The History of (and Nostalgia for) 3DMark
As a old-school PC gamer, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about 3DMark – the iconic benchmark software, and a staple in PC gaming for over two decades. Each iteration has pushed the limits of 3D graphics, giving a tantilizing glimpse at future gaming tech.
It all started back in May 1997, when a talented team of developers at Remedy Entertainment released the Final Reality benchmark, in cooperation with VNU Labs. I vividly remember benchmark runs with the 3D Rage Pro, Intel i740 and 3Dfx Voodoo2 😎
Soon after, the team left Remedy to form Futuremark, releasing 3DMark99 in October 1998. Using DirectX 6 and Remedy’s MAX-FX engine, 3DMark99 was one of the first benchmarks to be directly targeted at the 3D gaming:
3DMark99 was an instant hit, and 3DMark 2000 soon followed in December 2000. This time the focus was on DirectX 7, with the Helicopter and Adventure tests featuring hardware transform and lighting, bump mapping, and LOD scaling. I bought a GeForce 256 for this!
3D tech was moving fast, and 3DMark2001 arrived in March 2001. Supporting DirectX 8, this was the last version of 3DMark to use the MAX-FX engine. It was the first 3D benchmark to feature vertex shaders, pixel shaders and full scene anti-aliasing (FSAA) – the Matrix-style Lobby test is especially memorable!
After a year break, 3DMark03 released in February 2003. It is the first version that supports DirectX 9 and the first to include CPU tests. 3DMark03 does not use a third party engine for any of the tests – lightweight DirectX wrappers are used instead. The tests are Wings of Fury, Battle of Proxycon, Troll’s Lair and Mother Nature:
3DMark05 was released in September 2004. Like 3DMark03, it is based on DirectX 9 – but this time all graphics tests require hardware support for at least Shader Model 2.0. With up to 2 million polygons on screen, 3DMark05 raised the bar for gaming benchmarks. Game tests include Return to Proxycon, Firefly Forest and Canyon Flight:
An incremental upgrade over 3DMark05, 3DMark06 was released in January 2006. The three game tests from 3DMark05 were carried over and updated, and a fourth new test “Deep Freeze” was added. Support for Shader Model 3.0 effects was also added:
Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage in April 2008. The first DirectX 10 benchmark, Vantage requires Windows Vista or newer. It includes the Jane Nash and New Calico graphics tests, an AI test, a physics test and six feature tests:
3DMark 11 made extensive use of the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. It was released on December 2010 and requires Windows 7 or newer. It includes the Deep Sea and High Temple graphics tests, a Physics test, and a Combined test:
The most recent iteration, simply titled 3DMark, was released in February 2013. Unlike previous versions, 3DMark features separate benchmark tests - Ice Storm, Sling Shot, Cloud Gate, Sky Diver, Night Raid, Fire Strike and Time Spy – with each producing its own score. Scores from Windows, Android and iOS can also be compared – making this the first version of 3DMark to enable cross-platform performance comparisons. A real-time ray tracing test (“Port Royal”) was added in January 2019: