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Will/is your aging dual core bottlenecking your new graphics card?

post #1 of 44
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Will/is your aging dual core bottlenecking your new graphics card?

While I'm writing this, the quads are slowly taking over. We're seeing more and more focus on additional cores and people constantly ask the question, ”Is my dual core bottlenecking me?” It's a tricky question, 'cause performance of a CPU varies by architecture and clock speed, GPU's vary in performance, monitors vary in resolution, people have different framerate tolerances and games use the resources available to them differently.

To help answer this question I decided to do some benching. I'll focus on "real world situations", so I won't put the graphics at minimum, I'll use the settings that a typical gamer might use.

I started out with this rig:

E8200 @ 3.8 Ghz
HD 5850 @ 1000/1225 using Cat 11.2

Then I changed to this rig:

i5 2500K @ 4.8 Ghz
The old HD 5850 @ 1000/1225 using Cat 11.2

The E8200 @ 3.8 Ghz is a bit faster than stock C2D's out there, but it isn't a crazy OC, a lot of people run 4 Ghz 24/7. I think this is a nice speed, some people were actually complaining because they thought it was too low, but I sadly couldn't go higher with my CPU. It's roughly equal to a 4 Ghz Phenom II X2.
This CPU obviously won't perform like a newer i3, but they're in a different league anyway, most of them perform more like a quad. My results will be more aimed at people looking to replace their current rigs, not people who just bought shiny new duals.

The HD 5850 performs roughly like an HD 5870 at these speeds.

What processor was used in the new rig is largely irrelevant for this test. The only point is that it doesn't bottleneck the GPU. It could just as well be a Phenom II X4. Don't go rushing out to get an i5 (unless you need it of course), just get a CPU that doesn't bottleneck your GPU. Enthusiasts will be glad to help you pick your CPU.

Using 1000/1225 turned out to be a huge mistake as you'll see later. I'm sorry that I didn't foresee this problem.

3DMark



I only included this because it's the most famous benchmark. It has little relevance as it tests the CPU and GPU separately.

Bad Company 2

One thing to note: The increased stress on the GPU when the CPU bottleneck was removed, caused my GPU to crash at 1000/1225. I ran this at 950/1225.

I played a couple of matches in Conquest on Atacama in the multiplayer trying to vary my play style. This isn't a very consistent test, but it gives a good idea of how real gameplay is.



I believe I messed up the 1280x720 test for the dual, the results really shouldn't be that low. If anyone has a E8x00 and an HD 5850/70 and wants to help by just FRAPS'ing a couple of their matches at those settings, that'd be great.

Anyway, BC2 was hungering for some more CPU power. At 1920x1200 without AA or AF, the FPS almost doubled with the i5.

I'd say BC2 can be played on a dual, but you'll have to accept that your FPS can dip to the low 20's/30's depending on your CPU. IMO that's too little, I really don't want my FPS to dip that much.

Call of Duty Black Ops

Most people on this forum hate this game, but it's popular so not testing it would be a mistake.
As with BC2, I played some matches, this time TDM on Cracked, and FRAPS'd the performance and it seemed very consistent, actually not a bad test. I've found Cracked to often bring my CPU to it's knees, so I decided it was the perfect test map.



As you can see, we've got an obvious CPU bottleneck with the C2D. I'm seeing performance increases of up to 300%!

One thing to mention is that on the C2D, the game would regularly freeze for 1/10 of a second even when just running around. This is something that doesn't show on the FPS and is a major problem (and yes, I did do these benches AFTER the performance patches). I was blown away by the i5's smoothness in this game.

I recommend that people with dual cores stay away from this game, it's just not coded well enough.

Crysis GPU bench

I ran the GPU bench with the benchmark tool. Before you ask, I don't own Warhead, so I couldn't try that. Also, the CPU test didn't seem to work, so I couldn't run that.

I couldn't run Crysis at 1000/1225 on any of the rigs so I ran the bench at 950/1225.



Crysis is very GPU demanding and at high resolutions, I didn't really see a CPU bottleneck. The test isn't very CPU heavy, though, and in the game, a big explosion with lots of physics calculations can possibly bring a C2D to it's knees. I ran the CPU test on the i5 and got 60+ FPS all the way through IIRC, so a fast CPU shouldn't have problems with a card like mine.

