PC Gam­ing Power

If you want to play games with the high­est de­tail, what kind of PC do you need?

Micro Mart - - Contetnts -

If you’ve ever played around with the set­tings in a new, big bud­get PC game, then you’ll prob­a­bly be aware that there’s a limit to how much your sys­tem can han­dle. Maybe it’s the ‘High’ set­ting or the ‘Ul­tra’ set­ting. Ei­ther way, we’ve been look­ing at what kind of power you can ac­tu­ally need to in­vest in to reach these heady heights of graph­i­cal beauty

Re­gard­less of the gam­ing gen­er­a­tion, if you’ve dab­bled in PC gam­ing you’ll know that it’s a lot more in­volved than other plat­forms. Whether you’ve been a PC gamer since the days of the 486, Pen­tium, 3DFX, and OpenGL, or you’re only versed in more re­cent tech – such as Nvidia’s GeForce, ATI’s Radeon, Cross­fire, or SLI – you’ll know that in­stalling and play­ing a game is not ex­actly a plug and play pro­ce­dure. Be­fore you can take your first steps into any new dig­i­tal world, you’ll need to en­sure your PC can han­dle the task at hand and, de­pend­ing on any tech­ni­cal is­sues, you’ll need to spend time tin­ker­ing with graph­ics set­tings to get the best pos­si­ble per­for­mance out of the game.

Now, those who can af­ford to buy the best pos­si­ble gam­ing hard­ware around will in­stantly elim­i­nate much the need to look at much of what’s to fol­low. They’ll be able to crank up ev­ery­thing to the high­est set­tings and still en­joy a fluid FPS rate. It will take quite a lot of cash, of course, but for gamers who want the very best ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s prob­a­bly the only way to play.

This breed of PC owner of­ten doesn’t just spec their PCs for great gam­ing, but also out of a sense of pride. It’s de­sir­able to build an im­pres­sive gam­ing PC, and it’s of­ten a fact to brag about with oth­ers. They’re a kind of sta­tus sym­bol amongst gamers who care for such things, and graph­i­cal bench­mark tests aren’t only for see­ing how well your PC can run the lat­est soft­ware tech, but to also share scores with oth­ers in an ef­fort to have the fastest kit. There are even world cham­pi­onships for such things, in­clud­ing over­clock­ing. It’s big busi­ness, and a lot of peo­ple spend a great deal of their time tin­ker­ing with a sys­tem to make it as fast and pow­er­ful as pos­si­ble.

For most users, though, sim­ply hav­ing a PC that can run the lat­est games is the only real goal, and hav­ing one that can do so at the high­est de­tail level is even more de­sired. Not hav­ing to re­duce tex­ture res­o­lu­tion, turn off shad­ows, dis­able god-rays, and so on can be a dream for some, but what does that dream en­tail? What spec­i­fi­ca­tion of PC do you re­ally need for to­day’s lat­est games?

The Test Sys­tem

In a mis­sion to see just how well var­i­ous games per­form, and to see what level of PC is needed we de­cided to check a num­ber of pop­u­lar games that have, or are known to tax gam­ing PCs. We’ve dug up their rec­om­mended spec­i­fi­ca­tions (the specs devs and pub­lish­ers spec­ify for high-end vi­su­als), and we tested the games on a test sys­tem for av­er­age FPS. The test sys­tem is as fol­lows.

In­tel Core i7 5930K CPU run­ning at 3.5GHz 16GB of RAM Three GeForce GTX 980 GPUs 4GB with the lat­est driv­ers avail­able at the time of test­ing (375.70) 2TB Hy­brid HDD Di­rect X 11.1 Win­dows 10 64-bit

The sys­tem is run­ning a 4K mon­i­tor at 3840x2160, as we feel test­ing for high-end gam­ing re­ally needs to take in the drag on re­sources you’ll get from a 4K dis­play. Given that SLI cards don’t ac­tu­ally stack the VRAM, it’s lim­ited to the RAM from a sin­gle card.

