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Ivy Bridge in gaming: The importance of L3 cache, multiple cores, CPU clock speed and RAM speed

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Thread Starter 
Introduction

Since Corsair released their article about faster RAM being a huge benefit for the framerate in Battlefield 4, the importance of memory speed in gaming has once again been on many peoples mind.
Of course, it's easy to ignore this as simple marketing as Corsair is, among other things a well-known manufacturer of high-speed memory.
This drove individual people and even (At the time of writing) one hardware site to put Corsair's claim under investigation.

So, was Corsair simply faking numbers to get you to buy faster RAM?

I hope not. But they're definitely onto something.

Some people did notice actual benefits in their tests, while some didn't see any difference in FPS. Why? Well I hope to shed some light on this in my own testing.

Battlefield 4 included, many games benefit from faster RAM in noticeable framerate improvements, or simply, faster load times, less noticeable stutters or framerate drops.
Actual benefit for framerate can probably only be observed under a certain condition, which is what some people didn't take into account, thus didn't see a difference in their FPS.

The GPU.

Pushing your RAM or CPU to run faster might be completely useless in terms of actual FPS, if your graphics card cannot even handle the settings you've set for it to render.

In short, it's a bottleneck.

My testing hopefully shows the actual benefits of faster RAM, but I also included the CPU cache, took multiple cores into account and even overclocked the CPU to see how faster memory would scale along with it.

Before you go any further, please keep in mind that I performed all testing with what I have, I'm not a sponsored hardware reviewer and I don't have access to (Much less can afford) other platforms or many games I would have liked to test.

Next up is my test platform and games used.


Test platform and games

Hardware used in my tests:

CPUs: Ivy Bridge Pentium G2030 (2c, 3Ghz, 3MB L3 Cache)
Ivy Bridge Core i5-3570k (4c, 3.4Ghz, 6MB L3 Cache)
3570k was run at 2 cores, 3Ghz
4 cores, 3Ghz
4 cores, 4.5Ghz

RAM: Kingston ValueRam 2x4GB, run at 1333Mhz/9-9-9-24-1T/1.5V
1866Mhz/10-10-10-27-1T/1.65V

Motherboard: MSI Z77A-GD65

Graphics Card: ASUS GTX 670 DirectCU Mini, run at 1106Mhz on core/7008Mhz on memory, 331.65 WHQL drivers

SSDs: Kingston V300 60GB for OS and drivers
Samsung 830 256GB for games

PSU: Silverstone Strider Gold 550W

Monitor: Samsung S23A750D 1920x1080, 120hz

Games tested:

Crysis 2 (CryEngine 3)
TES V: Skyrim (Creation Engine)
Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon (Dunia Engine 2)
Metro: Last Light (4A Engine)
Serious Sam 3: BFE (Serious Engine 3.5)
Team Fortress 2 (Source Engine)
War Thunder (Dagor Engine)

All games used have similar settings throughout this whole article:

1280x720, lowest graphics/preset (Where available)

1920x1080, highest graphics/preset (Where available)


These settings were chosen to bring any GPU-related bottleneck to bare minimum with and on the other hand, maximize them, running the games as demanding as possible.


Crysis 2

A slightly older title, atleast not newest in the series. Aliens attack NYC and YOU are the only hope. Crysis 2 uses the same CryEngine 3 as the sequel Crysis 3 does, but there might have still been changes concerning multithreading or other variables I'm demonstrating.

720p = 1280x720, High preset (As low as it goes, very clever CryTek), DirectX 9, Motion Blur off, High-res textures disabled.

1080p = 1920x1080, Ultra preset, DirectX 11, Motion Blur off, High-res textures enabled



In Crysis 2, the GPU really seems to be hindering any benefits offered by faster memory clock speed or CPU clock speed.

At 720p/1333Mhz RAM, the doubled L3 cache offered by the 3570k increased the minimum FPS by 14 on average.

At 1080p, going from dual-core to quad-core, average FPS increased by around 11, while minimum FPS increased by about 5 frames on average.


TES V: Skyrim

Again, an older title (Even older Creation engine), but still rather popular, especially due to its mod support and the large community around it. Dragons on strings.
Tested completely unmodded.

720p = 1280x720, AA/AF off, all details and draw distances set low as possible

1080p = 1920x1080, 4xAA/16xAF, all details and draw distances set as high as possible



With Skyrim, the faster RAM and doubled L3 cache shows noticeable benefits.

Running a 3570k at 2 cores and 3Ghz, there was definitely some CPU related bottleneck, though going from 1333Mhz RAM to 1866Mhz at 720p, average FPS was increased by about 10.


FarCry 3: Blood Dragon

Using the same Dunia 2 engine as FarCry 3 (Not a sequel or an addon, a standalone game), Blood Dragon delivers miniguns, cyber-sharks and bad one-liners in a flashy 80's parody.

720p = 1280x720, DirectX 9, no AA/Amb. Occ., Low preset

1080p = 1920x1080, DirectX 11, 4xMSAA, HDAO, Ultra Preset



Here the results were really interesting. While doubling available L3 cache increased the FPS on average around 1-6 frames, simply overclocking RAM from 1333Mhz to 1866Mhz on dual-cores nearly doubled both minimum and average framerates on all settings used.

Quad-core is a different story homever, overclocking shows noticeable increases in FPS only at 720p, as the GPU once again shows, it's not able to keep up at the demanding 1080p.


Metro: Last Light

Using their in-house 4A engine, Ukrainian 4A Games developed the popular, dark and visually impressive Metro games, based on Dmitry Glukhovsky's novels, for the whole world. Best enjoyed with Russian voice-acting.

