The Witcher series. Even just saying the name usually invokes an instant emotional response in most PC gaming enthusiasts. Some love it, some hate it, very few fall in-between those extremes. With its awe inspiring visuals, deep multi-layered themes, and game play time that is best rated in weeks Witcher 3 continues the grand tradition of being considered either the ultimate time waster or the ultimate waste of time. Yes the Witcher series is controversial, but unlike previous installments, Witcher 3 is not without controversy surrounding features added to the game engine. Literally before it was even released AMD was calling foul on how NVIDIA’s “HairWorks” was going to unfairly hobble AMD cards in this highly anticipated game. Such claims are a dime a dozen and most people pay them no mind.

However, one side effect of this seemingly purposeful handicapping of the ‘other team’ did pique our interest. Unlike the usual shots fired in this ‘war’, word quickly spread on how NIVIDIA not only cut AMD off at the knees but also previous NVIDIA 7 series owners. The most interesting of these rumors is that a lowly NVIDIA GeForce 960 GTX can outperform a last generation GeForce 780 GTX video card! The rumor then enters the realm of conspiracy theory by stating that NVIDIA has purposely hobbled the previous 7 series via firmware so as to make consumers upgrade again. That to us is dirty pool, and deserves to be investigated.

In order to get to the bottom of this we have taken 6 NVIDIA cards (four 9 series, two 7 series), one AMD card, and created a real world benchmark using Witcher 3. Unlike our typical benchmarks, this one is special in that it not only tests 1080P and 1440P resolutions, but tests both using two different settings. Specifically we created a timed run through that first uses the ‘Ultra’ setting (with VSNYC off) and then a second test using the same run through with Ultra settings enabled but with HairWorks and VSYNC set to off. This gives us four individual test results instead of the usual just two.

With these results we can instantly see how big a deal HairWorks is and if the rumor is indeed correct. More importantly we can see if NVIDIA is the only video card manufacture that can run ‘properly’ run The Witcher 3, or if AMD cards can also provide an enjoyable gaming experience.

Testing Methodology

To fully test the abilities of a given video card, we have used a blend of in-game benchmarks and custom recorded real world game benchmarking. For custom game play we have used FRAPS to record the minimum and average frame rates and to do so for a set period of time. All tests were run a minimum of four times and the scores are the average of all four runs.

All games were patched to their latest version. The OS was a fresh clean install of Windows 7 with all latest hotfixes, patches and updates applied. All games were tested at the two of the most popular resolutions of 1080P (1920×1080) and then again at 1440P (2560×1440). This means each game tested was run a minimum of 8 times: 4 @ 1080P and 4 @1440P. Before testing Unigine’s Valley benchmark was run for 15 minutes to ‘warm up’ the video card. This was done to ensure that long term performance and not short term performance is being illustrated.

The games used for testing were:
Witcher 3

For stress testing we used Unigine’s Valley benchmark.

GeForce 352.86
AMD Catalyst: 15.4

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 5930K
Memory: 16GB GSkill Ripjaws 4 DDR4-3000
Motherboard: Asus Sabertooth X99
Cooling: Noctua U12S
SSD: 1x Seagate 600 Pro 400GB, 2x Intel DC S3700 800GB SSDs.
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i
Monitor: Dell U2714H
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1

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