The Games

The best way to be­gin our look at the spec­i­fi­ca­tion of PC you need is to flesh out ex­actly what we’re try­ing to quan­tify here: a sys­tem’s abil­ity to play the games them­selves. The thing is, AAA games change dras­ti­cally from a tech­ni­cal point of view all the time, and although PCs don’t re­ally have ‘gen­er­a­tions’, as con­soles do, the power needed to run games does jump up in leaps and bounds, pro­mot­ing the de­vel­op­ment and need to pur­chase more pow­er­ful hard­ware.

There are count­less games out there, of course, and to cover them all is im­pos­si­ble here, but the fol­low­ing ex­am­ples will first tell you the rec­om­mended specs of some of the more pop­u­lar games around right now and then the av­er­age FPS we got dur­ing our own tests with the above sys­tem. These are games that have been known to re­ally push PC hard­ware, and need a pow­er­ful PC in order to run at full graph­i­cal set­tings.

For the most part, these are ei­ther first or third per­son per­spec­tive games – gen­res that tend to be the most graph­i­cally ad­vanced. There are still some fairly tax­ing RTS and ad­ven­ture ti­tles around too, though. Sim­u­la­tors can be heavy on spec­i­fi­ca­tions at times as well.

Bat­tle­field 1

Av­er­age FPS dur­ing tests - 75

Bat­tle­field 1 is huge right now, and also one of the most de­mand­ing games in terms of hard­ware. As a large-scale mul­ti­player FPS, it de­mands a lot of vis­ual mus­cle, pro­cess­ing, and RAM. Visu­ally, the card you’ll need to get the best bench­marks will be some­thing akin to the GTX 1060 or Radeon 480. You’ll need around 6GB of VRAM, or more if pos­si­ble. As with many games re­leased to­day, Win­dows 10 is the op­ti­mum OS, with DirectX 11.1 be­ing ideal (the game will run with 11, though).

De­spite be­ing the new­est game here, Bat­tle­field 1 ac­tu­ally got a con­sis­tently high av­er­age FPS of around 70-75 dur­ing tests with our sys­tem. This is a tes­ta­ment to the game engine and how op­ti­mised it is. This means that you may need higher specs than some games on pa­per, but even with a less pow­er­ful PC, you’ll likely get bet­ter re­sults than some games that are a few years older.

Star Wars: Bat­tle­front

Av­er­age FPS dur­ing tests: 50

Very sim­i­lar to Bat­tle­field 1 (no sur­prise as it’s from the same de­vel­oper), Star Wars Bat­tle­front has sim­i­lar hard­ware de­mands. How­ever, while still visu­ally stun­ning, the game needs less VRAM (4GB), and a lower-end CPU can still run it at max de­tail.

This comes with a drop in av­er­age FPS, though, which we found evened out at around 50. This is de­spite the game be­ing older and hav­ing lower rec­om­mended spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Our sys­tem couldn’t top the FPS man­aged in Bat­tle­field 1. Clearly, the newer games has a far more op­ti­mised engine.

Cr­y­sis / Cr­y­sis 3

Av­er­age FPS dur­ing tests: 60 / 30

We felt we had to in­clude Cry­tek’s sem­i­nal FPS, not least be­cause the first game in the se­ries coined its own PC spec­i­fi­ca­tion-re­lated phrase: “Will it run Cr­y­sis?”

We’ve opted for the first and third game to not only show the dif­fer­ence in rec­om­mended spec over the years, but also to show how games in the same se­ries can re­ally change up the end re­sult. As you can see, thanks to hav­ing a lower rec­om­mended spec­i­fi­ca­tion, the orig­i­nal Cr­y­sis fares much bet­ter than the newer Cr­y­sis 3. Un­like Bat­tle­field 1 and Star Wars Bat­tle­front, the older game mas­sively out­strips its se­quel in terms of per­for­mance, hit­ting a reg­u­lar av­er­age FPS of around 60, whilst the third game plod­ded along at 30.

