Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis

With Battlefield 3 rapidly eating into our weekends, evenings, lunchtimes and any other period of time which we can justify dropping in for a few rounds, we were interested to see just how demanding it is on our PCs. After all, developer DICE has in the past stated that to run the game at its ultra settings would require a multi-GPU SLI or CrossFire setup. Is it really that demanding? Having waited a while for the launch patches and both Nvidia and AMD to release BF3-ready, WHQL-certified drivers, we grabbed our trusty graphics test rigs and 16 of the most popular DirectX 11 graphics cards and set about finding out just how much BF3 demands from our PCs.

Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis
Click to enlarge

BF3’s Graphical Settings

BF3’s four graphical presets are, as you’ll see, enough to accommodate the majority of the graphics card market; even sub-£100 cards such as the AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB (sneakily renamed the 6770 1GB recently) can deliver playable frame rates at the lowest settings. However, some settings have a bigger impact on performance than others. Just for reference, here’s a table of the four graphical presets, as well as comparison shots of Low, Medium, High and Ultra detail settings.

  Low Preset Medium Preset High Preset Ultra Preset Texture Quality Low Medium High Ultra Shadow Quality Low Medium High Ultra Effects Quality Low Medium High Ultra Mesh Quality Low Medium High Ultra Terrain Quality Low Medium High Ultra Anti-aliasing Deferred Off Off Off 4xMSAA Anti-aliasing Post Off Low Medium High Motion Blur Off Off On On Anisotropic Filtering 2x 4x 16x 16x Ambient Occlusion Off SSAO HBAO HBAO

Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis
L to R: Battlefield 3 Graphics Presets on Low, Medium, High and Ultra – Click to enlarge

BF3’s Graphics Settings Explained

Texture Quality
Self explanatory this one; the higher the settings, the higher quality of the textures. The below shot, courtesy of Nvidia, demonstrates this clearly. However, in practice there’s actually very little visual difference between Ultra, High, Medium and Low, as the game will still load the Ultra textures when you’re up close. Instead, this really lets you set the level of detail; at Low you’ll notice textures popping through the different detail levels; at Ultra you won’t.

Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis
Texture Quality in Battlefield 3 – Click to enlarge

Shadow Quality
Rather than compromise on the number of shadows or remove shadows completely, even at the lowest setting BF3’s environments, vehicles, soldiers and even incidental details such as boxes still cast dynamic shadows. However, the difference between the lowest and highest detail settings concern the quality and softness of the shadows; as you can see below, at Low detail the antennae’s shadow is stark and blocky, looking like it’s been painted onto the landscape. However, at Ultra detail the shadow is much smoother and looks like it’s a part of the game world.

Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis
L to R: Shadow Quality in Battlefield 3 on Low, Medium, High and Ultra – Click to enlarge
Effects Quality
Being honest, we struggled to find a difference between the lowest and highest settings in the Effects Quality settings; explosions, debris, smoke and clouds all looked just as good at the lowest or highest settings.

Mesh Quality
Mesh Quality has a big impact on BF3’s visuals as, like Texture Quality, it adjusts the model detail depending on its proximity to the player. It’s a subtle effect, but you can see in the below images that, as the mesh detail drops, objects further way from the player become simpler. Most obvious is the tree in the middle of the screen and the chain link fence, both of which are much simpler at Low detail than they are at the Ultra setting.

Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis
L to R: Mesh Quality in Battlefield 3 on Low, Medium, High and Ultra – Click to enlarge
Terrain Quality and Decoration
As with Effects Quality, we saw very little difference between the lowest and highest settings for these two detail options, even on large terrain and decoration-filled maps such as Caspian Border.

Anti-Aliasing Deferred
This is standard multi-sample anti-aliasing, reducing texture creep and generally smoothing edges and removing horrible jaggies to improve image quality. BF3 supports both 4x MSAA and 2x MSAA natively, but only enables 4x at the Ultra preset.

