The showdown: DX9 vs DX10

DX10 vs. DX9

So we put two machines together and organised a pitched battle to see how they handle the newest DX10 supporting games.

Some games saw the DX10 rig outclass the DX9 system entirely (such as Lost Planet), while others muddied the waters for Microsoft's claims of a prettier tomorrow. The big shock was Company of Heroes, which looked pretty much the same in both DX9 and DX10, but represented a far more staccato experience under DX10, juddering in places where the DX9 version just sailed on through.

Who then needs an upgrade? Admittedly there are subtle graphical touches offered by the DX10 code paths that can make it look slightly better, particularly volumetric effects (like fog and light beams). But none are enough to warrant the premium being charged for the hardware needed to run them.

We don't have a problem with the fact that DirectX 10 is merely an incremental upgrade - the differences between some of the previous iterations have often been very subtle. But with some of the games here actually looking less impressive that their DX9 equivalents ( Bioshock, for instance, doesn't support anti-aliasing in DX10), you can't help thinking that things are not at all well in the world.

An unappetising upgrade

Returning to our original question: is it really worth upgrading to get DirectX 10? In light of our experiences in this report, we'd have to say a sad, but fat 'No', at least not just yet. The cost of upgrading to Windows Vista, and the performance hit you get from running Microsoft's new OS, makes the whole thing entirely unappetising.

More importantly, DX10 hardware just offers a smoother experience in DX9 - and that's ultimately worth far more than a few graphical tweaks. In other words DX9 is still where it's at for the foreseeable future.

One conclusion from all this is that if you do want to stick your neck out and future proof your system, then going down the DirectX 10 route limits your graphics card purchase to a single family of cards - i.e. the 8800 series (ranging from the GTS to the Ultra).

The more mainstream offerings from both AMD and Nvidia are simply too slow at DX10, plus they're largely unremarkable at the DX9 rendering as well. In fact, if nothing else, this group of tests has confirmed our belief that the likes of the X1950 Pro and XT are where the sensible money is at.

What do developers make of all of this? The current lack of DX10 titles (and a distinct lack of announced games in the works) speaks volumes, and we've talked to plenty of developers that simply dismiss the idea of a DX10-only title for financial reasons - the market is simply too small.

The main reason for this is cost. We refuse to cough up three times as much dough for a DX10 rig in order to get effectively the same gaming experience. Sure, the splodes are a little prettier but are they £700 prettier? Not on your nelly. Without a doubt, the winner of our showdown is the mighty DX9.

This article first appeared in PC Format magazine (issue 208)

Company of Heroes

As the first commercially available DX10 full game - demos for Lost Planet and Call of Juarez came out a month earlier - Company of Heroes has something to live up to. Unfortunately for all those out there hoping to be blown away by the next-gen visuals, the performance just isn't there.

The DX9 machine outperformed our PCF uber-rig hands down in the DX9 vs DX10 test, and there's still precious little to choose between them visually.The main visual difference is in the lighting; shadows and light sources are now far more realistically employed.