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GAME PERFORMANCE

Games over time have become increasingly more demanding. Most games have several options to change the rendering pipeline for those with less powerful video cards. Today the modern video card can be considered as a massively parallel supercomputer that is specialized for game rendering. Cray supercomputers now use a GPU to perk up performance.

GAME CLIENTS

Lots of game clients all want in on the action. The problem is that they really bog down a machine at boot time, not to mention they are probably spyware too. We strongly recommend removing all such clients from automatically starting with Windows.

 

GAME CLIENT MEMORY FOOTPRINT
Steam 106.1 MB
Origin 105.9 MB
Arc 72.1 MB
uPlay 150.6 MB
TOTAL 447 MB

Given that most machines in 2014 have 4096MB or less RAM installed, this is a significant amount of load. Windows 8.1 x64 and up can use the task manager to disable programs from autorun.

uPlay uses Qt which is cross platform middleware. CPU idle is very high with uPlay..

DRIVERS

Its always advisable to download the newest drivers for all hardware including the GPU. We never use driver options and leave them all at the default.

Forcing game options is the reason for 99% of problems reported. There is no one-size-fits-all with PC games. Only use in game options. This way each game is tuned to the relative performance of a particular machine.

CFX AND SLI

NVIDIA diver does not enable SLI by default. AMD enables CFX by default. Check your options to be sure dual and triple video card rigs are configured properly.

Many games have issues with dual graphics cards as developers generally design games for a single card. Sometimes support is provided with a patch.

LCD RESOLUTIONS

Most games are designed for the console market so they are designed for 720p and/or 1080p. These resolutions have one thing in common, they are evenly divisible by 8.

  • 1920 / 8 = 240
  • 1200 / 8 = 150
  • 1680 / 8 = 210
  • 1280 / 8 = 160
  • 1080 / 8 = 135
  • 1050 / 8 = 131.5 < ERROR, not divisible by 8
  • 1024 / 8 = 128
  • 900 / 8 = 112.5 < ERROR, not divisible by 8
  • 768 / 8 = 96
  • 600 / 8 = 75

Using a panel that is full HD is the best bet for having the best performance. Due to the higher number of pixels it does require a relatively strong gaming card to provide adequate performance. A single GTX 260 is hard pressed and tends to be a bottleneck. Faster cards like the GTX 680 or HD 7970 are much better suited for 1080p gaming.

Our AL1916, while old, is divisible by 8 which is a lot easier for game engines to render. This makes the old panel much less demanding compared to the PA238QR. 4K and 8K UHD panels are perfect scaling of HD 1920×1080 to minimize costs.

4K UHD

The new 4K UHD televisions and monitors are still early in the cycle and panels like the Asus PA321Q are not real 4K but are made of tiled panels. It will take a few  years before manufacturers are able to correct problems. Even HDMI is unable to provide enough bandwidth. DisplayPort has the bandwidth but its still not widely used. Our GTX 660 Ti has DisplayPort which affords us the 4K60 use if desired. Our HD 6970 has 2 mini DisplayPort connectors. Splitters to convert DisplayPort to 3 HDMI ports are available.

Games at 4K60 has 4 times the pixels making much more demanding. Today even 4-way GTX Titan SLI cannot manage many games at 4K60. 4K and 8K are being used for film, games will lag far behind for economic reasons.

Until HDMI and BD are modernized the rush for 4K seems a bit hasty. HDMI 2.0 has been standardized but adoption will take some time. Battlefield 3 is supporting 3840×2160 resolution. Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4 also support 2160p. By the time 4K reaches the mass market all of the needed components will be ready in 2H2016.

BENCHMARKING

We use the Windows task manager and run it in the background when testing games. We also use MSI Afterburner OSD to see the onscreen framerate. GPU-Z is a GPU monitor we use to check VRAM usage. We use memtest86 to test the RAM. These are the only tools needed to optimize performance.

If you set the game to its lowest settings and the game still cannot achieve 60 fps then a faster video card is necessary. We were using a pair of GTX 260s however some new titles wanted a DX 11 class card so we upgraded to a EVGA GTX 660 Ti FTW Signature 2 which is able to play games mostly on high graphics. Our Sapphire HD 6970 also can play most games on high graphics.

Some games have built-in benchmarks which are very popular. Metro 2033 continues to be widely used and now Metro: Last Light has taken over as being more demanding. Over time as more graphics cards are found we intend to expand benchmark tables.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Most games have very modest system requirements. Typically to get the fastest performance out of a game is to lower the resolution to the minimum and then reduce the graphics to the lowest setting. Our PA238QR can support 640×480 VGA which is very undemanding compared to HDTV 1920×1080. The recent move to 3840×2160 requires stupendous performance from video cards.

