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Frame Rates Examined

Exploring SSD Performance In Battlefield 3, F1 2011, And Rift
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We've also heard postulations that SSDs help improve frame rates, which simply doesn't seem to be the case. Proving that, however, is often challenging. There's variation inherent to every sequence, and of course we can't use pre-rendered cutscenes. The goal, then, becomes finding a consistent metric able to yield the most precise results possible. In our first exploration of graphics performance in Battlefield 3, for example, we found that a 90-second capture from the opening of Going Hunting delivered repeatable scores.

For this comparison, we're switching to the intro for the Thunder Run mission because it's slightly more intensive.

These cursory benchmarks confirm that, when it comes to frame rates, storage is not your bottleneck. Speeding it up won't yield bigger numbers. Almost always, graphics is what holds you back. Less often, processor performance gets in the way. The improvements facilitated by SSDs are seen in game and level loading.

Why, then, do gamers love SSDs beyond those two benefits? Well, solid-state storage does empower your machine with the ability to maintain extremely high throughput as queue depth increases. As a result, you can run into performance-degrading situations when multiple apps are running concurrently, reflected as choppiness when you're playing a game. It's not a constant phenomenon; rather, you see periodic hiccups that interrupt the suspension of disbelief made possible by really great games. You don't see it with an SSD installed. The best (and perhaps most typical) example of this is when an anti-virus app launches a full scan in the background.

This point is largely a non-issue nowadays. Most security suites are smart about the way they start up, postponing activity or throttling their demands if they detect a system load. We decided to force the issue anyway, compelling Norton Internet Security 2012 to scan our drives with the same Battlefield 3 benchmark running.

We end up with slight choppiness when the system is forced to wait on the disk to finish read or write operations issued by the other application. However, between each stutter event, frame rates are going to be the same for SSDs and hard drives. It's the choppiness that causes the average frame rate to drop. With that full virus scan going on in the background and periodic stutters occurring as a result, average performance drops to 53.5 FPS on our hard drive-equipped platform with a GeForce GTX 580 rendering Ultra Quality settings. Compare that to 59.6 FPS on the same machine, unmolested.

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Top Comments
  • 26 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2011 3:46 AM
    IMO, a WD Caviar Black or a Samsung Spinpoint F3 would have been a better test drive than the Green one.
  • 19 Hide
    Supernova1138 , November 25, 2011 4:20 AM
    True, but it is much more cost effective to add more RAM to your system in that circumstance than to get an SSD large enough for your OS and a couple of games. With RAM so inexpensive these days there is absolutely no reason to be running low on it under any gaming scenario.
  • 14 Hide
    masterjaw , November 25, 2011 6:53 AM
    Quote:
    Storage can actually make a difference in FPS in certain situations. Only put in 2gb or so of RAM in the test system and rerun Battlefield 3, and the difference in frame rates will be different between HDD and SSD as the game switches to secondary storage once RAM is exhausted.


    And who the hell would buy an expensive SSD but cannot even put a decent amount of RAM on his system? :pfff: 
Other Comments
  • 8 Hide
    asnorton44 , November 25, 2011 3:14 AM
    Interesting to see it won't imrpove all gameplay
  • 3 Hide
    clonazepam , November 25, 2011 3:44 AM
    Makes sense. I'll install sw:tor to the ssd after i figure out how to make its 20GB fit on it lol... the rest go to the HDD...

