In the world of gaming, benchmarks are essential tools for evaluating the performance of gaming systems. One benchmarking tool that has withstood the test of time is 3DMark. Last Thursday, UL Solutions celebrated the 25th birthday of this evergreen game graphics benchmarking tool. Since its inception in the early days of DirectX 6, 3DMark has continuously evolved to showcase the latest graphics features and technology. Despite its declining ubiquity, the fact that it is still relevant after two and a half decades is a testament to its longevity and significance within the gaming community.
The first version of 3DMark, called 3DMark99 (released in 1998), utilized an engine similar to the one that powered Max Payne, Remedy Entertainment’s first 3D game. It was succeeded by 3DMark2000 in the following year, which took advantage of the new graphics API from Microsoft, DirectX 7. This marked the beginning of a trend where MadOnion (later renamed Futuremark) would release a new version of 3DMark with each iteration of DirectX. Subsequent releases such as 3DMark2001 and 3DMark03 showcased the capabilities of DirectX 8 and DirectX 9, respectively, demonstrating the power of vertex and pixel shaders.
As 3DMark evolved, the graphics tests became increasingly complex. In 3DMark05, the CPU test was updated to better reflect the workloads processors would undergo in a game. However, by this point, the graphics tests in 3DMark started to deviate from actual game scenes. Although the rendering techniques remained the same, there was a lack of tests that resembled proper FPS scenarios or flight simulators. Despite this divergence from real gameplay, 3DMark remained a popular choice for benchmarkers and overclockers, as it provided an unbiased platform for evaluating the performance of graphics cards.
In 2008, 3DMark Vantage introduced a significant change to the benchmarking tool. While it still lacked true game-like tests, Futuremark utilized its expertise in graphics programming to create a genuine game called Shattered Horizon. Unfortunately, the global credit crunch of that year had adverse effects on Futuremark, resulting in the company spinning off multiple sections. The game side eventually went to Rovio Software. In 2014, UL acquired Futuremark, a company synonymous with safety testing in the science and technology fields. Despite the changes in ownership, 3DMark continued its journey, and the version available today remains unchanged since 2013.
Today, 3DMark is updated with new tests rather than releasing entirely new packages. UL Solutions deserves credit for keeping all of the original 3DMark programs accessible, although running the oldest versions on modern machines can be challenging. Nevertheless, the current form of 3DMark is the most versatile it has ever been, covering a range of platforms and hardware levels. While the graphics tests may not resemble actual games, the underlying workloads remain comparable. Users can still test their gaming PCs and compare their scores with others, making 3DMark a valuable tool for benchmarking and overclocking.
Despite criticisms that benchmarking can be done within individual games or through community forums, 3DMark remains a popular choice among hardware enthusiasts. One reason for its enduring popularity is its impartiality. Unlike other graphics card tests that may favor specific vendors, 3DMark provides a level playing field for all system components. This impartiality is precisely why GPU reviews still utilize 3DMark as a reliable benchmarking tool. Its longevity suggests that it will likely continue to be embraced by the PC gaming community for years to come.
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of 3DMark, one cannot help but speculate about its future. Will the PC Gamer hardware team continue to rely on this benchmarking tool in the year 2048? Only time will tell. However, given its resilience and adaptability over the last two and a half decades, it is entirely possible that 3DMark will evolve in response to new technologies, ensuring it remains a staple in the world of gaming benchmarks.