Benchmarking Half Life 2

Unlike Doom 3, Half Life 2 has no build in benchmark demo but it has full benchmark functionality.  To run a Half Life 2 timedemo you must first modify your Half Life 2 shortcut to include the -console switch then launch the game.

Once Half Life 2 loads, simply type timedemo followed by the name of the demo file you would like to run.  All Half Life 2 demos must reside in the C:\Program Files\Valve\Steam\SteamApps\username\half-life 2\hl2\ directory. 

Immediately upon its launch, we spent several hours playing through the various levels of Half Life 2, studying them for performance limitations as well as how representative they were of the rest of Half Life 2.  After our first pass we narrowed the game down to 11 levels that we felt would be good, representative benchmarks of gameplay throughout the entire game of Half Life 2.  We further trimmed the list to just five levels: d1_canals_08, d2_coast_05, d2_coast_12, d2_prison_05 and d3_c17_12.  We have put together a suite of five demos based on these levels that we believe are together representative of Half Life 2 gameplay.  You can download a zip of our demos here. As we mentioned earlier, ATI is distributing some of their own demos but we elected not to use them in order to remain as fair as possible.

When benchmarking Half Life 2 we discovered a few interesting things:

Half Life 2's performance is generally shader (GPU) limited when outdoors and CPU limited when indoors; now this rule of thumb will change if you run at unreasonably high resolutions (resolutions too high for your GPU) or if you have a particularly slow CPU/GPU, but for the most part take any of the present day GPUs we are comparing here today and you'll find the above statement to be true. 

Using the flashlight can result in a decent performance hit if you are already running close to the maximum load of your GPU.  The reason behind this is that the flashlight adds another set of per pixel lighting calculations to anything you point the light at, thus increasing the length of any shaders running at that time. 


The flashlight at work

Levels with water or any other types of reflective surfaces generally end up being quite GPU intensive as you would guess, so we made it a point to include some water/reflective shaders in our Half Life 2 benchmarks. 

But the most important thing to keep in mind with Half Life 2 performance is that, interestingly enough, we didn't test a single card today that we felt was slow.  Some cards were able to run at higher resolutions, but at a minimum, 1024 x 768 was extremely playable on every single card we compared here today - which is good news for those of you who just upgraded your GPUs or who have made extremely wise purchases in the past.

For our benchmarks we used the same settings on all GPUs:

Our test platforms were MSI's K8N Neo2 (nForce3) for AGP cards and ASUS' nForce4 motherboard for PCI Express graphics cards. The two platforms are comparable in performance so you can compare AGP numbers to PCI Express numbers, which was our goal. We used an Athlon 64 4000+ for all of our tests, as well as 1GB of OCZ DDR400 memory running at 2-2-2-10.

Index Battle in the Canal
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  • Nuke Waste - Thursday, December 16, 2004 - link

    Would it be possible for AT to update the timedemos to Source Enigne 7? Steam "graciously" updated my HL2 platform, and now none of my timedemos work! Reply
  • The Internal - Friday, December 03, 2004 - link

    Which x700 XT card was used? How much RAM did it have? Reply
  • VortigernRed - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    "Remember that we used the highest detail settings with the exception of anisotropic filtering and antialiasing, "

    That is not what you are showing on the SS on page 2. You are showing there that you have the water details set to "reflect world" not "reflect all".

    I would be interested to see how that affects the performance in your benchmarks with water in them, as some sites are showing larger wins for ATI and it seems possible that this setting may be the difference.

    It certainly looks much better in game with "reflect all" but does affect the performance.

    PS, sorry for the empty post above, trying to guess my username and password!
    Reply
  • VortigernRed - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Reply
  • Warder45 - Sunday, November 21, 2004 - link

    I'd like to know what you guys think about X0bit's and other reviews that have ATI way ahead in numbers do to turning on Reflect All and not just reflect world.

    http://www.chaoticdreams.org/ce/jb/ReflectAll.jpg
    http://www.chaoticdreams.org/ce/jb/ReflectWorld.jp...

    Some SS.
    Reply
  • Counterspeller - Friday, November 19, 2004 - link

    I forgot about my specs : P4 3.0 3HD 8, 16, 60Gb, MB P4P800-E Deluxe, Samtron 96BDF Screen. Reply
  • Counterspeller - Friday, November 19, 2004 - link

    I don't understand... I have a GeForce 256 DDR, and the ONLY game that I have not been able to play is DOOM 3, only because it asks for 64Mb of VRAM, and I only have 32. I'd like to play HL2, but I don't have it. Perhaps it'll be like D3... not enough VRAM, and in that case, the 2nd game I can't play with that board. What I don't understand is this : how can anyone be complaining because x game or y game «only» gives us 200 fps... Can YOU see 200 fps ? we're happy with 24fps on TV, 25fps in the theaters, and we're bitchin' about some game that only gives us 56.7 fps instead of the «behold perfection» 67.5. I know there is a difference, and yes, we can see that difference, but is it useful, in terms of gameplay ? Will you be fragged because of a 1 or 2 or even 3 fps difference between you and your opponent ? Stupidity gets us fragged, not fps. I believe that anything below 30/40 fps is nice, but unplayable, when it comes to action games. I'm happy with 60. Anything above it is extra. I have played with this very board many demanding games, and I can say that yes, some parts are demanding on the board. But I never lost because of it. Resuming : I don't understand this war between ATI lovers and NVIDIA lovers. I've been using the same board for years, and I never needed to change it. Unless it crumbles, I'll stick with it. Reply
  • Counterspeller - Friday, November 19, 2004 - link

    I don't understand... I have a GeForce 256 DDR, and the ONLY game that I have not been able to play is DOOM 3, only because it asks for 64Mb of VRAM, and I only have 32. I'd like to play HL2, but I don't have it. Perhaps it'll be like D3... not enough VRAM, and in that case, the 2nd game I can't play with that board. What I don't understand is this : how can anyone be complaining because x game or y game «only» gives us 200 fps... Can YOU see 200 fps ? we're happy with 24fps on TV, 25fps in the theaters, and we're bitchin' about some game that only gives us 56.7 fps instead of the «behold perfection» 67.5. I know there is a difference, and yes, we can see that difference, but is it useful, in terms of gameplay ? Will you be fragged because of a 1 or 2 or even 3 fps difference between you and your opponent ? Stupidity gets us fragged, not fps. I believe that anything below 30/40 fps is nice, but unplayable, when it comes to action games. I'm happy with 60. Anything above it is extra. I have played with this very board many demanding games, and I can say that yes, some parts are demanding on the board. But I never lost because of it. Resuming : I don't understand this war between ATI lovers and NVIDIA lovers. I've been using the same board for years, and I never needed to change it. Unless it crumbles, I'll stick with it. Reply
  • TheRealSkywolf - Friday, November 19, 2004 - link

    I have a fx 5950, i have turned on the x9 path and things run great. 1st and all the graphics dont look much better, you see slight differences on the water and in some bumpmapping, but minor things.
    So i guess its time for Ati fans to shut up, both the fx and the 9800 cards run the game great.
    Man, doom3 showed all the wistles and bells, why wouldnt hl2? I think is very unprofessional from Valve to do what they did.
    Reply
  • SLI - Friday, November 19, 2004 - link

    Umm, why was the Radeon P.E. not tested? Reply

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