Still, de­spite be­ing nine years old, the orig­i­nal Cr­y­sis still runs worse than Bat­tle­field 1 on our test rig. That may seem crazy but shows how the use of 4K takes its toll, an ef­fect that’s pos­si­bly made worse as the game re­ally wasn’t writ­ten for such dis­plays.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Av­er­age FPS dur­ing tests: 30

It’s re­ally not sur­pris­ing that The Witcher 3 was such as strain, es­pe­cially at 4K. The fan­tas­tic open world RPG has such im­pres­sive vi­su­als for this kind of game, it’s one of the few that re­ally makes you un­der­stand just how much is go­ing on be­hind the scenes. Its game world is so de­tailed, with so much go­ing on, right down to mov­ing branches and leaves, the PC has to work very hard in­deed. At such high res­o­lu­tions and de­tail, your PC will be get­ting a ma­jor work­out.

Hav­ing an av­er­age FPS of 30 may not sound pleas­ing to a lot of PC gamers, who can of­ten tweak set­ting to achieve much higher FPS rates and thus get much smoother game­play. With Witcher 3, how­ever, it’s a very ac­cept­able rat­ing. Which leaves us to en­joy one of the most visu­ally im­pres­sive, and tax­ing, games around.

Just Cause 3

Av­er­age FPS dur­ing tests – 25

A game no­to­ri­ous for long load­ing times and an engine plagued with per­for­mance is­sues, Just Cause 3 is also a very good­look­ing ti­tle. It’s an­other open world game, and as such there’s a lot go­ing on at any one time, both graph­i­cally and oth­er­wise. Be­cause of this, and an engine that’s just not as well op­ti­mised as oth­ers, it’s a ti­tle that’ll re­ally push your ma­chine, even if not out of de­sign.

We only man­aged to get around 25fps on av­er­age play­ing this game, which isn’t great given the games that per­form bet­ter that are more visu­ally de­tailed and more re­cent. Still, Just Cause 3 is a very pleas­ing game to look at, and it has a lot of work go­ing into the im­pres­sive physics engine, so there’s a lit­tle more rea­son here for a lack of over­all per­for­mance.

Bat­man: Arkham Knight

CPU Core i7 3.4Ghz / F-8350 GPU 4GB Geforce GTX 980 / Radeon R9 290X RAM 8GB HDD 55GB OS Win­dows 8 DirectX 11

Av­er­age FPS dur­ing tests: 15-20

With all of the con­tro­versy upon re­lease of the PC ver­sion of Arkham Knight, it re­ally didn’t come as much of a shock that this would be one of the worst per­form­ers in our tests. The steep rec­om­mended specs give away a game that ob­vi­ously needed a lit­tle more time in op­ti­mi­sa­tion, and run­ning it at 4K, even with a triple SLI setup, didn’t ex­actly gen­er­ate im­pres­sive re­sults.

An av­er­age FPS of 15-20 for a spec like the one we had in our test setup just isn’t good, and thanks to the nu­mer­ous re­ports of many, many gamers on­line, the rec­om­mended spec­i­fi­ca­tions fared even worse at times, even when not run­ning in 4K. It just goes to show that hav­ing a pow­er­ful PC that’s cost a lot of money doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you’ll get guar­an­teed per­for­mance, es­pe­cially if a game has had a shoddy de­vel­op­ment. That’s PC gam­ing in a nut­shell.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

CPU Core i5 2.4Ghz / FX-6120 GPU 4GB Geforce GTX 970 / Radeon R9 390 RAM 6GB HDD 25GB OS Win­dows 7 DirectX 11

Av­er­age FPS dur­ing tests: 20

Although this is a new re­lease for PS4 own­ers, Rise Of The Tomb Raider has been around longer for PC play­ers (and Xbox One, of course), so the specs aren’t as re­cent as other games around at the mo­ment. Still, they’re quite high still, and the game is a real looker. The ‘open-world lite’ ap­proach the game takes is a lit­tle more de­mand­ing than some more lin­ear games, a fac­tor that was cer­tainly demon­strated when play­ing it us­ing our test ma­chine, which splut­tered along pro­duc­ing an av­er­age FPS of only around 20.

Like Bat­man, this isn’t a great score at all, and although Rise Of The Tomb Raider seems to be a much more op­ti­mised graphic engine, it doesn’t run all that well at 4K, even on quite a meaty PC. True, our test sys­tem isn’t the most pow­er­ful in the world, far from it, but it’s still quite a beast when com­pared to a lot of PCs out there, and we’d ex­pect more fluid re­sults out of the game, if we’re hon­est.