    Good read. Thanks for being so thorough.
  • 26 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2011 3:46 AM
    IMO, a WD Caviar Black or a Samsung Spinpoint F3 would have been a better test drive than the Green one.
  • 0 Hide
    christoforo , November 25, 2011 3:50 AM
    Thanks to all the reviews you made here guys. A couple of months ago I started planning my ssd purchase, and i decided to buy a Kingston HyperX 240gb bundle kit. I cant wait till it arrives. I have advanced computer skills, so many things I thought from personal experiences are published here, like I knew some games are more write dependant or read dependant from and HDD, and about the apps on the background on WIN7, and many many more. I already ordered my SSD, but its nice to have a serious review about ssds on gaming performance. Its all about the speed that the apps can be done by write/read on a ssd on the background that really matters, from this simple thing is that anyone willing to upgrade to an ssd can benefit with a smoother playable experience.
  • -7 Hide
    gmcizzle , November 25, 2011 4:07 AM
    Storage can actually make a difference in FPS in certain situations. Only put in 2gb or so of RAM in the test system and rerun Battlefield 3, and the difference in frame rates will be different between HDD and SSD as the game switches to secondary storage once RAM is exhausted.
  • 19 Hide
    Supernova1138 , November 25, 2011 4:20 AM
    True, but it is much more cost effective to add more RAM to your system in that circumstance than to get an SSD large enough for your OS and a couple of games. With RAM so inexpensive these days there is absolutely no reason to be running low on it under any gaming scenario.
  • 4 Hide
    cumi2k4 , November 25, 2011 4:22 AM
    Agreed with xyzqwerty, please do another test with faster drives such as wd black or the f3. Comparing the ssd with green version is like racing your turtle with the neighbor's hare.
  • 9 Hide
    acku , November 25, 2011 5:09 AM
    cumi2k4Agreed with xyzqwerty, please do another test with faster drives such as wd black or the f3. Comparing the ssd with green version is like racing your turtle with the neighbor's hare.


    I'm a little confused why you would want to see that comparison. We established there was no diff between a slow HDD and a fast SSD. And you expect a difference between a fast HDD and fast SSD?

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
  • 2 Hide
    silverblue , November 25, 2011 5:36 AM
    asnorton44Interesting to see it won't imrpove all gameplay

    I see what you did there. :p 
  • 4 Hide
    FunSurfer , November 25, 2011 6:09 AM
    Quote:
    I'm a little confused why you would want to see that comparison. We established there was no diff between a slow HDD and a fast SSD. And you expect a difference between a fast HDD and fast SSD?

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com



    He probably want to see that comparison on the "Hard Drive Performance Comparison" page, where is a big difference between SSD and HDD performance (the HDD up to 477% slower)
  • -2 Hide
    masterjaw , November 25, 2011 6:48 AM
    Quote:
    IMO, a WD Caviar Black or a Samsung Spinpoint F3 would have been a better test drive than the Green one.

    The point of using a slower drive than those is to emphasize the effects of using SSD vs HDD when it comes to gameplay/FPS. Of course, if the slower drive is quite on par with SSD on FPS ratings then the faster HDDs will do well too.
  • 14 Hide
    masterjaw , November 25, 2011 6:53 AM
    Quote:
    Storage can actually make a difference in FPS in certain situations. Only put in 2gb or so of RAM in the test system and rerun Battlefield 3, and the difference in frame rates will be different between HDD and SSD as the game switches to secondary storage once RAM is exhausted.


    And who the hell would buy an expensive SSD but cannot even put a decent amount of RAM on his system? :pfff: 
  • 6 Hide
    perfectblue , November 25, 2011 7:09 AM
    Quite surprised to see Skyrim and WoW left out of the pool. In my opinion games like these give a lot of improvement in SSD. Just think how many times you load in BF3 and compare that with skyrim. Pretty insane :D 

    Notably, my laptop with a Intel 510 250GB, my in-game load times are about 2 seconds in skyrim compared to the desktop running 1TB spinpoint at raid takes 4-5 seconds. The same desktop with a crucial M4 takes around 2 seconds. Moreover I never had any spikes/lags with SSDs while gaming.



  • -3 Hide
    gmcizzle , November 25, 2011 7:37 AM
    masterjawAnd who the hell would buy an expensive SSD but cannot even put a decent amount of RAM on his system?

