||Quake 4 CPU Shootout: Intel vs. AMD
October 30, 2005
Summary: Wondering which processor delivers the best bang for the buck in Quake 4? What about the right memory size, 1GB or 2GB? In our Quake 4 CPU Shootout we'll address both of those questions, as well as add a little SLI to the mix. Once again Chris has gathered 20 CPUs for this article. See which platform performs best inside!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 10 )|
F.E.A.R recently drove that point home in a big way. No matter which CPUs we threw at the game, scores kept coming back the same. Only after applying a generous dollop of SLI technology were the average frame rates affected. Why? F.E.A.R. happens to be very heavy on shadows and shading in an attempt at recreating a believable environment. Despite compelling AI and impressive physics---both of which are calculated using CPU power---the graphics component is much more intensive.
Doom 3 is another dark game that does a lot with shadowing to add realism. It also does a fair job taxing modern graphics cards with detailed textures and lots of fast-paced action. Not surprisingly, Quake 4, which centers on that same Doom 3 engine, exhibits a lot of the same characteristics. But while the two games pour graphics on heavy, they’re also more sensitive to other platform components compared to F.E.A.R.
Interestingly enough, the system requirements for Quake 4 are even higher than F.E.A.R. Never mind that the game engine pieces you’d expect to heavily tax a CPU are fairly weak. Even still, the good news is that this is no sleep-fest. Comparing the same 20 processors from our F.E.A.R processor scaling story is much more informative. We don’t even have to rely on SLI to add spice.
With that said, we still ran some SLI tests. Then we added extra memory to the mix to see what that would do. And then we reduced the game’s quality setting in order to give the folks with older hardware an option for improving performance. Oh, and we were also interested in seeing how NVIDIA’s new Forceware 81.85 drivers (purportedly with dual-core enhancements) impacted the performance of our Pentium D and Athlon 64 X2 test beds.
| System Setup||Page:: ( 2 / 10 )|
AMD Athlon 64 FX-57
AMD Athlon 64 FX-55
AMD Athlon 64 FX-53/4000+
AMD Athlon 64 FX-51
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+
AMD Athlon 64 3800+
AMD Athlon 64 3500+
AMD Athlon 64 3200+
AMD Athlon 64 3000+
Intel Pentium 4 3.46GHz Extreme Edition
Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz Extreme Edition
Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 840
Intel Pentium D 840 3.2GHz
Intel Pentium D 830 3.0GHz
Intel Pentium 4 670 3.8GHz
Intel Pentium 4 630 3.0GHz
Intel Pentium 4 570 3.8GHz
Intel Pentium 4 530 3.0GHz
ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe Motherboard
ASUS P5N32-SLI Deluxe Motherboard
1GB Corsair CMX512-3200XL (x2)
1GB Corsair CM2X512A-5400UL (x2)
2GB OCZ PC-3200 EL 2-3-2-5
NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX 256MB
34GB Western Digital Raptor (10,000RPM, 8MB cache)
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2
Desktop resolution 1024x768, 32-bit color, 85Hz refresh
All power saving options are turned off, as are the Automatic Update and System Restore services. Graphics options under the ‘Performance’ tab are all disabled for maximum performance.
The first configuration represents Quake 4’s maximum potential, with all settings cranked as high as they can go with the exception of anti-aliasing, which is set to 4x, and anisotropic filtering, set to 8x. We’re even using Ultra quality in an attempt to replicate where the most hardcore gamers are going to want to play (we’re also including some relaxed settings further into the story). The second configuration is Quake 4 toned down a bit. Anti-aliasing is turned off, the default filtering method is used instead of anisotropic filtering, and the resolution is switched from 1600x1200 to 1024x768.
| The Juggernauts||Page:: ( 3 / 10 )|
The FXs and Extreme Editions
After our previous experiences with F.E.A.R., we were almost expecting Quake 4 to demonstrate similar scaling characteristics. After all, with deep roots in the Doom 3 engine, this is a demonstration of cutting-edge graphics technology.
Fortunately, there’s some definite CPU dependency at 1600x1200, even under the Ultra Quality setting, which uses more than 500MB of texture information. With that said, most of the benefit seems to come from AMD’s Athlon 64 FX architecture, as the four models tested lay down similar numbers regardless of clock speed. Intel’s Pentium 4 Extreme Edition series trails slightly. The difference isn’t massive, but that’s certainly not what you want to see after spending more than a grand on a processor.
