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Batman: Arkham Asylum: GPUs, CPUs, And PhysX Performance


Batman: Arkham Asylum is a very compelling game, and thanks to the highly-optimized Unreal 3 engine, it performs very well on a wide range of graphics hardware. At the highest visual quality, even the low-end Radeon HD 4650 was able to provide good performance at 1280x1024, the GeForce GT 220 could handle 1680x1050, and the GeForce 9600 GT could perform well at 1920x1200. With detail levels lowered, resolution could be raised on these cards if desired. More powerful cards like the Radeon HD 4850, GeForce GTS 250, Radeon HD 4870, and GeForce GTX 260 could handle the ultra-high 2560x1600 resolution at high detail without a hiccup.

Adding 4xAA provided the Nvidia cards with an advantage over their Radeon counterparts, and at 1920x1200, only the GeForce GTS 250, Radeon HD 4870, and GeForce GTX 260 were able to maintain minimum frame rates over 30 FPS, although the 9600 GT provided a playable, if not ideal, 24 FPS minimum.

Turning on PhysX isn't necessary for gameplay, and you'll never miss it if you don't see the effects. However, when PhysX is enabled, it adds superlative nuances and really creates some “wow” moments. The chunky explosions, cloth effects, paper, fog, and environmental detail enhancements are very cool.

And that's where things get expensive. A single GeForce 9600 GT isn't going to cut it if you want a 30 FPS minimum frame rate. You'll need a GeForce GTS 250 to play at 1680x1050 with normal PhysX enabled, and a GeForce GTX 260 can just handle 1920x1200. With PhysX set to High, even the GeForce GTX 260 can't handle a minimum frame rate of 30 FPS at 1280x1024, so you should consider a dedicated PhysX card if you want high resolution play (and you have a free PCI Express slot available on your motherboard).

The good news here is that a GeForce GT 220 can be had for as little as $65 online, and as a dedicated PhysX card, it will guarantee that the High PhysX setting won't bottleneck performance. Even at 1920x1200, the GT 220 produced a minimum frame rate of 36 FPS as a dedicated PhysX card. Using more expensive solutions as dedicated PhysX processors didn't produce appreciably higher frame rates, so the GeForce GT 220 is a real PhysX champion for the price.

To conclude, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a very well-produced game with high production values, great game play, and most importantly, it puts you inside Batman's head. On top of that, the game runs exceptionally well on a wide range of hardware, and even the lowliest graphics card we tested in the roundup was able to handle maximum details at 1280x1024.

Once hardware-accelerated PhysX is enabled, this is another matter entirely, and those of you who want the best high-resolution PhysX performance will need to consider an Nvidia graphics card more powerful than the GeForce GTX 260 or a dedicated PhysX card such as the GeForce GT 220. There is a high price to pay for PhysX performance, but I have to admit that the eye candy is a lot of fun to watch. Once you've turned it on, it's not something you'll turn off if your hardware can handle it.