ARK: Sur­vival Evolved

CPU Core i5 3.2Ghz / FX-8350 GPU 2GB Geforce GTX 660 / Radeon HD 7870 RAM 8GB HDD 20GB OS Win­dows 8 DirectX 11 Av­er­age FPS dur­ing tests - 5-10

ARK: Sur­vival Evolved has be­come one of the most pop­u­lar of the waves of sur­vival ti­tles flood­ing the mar­ket. Rather than task you with fight­ing against un­dead in a typ­i­cal zom­bie apoc­a­lypse sce­nario, Ark puts on a strange is­land pop­u­lated by pri­mae­val crea­tures. You have to de­fend your­self from these threats, as well as other play­ers, all the time scav­eng­ing for re­sources to build shel­ter and new tech­nolo­gies.

As with all of these on­line, open-world sur­vival games, Ark is a po­ten­tially stress­ful propo­si­tion on any sys­tem, as there’s go­ing to be a lot to han­dle along­side the on­line re­quire­ment. Of­ten, these games are visu­ally stunted in order to make things man­age­able, but Ark has im­pres­sive graph­ics, and this cer­tainly showed in our tests, which pro­duced very low av­er­age FPS scores.

GTA V

CPU Core i5 3.2Ghz / FX-8350 GPU 2GB Geforce GTX 660 / Radeon HD 7870 RAM 8GB HDD 65GB OS Win­dows 8 DirectX 11 Av­er­age FPS dur­ing tests – 5-10

As ar­guably the most pop­u­lar game of the last cou­ple of years, and a ti­tle that’s still in the charts to­day, Grand Theft Auto 5 is a huge success, and for good rea­son. How­ever, when it comes to run­ning on our 4K test setup it was a dif­fer­ent story.

GTA V ac­tu­ally man­aged to get the low­est FPS score by a small mar­gin be­tween it and Ark, which is very sur­pris­ing given the pedi­gree be­hind it, and the far su­pe­rior scores of games that are far more de­mand­ing in terms of spec­i­fi­ca­tions. This is even more sur­pris­ing given that GTA V is es­sen­tially a con­sole port, mean­ing the in­tended hard­ware is less pow­er­ful than the even the stan­dard rec­om­mended PC.

Clearly, the level of op­ti­mi­sa­tion be­hind the scenes just isn’t up to par, and it shows, with very poor FPS on a ma­chine that should eas­ily be hit­ting much higher, even at 4K.

Anal­y­sis

So, we’ve put a few pop­u­lar games through their paces on a test sys­tem that’s more than ca­pa­ble of run­ning them. We did have the added pres­sure of 4K, sure, but we’re look­ing at the best sys­tem you may wish to buy here, and 4K is the cur­rent ma­jor goal for gamers, so this makes sense. Ob­vi­ously, the re­sults would dif­fer when run­ning on a lower res­o­lu­tion.

Com­bine this with the rec­om­mended spec­i­fi­ca­tions we’ve listed, and we have a good pic­ture of the kind of hard­ware you’re go­ing to need if you want to run games at the high­est de­tail and res­o­lu­tions.

On av­er­age, if we elim­i­nate the 4K is­sue, it’s safe to say that a good gen­eral spec­i­fi­ca­tion for run­ning most games at the high­est de­tails would in­clude at least a 3GHz CPU and at least 8GB of RAM. For the GPU, you should be look­ing at a 4-6GB model, prefer­ably one that’s in the last cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions. For Nvidia you’ll want to go with the higher mid-range to high-end, that’s stick­ing with the GTX range. For Radeon mod­els, you’re look­ing for the R9 cards.

For sys­tem RAM we’d say the more the bet­ter is of­ten the case, but at least 8GB will be good for most, and 16GB is a good tar­get to go for as it should cover you all sit­u­a­tions.

In terms of OS and other con­cerns, it’s re­ally down to in­di­vid­ual spec­i­fi­ca­tion of soft­ware. You’ll need plenty of hard disk stor­age, and your OS should be at least Win­dows 7, with the ideal be­ing Win­dows 10 for com­pat­i­bil­ity’s sake.

