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Gaming In 64-Bit: Tom's Tests, Microsoft Weighs In


We know that testing 64-bit platforms against 32-bit platforms in a handful of gaming scenarios is not a brand new concept. It was done several times back when Crysis launched, and even before that in 2005, when AMD pushed a patch adding 64-bit compatibility to Far Cry. What’s interesting, though, is how far we have (or have not) come with regard to pushing native 64-bit computing in the latest games.

Given the benchmark results, we’re not altogether surprised, either. With the exception of Grand Theft Auto, none of the games we tested demonstrated any appreciable speed-up.

But this is to be expected, according to a wealth of performance data posted all over the Web and confirmed by the IHV and ISV representatives to which we spoke. The magic of 64-bit computing isn’t what it does for performance. Rather, the real story is what it does for game while it’s in development and then for stability when it’s in the hands of the gamer. Of course, you must remember that a 32-bit application without /LAA enabled is still limited to 2 GB of virtual address space, even in a 64-bit environment. However, we’ve seen plenty of examples of technical gamers modifying executables to turn the large address aware flag on.

Sixty-four bit adoption started off slow and is still trudging along. According to Terry Makedon, head of AMD’s software product management team, just over nine percent of Catalyst Control Center downloads are of the 64-bit variety—the audience is still relatively small. However, as the price of memory falls and 4 GB becomes the de facto capacity at mainstream price points, 64-bit operating systems become necessary, if only to utilize the hardware’s full capabilities.

As the shift to 64-bit accelerates, expect a greater number of developers to start shipping native x64 titles. At that point, there will be performance gains to be had, according to Microsoft’s Chuck Walbourn, through utilization of the extra registers, better SSE2 SIMD utilization, aggressive use of memory-mapped I/O, and significantly larger game assets.

The bottom line is that you won’t see game-changing benefits from the apps you play today. But when you consider that a 32-bit Vista license already entitles you to the 64-bit version, that memory is cheaper than ever, that properly recognizing 4GB or more requires a 64-bit OS, and that even 32-bit games with the large address aware flag can benefit from extra system memory, the decision to go 64-bit should be an easy one.

We’ll even take our own medicine. Many of our most recent reviews already employ 64-bit environments, but in the weeks to come, expect to see a benchmark revamp, where we shift as many of our tests as possible to the latest 64-bit versions.

  • salsoolo
    i went 64-bit from last year. i hope that game devs go 64-bit. and every programmer too.

    with Windows 7 around the corner, m$ already said that they expect the majority of windows installations will be 64.
  • curnel_D
    "Given the very known nature of these virtual address space limitations, you’d think that game developers would be taking a more hurried approach to making the transition."

    This mainly has to do with resources. Most developers use the same engine they've built or bought for a span of many years. Take bioware, for instance, who used the Auroa engine for 9+ years, knowing that it was limited to single threads and low memory.
    To switch to 64-bit, these developers would have to take the time not just to modify their existing engines, but more likely rewrite the entire engine because of the changes involved. Something that some developers just cant afford.
  • curnel_D
    Oh, and deffinately drop GTA. None of the GTA or games that use the GTA engine have ever been any good on PC, and have never been consistant in indicating graphics performance due to their poorly developed and optimized code. It's a waste of time.
  • amdfangirl
    I say the benefit of having full access to 8GB of DDR2 is enough to make me switch to 64 bit. Not using a Page File and being able to use native 64 bit programs like those found in CS4, is worth it enough. The advantage of being able to execute native 64 bit instructions is absolutely heavenly powerful speed boost(CS3 vs CS4).
  • spearhead
    indeed 64-bit is good and you can see that in games and applications which take advantage from it. it might require a bit more ram but then 64-bit can handle more applications running at the same time and execution of those applications seems to be alot faster that is what i can tell from my experience with 64-bit vista
  • nathanlh
    One of the reasons that x64 games might run slower on 3GB of system memory than their x86 counterpart is that x64 code should be somewhat larger due to the 64 bit addressing itself. If the x86 code is already feeling the squeeze on 3GB, the x64 code will be even more so - resulting in more memory swapping to disk. Also, one of the benefits of x64 code is the use of more general purpose registers which the x64 games tested here might not have made use of.
  • Chris - could you check the same thing on AMD platform? AFAIK there are some performance differencies between AMD and Intel @ 64bit
  • amdfangirl
    ^ There were some on Linux with the Athlon 64 and Pentium 4. Gap has really closed tho, I'd say.
  • apache_lives
    heh we forget the main concepts here with 64-bit:

    NO ONE uses a system with nothing bar windows a single game installed - they have a few security apps, torrent apps, messenger, keyboard/mouse apps etc - they all sap up resources, so 64 bit gives all apps all the memory they need - for example 8gb is useless to a 32-bit app, but when you got that hungry game ASWELL as a hungry background app etc they both get the full amount of memory!

    Also lessens the "thrashing" effect on HDD's and helps there lifespan etc

    As for why there arnt any benifits for 64 bit games etc - there all still native 32-bit because all those morons still think there 2gb and XP is "sufficent and up to date" - move to 64-bit so we can all benifit!
  • amdfangirl
    ^ +1

    We should all be 64 bit.

    Those who play hardcore games should have at least a x64 proc.

    So, devs should make 64bit games simply.

    The world will transition in due time.

    We just are at the frontier.