Can Your Rig Run Oblivion?

Elder Scrolls IV: Computer Oblivion

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion contains some of the most incredible visuals ever seen on the PC. It's literally heaving with high-end graphical effects including specular highlighting, normal mapping and HDR (High Dynamic Range) lighting and boasts huge draw distances, massive geometry counts and perhaps the lushest, densest and most realistic foliage to date. Once you factor in a small army of enemy and non-player characters (NPC), the artificial intelligence (AI) to manage them, as well as eviromental and game physics, meteorological conditions and you end up with the recipe for a serious resource hog. You need to ask yourself, what kind of hardware do you need to achieve a decent Oblivion gaming experience?

In the search for answers, we've covered the basics starting with the classic ATI vs. Nvidia conundrum. So, that means we offer an in-depth analysis of the most popular graphics processors. We will start by looking at the bare minimum for Oblivion playability, Nvidia's GeForce 6600 GT and scale up to the most powerful GPUs available today, Nvidia's GeForce 7900 GTX and the X1900 XTX from ATI.

We also detail the benefits of multi-GPU rendering with both SLI and Crossfire platforms, the impact of dual-core CPU processing, and assess both system and video memory requirements. We also take a fine-toothed comb to the most demanding in-game visual options that Oblivion offers, such as its HDR lighting and shadow- and foliage-rendering effects.

But that's not all. As one of the most popular and graphically demanding games of 2006, Oblivion is the perfect bell-weather game to measure how PC graphics hardware has progressed in the past 18 months and where it's heading in the near future. With that in mind, we've compared the latest high-end graphics processors with chips from the previous generation and investigated what Oblivion can tell us about ATI's recent decision to favour pixel shading power over texture and fragment processing with the X1900 XTX.

Does Oblivion provide us with the perfect storm in terms of PC performance? Well, you could argue that part of the problem in getting a decent frame rate out of the game is inefficient coding on behalf of Bethesda Softworks. We saw a similar problem with the previous game to hold the Game Breaker title, F.E.A.R. - but the topic of inefficient coding in game design is one for another day.

One thing is for certain with the latest enstallment of the Elder Scrolls series, No matter how powerful your PC might be, Oblivion will bring it to its knees. The latest and most powerful multi-GPU graphics solutions from Nvidia and ATI simply may not cope with Oblivion with the visual quality settings set to full reheat and even at resolutions as pedestrian as 1280x1024.

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