All LCD panels can operate at older VESA standard resolutions fine and this is the best strategy to increasing game play. Typically 800×600 is the lowest setting in modern games however a few are 1024×768. Other classic games may offer wide screen resolutions. A GTX 260 continues to be far beyond the minimum required for modern games. We upgraded to a Sapphire HD 6970 primarily to be able to play more games at 1920×1080. Over time PC gamers need to replaced their video cards at least every 3-5 years.

DX9

DirectX 9 more or less overlaps the Xbox and PS/2 for system requirements. Playing games at 1600×1200 requires significantly more graphics performance. When Halo: Combat Evolved was released for Windows, most were unable to play the game even at 640×480. The Xbox featured a 7800 GT which was expensive in 2003. Halo was so successful that is motivated many to upgrade their machines.

DX10

DirectX 10 shipped with Windows Vista and it more or less overlaps the Xbox 360 and PS/3 for system requirements. The Xbox 360 featured an x1900 which was expensive in 2007. When Crysis was released for Windows it was considered demanding. Metro 2033 is very popular and it has an integrated benchmark. Our BFG GTX 260 MaxCore 55 supports up to DX10.

DX11

DirectX 11 shipped with Windows 7 and Vista was upgraded shortly thereafter. DX11 more or less overlaps the Xbox One and PS/4 for system requirements.  The Xbox One uses the HD 7790. When DX12 was announced Microsoft announced it would also be available for the Xbox One. The PS/4 featured the HD 7850 which less expensive that earlier generation.  Its likely Sony will use DX12 for the PS4 to maintain a good pool of games. Our EVGA GTX 660 Ti FTW Signature 2, Sapphire HD 6970 and Asus EAH5450 512MB all support DX11.

DX12

See the page on Windows 10 for more information on DX12. Windows 10 with DirectX 12 bring the API to the consoles which are considered low-end PC machines. NVIDIA video cards featuring DX12 were available months before Windows 10 was generally available but they lacked HDMI 2.0 capability. HDMI 2.0 and 3820×2160 resolution are now motivating new video card designs which will support a new hardware upgrade cycle. The performance gains with DX12 will offset the demands of moving to higher resolution panels. Running a pair of enthusiast video cards is far too expensive for the mainstream. Our EVGA GTX 660 Ti FTW Signature 2 supports DX12.

GAME OPTIONS

Enabling every option in a game like Metro 2033 can reduce the framerate significantly. Crysis 2 is another title that is considered very brutal. There has been much competition between game publishers over who has the most demanding game. Very few gamers use a top shelf video card like the GTX 980 Ti or R9 Fury X.

Grand Theft Auto V Options Screen

Looking at the Grand Theft Auto V options (above) we can see there are many options that can reduce game performance. Reducing the shadow quality to minimum and texture quality to minimum will get the to run the fastest. Depending on the CPU performance and GPU performance it may be possible to increase the textures and shadows without breaking 60 fps.

There are so many different game engines with different options that its hard to generalize. Over time, the sector now depends as much on shader model as it does with extended options.

ANTIALIASING

The most common form of AA a few years ago was supersampling which is a brute force method that pretty much just increases the resolution of the entire image within the graphics card to remove jaggedness, then its is scaled back to the screen resolution. Additional VRAM is used to increase the resolution of the supersamples. Most modern 3D cards don’t exactly draw a higher-resolution screen. Rather, they calculate, store, and combine “subpixel samples” for each pixel to perk up speed. AA has been used in games from the DOS period onwards.

As screen resolutions increase the load for AA rises considerably. Many game reviews even try benchmarking games with AA turned off even with extreme video cards.

Multisampling (MSAA) is a newer form of AA which came about through incorporating optimizations into graphics hardware to perform more efficient AA. It can still reduce performance, especially at higher resolutions, but less so on more recent graphics cards. MSAA provides a good compromise between image quality and performance.

Older cards like our BFG GTX 260 MaxCore 55 with 896MB VRAM can support 2x or possibly 4x AA at 1920xx1080. More recent cards like our EVGA GTX 660 Ti FTW Signature 2 or Sapphire HD 6970 have additional VRAM to better support 1920×1080. The trend for additional VRAM is being driven mostly by the 3820×2160 LCD panels which have quadruple the resolution which places very high demands on video cards.


MIPMAP

The idea of a mipmap is to use a texture that is stored in a resampled range of sizes so that it would be ready to go immediately. This reduced the computational load for more distant objects. Generally a mipmap may have a cascade of 8 sizes scaled over powers of 2. This idea solves the problem of widely varying screen resolutions effectively.

