AMD: High-End Cards At Ultra Quality
Our benchmarking adventure begins with eight of AMD's fastest graphics cards. Not all are capable of playable frame rates in Cataclysm right up to 2560x1600, but they're all down to serve up solid performance at 1680x1050.
Interesting that the three fastest boards here are limited by our platform at 1680x1050. Remember that; Nvidia's cards seem to offer a bit more margin up top, though we're perfectly happy playing this game in excess of 80 FPS.
If you're rocking a 17" or 19" monitor and playing at 1680x1050, we're pleased to report that any of these cards (even the aged Radeon HD 4870) can yield playable frame rates at Ultra quality settings. Whether or not your processor and memory can keep up is another matter entirely.
The bottleneck up top dissolves as a higher resolution setting puts more pressure on our graphics cards. Everything down to the Radeon HD 6850 is plenty fast.
Now's probably a good time to point out the Radeon HD 5970 languishing in the middle of our charts. AMD claims World of Warcraft is supported by CrossFire, but all of our testing (and a good number of posts to Blizzard's forums) suggest that this game simply will not scale beyond one GPU, even when the GPUs are built onto the same card. As a result, what should be the fastest board here falls to the center of the pack.
Differentiation between each model is much more pronounced at 2560x1600. Everything down to the Radeon HD 5970 level runs fairly smoothly, after which point you'll see spots that probably warrant a compromise in graphics quality--especially if you depend on fluid frame rates for competitive reasons.
In order to better illustrate how average frame rates don't always translate to even performance, we plotted a sample from each second of our benchmark for all eight cards at 1920x1080 (what we consider a more realistic resolution for more gamers than 2560x1600).
Even the fastest card dips under 40 FPS, despite peaking beyond 120 FPS in other spots. And while the two slowest cards seem to serve up reasonable speed, you might find that more demanding raiding environments with spell-heavy fights push those numbers much lower than what we see during a flight around Twilight Highlands.