Dropping to 1024x768 exposes a more pronounced gap, as the load applied to NVIDIA’s GeForce 7800 GTX relaxes somewhat. Although anyone who spends this much on a CPU will probably want to run higher resolutions, we at least see uniform CPU scaling, whereas F.E.A.R was still graphics-bound at 1024x768.
| Dual-Core Compared||Page:: ( 4 / 10 )|
The X2s and Pentium Ds
At 1600x1200, where graphics rule, the dual-core processors from both Intel and AMD show their clock-speed shortcomings, trailing the juggernauts by a few frames per second.
Strangely, reducing resolution to 1024x768 boosts performance for AMD, surpassing the FXs at the same resolution, while the Intel dual-core chips slow down in relation to the Extreme Edition models on the previous page. This actually goes contrary to what we might expect considering NVIDIA claims its latest drivers are optimized for dual-core processors. There’s likely still room for improvement in whatever changes were made to Forceware 81.85.
| Mainstream Processors||Page:: ( 5 / 10 )|
Your Athlon 64s and Pentium 4s
AMD’s dominance continues at the mainstream level, though its margin of victory shrinks somewhat. Of note is the minor performance gain that Intel’s 600-series Pentium 4 enjoys over the 500-series thanks to its extra megabyte of cache.
| Memory Matters?||Page:: ( 6 / 10 )|
Add a Gig of RAM
Add a gig if you will, but don’t expect it to do much for your Quake 4 performance. Gains are negligible at 1600x1200 and 1024x768.
| SLI In the Mix||Page:: ( 7 / 10 )|
Double the Pleasure
SLI was the saving grace of our F.E.A.R tests, demonstrating the game’s massive reliance on graphics horsepower after pages of similar CPU scaling numbers. However, the technology isn’t nearly as prolific in Quake 4, it seems. At 1024x768, there’s only a four-frame jump thanks to SLI. Granted Quake 4 is a new game and may benefit from additional optimization from NVIDIA’s driver team.
The performance gains attributable to SLI are much more pronounced at 1600x1200, indicating that as a graphics-bound setting, especially with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering turned on.
| The Quality Sacrifice||Page:: ( 8 / 10 )|
From Highest to High
We want to cover as many bases as possible here, presenting more than just the Ultra Quality setting. Dropping down to High does make a noticeable impact on the overall performance picture. Thus, we thought it’d be helpful to re-run all of the AMD processors using High Quality to give you an idea of the performance gains enabled by a step backwards in visual intricacy.
| AMD as an Example||Page:: ( 9 / 10 )|
From Top to Bottom at High
At both 1024x768 and 1600x1200, High Quality paves the way for a higher average frames per second score. The lower resolution continues demonstrating CPU scaling as the Athlon 64 processors run to their respective limits. Conversely, up at 1600x1200, Quake 4 seems to be limited by graphics performance, albeit at ceiling roughly 10 to 15 frames higher than Ultra Quality.
| Conclusion||Page:: ( 10 / 10 )|
Up at 1600x1200 the spread tightens up. The high-end FXs continue their domination over Intel’s single-core Extreme Editions, while AMD’s dual-core offerings establish a slim lead over the comparable Pentium Ds. Again, the mainstream Athlons eek out ahead of their Pentium 4 competition.
It’d certainly be nice if adding an extra gigabyte of memory helped boost the scores. Unfortunately, memory capacity doesn’t seem to be a limiting factor, even in light of the Ultra Quality setting’s extraneous texture usage. Gamers currently running just one gig should get perfectly reasonable performance.
Instead of buying memory, think about a second graphics card for SLI operation. The technology doesn’t make much of an impact at 1024x768, but as you start switching on eye candy features and ratcheting up the resolution, the extra power kicks in and catapults frame rates.
Finally, if your system isn’t quite cutting-edge, you stand to pick up a lot of speed by de-tuning the detail setting from Ultra to High Quality (or lower, if need be). Sure, it might be less fun to play knowing you’re sacrificing the lushest textures. However, you’ll also instantly pick up between 10-20 percent more performance at 1600x1200. That’s not a bad way to unlock a previously unplayable resolution.