ANISOTROPIC FILTERING

Anisotropic filtering improves the clarity and crispness of textured objects in games. Antialiasing will not resolve another graphical glitch common of mainly blurry surfaces on more distant objects. Anisotropic filtering came from work on texture filtering and bilinear filtering. These texture filtering methods are isotropic methods. They use a filtering pattern which is square and works the same in all directions. However as we’ve seen the common problem with texture blurriness in games occurs on textures which are receding into the distance, which means they require a non-square (typically rectangular or trapezoidal) filtering pattern. Such a pattern is referred to as an ‘an-isotropic’ filtering method.

PARTICLES

Particle systems are very demanding and games like Cryostasis use dripping water which is a good example. Most efforts for particles have used sprite graphics to represent each particle. A regular 3D mesh object, such as a cube or a plane, can be used as an emitter. Such games tend to be extremely demanding and we like them for benchmarking. Extreme gaming cards are needed for games featuring particle systems. Even our GTX 660 Ti is hard pressed to get 57 fps with FluidMark which is a popular OpenGL benchmark. Far Cry and Bioshock are some examples of other games with a lot of water.

AMBIENT OCCLUSION

Screen space ambient occlusion first was used with Crysis. Its a pixel shader, analyzing the scene depth buffer which is stored in a texture. For every pixel on the screen, the pixel shader samples the depth values around the current pixel and tries to compute the amount of occlusion from each of the sampled points. In its simplest implementation, the occlusion factor depends only on the depth difference between sampled point and current point.

TESSELLATION

Tessellation is a feature of DirectX 9 and higher. Its only by the time DirectX 11 shipped that video cards have become powerful enough to take better advantage. With the new graphics system introduced with Windows Vista, the entire graphics stack was rebuilt. Graphics cards are simply SIMD ALUs with some specialized instructions that are frequently seen in games. New generation cards uses a different pipeline to be able to support tessellation.

The tessellation in DirectX 11 has been redesigned to calculate a more detailed surface from a surface constructed from quad patches, triangle patches or isolines. To approximate the high-ordered surface, each patch is subdivided into triangles, points, or lines using tessellation factors. The Direct3D 11 pipeline implements tessellation using three new pipeline stages. The tessellation, along with shaders allows for producing smoother surfaces than would be generated by the original mesh.

Popular games like Aliens vs. Predator and Metro 2033 use tessellation to produce smooth-looking models and developers at Valve and id Software have done promising work on applying these techniques to their existing game characters. For example, PN-Triangles is used in Stalker: Call of Pripyat to produce smoother, more organic looking characters.


POST FX

Post FX comes from the film industry, again. Iron Man 3 used Post FX to provide the 3D view of breaking glass. Some of the new generation shaders can be rather demanding.

MOTION BLUR

When an animal’s eye is in motion, the image will suffer from motion blur, resulting in an inability to resolve details. This effect is common in video games which try to emulate human visual capability. Sports need a fast image so blur is undesirable. Excessive blur can be seen in some older LCD panels which have a very slow response time.

BLOOM LIGHTING

Bloom (sometimes referred to as light bloom or glow) is a computer graphics effect used in video games, demos and high dynamic range rendering to reproduce an imaging artifact of real-world cameras. The effect produces fringes (or feathers) of light extending from the borders of bright areas in an image, contributing to the illusion of an extremely bright light overwhelming the camera or eye capturing the scene.

LENS FLARE

Lens flare is the light scattered in lens systems through generally unwanted image formation mechanisms, such as internal reflection and scattering from material inhomogeneities in the lens. These mechanisms differ from the intended image formation mechanism that depends on refraction of the image rays. Flare manifests itself in two ways: as visible artifacts, and as a haze across the image. The haze makes the image look “washed out” by reducing contrast and color saturation (adding light to dark image regions, and adding white to saturated regions, reducing their saturation). Visible artifacts, usually in the shape of the lens iris, are formed when light follows a pathway through the lens that contains one or more reflections from the lens surfaces.

DEPTH OF FIELD

In optics, particularly as it relates to film and photography, depth of field, also called focus range or effective focus range, is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image. Although a lens can precisely focus at only one distance at a time, the decrease in sharpness is gradual on each side of the focused distance, so that within the depth of field, the  relative sharpness is imperceptible under normal viewing conditions.

