Battlefield 3 Open Beta Performance and Image Quality

The limited time open beta for Battlefield 3 started last week, and we've spent some time with it. Performance is quite a wild ride in this beta, and it doesn't even have the full graphics the retail version will, but we'll examine it closely to show you how your video cards might stack up when Battlefield 3 finally launches in a few weeks.


Performance Testing

Performance in the BF3 open beta varies to a great extent. The two available maps are large, and performance can vary significantly between one part of either map and any other part. Thus, testing the BF3 open beta was a tremendously frustrating experience. Due to the nature of this being a multiplayer only map without the full-game's features, we were unable to reproduce a testing run with anything remotely resembling consistency. In the end, we were forced to just play the game for a while on each video card while adjusting settings to make sure it was playable everywhere we tested to find the highest playable settings in the maps offered.

For this process, we chose to focus on the "Operation Mأ©tro" map. Taking place in Paris, France, this map focuses on Paris' famed Mأ©tropolitain rapid transit system. While it focuses on the mostly-underground trains, it also takes us to wide open parks and narrower urban corridors. To record performance, we played for about 7 minutes, recording framerates with FRAPS, looking for an average framerate between 38 and 42. This envelope will likely change for the full version of the game, since it will have more graphics features. For now, within a few FPS of 40 is where we were looking to be.

In general, the subterranean areas seem to perform better than the above-ground areas. It's not consistent though, as there are sometimes large firefights underground which can drag performance down. The game seems to also enjoy randomly spawning players underground regardless of whether or not that is where the action is. All of these things make performance testing in the beta a bit frustrating to get the most consistent results.

Highest Playable Settings

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The BF3 open beta was playable on the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 at 2560x1600 with 16X AF, no AA, and mostly Ultra settings. We did have to disable motion blur and reduce the shadows setting to medium, but other detail settings were left at Ultra. In disabling MSAA, we also disabled "Post AA", which is MLAA.

The Radeon HD 6970 performed similarly. At 2560x1600, we disabled MSAA and MLAA, as well as motion blur in order to bring framerates up to an average of about 40 FPS and make the game playable. With the HD 6970, we did not have to lower the shadow quality setting. Both of these video cards gave us very high framerates at 1920x1200 with 4X MSAA and maximum in-game settings selected.

The GeForce GTX 570 and the AMD Radeon HD 6950 were both playable with 4X MSAA, Medium "Post AA" (MLAA), 16X AF and Ultra settings at 1920x1200. We didn't have to disable motion blur or change the shadow quality setting for either of these two video cards at this resolution.

Running at 1680x1050 was not a challenge for either the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti or the AMD Radeon HD 6870. They were both playable at that resolution with maximum in-game settings at a very high level of performance. For our highest playable settings, we chose to increase the resolution to 1920x1200 and tweak settings from there. Neither of these two inexpensive video cards was playable in the entire test level with maximum settings at 1920x1200, so we had to disable MSAA and MLAA on both. With the GeForce GTX 560 Ti installed, we also had to disable motion blur. With the Radeon HD 6870, disabling AA was all we had to do to make the game playable at 1920x1200 with Ultra in-game settings selected.

Individual Performance

Because we were not able to reproduce the same (or even similar) testing procedure for each video card, performance graphs will be presented individually for each of our six video cards. All of these graphs represent data gathered using each video card's respective highest playable settings, as described in the table above.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580

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With mostly Ultra settings selected and AA disabled at 2560x1600, performance was relatively smooth with the GeForce GTX 580. We saw an average FPS very close to our 40 FPS target, and it only dipped below 30 slightly and infrequently.

AMD Radeon HD 6970

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Like with the GeForce GTX 580, performance dipped below 30 FPS infrequently with the Radeon HD 6970. Our average FPS was higher here, but that doesn't mean much with performance as unpredictable as it is in this beta.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570

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The GeForce GTX 570 ran beautifully at 1920x1200 with Ultra settings selected. Choosing Ultra automatically enables 4X MSAA and Medium Post AA (but you have to restart the game to see those changes). Framerates rarely dipped below 30 FPS, and when they did, it wasn't far. Our average was within 1 FPS of where we wanted to be, as we spent most of this test above ground.

AMD Radeon HD 6950

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The Radeon HD 6950 performed a little better than the GeForce GTX 570, though it is hard to be conclusive about it given the state of this beta. We didn't see a single drop below 30 FPS during testing with Ultra settings @ 1920x1200 using the HD 6950.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti

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The GeForce GTX 560 Ti was the most challenged video card in this test. At 1920x1200, we had to disable AA and Motion Blur, but other settings were left at Ultra. We saw occasional dips below 30 FPS. Our average framerate was acceptable and the gameplay experience was smooth enough, so we were not compelled to reduce settings any further.

AMD Radeon HD 6870

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Again, the AMD video card in this price segment had slightly better performance than the NVIDIA counterpart. The Radeon HD 6870 was playable with Ultra settings at 1920x1200, but we had to disable AA, including both MSAA and MLAA. Framerate dips below 30 FPS were rare, but they did happen. Our average framerate was right in target, and the resulting gameplay was very smooth and enjoyable.