    Nobody would of course, but the point is it can make a difference.
  • 10 Hide
    Marcus52 , November 25, 2011 8:01 AM
    ackuI'm a little confused why you would want to see that comparison. We established there was no diff between a slow HDD and a fast SSD. And you expect a difference between a fast HDD and fast SSD?Cheers,Andrew KuTomsHardware.com


    If you are just looking at frame rate performance, you are of course correct Andrew; what's the point?. However, what about the launching of the games and level loading? In some games there is a marked difference.

    The comparisons I'd like to see would be the load times for game launching and levels with faster hard drive solutions. As an MMORPG player, the zoning times would be of interest - how long does it take to zone into another instance, and does that significantly improve with an SSD?

    I'd like to see 2 hard drives in RAID 0 compared. Other single hard drives would be interesting (being a great fan of the Velociraptor series, I'm always interested in those, even if they are kind of an odd duck at their price in today's world) but to a lesser degree for me.

    The other test comparisons I'd like to see would be SSDs used in caching systems, such as what the Z68 chipset allows, (a whole article could be done on the effects of size of SSD on caching, I think) and solutions like the OCZ Synapse, and RAM drives. (RAM is so cheap now popping an extra 12GB into a 24GB capable mainboard and setting up a 16GB RAM drive looks like a very attractive way for me to boost performance in my aging X58 system. :)  )

    Please don't take any of my suggestions as complaints or that I'm saying your tests were incomplete; I'm just throwing some ideas out. I'm well aware of how much effort goes into producing these articles, and am grateful for all that you do.

    ;) 


  • -2 Hide
    Gamer-girl , November 25, 2011 8:05 AM
    What happens if you limit the SSD to a SATA 3Gb/s port?
  • 3 Hide
    ivyanev , November 25, 2011 8:08 AM
    I want to see how RAID of HDD compares to single SDD at comparative cost, and not only for games.
  • 2 Hide
    jemm , November 25, 2011 8:28 AM
    There a lot of things to consider, however smoothness in gaming is still an expensive feature. In the future we´ll be looking at SSDs prices like we do today with RAM.
  • 0 Hide
    Marcus52 , November 25, 2011 8:32 AM
    perfectblueQuite surprised to see Skyrim and WoW left out of the pool. In my opinion games like these give a lot of improvement in SSD. Just think how many times you load in BF3 and compare that with skyrim. Pretty insane Notably, my laptop with a Intel 510 250GB, my in-game load times are about 2 seconds in skyrim compared to the desktop running 1TB spinpoint at raid takes 4-5 seconds. The same desktop with a crucial M4 takes around 2 seconds. Moreover I never had any spikes/lags with SSDs while gaming.



    He did WoW in a previous article.

    I would like to have seen Skyrim too, but really Andrew's test suite should be about displaying different facets of storage solution performance before it's about pleasing the readers with games they want to see - and the games he chose are extremely popular. In my opinion, Rift isn't "the latest craze" in MMOGs, it's kind of old news, but it is still a good test to run at least once in that we see how it runs and how it is different than, say, WoW, or the other non-MMOG games.

    One thing is very clear, games aren't all the same; not even games of the same type. One of the reasons I kept asking for WoW to be used as a bench in the past was because it was so CPU intensive, and most game weren't. In Cataclysm, that changed, and it became a game that could stress both CPU AND GPU, so I think it is a very good game to use for benches. However, MMOGs are harder to bench with than other games.

    You can only use so many games for benchmarks, and some people are going to wish other games were used so an article relates to them more directly. I think it's good to make suggestions, but have trouble understanding why people get surprised when a game isn't used, talk in terms of something being "left out", or seem to take things personally.

    ;) 
  • 3 Hide
    BrightCandle , November 25, 2011 8:38 AM
    Arma 2 is one of those games that really leans on hard drive performance. Because it uses a very large continuous world the game struggles to load the textures when travelling any faster than walking speed. There is never any texture/world popping with a Vertex 2 however, even an Intel X25-M is fast enough to solve the problem.

    It matters a lot when using a helicopter or plane as trees are notoriously appearing at very short range all of a sudden. While it doesn't affect the frame rate the game works a whole lot better with enough IO performance.
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