Gaming At 3840x2160: Is Your PC Ready For A 4K Display?

How Do We Benchmark Graphics At 4K Resolutions?

Benchmarking At 4K

Unfortunately, we can’t use the DisplayPort interface for our testing. The whole point of FCAT is recording video from the display output, which is then used by a combination of Perl scripts to analyze frame rates. As it stands, capturing video at 2560x1440 already maxes out the Datapath Ltd. card responsible for that task. By splitting the stream into two HDMI signals, however, creating a pair of 1920x2160 outputs, we keep the capture manageable.

The rest of what we do remains very similar to the FCAT-based analysis we adopted months ago. Even though only one panel’s output is memorialized in video, because the graphics subsystem is still rendering to two, the performance measured by our capture card still reflects the complete experience.

Today’s exploration only involves one GeForce GTX Titan, two GeForce GTX 770s, two GeForce GTX 780s, and two GeForce GTX Titans. This is by design.

AMD is now up to its Catalyst 13.10 beta driver, which incorporates the company’s frame pacing functionality that was so warmly received in Radeon HD 7990 Vs. GeForce GTX 690: The Crowd Picks A Winner. We also quantified the benefit of frame pacing in Dual-GPU Battle: Does Frame Pacing In Catalyst 13.8 Turn The Tide? The caveat was that AMD only supports this feature at resolutions up to 2560x1600. Eyefinity, which is needed by Asus’ tiled PQ321Q, isn’t yet enabled either. So, rather than publishing a bunch of graphs that remind everyone what a lot of dropped and runt frames look like, we’re simply omitting multi-GPU configurations in CrossFire for the time being. AMD is fully aware of the issues preventing a good experience at 3840x2160, and we’re now hoping to get our hands on its phase-two frame pacing driver before the end of the year. That’ll be the release expected to add support for higher resolutions, Eyefinity, DirectX 9, and OpenGL.

Test Hardware And Software

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Test Hardware
ProcessorsIntel Core i7-4960X (Ivy Bridge-E) 3.6 GHz Base Clock Rate, 4 GHz Maximum Turbo Boost, LGA 2011, 15 MB Shared L3, Hyper-Threading enabled, Power-savings enabled
MotherboardASRock X79 Extreme5 (LGA 2011) X79 Express Chipset, BIOS 2.40
MemoryG.Skill 32 GB (8 x 4 GB) DDR3-2133, F3-17000CL9Q-16GBXM x2 @ 9-11-10-28 and 1.65 V
Hard DriveSamsung 840 Pro SSD 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX Titan 6 GB
Row 5 - Cell 0 Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 3 GB
Row 6 - Cell 0 Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 2 GB
Power SupplyCorsair AX860i 860 W
System Software And Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 8 Professional 64-bit
DirectXDirectX 11
Graphics DriverNvidia GeForce Release 327.19
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Benchmarks And Settings
Battlefield 3Ultra Quality Preset, v-sync off, 3840x2160, DirectX 11, Going Hunting, 90-Second playback, FCAT
Arma 3Ultra Detail Preset, DirectX 11, 2x FSAA, v-sync off, 3840x2160, Infantry Showcase, 30-Second playback, FCAT
Grid 2Ultra Quality Preset, v-sync off, 3840x2160, Built-In Benchmark, FCAT
The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimUltra Quality Preset, FXAA Disabled, 3840x2160, Custom Run-Through, 25-Second playback, FCAT
BioShock InfiniteHigh Quality Settings, DirectX 11, 3840x2160, Custom Built-in Benchmark Sequence, 75-Second playback FCAT
Crysis 3High System Spec, SMAA MGPU (2x), High Texture Resolution, 3840x2160, Custom Run-Through, 60-Second Sequence, FCAT
Tomb RaiderUltra Quality Preset, FXAA Enabled, 16x Anisotropic Filtering, TressFX Hair, 3840x2160, Custom Run-Through, 45-Second playback, FCAT
Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • RascallyWeasel
    Is it really necessary to use Anti Alaising at this resolution? If anything it would only hurt average FPS without really giving much of a visual increase.
  • RascallyWeasel
    Would of enjoyed seeing the 79xx series take a crack at this.
  • expl0itfinder
    Yep, now hold on while I go order my SLI Titans. Anyone got $2K I can borrow??
  • ubercake
    Great review! It's good to see this information available.

    I know you want to leave AMD out of it since they still haven't completed the fixing of the runt/drop microstutter issue through promised driver updates (actually, I thought it was all supposed to be done with the July 31 update?), but people constantly argue that AMD cards would be superior because of this or that on 4K. Maybe after they release the new flagship?

    At any rate, I won't buy a 4K 60Hz screen until the price drops under the $1K mark. I really wish they could make the higher res monitors with a faster refresh rate like 120Hz or 144Hz, but that doesn't seem to be the goal. There must be more money in higher res than in higher refresh. It makes sense, but when they drop the refresh down to 30Hz, it seems like too much of a compromise.
  • CaedenV
    Hey Chris!
    So 2GB of ram on the 770 was not enough for quite a few games... but just how much vRAM is enough? By chance did you peak at the usage on the other cards?

    With next gen consoles having access to absolutely enormous amounts of memory on dedicated hardware for 1080p screens I am very curious to see how much memory is going to be needed for gaming PCs running these same games at 4K. I still think that 8GB of system memory will be adequate, but we are going to start to need 4+GB of vRAM just at the 1080p level soon enough, which is kinda ridiculous.

    Anywho, great article! Can't wait for 4K gaming to go mainstream over the next 5 years!
  • shikamaru31789
    So it's going to be a few years and a few graphics card generations before we see 4k gaming become the standard, something that can be done on a single mid-high end video card. By that time, the price of 4k tv's/montors should have dropped to an affordable point as well.
  • Cataclysm_ZA
    So no-one figures that benching a 4K monitor at lower settings with weaker GPUs would be a good feature and reference for anyone who wants to invest in one soon, but doesn't have anything stronger than a GTX770? Gees, finding that kind of information is proving difficult.
  • cypeq
    Cool Yet I can't stop to think that I can Put 5 000$ on something better than gaming rig that can run smoothly this 3 500 $ screen.
  • CaedenV
    11564184 said:
    Is it really necessary to use Anti Alaising at this resolution? If anything it would only hurt average FPS without really giving much of a visual increase.

    This is something I am curious about as well. Anandtech did a neat review a few months ago and in it they compared the different AA settings and found that while there was a noticeable improvement at 2x, things quickly became unnecessary after that... but that is on a 31" screen. I don't know about others, but I am hoping to (eventually) replace my monitor with a 4K TV in the 42-50" range, and I wonder with the larger pixels if a higher AA would be needed or not for a screen that size compared to the smaller screens (though I sit quite a bit further from my screen than most people do, so maybe it would be a wash?).

    With all of the crap math out on the internet, it would be very nice for someone at Tom's to do a real 4K review to shed some real testable facts on the matter. What can the human eye technically see? What are UI scaling options are needed? etc. 4K is a very important as it holds real promise to being a sort of end to resolution improvements for entertainment in the home. there is a chance for 6K to make an appearance down the road, but once you get up to 8K you start having physical dimension issues of getting the screen through the doors of a normal house on a TV, and on a computer monitor you are talking about a true IMAX experience which could be had much cheaper with a future headset. Anywho, maybe once a few 4K TVs and monitors get out on the market we can have a sort of round-up or buyer's guide to set things straight?
  • daglesj
    So those of us married, living with a partner or not still living with our parents need not apply then?

    I think there is a gap in the market for a enthusiast PC website that caters to those who live in the real world with real life budgets.