At lower resolutions OTOH, I saw a huge CPU bottleneck. From my testing, it seems my C2D had trouble getting an average FPS over 40, so keep in mind that 60 FPS will be difficult to do at max settings on a dual. I'd try dialing back physics quality if you're having problems.

Dirt 2 bench

Codemasters were so kind as to make a benching tool for both this and F1 2010. The bench is real time, so the AI makes different choices every time resulting in some (limited) inconsistencies. It won't make enough difference to really skew results though.



Dirt 2 is known to be CPU heavy, but it can easily be played on a dual. None the less, I saw a huge bottleneck at low resolutions and some bottlenecking at high res but with no AA/AF. People on a more recent dual should be able to play this decently while people on older duals should look for something with a little more horsepower.

F1 2010 bench

Codemasters latest racing game. The game features an updated version of the engine that powered Dirt 2 and this time it's track racing and there are now 3 times the cars in a race. Besides that, Codemasters have included a weather system and likely lots of new physics calculations, as the game is now simulating fuel weight and tire degradation.



This chart paints a different picture than what we saw with Dirt 2. The framerate is stuck at an average 46 FPS with the E8200 and dips into the 30's. This is likely due to the high number of AI drivers and extra physics calculations. It isn't too bad, but I think a lot of us consider 46 FPS too little for smooth gameplay. I do at least.
Considering that a lot of the gamers out there are on even slower duals than mine, I'd say this game should be avoided if you're on a dual despite Codemasters claim that it can run on a 2.4 GHz C2D. I think that's stretching it. A lot.

Far Cry 2 GPU and CPU bench

One thing to note: The increased stress on the GPU when the CPU bottleneck was removed, caused my GPU to crash at 1000/1225. I ran this at 950/1225.

Far Cry 2 is IMO a great game for CPU benching. The game features a benching tool and scales well with extra cores. It's very NVIDIA biased though, so it isn't quite as good for GPU testing.

First I ran Ranch Small, which is a GPU test:



We haven't even switched to the CPU test and we're already seeing a CPU bottleneck. At max settings, 8x AA and 16x AF I started to see a GPU bottleneck and the difference between the 2 CPUs was far smaller than in the other runs and both were giving me more than playable framerates. If you're playing at absolute max settings you might not see much of a CPU bottleneck, but as the next test will show you, it depends a lot on what's happening in the game.

The CPU test:



I don't know why, but I ran the 1920x1200, no AA/AF multiple times and the minimum FPS was consistently lower than on the other tests. Shenanigans?

Anyway, ouch, some bad bottlenecking here, especially in the CPU test. Honestly, I think the CPU test is a little extreme, but taking into consideration that others might be using slower CPU's, I'd recommend that the dual core folks out there reduce fire, physics, and (possibly) real tree quality under general performance when playing this game. It isn't impossible to run on a dual core.

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead doesn't feature a convenient benchmark tool like the others so I chose to do 2 minute runs through the first level (No Mercy IIRC). 2 minutes is roughly the time it takes to get through the level if you kill all zombies in the building you start on and trigger the car at the end. The test turned out to be decent although with a little inconsistency.



As can be seen, there's a bad bottleneck with the C2D. The flaws of my testing method also shows at 1280x720, but the avg FPS is the same so it's just a spike.

Well, L4D is easily playable on a C2D with minimum FPS on the right side of 60. Upgrade to something better if you want smooth 60 FPS 3D on a 120 Hz monitor, I guess

Continued in next post...
Edited by B!0HaZard - 7/16/11 at 6:10pm
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post #2 of 44
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Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is famous for it's GPU dependency and Crysis-rivaling graphics. Well, it shows when using the tool included with the game:



We only see a significant bottleneck at 1280x720 which is more the exception than the rule.

I'd like if you disregard the minimum FPS, the benchmark seems flawed. There is no point in the bench where the minimum FPS goes as low as shown here for extended periods of time. It seems that the bench periodically freezes for 1/10 of a second like COD Black Ops did. Dare I say HDD bottleneck? Or is it just shoddy coding? I don't know, but fact is that those minimums aren't actual minimums, but rather stutters.