Anti-Aliasing Post
While not true anti-aliasing, this post-process effect has a similar purpose; smoothing edges and harsh lines and generally softening the visuals without the performance impact of full MSAA. It’s not as effective at reducing and smoothing jaggies, though. BF3 offers four settings of Low, Medium, High and Ultra, but as we’ll see, the performance difference between Low and Ultra is fairly minimal.

Motion Blur
Another post-process effect, this time to give a more convincing feeling of movement and motion.

Anisotropic Filter
Anisotropic Filtering (AF) is the process of enhancing the visual quality of textures when they’re viewed from sloped viewing angles, correcting texture blurring and making textures, particularly at a distance, look clearer and more defined. Oddly for a game that prides itself on outdoor environments, BF3’s Low and Medium presets set AF to just 2x and 4x respectively; we’d recommend forcing this to 16x due to the minimal performance hit and significant improvement to visual quality, particularly on large open levels.

Ambient Occlusion
Ambient Occlusion (AO) is a method of applying shading and more authentic lighting effects to models, even if they’re not directly lit by a light source. BF3 supports both SSAO or soft shadow ambient occlusion, and the more modern horizon-based ambient occlusion (HBAO). While this has in the past been a largely unnoticeable effect that saps performance, BF3 makes significant use of ambient occlusion, especially in its urban environments. As the image below from Nvidia shows, at Low detail settings the windows are starkly lit, while at Medium detail with SSAO the lighting is softened and shaded. At High and Ultra settings, HBAO improves the effect, applying smooth and believable shadowing to the scene.

Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis
Ambient Occlusion in Battlefield 3 – Click to enlarge

How We Tested

For testing Battlefield 3, we decided to eschew our policy of forcing 16x anisotropic filtering in the driver, in order to fairly compare the game’s four graphical presets. We used the most up-to-date AMD and Nvidia graphics drivers available – Catalyst 11.10 and GeForce 285.62 respectively. These were installed with the default settings, and no adjustments made in their 3D settings.

For the benchmark itself, we turned to the single-player portion of the game. While we’d have liked to have used a more demanding 64-player multiplayer benchmark, it’s remarkably hard to find 63 patient and willing players to perfectly reproduce their actions over 100 times. Instead we opted for a FRAPS-recorded, 90-second scripted sequence at the start of the campaign’s fourth mission – Going Hunting.

While it’s not perfectly representative of multiplayer gameplay (and lacks graphical details such as landscape decoration), it’s still remarkably demanding, and is roughly in line with the performance you’ll see in multiplayer mode. It’s also very reliable, producing identical results run after run.

Intel Core i7 Test System

  • Intel Core i7-965 processor (3.2GHz: 133MHz x 24)
  • Asus Sabertooth X58 motherboard (Intel X58 Express with three PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots)
  • 3 x 2GB Corsair TR3X6G1333C9 memory modules (operating in triple-channel mode at 1,600MHz 9-9-9-24-1T)
  • Corsair X128 120GB SSD running v1 firmware
  • Corsair HX1000W PSU
  • Windows 7 Home Premium x64
  • Antec Twelve Hundred Chassis

Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Test SetupClick to enlarge – We use the scripted section at the start of ‘Going Hunting’ for our BF3 benchmark. It’s shiny

AMD Graphics Cards

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB (2 x 830MHz GPUs, 2 x 5GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB (880MHz GPU, 5.5GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB (800MHz GPU, 5GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB (800MHz GPU, 5GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB (900MHz GPU, 4.2GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB (725MHz GPU, 4GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 1GB (840MHz GPU, 4.2GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL
  • AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB (850MHz GPU, 4.8GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL
  • AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB (725MHz GPU, 4.0GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL
  • AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB (850MHz GPU, 4.8GHz memory) using Catalyst 11.10 WHQL

