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Battlefield 3 Performance: 30+ Graphics Cards, Benchmarked

Battlefield 3 Performance: 30+ Graphics Cards, Benchmarked
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Are you wondering how your PC will handle Battlefield 3 before buying the game? We pulled a series of all-nighters to get almost every graphics card in our lab tested, in addition to a handful of processors, to answer your performance-oriented questions.

You’re given a choice between two AAA titles launched within a month of each other: Battlefield 3 or Rage? Hey, and don’t forget Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 coming out in a little more than a week.

Predictably, the decision is going to come down to preferences. Do you relish the thought of multiplayer camaraderie with your buddies, or a more comprehensive single-player experience? Visceral combat or sci-fi? Designed for PC or ported over from the console world?

Zing. I don’t mean to be trite, but that really matters to me. I’m no game reviewer; I’m a hardware guy. So, I spend night after night benchmarking the latest and greatest. I don’t always get to play games, but when I do, I enjoy seeing high-end hardware deliver ever-more realistic experiences.

Battlefield 3 looks good to me in a way that makes me excited to play it. Battlefield 3 was designed for the PC first, and the outcome reflects that in a way made more noticeable by its sharp contrast to Rage.

A Four-Day Data Dump

Truth be told, though, I haven’t even made it very far into playing Battlefield 3. I was online as it went live with one goal: to find a sequence that could be benchmarked reliably (hard to do in a multi-player environment of any sort) and then generate data with it using the extensive hardware collection in our lab.

What I have here is performance information gleaned from 30 individual graphics cards as powerful as AMD’s Radeon HD 6990 and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 590 down to the GeForce 8500 GT and Radeon HD 4670. I have quad-GPU results from both vendors (along with other SLI- and CrossFire-based numbers), plus a look at how performance is affected by in-game anti-aliasing settings. There’s also a brief look at CPU scaling (brief because, at least in the campaign, processor performance is so de-emphasized).

It would have been nice to break down the effect of every single image quality setting in Battlefield 3, similar to what I did in World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm--Tom's Performance Guide (there are a lot of them, after all). However, that piece involved a colossal two-week effort, which Blizzard supported with early access to the expansion. Here, we were only able to jump on Monday night, just like everyone else. So, we generated the performance data as quickly as possible, leaving you to more granularly tune your Battlefield 3 experience with the many knobs and dials that Dice exposes.

We have a mess to clean up...We have a mess to clean up...

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the long list of hardware involved in today’s massive performance comparison.

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Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    jrnyfan , October 28, 2011 4:54 AM
    Great review, thank you very much!
  • 16 Hide
    cangelini , October 28, 2011 7:24 AM
    sentinelsparkOkay how is the HD5850 better than the HD6850. The HD6850 has better memory clock speeds. I was able to play the game in 1080p and AAx2 and all but two on ultra high, and i was getting 35fps average. I am calling Bulls**t on this one.


    Believe it, friend. Why do you think we were so tweaked when Barts came out and AMD's naming sounded so deceptive? 5850 is faster than 6850, just like 5870 is faster than 6870!
  • 14 Hide
    cangelini , October 28, 2011 5:48 AM
    aznshinobiGreat read, lovely to see a wide assortment tested, specially my 5850. Thanks for taking the time Chris, I'm sure it must've taken FOREVER to bench and swap all those cards.


    Very welcome, glad you enjoyed it. Didn't take forever, just four very long days ;-)
Other Comments
  • 20 Hide
    jrnyfan , October 28, 2011 4:54 AM
    Great review, thank you very much!
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 28, 2011 5:03 AM
    great review. but I am curious if a gtx 560ti can run ultra on a playable fps? because I am about to buy one :D 
  • 3 Hide
    orellius , October 28, 2011 5:07 AM
    nevermind my comment about 560 Ti, I see it in the benchmarks (high) but it is not on the main page list of cards (missed putting it there?) (yes, I used the search feature in my browser, no 560 to speak of)
  • -2 Hide
    orellius , October 28, 2011 5:07 AM
    blah, I guess my first comment didnt come through, nevermind then! ha
  • 3 Hide
    spentshells , October 28, 2011 5:13 AM
    Wow does it look good, I played the demo on Xbox did it ever look dumb
  • 3 Hide
    m0th2 , October 28, 2011 5:15 AM
    sirus3020great review. but I am curious if a gtx 560ti can run ultra on a playable fps? because I am about to buy one