Anyway, it's worth noting that the game wouldn't run at much more than 50 FPS on my C2D, so you most likely won't get constant 60 FPS in this game with a dual core. It doesn't matter that much, as Metro doesn't actually have a lot of scenes as demanding as the scene in the benchmark tool and the game is a “slow game”, so low FPS doesn't hurt as much as in COD/other competitive FPS's.

StarCraft 2

Well, if you don't know this game, chances are that you aren't a PC gamer. This is the sequel to the legendary StarCraft, which is usually considered the best RTS of all time. StarCraft 2 features far better graphics than the now 13 years old predecessor and is known for it's CPU dependency.

Since the game doesn't have a benchmark, I used ingame replays to test performance. I played an easy game of Left 2 Die (an SC2 mod where you defend against waves of enemies), hit the pop cap, placed my units in the middle of the map and let the AI enemies break through the defenses to simulate a huge battle. The hundreds (literally hundreds) of enemies attacked my units in the middle and... Well, let's just say the FPS speaks for itself.



Well, I warned you. Remember this game features 4v4 matches with each player having a 200 pop cap. Assuming that the average unit takes up 2 population, you could theoretically have 800 units fighting which puts my test to shame. This really isn't an unrealistic situation.

The C2D had nowhere near the power to play this. Unlike Metro, this wasn't just a downwards spike, it was a constant 5-10 FPS.
The i5 did far better, but why the 1920x1200 FPS was consistently BETTER than the 1280x720 is a mystery to me. I guess in some cases more GPU load actually does equal less CPU load

If you're playing on a dual core, I'd avoid bigger matches and instead opt for 1v1 and 2v2. I know there are also some options that should decrease CPU load, but I don't know how much they will give a C2D. Remember that since it's an RTS, it doesn't need as high FPS to look good as an FPS game does.

World in Conflict bench

One thing to note: The increased stress on the GPU when the CPU bottleneck was removed, caused my GPU to crash at 1000/1225. I ran this at 950/1225.

This RTS game has a built in benchmark which I used. In WiC, you only use small groups of units and most of the fight between these aren't that demanding. The game features some special abilities, however, and these range from a simple bomb to tactical nukes. Some of these can very quickly change thee destructible environment.



The bottleneck is obvious. The C2D has problems even at 1920x1200 with max AA, but this is mostly during the nuke scene. As with SC2, a lower FPS can is acceptable than in an FPS, so this game is perfectly playable with a dual core, although one should look for something better if 60 FPS is a must.

X3 Terran Conflict bench

One thing to note: The increased stress on the GPU when the CPU bottleneck was removed, caused my GPU to crash at 1000/1225. I ran this at 950/1225.

This game is an EVE-ish space trade/combat simulator featuring a nice benchmarking tool. I don't really know the game, but the benchmark was recommended to me.



The benchmark is split into CPU and GPU tests and the CPU tests are very demanding even for a high end system. I'm assuming that the game is playable on a C2D, but the benchmark really loves cores.

Conclusion

I'm surprised that so many games benefit so much from a better CPU. Only Crysis and Metro saw little gain at higher resolutions, but both liked the extra CPU power at lower resolutions.
Also, notice that despite the fact that I had to reduce GPU clocks in some games, I didn't get a lower FPS in any of them.

My recommendations:

If you're on a dual core, stay away from COD Black Ops. The game simply doesn't run properly on a dual core.

Bad Company 2, F1 2010, and StarCraft 2 are very CPU demanding and, depending on your FPS tolerances, probably will run too slowly on a dual core. Keep in mind that my E8200 is one of the faster dual cores and it was clocked at 3.8 GHz. Most people out there won't have dual cores as fast as that.

Besides that, all games loved the extra CPU power with my HD 5850. So really, if you've got a fast GPU and a slow CPU, upgrade!

But what GPU's fit a dual core and which are just a waste?

I've seen that most of the games on this list will be decently balanced if my GPU is running at stock clocks, but often with a CPU dependency.

I'd estimate that anything below GTX 285/GTX 460/GTX 550 Ti on the NVIDIA side and HD 4890/HD 5770/HD 6850 on the AMD side should work decently with a fast dual core @ resolutions higher than 1680x1050.
These cards might be a bit too fast for some dual cores, but they'd be more balanced systems than my C2D + OC'd HD 5850 system was. This also depends highly on your specific CPU and monitor resolution though, so it's only a guideline. Again, my E8200 @ 3.8 GHz roughly equals a Phenom II X2 at 4 GHz.