Nvidia Graphics Cards

  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 3GB (2 x 607MHz GPUs, 1,214MHz stream processors, 2 x3,4114MHz memory) using GeForce 285.62 WHQL
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB (772MHz GPU, 1,544MHz stream processors, 4,080MHz memory) using GeForce 285.62 WHQL
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB (732MHz GPU, 1,464MHz stream processors, 3,800MHz memory) using GeForce 285.62 WHQL
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB (820MHz GPU, 1,640MHz stream processors, 4,000MHz memory) using GeForce 285.62 WHQL
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 (822MHz GPU, 1,644MHz stream processors, 4,008MHz memory) using GeForce 285.62 WHQL
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 1GB (675MHz core, 1,350MHz stream processors, 3.6GHz memory) using GeForce 285.62 WHQL
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB (900MHz GPU, 1,800MHz stream processors, 4,104MHz memory) using GeForce 285.62 WHQL

Battlefield 3 Performance – 1,680 x 1,050

While many will see 1,680 x 1,050 as a marginal resolution due to its 16:10 aspect ratio and sub-1080P credentials, according to the latest Steam Survey it’s still used by over 18 per cent of all gamers.

Battlefield 3

1,680 x 1,050, DirectX 11, Ultra Detail Preset

  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB
  • GeForce GTX 560Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 550Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB
    • 92

    • 77

    • 90

    • 72

    • 66

    • 55

    • 56

    • 45

    • 47

    • 39

    • 50

    • 38

    • 43

    • 36

    • 44

    • 35

    • 44

    • 35

    • 42

    • 34

    • 38

    • 31

    • 36

    • 29

    • 35

    • 28

    • 31

    • 24

    • 28

    • 23

    • 24

    • 19

0

25

50

75

100

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

Even at this lower resolution, the demands of the Ultra preset’s 4x AA and Ultra detail settings mean that powerful cards such as the GTX 560 Ti 1GB and HD 6950 2GB are unable to offer minimum frame rates above 39fps; it’s certainly playable, but it’s certainly not as smooth as we’d like. Cheaper cards have no chance, with the HD 5770 1GB, GTX 550 Ti 1GB and even the HD 6850 1GB all failing to deliver a minimum frame rate above 25fps.

It’s only the dual GPU cards that are able to crack the 60fps minimum frame rate, with the GTX 590 3GB’s superior anti-aliasing performance putting it narrowly ahead.

Battlefield 3

1,680 x 1,050, DirectX 11, High Detail Preset

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
  • GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560Ti 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 550Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB
    • 140

    • 114

    • 111

    • 93

    • 82

    • 67

    • 75

    • 60

    • 70

    • 56

    • 68

    • 56

    • 68

    • 56

    • 66

    • 53

    • 61

    • 50

    • 56

    • 46

    • 57

    • 46

    • 55

    • 41

    • 46

    • 38

    • 47

    • 37

    • 37

    • 29

    • 37

    • 29

0

25

50

75

100

125

150

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

Remove the anti-aliasing, though, and the performance improves greatly with the High preset. Minimum frame rates for the likes of the GTX 560 Ti 1GB and HD 6950 2GB are above 50fps and the HD 5870 1GB also impresses, surpassing even the GTX 560 Ti 1GB. Every one of the cards is able to surpass a minimum of 25fps and the GTX 580 1.5GB and HD 6970 2GB are both able to crack minimum frame rates of 60fps.

Battlefield 3

1,680 x 1,050, DirectX 11, Medium Detail Preset

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
  • GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB
    • 165

    • 139

    • 138

    • 115

    • 105

    • 89

    • 89

    • 71

    • 87

    • 70

    • 81

    • 67

    • 81

    • 67

    • 79

    • 65

    • 77

    • 64

    • 72

    • 60

    • 70

    • 55

    • 67

    • 53

    • 62

    • 51

    • 59

    • 48

    • 47

    • 38

    • 45

    • 35

0

25

50

75

100

125

150

175

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

Medium detail at this resolution sees frame rates climb even further as anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering and motion blur are now all disabled. Even budget cards such as the HD 5770 1GB are capable of playable minimum frame rates and more powerful cards easily surpass minimum frame rates of 60fps.