Go­ing back to the 4K per­for­mance, it’s clear that this has a very big im­pact on over­all per­for­mance, and this is one of the rea­sons we de­cided to im­ple­ment this into our test­ing. It il­lus­trates bril­liantly how mak­ing the move to 4K means much more than sim­ply buy­ing a new mon­i­tor and/or GPU. There’s much more go­ing on be­hind the scenes, and if you plan to move on to 4K gam­ing, you’ll need to be aware of the re­quire­ments and po­ten­tial prob­lems.

It also un­der­scores an of­ten ig­nored el­e­ment of user ques­tions re­gard­ing per­for­mance and re­quire­ments, and that’s the in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance of the games them­selves. As you can see, even with a mon­ster gam­ing sys­tem, some ti­tles per­form much bet­ter than oth­ers, so no mat­ter how much money you spend, you could still end up with a poor level of per­for­mance. Again, our test sys­tem with­out the 4K strain would run most games with no is­sues, but for the full, state of the art HD ex­pe­ri­ence, there’s cur­rently a high ceil­ing in terms of re­quire­ments.

Cost­ing

How much does this kind of setup cost? The ac­tual out­lay will vary wildly, and de­pend on many things, but for the core makeup of any gam­ing sys­tem, we can pro­vide a rough es­ti­mate of a de­cent, high-end ma­chine. For this, we’ll fo­cus on the main com­po­nents – the CPU, GPU, RAM, and hard disk.

Let’s be­gin with the CPU: for around £280 you should be able to snag a good In­tel Core i7 3.6GHz that can han­dle just about any­thing you throw at it with ease. AMD users can also grab a great model in the FX-8360 for around £150, a big sav­ing on the In­tel op­tion. For the GPU, a 6GB Nvidia GTX 1060 will set you back around £250, whilst a Radeon 480 costs slightly less, at around £230. RAM is a lot more flex­i­ble, and there’s a tonne of it around for de­cent prices. We found many dif­fer­ent 16GB DDR4 packs cost­ing in the area of £100 – and DDR3 for less, at around £60-70. As for stor­age, a 2TB hard disk shouldn’t cost much more than £60-70. All-in, then, you can ex­pect to pay in the neigh­bour­hood of £700 for those com­po­nents.

As with the CPU, your choice of mother­board will be a big de­ci­sion, and to some de­gree this will also ef­fect your over­all per­for­mance. You’ll need to choose a one with room for ex­pan­sion, and to han­dle your choice of GPU, be that sin­gle or mul­ti­ple. As you’re look­ing at a high-end model, don’t con­cern your­self with on-board video, as you’ll not be us­ing it. In­stead, fo­cus on de­cent au­dio if you don’t want a dis­crete au­dio card, and make sure there are plenty of con­nec­tions for ex­ter­nal de­vices and video out­puts.

A great ex­am­ple for In­tel users is the ex­cel­lent ASUS Z170 Pro Gam­ing model. This costs around £150 and has been praised by crit­ics for it’s great per­for­mance. We’ve cer­tainly found it to be a very solid model, and one that should carry your high-end kit eas­ily. AMD users could go for Gi­ga­byte’s GA-990FXA-UD7. For around £140, it’s a very ca­pa­ble gam­ing board that boasts a great lay­out that can house the high-end hard­ware you’ll be slot­ting onto it.

That puts the guts of the sys­tem at around £850, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t a huge price to pay, cer­tainly not in the realm of the thou­sands some users pay. Of course, your choice of case, mon­i­tor, and so on will in­crease this, but pick­ing the best mon­i­tor is a whole dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish. Hope­fully, this over­view gives you a good idea of the hard­ware you’ll need and high­lights the ef­fects dif­fer­ent games and their de­vel­op­ment can have on your end-user ex­pe­ri­ence.

16GB RAM doesn’t cost too much

Bat­tle­field 1

Radeon 480

The Witcher 3

Cr­y­sis 3

Just cause 3

Bat­man Arkham Knight

Rise Of The Tomb Raider

ARK: Sur­vival Evolved

Grand Theft Auto V

Nvidia GTX 1060

ASUS Z170 Pro

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