Far Cry 3 Video Card Performance and IQ Review

Far Cry 3 is here, and we take a full look at performance and image quality comparing several video cards. We will find out what it takes to run this beast of a game with each video card, how those compare, and look at performance with certain graphics features, and we compare image quality with those features on and off.

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Highest Playable Settings

In the highest-playable settings below, we have found the overall best resolution and in-game settings for each video card. We found that we were able to have the highest in-game settings enabled, and that what mattered most were the AA settings, MSAA and Alpha to Coverage, as well as Ambient Occlusion level.


GeForce GTX 680 SLI vs. Radeon HD 7970 CrossFire

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We have a lot to talk about in regard to multi-GPU performance and gameplay experience in Far Cry 3. The first thing to keep in mind is that raw faster framerates doesn't always mean a better gameplay experience. There are other factors involved that framerate cannot measure. We experience these other variables as we play the game, and subjectively explain the experience to you.

In the table and graph here, you will find that the AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition CrossFire setup had the highest framerates, beating GTX 680 SLI in raw framerate. The minimum FPS is higher, 42 vs. 37, the maximum is higher 62 vs. 53, and the average is 14.5% higher at 51.2 versus 44.7 FPS. This is at the same playable settings of 2560x1600 with 4X MSAA, Enhanced Alpha to Coverage, HDAO and Ultra in-game settings.

While the framerates are faster under CrossFire, the gameplay experience is noticeably different between GTX 680 SLI and HD 7970 GHz Edition CF in Far Cry 3. We experienced a horrible amount of stuttering under CrossFire. It was as if the game was pausing every few frames, making the game choppy, and the performance inconsistent. The gameplay experience was close to awful using CrossFire.

We did find a way to fix it though, but the catch is you have to enable the "2 Frames" VSYNC option in the graphics settings. What this will do is cap the refresh rate to half of what your display is. In this case, our display is 60hz, so VSYNC x2 sets the FPS to a constant 30 FPS. In doing so, this completely removed the stuttering and choppiness under CrossFire. We were then able to have a smooth experience at any resolution, up to 2560x1600 with 4X MSAA. Therefore, you are not able to achieve the "full potential" with CrossFire, and experience a smooth gameplay experience. You have to cap your framerate well below the average FPS, in order to make CrossFire as smooth as SLI.

On the other hand, SLI had no such issues. We were able to keep VSYNC turned off at 2560x1600 with 4X MSAA and still experience smooth consistent gameplay performance. There was no choppiness and no stuttering with SLI. So the difference here is that we were able to actually play the game at higher framerates with SLI, whereas with CrossFire we had to cap the FPS to 30 FPS. The difference was extremely noticeable.

Neither setup was powerful enough to run with 8X MSAA and Alpha to Coverage at 2560x1600. This game really pushes graphics cards. We did experiment a bit with overclocking on GTX 680 just to see if we could get playable 8X MSAA. We did find that pushing both of our cards to the maximum potential of overclock with 8X MSAA was right on the border of being playable. Therefore, some highly overclocked GTX 680 SLI setups may find 8X MSAA playable at 2560x1600. This is one game where overclocking makes a real difference. We are surely GPU limited with this game.


GeForce GTX 680 vs. Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition

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Now we are looking at single GeForce GTX 680 and Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition performance. We did not have the above stuttering or choppiness problem with single Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition thankfully. However, this game is so demanding that we had to disable AA completely in order to find playable performance at 2560x1600 on both single-GPU video cards.

With the GeForce GTX 680 we found 2560x1600 with No AA wasn't quite enough to make it playable. We had to lower one more setting, in this case we lowered the Ambient Occlusion from HDAO to HBAO (one setting lower) and this gave us a big boost in performance that made 2560x1600 playable, without AA of course. It really was hard to notice much difference under HBAO mode though, compared to HDAO. This is a good tradeoff of visual quality setting to gain performance.

With the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition we were able to have HDAO enabled, but still had to disable AA. Therefore, the HD 7970 GHz Edition was a bit faster in Far Cry 3 compared to the GTX 680 by allowing the higher Ambient Occlusion setting at 2560x1600. However, both still had to disable AA just to be playable at this resolution.

It is clear that HDAO takes a big performance hit on the GTX 680 in our testing. Overall, we found both video cards at a lower 1080p resolution to be playable with 4X MSAA and Enhanced Alpha to Coverage with HDAO. Therefore, if you are playing at 1080p you can get a full visual experience in this game out of these two high-end video cards.