Battlefield 3

1,680 x 1,050, DirectX 11, Low Detail Preset

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB
    • 181

    • 152

    • 153

    • 123

    • 116

    • 97

    • 98

    • 82

    • 99

    • 77

    • 91

    • 76

    • 91

    • 76

    • 88

    • 73

    • 89

    • 72

    • 83

    • 69

    • 79

    • 63

    • 75

    • 61

    • 72

    • 58

    • 68

    • 55

    • 54

    • 43

    • 50

    • 39

0

50

100

150

200

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

At Low detail, this is as close to console graphics as you’ll see BF3 run on PC, and as you’d hope, every card, including the cheaper options, runs the game smoothly. However, as we’ve seen from the comparison shots, this means a significant drop in image quality.

Battlefield 3 Performance – 1,920 x 1,080

This is where it gets tough, as 1,920 x 1,080 is not only a demanding resolution, but it’s also the most popular among PC gamers. In fact, according to the Steam Hardware Survey, over 20 per cent of users are gaming on 1080p screens.

Battlefield 3

1,920 x 1,080, DirectX 11, Ultra Detail Preset

  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB
    • 82

    • 66

    • 78

    • 61

    • 56

    • 46

    • 49

    • 40

    • 44

    • 34

    • 41

    • 33

    • 39

    • 31

    • 39

    • 31

    • 38

    • 31

    • 37

    • 31

    • 34

    • 26

    • 31

    • 26

    • 31

    • 24

    • 27

    • 21

    • 21

    • 17

    • 24

    • 17

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

It looks as though DICE’s claims weren’t wrong; with the Ultra preset and its 4x anti-aliasing, even the fastest single-GPU cards are unable to produce a minimum frame rate above 46fps, let alone 60fps. The AMD cards seem to be particularly badly affected by the application of 4x AA, with the HD 6970 2GB managing a minimum frame rate of just 34fps; only 1fps more than the much cheaper GTX 560 Ti 1GB.

Further down the order even potent cards from last year such as the GTX 460 1GB struggle, just surpassing the minimum playable frame rate of 25fps.

Battlefield 3

1,920 x 1,080, DirectX 11, High Detail Preset

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
  • GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB
    • 124

    • 104

    • 100

    • 78

    • 69

    • 56

    • 68

    • 54

    • 61

    • 50

    • 60

    • 48

    • 60

    • 48

    • 57

    • 47

    • 54

    • 44

    • 49

    • 41

    • 51

    • 39

    • 49

    • 38

    • 41

    • 34

    • 41

    • 32

    • 32

    • 26

    • 32

    • 26

0

25

50

75

100

125

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

Switching from the Ultra preset to High drops the 4x AA, and while the image quality is reduced, the performance is much improved, especially for AMD cards. Every card manages a minimum frame rate of above 25fps, with every card from the GTX 560 Ti 1GB managing a passable minimum frame rate of 44fps.

Battlefield 3

1,920 x 1,080, DirectX 11, Medium Detail Preset

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
  • GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB
    • 149

    • 127

    • 124

    • 101

    • 87

    • 72

    • 80

    • 66

    • 78

    • 65

    • 72

    • 59

    • 72

    • 59

    • 71

    • 59

    • 68

    • 55

    • 62

    • 51

    • 63

    • 49

    • 59

    • 49

    • 52

    • 42

    • 51

    • 40

    • 41

    • 33

    • 40

    • 32

0

25

50

75

100

125

150

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

The drop to the Medium preset disables much more of BF3’s graphical finery, including motion blur and most of the anisotropic filtering. It also switches from HBAO to SSAO, and drops the anti-aliasing post processing to medium, as well as dropping all the detail settings.

The result is noticeably reduced image quality, particularly around edges, but also substantially improved performance. Even at 1080P, we see cards from the GTX 560 Ti 1GB upwards deliver minimum frame rates of at least 55fps, and even low end cards are able to top 30fps.