720p = 1280x720, DirectX 10, Low preset, 4xAF, Low motion blur, no SSAA, PhysX disabled

1080p = 1920x1080, DirectX 11, Very High preset, 16xAF, Low motion blur, SSAA, Very High Tesselation, PhysX disabled



Metro games are known for being extremely hard on GPUs, I couldn't claim otherwise.

Doubling the available L3 cache or overclocking RAM show very minimal benefits of about 1-3 FPS in most cases.

Going from dual to quad-core homever, nearly doubled the FPS at 720p, and a hefty overclock increased it even further by around 25 frames.


Serious Sam 3: BFE

Older, not even a very popular title, SS3 brings back health and ammo pickups, massive hordes of aliens to slaughter with increasingly powerful weapons under the Egyptian sun (See the pyramids!), all this with their visually impressive in-house Serious Engine 3.5.

720p = 1280x720, Lowest presets

1080p = 1920x1080, Ultra presets



With SS3, doubling the L3 cache increased the minimum FPS by 10 frames at 1333Mhz/1080p, but overclocking the RAM to 1866Mhz any benefits from the L3 cache at are negated. Across all platforms, overclocking RAM have very minimal benefits in actual FPS, though definitely noticeable.


Team Fortress 2

Oldest title of the bunch, Source Engine and Valve still deliver new patches and different celebratory events with the unique graphics and humour that make this class-based multiplayer FPS so fresh, yet so old. A very popular game, despite it's age.

720p = 1280x720, lowest options, no AA/Bilinear AF, multicore rendering on

1080p = 1920x1080, highest options, 4xMSAA/16xAF, multicore rendering on



Without a doubt, Source Engine enjoys every resource of CPU or RAM available. Using the G2030, overclocking RAM boasted huge benefits at 1080p, while the difference was less impressive at 720p.

The doubled amount of L3 cache offered by the 3570k still had very noticeable benefits, but it narrowed the gap between 1333/1866Mhz memory at 1080p.

Increasing core count increased the gap again, even at 4 cores and 4.5Ghz, overclocked RAM still showed huge benefits in FPS.


War Thunder

Still in development by Gaijin Entertainment in Russia, this Open Beta MMO is based mostly around WW2 and the battles fought on land, sea and air, a definitive challenger to the popular World of -series. Uses the in-house? Dagor Engine.

720p = 1280x720, Min preset

1080p = 1920x1080, Movie preset



Here, overclocked RAM show minimal benefits across the platforms, with dual-cores the doubled L3 cache increased FPS more than simple RAM clock speeds.

Most noticeable difference came with going from dual to quad-core, while overclocked RAM still gave higher framerate all around.


Conclusion and Final Words

Using Ivy Bridge (Though I have no reason to believe that similar architectures such as Haswell would be much if any different from Ivy Bridge in terms of memory performance), memory speed does matter, even with games and related framerate.
With graphically demanding titles, benefits atleast in actual FPS may be completely non-existent, unless the GPU bottleneck is removed or minimized to the point that faster a CPU or RAM would present improvements.

L3 cache is also an important factor in FPS, perhaps in cases even more important than faster memory, but the effect seems to have gone unnoticed along with faster RAM under simple bottlenecks.

What is also interesting, the increases of faster RAM continue to higher clocked platforms. Still being among the fastest available, the 3570k running at 4.5Ghz continued to benefit from faster memory.

Especially on the lower end CPU G2030, overclocking RAM had very noticeable benefits and with Intel now locking most of their cheaper and more mainstream CPUs, with no way to increase core clocks, overclocking your memory would be a viable way to increase performance. (Until Intel locks memory speeds down.)

NOTE: Remember, I'm limited to testing what I own, hyper-threading and AMD platforms are left out, along with games like Battlefield 4 that actually lit up my interest in this subject and is probably the game many would like to see more tests on.

Still, none of these things stopped me from conducting my own tests, and the results definitely impressed me, and I hope you'll find this as interesting of an experiment as I did.

Let me know in the comments of this article or the forums I posted this on, about what you think and what else would you like to find out, any questions or other concerns you might want to present.

P.S. There will definitely be a similar indepth test of Ivy Bridge-E and/or Kaveri APUs (When released.) in December, or later.

- Janne Tervaharju 09.11.2013
post #2 of 3

very informative. maybe post in CPU section  of the forum? +rep

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Dream PC
(17 items)
 
Surface Pro 3
(9 items)
 
 
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
INTEL Core i7 6700K ASUS Maximus VIII Hero Z170 MSI Geforce GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G G.SKILL Ripjaws 4 series 16GB DDR4 3000 
Hard DriveHard DriveCoolingOS
SAMSUNG SM951 NVMe 512GB SAMSUNG 850 EVO 1TB Cooler Master Nepton 280L Microsoft Windows 10 Pro x64 
MonitorMonitorKeyboardPower
BenQ XL2420TE Dell UltraSharp U2415 WASD V2 custom CORSAIR HX850i 
CaseMouseAudioOther
NZXT H440 white CORSAIR Vengeance M95 CREATIVE Sound Blaster Z CPU Delid 
Other
LED Lighting 
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
Intel Core i5 4300U Microsoft Surface Intel HD Graphics 4400 8 GB DDR3L 
Hard DriveOSKeyboardMouse
256 GB SSD Windows 10 Pro x64 Surface Pro 4 Type Cover with Fingerprint ID Microsoft Arc Mouse Surface Edition 
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post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by james8 View Post

very informative. maybe post in CPU section  of the forum? +rep

Posted on the Intel CPUs section, and thank you!
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