DIRECTX

DirectX started back with Windows 95 and was updated several times as with Windows 98 until Windows XP finally delivered DirectX 9. DX 9 today is widely supported by games even long after extended support ended. Most games through 2014 still support DirectX 9 the GTX 260 can play games easily. It was only in 2013 that Crysis 3 required a DirectX 11 card.

We have numerous DirectX 10 games and these are definitely much more demanding. Windows 7 introduced DirectX 11 but Microsoft also updated Vista to DirectX 11 using service pack 2. More recently Windows 8.1 continues to support DirectX 11. At a game developers conference in Q1 2014, Microsoft announced DirectX 12. Generally any DX11 class card will be suitable and new generation video cards ship in sync with the new version of Windows. Our GTX 660 Ti is DirectX 11 and DX 12 will be able to support the card fine as DX 12 is more of a refinement than a major upgrade. AMD and NVIDIA began offering DX12 cards many months before Windows 10 reached RTM. Our older HD 6970 has been dropped by AMD for DX12 support but NVIDIA is supporting our GTX 660 Ti.

BETTER GPU

Modern games now have so many new shaders to contend with, it means that more and more cores are needed to keep up. Not long after Crysis 3 shipped that some idiot who did not check system requirements, tried to play this game on a GT 210. This is one of the most demanding games of 2013 and it stresses even the best video cards available. This person needs at least 2 things, a new PSU and a GTX Titan X or better. Worse, the heat generated likely damaged the person’s card.

SLI/CFX

Some extreme gaming rigs use a pair of video cards. We investigated GTX 660 Ti SLI and noticed it was more then a match for the demanding games we have when considering the panel resolution. The same can be said for HD 7970 CFX. Dual graphics cards are at their best with 1080p or higher resolutions. The upcoming 4K resolutions will be extremely demanding. To render 4 times the number of pixels will need likely 25+ TFLOPS to play Crysis 3 cranked up. Generally the best results are seen with cards in the $300+ range where the enthusiast GPUs are available. In practice the extreme segments of the market are very small which makes the market more fragmented.


GEFORCE EXPERIENCE

The GeForce experience tool for game settings still sets the games way too slow. We like stable 60 fps game play which makes a shooter much more enjoyable as compared to 30 fps. We configure games like Metro 2033 to normal and the game runs fine with our GTX 660 Ti. This is done to drive video card sales when gamers see the game runs too slow. Reality is reducing the graphics back to default does wonders for the game performance. Game developers use excessive antialiasing etc. to make the game more demanding to drive video card sales too.

SYSTEM ISSUES

Check the BIOS and make sure the the high precision timer is enabled. Older motherboards may lack that hardware which limits the ability for Windows Vista and higher to run efficiently. Modern machines have many improvements and overall performance is greatly enhanced.

If you are experiencing problems with game performance since updating your drivers etc. It may be time for a clean install of Windows. Windows can get mangled with conflicting drivers and game problems. The advantage is game not being actively played will be removed which frees up space for new games. Modern 2 TB+ disks however can hold hundreds of games. Install all of the Windows updates before installing games.

CPU & CHIPSET

AMD and Intel compete in the PC gaming CPU market. AMD sells into the lower priced DIY market segment where incremental upgrades are popular. Intel is widely used with boutique gaming machines who assemble to order. The PS4 and Xbox One have X8 processors running at 1.6GHz so any desktop X8 CPU from AMD or Intel will be much faster. Our Phenom II X4 running at 4.0GHz is also fast enough. AMD X8 processors are still comparatively power hungry suggesting the trend remains unabated. Intel’s i7 processors are equally demanding.

COST OF COMPUTATION

In computer science there is the idea of computational cost for an algorithm. Even a game is an algorithm, albeit a complex one. A GTX 660 Ti is well over 2 TFLOPS. Games are popular as benchmarks which has allowed much more work with computer graphics to be developed. Modern graphics cards provide a stupendous amount of brute force computation to the desktop.

Enabling ambient occlusion in Brink costs over 250 GFLOPS to use at 1920×1080. Obviously options will vary from game to game. Increasing the panel resolution increases the load stupendously. 3840×2160 is 4x more demanding than 1920×1080. 7680×4320 is again 4 time more demanding again.

DX12 is more of a lower level refinement that should make all recent video cards run much better. By taking advantage of the segmented architecture, modern multicore processors can now each use the GPU independently. With smaller feature sizes eventually a GPU with 10-15 TFLOPS each should be possible with 14nm.

COMPARATIVE GPU PERFORMANCE CHART

The red ones are the 9th generation console GPUs to beat. The bar is so low that consoles are seen as a low-end PC. This is mostly to reduce game development costs.

See the page that features a graph of the relative performance of video cards.

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