Battlefield 3

1,920 x 1,080, DirectX 11, Low Detail Preset

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
  • GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 560 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB
  • GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 5770 1GB
    • 166

    • 135

    • 138

    • 111

    • 99

    • 82

    • 90

    • 73

    • 88

    • 73

    • 82

    • 68

    • 82

    • 68

    • 80

    • 64

    • 78

    • 64

    • 73

    • 63

    • 70

    • 55

    • 67

    • 54

    • 60

    • 49

    • 57

    • 45

    • 48

    • 39

    • 45

    • 36

0

25

50

75

100

125

150

175

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

At the lowest settings, all anti-aliasing, ambient-occlusion and motion blur is disabled, in addition to the low detail presets and a drop to just 2x anisotropic filtering. However, most cards now manage a minimum frame rate of at least 60fps, even at 1080P.

Battlefield 3 Performance – 2,560 x 1,600

As the highest single-display resolution possible, playing at 2,560 x 1,600 is the ultimate challenge for any GPU. As such, we’ve only tested the most powerful cards at this resolution; both dual-GPU options, and both the GTX 580 1.5GB and the HD 6970 2GB.

Battlefield 3

2,560 x 1,600, DirectX 11, Ultra Detail Preset

  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
    • 50

    • 42

    • 48

    • 38

    • 33

    • 27

    • 26

    • 21

0

10

20

30

40

50

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

As we’ve already seen, the application of anti-aliasing sees the GTX 590 3GB pip the HD 6990 4GB at Ultra detail settings, with the GTX 580 1.5GB similarly outpacing the HD 6970 2GB. However, none of the cards are able to offer a minimum frame rate of 60fps and the single-GPU cards are unable to reach minimum frame rates of 30fps, with the HD 6970 falling short of even 25fps.

Battlefield 3

2,560 x 1,600, DirectX 11, High Detail Preset

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
    • 76

    • 64

    • 61

    • 52

    • 41

    • 34

    • 41

    • 33

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

Dropping to High detail sees the AMD cards rally thanks to the lack of anti-aliasing, and the HD 6990 2GB responds by coming out on top. The HD 6970 2GB is even able to (just) pip the GTX 580 1.5GB, albeit only by a single fps on the minimum frame rate. Both the dual-GPU cards offer smooth minimum frame rates of 50fps+, but again the performance of single-GPU cards is much lower at 33/34fps.

Battlefield 3

2,560 x 1,600, DirectX 11, Medium Detail Preset

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
    • 93

    • 74

    • 79

    • 66

    • 53

    • 42

    • 50

    • 41

0

25

50

75

100

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

With much of the post processing, anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering disabled, performance improves markedly at the Medium settings, with both dual-GPU cards able to surpass minimum frame rates of 60fps. The high-end single-GPU cards also rally well, both managing minimum frame rates of above 40fps. Performance between the GTX 580 1.5GB and HD 6970 2GB is very close still, although the GeForce card just sneaks ahead here.

Battlefield 3

2,560 x 1,600, DirectX 11, Low Detail Preset

  • AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB
  • GeForce GTX 590 3GB
  • GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB
    • 105

    • 88

    • 90

    • 74

    • 61

    • 49

    • 57

    • 48

0

25

50

75

100

Frames per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

Running BF3 at such a high resolution with such low detail settings is a compromise we wouldn’t recommend, but if you absolutely have to run at native res, it’s a sure fire way to generate great frame rates, Both dual-GPU cards manage silky smooth minimum frame rates of 77fps and above, and even the single-GPU cards manage highly playable frame rates above 48fps. You didn’t buy a £300+ graphics card and a £600+ monitor to play games at Low detail, though, did you?

Battlefield 3 Performance – Anti-Aliasing and HBAO

Having seen how most DirectX 11 GPUs handle BF3’s default graphical pre-sets, we wanted to see how much impact anti-aliasing and HBAO had on overall performance. That AA drops performance is a given, but HBAO had a significant impact on performance in Battlefield: Bad Company 2; could the same be true for BF3?

As we’ve already established performance across a range of cards, we’ve only performed these tests with a GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB and an AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB, running at 1,920 x 1,080 with the Ultra preset applied. All settings are adjusted in-game.

