Intel Core i7 and Gaming

We take our Intel Core i7 processors ranging from 2.66GHz all the way up to 4GHz and turn them loose on Ubisoft’s FarCry 2. It is a great game but does it need a new CPU to give you a better gaming experience? The results even surprised us.


The rumor going around for a while now is that آ“Nehalem is going to be no good for gaming.آ” Well, obviously that is bullshit, but there is something in that statement that rings true. The real question here is آ“Will the Core i7 processor be any better for my gaming experience than a Core 2 Duo dual core CPU?آ” That is not an easy question to answer. The reason being is that the world of gaming is very much single threaded with few exceptions. One of those exceptions is Supreme Commander. And while it does benefit from quadcore processors, you have to really be pushing the game with heavy mods and even then it still is hardly utilizing the processor to the fullest, or even to the آ“half fullest.آ” And that was a year and a half ago. While I am sure some folks are still playing it, SupCom is hardly all the rage.

Out of all the gaming engines I have worked with on the PC, the best one I have seen in terms of multithreading is Lost Planet. It was one of the first آ“DX10آ” games to hit the shelves back in mid-2007. Hardly a barn-burner in terms of PC popularity, it is still worth a quick Nehalem look as it lays out آ“the problemآ” with games and multithreading.

Test System Specifications:

Intel Core i7 965EE (3.2GHz - 24*133MHz), Core i7 940 (2.93 - 22*133MHz), Core i7 920 (2.66 - 20*133MHz)
ASUS P6T Deluxe X58 Motherboard
Corsair 3 x 2GB TRGX6G11600C8S @ 8-8-8-24-1.65v

Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (3.2GHz آ– 16*200MHz), Core 2 Duo E8500 (3.16GHz - 9.5*167)
Kingston 2 x 1GB KHX1600D3K3 @ 8-8-8-24 @ 1.91v

Shared Components:

Lost Planet and Multithreading

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Now if you saw our Core i7 synthetic benchmarks article, you can see where these low resolution Lost Planet timedemo scores look extremely similar. The i7 shows to be over 35% faster than the Core 2 on a clock-for-clock basis. Better yet, we are seeing 40% scaling simply moving from a dual core processor to a quad core processor. Lost Planet is without a doubt the best scaling game engine I have had the pleasure of being exposed to bar none. The problem is, who the hell plays a game at 640x480 anymore?

Letآ’s move up to something a bit more [H]آ’ish shall we?

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This is Lost Planet at 1920x1440 resolution with default quality settings turned on. There is limited shadowing, HDR, and no motion blur used. The game still looks very good at this resolution and any game running at around 100 frames per second not looking like total ass is a plus in my book. You see where all of our quadcore CPUs record nearly identical frame rates while the 3.16GHz Core 2 dual core CPU falls behind. It is obvious that even at this high resolution there are CPU multithreading benefits to this game. Our quadcore CPUs are GPU-limited. They have hit the wall in what they can accomplish as the GeForce GTX 280 is standing in their way.

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To further illustrate this point; letآ’s turn on all that eye candy we were missing above and scale the resolution to something even higher. Obviously at these settings we are tremendously GPU limited. Our CPU clock speed and cores means little to Lost Planet at these settings.

Where am I Going with This?

FarCry 2 is the newest آ“blockbusterآ” to hit the gaming scene. We are not here to review the game content, but suffice it say, if you are a آ“mission whoreآ” or wanting to play the game only to finish quickly, FarCry 2 is not for you. Brent Justice, our Managing Video Card editor, recently wrote a damn good article that covers FarCry 2آ’s realworld gaming performance and what you can expect from the game on the current generation of NVIDIA and AMD video cards. The fact of the matter is that FarCry 2 is playable on $180 video cards at 1920x1200 resolution. We have been telling you for years that todayآ’s gaming quality is primarily a function of your video card. That is still very much true today, but is FarCry 2 a different animal? Is so, it is likely that Intelآ’s new Core i7 is the processor to point the difference out to us, or given the performances we have seen in its application and synthetic benchmarks, we think so.

While FarCry 2 does not seem to be as efficiently multithreaded as Lost Planet in the traditional sense, it is very capable of reaching into two processor cores even at resolutions of 2560x1600 with a LOT of eye candy turned on. I have played about 10 hours worth of FarCry 2 since it was released on my Core 2 Quad 3.2GHz with a Radeon HD 4870 X2 installed. I keep a second monitor on while playing and watch my CPU and RAM utilization. Even at 2560x1600 with آ“Very Highآ” quality settings, FarCry 2 consistently reaches into 40% of my available processor cycles. The immersion quality of the game is great at آ“Very Highآ” and as Brent has shown us, plenty of current generation video cards are capable of this quality setting.

So while we could bring you a plethora of low-resolution gaming benchmarks that showed how great CPU the Core i7 is (like in the Lost Planet 640x480 benchmark above), we would rather spend some time and show you how the Core i7 might impact your realworld gaming experience at home and we think FarCry 2 is just the game to show you with. While you know us to be آ“anti-benchmark /anti-timedemoآ” guys, FarCry 2 seems to be a bit different. It comes with a built-in timedemo tool that is not your normal benchmark monkey tool. It is not focused on just making great benchmark scores so the game will sell better; Ubisoftآ’s team built a tool that is very much representative of actual gameplay. BIG KUDOS to them for this, and let us say, آ“Thank you.آ”

We are not sure if FarCry 2آ’s Dunia game engine is indicative of most game engines to come, but it looks to be one of the best we have ever seen when it comes to actually utilizing our CPUs and video cards. So letآ’s see what the numbers tell us!