Again, ask on a site like OCN if you're in doubt, some people will be more than glad to help.

For those interested, I've made a spreadsheet with the numbers and the % the performance has improved. If you like numbers over little blue and red beams then it's all you've ever dreamed of.

Bonus - Do your own tests

If you've already bought and assembled the HW, try downloading GPU-Z. Go to the "Sensors" tab and enable "Refresh while GPU-Z is in the background".

Open Task Manager and leave it on the performance tab.

Play your favorite game for 5 minutes and then alt-tab out of the game. Check your GPU and CPU load. If the GPU load is significantly lower than 100% and the CPU load is 100% then you're CPU bottlenecked. If both are at 100%, you've got a balanced system!
Edited by B!0HaZard - 7/16/11 at 6:09pm
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post #3 of 44
Very nice comparison!
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post #4 of 44
nice comparison and yes my CPU does bottleneck can not even overclock plus i only get 25 fps max in BC2
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post #5 of 44
That's a lot of in-depth work...I'm sure lots of people here need to check this out.
post #6 of 44
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dorkseid View Post
That's a lot of in-depth work...I'm sure lots of people here need to check this out.
TYVM.

I'm a bit afraid people won't get the message though. It really isn't supposed to be understood as "dual cores suck" or "anything above a GTX 285 is a waste for a dual", it's more a guideline for getting a balanced system. It's also a nice tool for enthusiasts trying to help, they can look at this and say "yes, that GTX 590 will be bottlenecked by your Athlon II X2, 'cause this guy is bottlenecking with a faster CPU and a slower GPU."

I'll also bet 5 bucks that someone will join in and say that the i3's are faster and that I suck even though I've already noted that this doesn't apply to the more modern dual cores. *Sigh* People can't be satisfied. I'd wish I was a professional reviewer, I'd love to have had an Athlon II at hand, that would've helped show how those perform.

BTW before anyone complains about my English, I'd like to say that it isn't my native language. Nah, JK, I know my English is decent
Edited by B!0HaZard - 4/20/11 at 5:36pm
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post #7 of 44
Thread Starter 
Bump for more responses.
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post #8 of 44
thanks a lot!
im so happy i unlocked my core
JC2 and BLOPS ran horrible and choppy with 2 cores. huge increase when unlocked.
since the crapbox 360 has 3 cores, the minimum for a PC gamer should be 3 cores!
hmm i need 8 core bulldozer...
    
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post #9 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by B!0HaZard View Post
TYVM.
I'd love to have had an Athlon II at hand, that would've helped show how those perform.
I have an AMD athlon 4800+ with a gtx 460 1gb. I can run some test for you if you wish, just tell me which programs I would need.

I try playing bfbc2, it is terrible, I get 20-30 fps. I just recently bought a new case and I bought a new hdd today, I will be buying a new mobo, cpu and some ram I am just waiting till I see bulldozer benchmarks and its costs.
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2x1TB WD Caviar Black Windows 7 64bit G110 Antec EA-750 
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CM 690 II Advance(Nvidia Edition) G500 
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Awesome, I enjoyed reading this. I appreciate your efforts!
     
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
Intel Pentium G2020 Ivy Bridge 2.9GHz ASRock H61M-DGS Integrated Intel HD Graphics (Don't Laugh!) G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 
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Samsung P3 500GB 7200RPM LITE-ON DVD Burner Intel Stock CPU Cooler Windows 7 Home Premium 
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Acer G226HQLBbd Black 21.5" Razer Lycosa SeaSonic S12II S12II 380B 380W COUGAR Spike Black Steel / Plastic MicroATX Min... 
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CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
Intel Pentium G2020 Ivy Bridge 2.9GHz ASRock H61M-DGS Integrated Intel HD Graphics (Don't Laugh!) G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 
Hard DriveOptical DriveCoolingOS
Samsung P3 500GB 7200RPM LITE-ON DVD Burner Intel Stock CPU Cooler Windows 7 Home Premium 
MonitorKeyboardPowerCase
Acer G226HQLBbd Black 21.5" Razer Lycosa SeaSonic S12II S12II 380B 380W COUGAR Spike Black Steel / Plastic MicroATX Min... 
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