Anti-Aliasing

BF3 GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB AA Performance

1,920 x 1,080, DirectX 11, Ultra Detail Preset

  • All AA disabled
  • 0x MSAA, Max Post Processing
  • 2x MSAA, Max Post Processing
  • 4x MSAA, Max Post Processing
    • 53

    • 44

    • 52

    • 42

    • 45

    • 35

    • 41

    • 33

0

10

20

30

40

50

Frames Per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

With the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB there’s a minimal performance penalty for enabling the anti-aliasing post processing option, with a 1fps hit to the average frame rate and a 2fps hit to the minimum frame rate.

Enabling 2x anti-aliasing sees a significant further drop, slashing 16 per cent from the minimum frame rate. Comparatively, the drop when switching to the maximum in-game option of 4x anti-aliasing is much smaller; just a 2fps drop in minimum frame rate, or five per cent.

What’s perhaps most interesting about these results, though, is the difference between Ultra detail and High detail. With the High preset enabled, the GTX 560 Ti 1GB manages an average/minimum frame rate of 54/44fps, which is incredibly close to the performance of the same card at Ultra settings, only with AA disabled.

BF3 AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB AA Performance

1,920 x 1,080, DirectX 11, Ultra Detail Preset

  • All AA disabled
  • 0x MSAA, Max Post Processing
  • 2x MSAA, Max Post Processing
  • 4x MSAA, Max Post Processing
    • 60

    • 45

    • 58

    • 45

    • 46

    • 37

    • 39

    • 31

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

Frames Per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

As we’ve already seen throughout our testing, AMD’s cards have a much tougher time when anti-aliasing is enabled and the HD 6950 2GB is no exception. There’s almost no performance penalty for enabling the game’s anti-aliasing post processing, but enable 2x AA or 4x AA and performance drops sharply. With 4x AA the minimum frame rate falls 31 per cent from 45fps to 31fps, while the average frame rate drops by an amazing 35 per cent.

Again we see that, despite all other settings running at Ultra, when AA is disabled performance is very similar to using the High preset; an average of 60fps and a minimum of 45fps compared to the High preset’s 60/48fps.

HBAO and SSAO

BF3 GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB AO Performance

1,920 x 1,080, DirectX 11, Ultra Detail Preset

  • HBAO and SSAO Disabled
  • SSAO Enabled
  • HBAO Enabled
    • 46

    • 36

    • 43

    • 35

    • 41

    • 33

0

10

20

30

40

50

Frames Per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

HBAO may have been a huge resource hog in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, but it’s much more efficient in BF3. The difference between no ambient occlusion and HBAO for the GTX 560 Ti 1GB is 3fps from the minimum frame rate and 5fps from the average frame rate; drops of eight and 11 per cent respectively. Considering the added lighting detail brought by these settings, this seems a fair compromise; HBAO is certainly not the performance hog it’s been in the past.

BF3 AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB AO Performance

1,920 x 1,080, DirectX 11, Ultra Detail Preset

  • HBAO and SSAO Disabled
  • SSAO Enabled
  • HBAO Enabled
    • 42

    • 32

    • 41

    • 32

    • 39

    • 31

0

10

20

30

40

Frames Per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

The HD 6950 2GB was even less troubled by the application of SSAO and HBAO. Switching from no ambient occlusion to full HBAO saw a drop of just 1fps to the minimum frame rate and 3fps to the average frame rate; decreases of just three and seven per cent respectively. It certainly seems that when it comes to HBAO in BF3, there’s little harm in leaving it enabled, at least with a modern GPU.

Battlefield 3 CPU Performance

As well as testing a variety of cards on BF3’s Frostbite 2 engine, we also wanted to investigate the effect of CPU clock speeds, the number of CPU cores and the effect of Hyper-Threading. Would an overclocked CPU help? Or could an ageing dual-core chip limp along? We under-clocked our Intel i7 965 CPU, as well as disabling two of its cores and Hyper-Threading, in order to find out. The results were surprising.