    Without any form of AA you can run it on ultra and get over 30fps on every map @ 1920x1080 easily (over 60 when close quarters). Depends on your cpu and if you OC your gpu though. i have mine at 940/2100 and its always above 40fps.
  • 1 Hide
    kcorp2003 , October 28, 2011 5:17 AM
    AWESOME! thank you very much for this. looks like i wont have to upgrade my CPU then. i have HD4870 and i play this on medium settings but still i want the ultra settings. :) 
  • 4 Hide
    aznshinobi , October 28, 2011 5:20 AM
    Great read, lovely to see a wide assortment tested, specially my 5850. Thanks for taking the time Chris, I'm sure it must've taken FOREVER to bench and swap all those cards.
  • 1 Hide
    canadian87 , October 28, 2011 5:20 AM
    Frikkin' finally, now I can upgrade safely. :) 
  • 5 Hide
    alhanelem , October 28, 2011 5:30 AM
    looks like my e8500 and gtx 460 can pull through this game (hopefully)
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 28, 2011 5:31 AM
    I run BF3 in 1920x1080 ultra MSAA4x with my X4 955+HD5770 and it works fine. Playable 30fps :D 
  • 1 Hide
    the torso , October 28, 2011 5:35 AM
    running x fire 6950's and besting 78FPS avg fps on ultra, i5 2500k W/ Thank God no problems with multi GPU
  • 11 Hide
    saratj1 , October 28, 2011 5:42 AM
    For anyone interested I get
    min - 21 Fps
    Max - 71 Fps
    Avg - 41.2 Fps
    Everything maxed at 1080P
    I7-2600k @ 4.3 + Sapphire 6950 2gb Flashed to 6970 with stock clocks 880 1250
  • 1 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , October 28, 2011 5:44 AM
    Great article and I love that picture with a pile of graphics cards :D  Just one obvious thing missing: WHERE ARE SLI 560 Tis??? I was kind of considering picking up a second card for this game... come on, I'm sick of Tom's ignoring that card so often.

    Though I think my 560 Ti still doesn't need a pair if I tone down the settings a tiny bit :)  Good to see that. And yet I hear the game looks great... kudos to DICE for optimizing the game nicely!

    Also, 6950 kicked the 560 Ti nicely in this game :D 

    P.S. So the FX 8150 now has a Phenom name tag on it? :) 
  • 8 Hide
    cangelini , October 28, 2011 5:47 AM
    amk-aka-phantomGreat article and I love that picture with a pile of graphics cards Just one obvious thing missing: WHERE ARE SLI 560 Tis??? I was kind of considering picking up a second card for this game... come on, I'm sick of Tom's ignoring that card so often.Though I think my 560 Ti still doesn't need a pair if I tone down the settings a tiny bit Good to see that. And yet I hear the game looks great... kudos to DICE for optimizing the game nicely! Also, 6950 kicked the 560 Ti nicely in this game P.S. So the FX 8150 now has a Phenom name tag on it?


    I actually don't even have two 560 Tis to show you, unfortunately.

    Phenom? FX? Where? =)
  • 0 Hide
    amirp , October 28, 2011 5:48 AM
    Hey Chris, quick question, did you notice any micro-stuttering with the 6870 cards in crossfire? (kind of like that previous article that was up on toms a while ago). The performance of 6870x2 seems amazing for the price, and am really tempted to pick another one up for my system.
  • 14 Hide
    cangelini , October 28, 2011 5:48 AM
    aznshinobiGreat read, lovely to see a wide assortment tested, specially my 5850. Thanks for taking the time Chris, I'm sure it must've taken FOREVER to bench and swap all those cards.


    Very welcome, glad you enjoyed it. Didn't take forever, just four very long days ;-)
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