published comments on how the FX still retains a subtle advantage over ATI when rendering Dawn and comments on the need for a wrapper, etc, etc but Nvidia's advantage has been largely lost. The 9700 Pro might not have the name "CineFX" anywhere in its design specs, but it's obviously capable of the same sort of technology. Since this was Nvidia's hugely-touted feature it leaves you wondering what exactly the GF FX architecture really brings to the table at all. µ

See Also
Nvidia's Pixie demo now runs on ATI cards

L'INQ
Arthur Conan Doyle's Cottingley Fairies

 

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