BF3 AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB CPU Performance

1,920 x 1,080, DirectX 11, Ultra Detail Preset

  • Intel Core i7 965 @ 3.3GHz
  • Intel Core i7 965 @ 3GHz
  • Intel Core i7 965 @ 2.5GHz
  • Intel Core i7 965 @ 2GHz
  • Intel Core i7 965 @ 3.3GHz (2 Cores Disabled)
  • Intel Core i7 965 @ 3.3GHz (Hyper-Threading Disabled)
    • 39

    • 31

    • 39

    • 31

    • 39

    • 31

    • 39

    • 31

    • 39

    • 31

    • 39

    • 31

0

10

20

30

40

Frames Per Second

  • Average
  • Minimum

It didn’t matter whether the CPU was running at 3.2GHz, 3GHz or even 2GHz; our benchmarks returned the same results. Even when we dropped the CPU down from four cores to only two, the in-game frame rates proved annoyingly stubborn. While BF3 will load itself across all four CPU cores when presented with a quad-core CPU, it seems to have little benefit when it comes to performance, running just as well with much lower clock speeds, or on a dual-core CPU.

*Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 CPU Performance *Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 CPU Performance
Click to enlarge – There’s no performance difference between a quad core CPU with Hyper-Threading and a similarly clocked dual-core chip
We also repeated the test by running our benchmark with 6GB, 4GB and even 2GB of DDR3 memory fitted into the system. Again, we found that performance remained stoically unchanged; only a single-core setup saw any difference, when the game flat-out refused to run at all. Needless to say, then, that BF3 appears to not be the most CPU-taxing game, instead relying almost entirely on the performance of the graphics card.

Conclusion

We can take plenty from our testing of Battlefield 3, and some of it’s really quite surprising. Perhaps most notable is the game’s lack of reliance on the CPU or memory; we found performance at the Ultra preset was the same when using a 3.2GHz quad-core CPU with 6GB of DDR3 memory as when using a 2GHz dual core chip with 2GB of DDR3 RAM, at least in our single-player benchmark.

Also surprising was the efficiency of DICE’s new application of HBAO. In the Frostbite engine of Battlefield Bad Company 2, HBAO was a big fat performance hog and offered minimal lighting improvements. In Battlefield 3, HBAO not only has a much more noticeable effect on lighting, but it also comes at a modest performance hit; it’s well worth leaving it enabled.

*Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis - ConclusionClick to enlarge – Really, this game looks awesome
Perhaps most pertinent, though, is the difference between the Ultra preset and the same preset with AA disabled or lowered. Adding 4x AA, as the Ultra preset does, makes a huge dent in performance, particularly for cards based on AMD chips. Dropping this to 2x, or disabling it completely, sees performance improve substantially, to the point where there’s minimal difference between the High detail preset and the Ultra detail preset when AA is disabled, at least on the DirectX 11 graphics cards we’ve tested here.

*Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis Battlefield 3 Performance Analysis - Conclusion
Click to enlarge – Battlefield 3 looks great, even on a rainy day
We’ve also been able to put some performance rumours to rest. As the identical results of the HD 6950 2GB and 1GB show, simply throwing more graphics memory at BF3 doesn’t improve performance. Instead, it gobbles up extra GPU resources and higher clock speeds, which would explain the reports of BF3 pushing graphics cards so hard. It certainly makes overclocking your GPU worth considering, though, especially as all the results in this article are based on the cards running at their stock clock speeds. When you consider that a GTX 560 Ti 1GB will happily accept an 80MHz (10 per cent) core frequency overclock, it’s well worth seeing what you can squeeze out of it.

In the end, DICE has done a great job of creating a game engine that can scale from the lowliest of GPUS, to the very peak of graphical prowess, and look great at almost any combination of settings. It’s certainly one of the most GPU-limited games we’ve ever come across, and we look forward to benchmarking GPUs with it for a long while to come.

SOURCE:http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/2011/11/10/battlefield-3-technical-analysis/1