5 Newest Pc Game Titles Tested
Reviewed by: ccokeman
Reviewed on: November 19, 2008
Ole Saint Nick is going to be making his rounds here in just over a month. I know you are wondering what the jolly fat man has to do with a performance evaluation. Well, the reason is that this time of the year is traditionally a strong selling season for games and the associated hardware that makes the games enjoyable. Sure, you could play with just about any video card out there but it's a matter of how much of the video experience you will be missing since many of the games I will be looking at look stunning with the video quality just about or completely maxed out. The question is what video card do you need to play at this level? Speaking of the games, there are five new game titles either just recently released or will be released in time for the holiday buying season. These games are "Far Cry 2" from Ubisoft, "Dead Space" from Electronic Arts, "Call of Duty World at War" from Activision, "Fallout 3" from Bethesda, and the newest release "Left for Dead" from Valve.
There are some among us who will always opt for the biggest and baddest computer gaming hardware money can buy. Top of the line memory, processors, motherboards and last, but certainly not least, the video card. Since that is really where the majority of your graphics performance is gained. Now back to the real world, where most of us play games with the best hardware we can afford and sacrifice some video quality and resolution to gain as much as we can from the almighty FPS gods. The $500 and up cards are strictly off limits as well as the $400 cards. More along the lines for most of us would be the $200 to $300 range. By us I mean the people who want better quality at higher resolutions but just can't see the value of the higher priced cards. We are the majority of buyers in this price range. So what can you get in this range? Well, everything from a 3 series ATI and 9 series Nvidia card on up to the top single GPU card in ATI's playing deck, the HD4870 1GB, and the lower tier GT200 offering from Nvidia, the GTX260 as well as the GTX260/216 core models. What this gives us is performance close to the top of the product lineup from both manufacturers for a more modest price.
That begs the question, just how well will these video cards play the latest games to be released? Well, that's what I will find out as I compare the performance of the top cards in the $200 to $300 price range. I want to see if there is one card that stands out over the other, kind of another ATI vs. Nvidia showdown, this time pitting two cards from ATI and two cards from Nvidia that realistically should compete head to head in a performance showdown using the latest PC game releases. Just in time for you to get your wishlist out to that same jolly fat man mentioned earlier. Just send your list to Santa: the North Pole and it will get there!
The video cards I will be testing will be the HD4870 with a 512MB frame buffer from Sapphire, HD4870 1GB from Diamond and the Nvidia GTX260/216 core from XFX in both stock and stock overclocked trim. The same cards that fit into the 200 to 300 dollar range we are playing in.
You undoubtedly have seen the spec sheets on all of the video cards so they will not be reproduced here. You may find links to them on the testing setup page. Let's see just how well these cards perform and if one is a better option than the other. In previous game testing there has not been a huge performance differential, so let's see if this holds true for this current crop of games.
The object of the game here (pardon the pun) is to see which of the high end video cards in the 200 to 300 dollar price range will offer the most bang for your buck. To do this we are using the five latest game titles that should be this season's hot sellers to showcase the performance of each of the video cards in this comparison. In the past some games have favored ATI (Call of Juarez) while others have favored the boys in green, Nvidia (Call of Duty 4).
- Processor: Intel Core2 Quad Q9450
- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X48-DQ6
- Memory: Mushkin XP2 Redline 8000 2 x 2GB 5-5-5-12
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800w Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: Seagate 1.5 Terabyte 7200.11
- Optical Drive: Lite-on DVD-RW
- OS: Windows Vista Ultimate
Comparison Video Cards:
- Sapphire HD4870
- Diamond HD4870 1GB
- XFX GTX260 Black Edition 576/1000 MHz
- XFX GTX260 Black Edition 666/1150 MHz
The benchmarks used in this review include the following:
- Far Cry 2
- Left For Dead
- Dead Space
- Call of Duty World at War
- Fallout 3
Far Cry 2 has been on the horizon for a while now and is finally here. Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built specially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation first person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out The Jackal, a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfil your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force. In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. To get a feel for the game I ran through about thirty minutes of gameplay to grab some shots of the games to show the graphics quality.
- 4x Anti Aliasing
- Ultra High
- Ranch Small timedemo
At all four resolutions the ATI cards have not been able to reach the level of performance of the Nvidia GTX260/216 core card. The difference in performance between the two top cards is about 17% and with the stock clocked card the difference drops to about 7%, or 3 FPS. Not huge, but still a difference.
