'Need For Speed' PC Performance Review

An old friend is finally available on the PC without frame rate restrictions: 'Need for Speed' is here to push PC graphics cards to their limits. Expectations are high after the long wait, and the game lives up to some (but not all) of them.


Differences between the console and PC versions of Need for Speed can be summarized in one sentence: The PC version has better graphics, supports higher resolutions with aspect ratios of up to 21:9, and it doesn't have a frame rate limit. EA says that's why its PC release was late.

The game looks a lot more detailed at higher quality settings, which is particularly noticeable when looking at distant parts of the image. Unfortunately, the time of day seems permanently set to 2:00 A.M., and you're almost completely alone on the road. Even Need for Speed: Underground 2 had more traffic than this.

Then there's the adjustable texture quality that can push memory requirements to new heights when combined with high resolutions. We'll see the setting make its mark on the benchmark results. Other configurable options include shadow quality, motion blur and ambient occlusion. Just like Star Wars: Battlefront, the game implements HBAO at Ultra settings.

As for anti-aliasing, your choices are limited. There's FXAA, which looks like it can't quite keep up, and then there's temporal anti-aliasing, which blurs the entire picture.

Test Scene And Settings

Some things always stay the same. Online play and DRM will ruin your test every time unless you carefully plan ahead. In this case, it's necessary to hunt down a well-hidden setting under game options to keep other people from wrecking consistent benchmark runs. Play Alone lets you start the game on your own with a relatively unobtrusive AI as your only competition.

Even if you can find it, the Play Alone setting has two drawbacks. First, you have to be in the garage to use it; it won't show up otherwise. Then, it doesn't get saved, so you have to set it every time you restart the game.

In light of this title's long loading times, we're left to conclude that Need for Speed doesn't have a traditional offline mode. It still uses a server, just without anyone else joining in. Consider it an MMO racer, with all game scores and modifications permanently saved online. There are no local saves.

Another problem involves Origin's extreme paranoia when it comes to hardware changes. Even switching out your graphics card too often can lead to a temporary account suspension. Star Wars: Battlefront has the exact same problem.


The picture above shows our workaround. Two graphics cards are installed at start-up, with the primary one always being the same. Once everything is up and running, the cards are switched. Unfortunately, this only took us so far. We had to use a second key that one of us already owned to test the APUs and iGP.

We used a regular sprint race for our test sequence. It didn't have any other players who might interfere with the test due to the Play Alone setting. We always stayed right behind the rest of the field, and we always finished the entire race to generate the most reliable and comparable results. Naturally, this eats up a ton of time, so we had to limit the number of cards tested per configuration. At least we could run two tests in parallel due to that second key.

Just as we observed in Star Wars: Battlefront, Need for Speed runs well on low-end systems. This helps drive the minimum hardware requirements down. Consequently, we used the Ultra preset without motion blur for all resolutions from 1920x1080 on up. We used the lowest preset for 720p in order to show what entry-level PCs can do.

Differences between the presets are smaller than you might think. Flickering is really the main problem at lower settings. Rain drops look like sparks from a circular saw, while car edges and seams turn into a mess of flickering, crawling jaggies.

Test System And Methodology

Before we get to the results, here's a quick overview of our test systems. We opted to use several configurations for measuring each performance level instead of manually scaling down the CPU.

Gaming Performance
Test Systems
Intel Core i7-5930K at 4.2GHz (MSI X99S XPower AC, 16GB DDR4-2400)
Intel Core i7-5775C, Intel Core i7-4790K (MSI Z97A Gaming 6, 16GB DDR3L-2133)
AMD A10-7890K (Asus A88X-Pro, 16GB DDR3-2400)
Drivers
AMD: Radeon Software 16.3.1 Hotfix
Nvidia: 364.51 WHQL
Intel: Beta 15.40.20.4404

Let's move on to the first tests and take a look at the results at different resolutions.

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