Battlefield 3 Preview Performance Preview

Battlefield 3 just landed to excited gamers everywhere today. We've got a preview of performance in single player mode and a look at multiplayer mode. If you are going to be playing this game today, or this week, you will want to give this a read for a preview of what performance to expect.

Introduction

It is finally here guys and gals, the much anticipated Battlefield 3. It was released in retail overnight (10/25), and like many of you we were right there with our hands on it thanks to our Origin download. Grady and I have been playing this game all night to bring you a preview of single player and multiplayer gaming. We will have full blown gameplay performance and image quality evaluation of this game soon. That evaluation will actually be split up into two evaluations, Mark Warner will be focusing on single player part of the game while I, will be focusing on multiplayer. Until then, what we can do is share with you a preview of performance and image quality that we have gathered through the night since the game has been released, so you know what to expect today.

I have been playing single player mode all night, and have some performance points to share with you, while Grady has been playing multiplayer all night and has some screenshots and commentary to share with you on that important aspect of the game. So let's start off with previewing some single player performance. As you know, Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbite 2 gaming engine and throws in all the DX11 bells and whistles you'd expect in a 2011 game. We will go into depth on these features in the full version evaluation. For now, know this, the game supports two types of antialiasing, traditional MSAA and shader based FXAA. For the best performance and image quality, use "Antialiasing Post" which is FXAA in-game.

Given the amount of time we had, we have done as many card comparisons as we could. We have GeForce GTX 580 SLI, GeForce GTX 580, and Radeon HD 6970 CFX and Radeon HD 6970. Note the drivers you should be using below for AMD or NVIDIA GPUs.

For NVIDIA GPU Based Video Cards - NVIDIA ForceWare 285.62 WHQL.

For AMD GPU Based Video Cards - Catalyst 11.10 Preview 3.

Our test system consists of an ASUS P8P67 WS Revolution motherboard, Intel Core i7 2600K at 4.8GHz.


Battlefield 3 Single player - Operation Swordbreaker

To test in this preview we loaded up the first mission in the single player portion of the game which is "Operation Swordbreaker." We played the first 10 minutes of this mission and recorded our framerate with FRAPS. A lot of visual effects actually take place during just these first 10 minutes, including close ups of characters, outdoor environments, explosions, and battle sequences.

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All of our testing is at apples-to-apples settings. We set the game to 2560x1600 and set all in-game options to "Ultra" to max it out. Antialiasing Deferred was set to "Off," this is traditional MSAA and that is a huge drain on performance. Instead, we used Antialiasing Post which is FXAA, we set this to "High." We had 16X AF enabled and HBAO enabled.

GTX 580 SLI vs. HD 6970 CrossFireX

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Good news, SLI and CrossFireX work in Battlefield 3 on launch day if you use the drivers listed in the linked above. Often times new games are released and lack proper profile support either for SLI or CrossFireX. Surely being a high profile game has a lot to do with it, both NVIDIA and AMD made sure proper support works for multi-GPU acceleration in this game.

In our testing so far, we have found some stark differences between SLI and CrossFireX gameplay, at least in this first mission of BF3. While the above graph shows similar performance between GTX 580 SLI and HD 6970 CFX, the graph does not reveal a gameplay distraction we experienced with Radeon HD 6970 CFX. This distractionsdid not appear with GTX 580 SLI, or single-GPU video cards.

We experienced stuttering and jerky behavior with Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX. I wouldn't say that it is "MicroStutter," it is outright "stutter" or a "jerky" feeling as you play. As you move through the map you can see and feel that it is not smooth, not consistent, and you can visually see this as you are walking. There is a lot of straight line walking during the first few minutes of the map, and it is very easy to identify and breaks the immersion of the gameplay. We started with the GTX 580 SLI and experienced smooth gameplay, and then when we installed HD 6970 CFX to compare performance the constantly laggy experience was immediately noticeable.

The jarring behavior is so bad that it is distracting to gameplay, and is not a configuration I would use if I were playing BF3. After having used both GTX 580 SLI and 6970 CFX in this first mission, I can easily say GTX 580 SLI is the better experience and what I would use when playing. AMD has a lot of work to do with CrossFireX, while the performance is there, the smoothness and consistency is not even closely competitive with SLI configurations. Now, it could be a simple in-game graphics option that is causing the issue, but it is something we will have to look at closer as we play the game more.

Update On Stuttering - Fix Available

Concerning the CrossFireX stuttering mentioned above, AMD has informed us that the 11.9 CAP 3 that was recommended to install for BF3 is actually the culprit for the stuttering behavior with CFX in this game. AMD recommends to uninstall the CAP and only install Catalyst 11.10 Preview 3 driver. If you already have the CAP installed, your best bet is to uninstall the CAP as well as the driver, and re-install just the driver with no CAP. We have tested this by removing the CAP, and on our system the stuttering with 6970 CFX is gone. We experienced no negative impact to performance in the game by removing the CAP. The gameplay experience is much better with the CAP uninstalled.

"One note آ– about the stuttering for CFX, the latest CAP is causing that, once you remove it, you should be fineآ…we’re on it and fixing it as we speak." -AMD

GTX 580 vs. HD 6970

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Looking at single-GPU performance we find the GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 6970 to match exactly for performance. There doesn't seem to be any perceptible differences between the two video cards in terms of performance. We also experienced no stuttering, and completely smooth gameplay on both AMD and NVIDIA video cards. Keep in mind, the Radeon HD 6970 is still much less expensive than GeForce GTX 580, so you get the same performance as GTX 580 for a much lower price in BF3.


GTX 580 SLI vs. GTX 580

Now we are comparing single-GPU vs. dual-GPU to find any performance benefits.

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Installing a second GeForce GTX 580 improved performance by a whopping 85% from a single GTX 580. This is just about the best SLI efficiency we've ever seen in a game. This is great news for SLI scaling.

HD 6970 CFX vs. HD 6970

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AMD Radeon HD 6970 CFX was right on the heels of GTX 580 SLI, providing an 83% performance improvement compared to single GPU. However, while the performance was faster with HD 6970 CFX, it did create that stuttering problem that was entirely distracting to gameplay immersion.