First of all before I start, here are the specifications of my system:
Intel C2D E8400 @ 3.75Ghz
OCZ Reaper HPC PC2-6400 4GB @ 1Ghz
eVGA GTX285 @ Stock
SoundBlaster X-Fi XTremeMusic
Windows XP SP3 x86
With that said my main question is as follows: Is Fallout 3's Ultra settings meant for dual-GPU (SLi/Cross Fire) systems?
I'm asking this because I'm experiencing some very slow performance in many outdoor areas. The indoor areas are all playing fast, my frames-rate indoors usually remain around 70FPS, but when I go outside it will very often drop to 30FPS to 40FPS (that's the maximum I managed to get outside in most places, it's not like that everywhere though). There are a few outdoor places where it will remain around 70FPS, but they are rare. The one location for instance where I noted a very tangible drop in performance is right outside Rivet City when facing towards the Jefferson Memorial, if I stand there just looking at the Memorial then my frames drop to around 34FPS, but curiously enough if I make a 180º turn and look on the other side from where I stand it will suddenly go back up to around 60FPS.
Now, you may wonder at which resolution I'm playing, well I'm a little ashamed to say it, but I really had to reduce the resolution to 1280x960 to attain those numbers I posted above. If I leave my resolution to my usual 1600x1200 then I won't get past 40FPS wherever I am outdoor. All of that is on Ultra settings and no extra manual editing in the configuration files. I'm also using 4xMSAA and 15xAF.
There's also one thing I noticed and I really don't like it, I don't know if that is related to the engine itself but it's a little difficult to explain. In Fallout 3 when the frames-rate (at least according to FRAPS) reach 50FPS then the performance really acts as if it was only 20FPS or something like that, the character movement slows down considerably and it really looks like I'm playing with a GeForce 6 card or something... BUT... if I get even "just" 35FPS in Crysis for example then it still runs smoothly and the character and everything else moves fast and nothing slows down. It's tough to explain but there's no games I own expect Fallout 3 where 50FPS will act like if I had 15FPS in Crysis, it's really strange.
Also, to make sure that my card works properly I looked at the back leds and they are green, meaning that the card has sufficient power. Additionally, in 3DMark06 I get a score of around 17,400 points with the specifications and over-clocks applied, which according to what I've seen is right within what I should be getting with my hardware.
I'm really just baffled. Am I supposed to be able to get 60FPS or even go above that my with system at the given configurations I mentioned above? Also when considering the resolution? I really don't get it, unless of course only dual-GPU solutions can run Ultra settings smoothly? But that would be so surprising, I mean aren't the Ultra settings of the PC version supposed to be the exact same as how it runs on the Console versions? Or maybe all of this is "normal" considering the age of the game's engine despite the "upgrades" they've done for it (the roots of the engine date as far back as Morrowind!).
Am I alone in that boat? Having quite a decently performing system but being forced to run Fallout 3 at less than desirable settings due to what we could consider "unusual" slow performance? I know it sounds strange but maybe all Fallout 3 owners here will understand what I mean, but I really think that Fallout 3 needs above 60FPS to run smoothly (more like 70FPS), since as I said earlier it seems that even 50FPS in Fallout 3 really isn't the same as 50FPS would be in pretty much any other games out there including the almighty Crysis which I also own and play regularly on-line at Enthusiast settings, at 1680x1050 and I still get 40FPS with 16xAF and 2xAA, and that 40FPS in Crysis performs as if I had 70FPS in Fallout 3... anyway, I'm just repeating myself now.
I wouldn't worry about it to much 30+ FPS is pretty playable.
As for being outside, many games will run slower while loading outdoor environments as there more tasks for your system to handle, lighting, view distance, extra details, water effects weather effects, etc. I believe Elder Scrolls oblivion was notorious for this and would not run well outdoors on even some of the beefiest machines.
"It's tough to explain but there's no games I own expect Fallout 3 where 50FPS will act like if I had 15FPS in Crysis, it's really strange. "
There may something running in the background, your hard drive might be acting up or something. I had this happen in Half-life2 of all games, last night.
Outside of checking for the latest drivers, directX update and game patches there isn't much you can do.
Check this site out, it has a benchmark for your model of card on fallout3 at various resolutions. There are multiple sli/dual chip configs in the same test so you can see if it is worth it for sli or dual chip card (GTX 295, 4870X2)
I'm going to assume that Fallout Ultra High settings are meant for SLI/Crossfire systems, indoors on my system at 1920x1200 I get somewhere around 100fps dropping to 70ish outside.
Just a note about how you get high FPS after turning: the engine Fallout uses loads textures while you're looking at them, so you'll often notice texture pop-in (where something looks low quality then becomes high quality). Basically, after you spin around you're looking at the lower-qual textures and so the game runs faster briefly (until the bigger textures get loaded)