Left For Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie I Am Legend comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival! Below are several screenshots to show some in-game action.
- All in game settings to maximum
At 1024x768 there is no doubt the game is CPU bound as the cards perform almost identically. Start moving up the scale and the Green camp starts pulling away. The difference between the 1GB ATI offering and the stock GTX 260/216 is roughly 3%. Move up to the Black Edition at its default clocks and that gap widens drastically.
As part of the crew of the USG Kellion you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse as starting with the crash landing and seemingly silent and "Dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru. Again, there are some screen shots of real gameplay to show a bit of the action. In one frame a Nicromorph is visible right before an attack from behind.
- All in game settings to maximum
Somewhere earlier I spoke about how some games are more geared toward the Nvidia side of the fence. This game would be one of those games where the performance differential between the ATI HD4870 and the GTX260/216 core is just huge. 36 FPS at 1920x1200 is how far ahead of the 1GB 4870 the stock clocked Nividia card is ahead of the top single GPU card from ATI. This equates to a 27% increase in performance. 27%! The gap in performance only gets wider when the factory overclocked Black Edition is set to its default clock speeds.
Activision's Call Of Duty World at War goes right back to the franchise's bread and butter, WWII FPS action. In this rendition you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought COD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a large resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare performance of these video cards.
- All in game settings to maximum
- FPS measured via Fraps
There is not a video card in this comparison that has unplayable frame rates at any resolution at the maximum possible settings in the game. The Nvidia cards clearly have the superior framerates in all four resolutions. The difference between a stock GTX260/216 core card and the HD4870 1GB equates to 12 frames per second. As a percentage this is a 21 percent improvement. The gap grows to 26 percent when comparing the overclocked GTX260 card to the HD4870 1GB card. Do I see a broom hanging around the corner? Because this one is a clean swep for the boys in green.
Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.
- 4x Anti Aliasing
- 15x Anisotropic Filtering
- All other in-game settings to maximum
In this game there is not a lot of separation in the number of frames per second that each card delivers. If you can tell the difference between 66 and 68 frames per second you are better than me. If this is your game the only real determining factor when it comes time to purchase a video card will be price. With performance this close there really is no advantage to one or the other in real gameplay. Most people will max out with 1920x1200 instead of spending the big coin on a monitor capable of 2560x1600. These cards can pull the 1920 resolution with no problem and provide excellent gameplay.
There you have it folks, the five latest really interesting games to be released from a bevy of game developers. The graphics quality of the games we play continues to improve as the technology is made available to play at better than medium settings for a reasonable price. Since the price of games keeps rising (currently everything seems to release at the $49.99 price point in the US of A), the dollars available to spend on that latest video card just keeps shrinking. Kind of the reasoning behind this article was to see just how well some of the heavy hitters in $200 to $300 price range ran with the maximum or close to maximum settings in the latest games. Just in time for you to make that Christmas wish list so that the jolly fat man can make that special delivery to your door.
Performance-wise, the boys in green swept the field in the 1920x1200 resolution testing, not by a large margin in some games but more FPS is more FPS. The performance differences in Far Cry 2, Fallout 3 and Left For Dead are not that large at 3, 2, and 2 FPS when comparing a stock GTX260/216 card to the HD4870 1GB card in my testing. On the other hand, in Dead Space and Call of Duty World at War the Nvidia card offered huge performance increases when compared to the 1GB HD4870. Call of Duty WaW with a 21% improvement and a 27% increase in Dead Space at 1920x1200. That's huge.
There is not a single game in this performance preview that is unplayable at either maximum or close to maximum settings. Something that can be appreciated after the Crysis bomb was dropped and was found to be all but unplayable with any real quality if you wanted a decent FPS. So where on the price ladder do the latest cards fall? A valid question when your hard earned dollars are at stake. Well, with a quick search on Newegg I found that the HD4870 512MB could be had for as little as $210 while the 1GB version ran as low as $265, both solidly in the middle and lower end of the range. For the boys in green the GTX260/216 core can be had for as little as $229, while the lowest price on a factory overclocked card came in at $239, $25 cheaper than the 1GB HD4870. At least in this game and hardware comparison you have to give the Nvidia camp the win. The company is now competing on price as well as performance and seem to be on the winning side of the fence this go around. The margin is slim at times but higher performance with a decent price will always come out on top for the price conscious buyer, that being most of us!