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


View All Comments

  • zhangping0233 - Thursday, January 05, 2012 - link

    Try and, you will find the best flashlight for the world. Shipping to all the world. Reply
  • nthexwn - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    I've also noticed that having the steam client running in the background can place quite a load on your entire system! After downloading all the content to cut down on network/disk/buffering wierdness I did some tests benchmarking UT2004 with the ons_dria demo from nvnews and noticed that my fps drops up to 10 when steam is running in the background!

    Might it be possible to compare performance between the retail version of Half-life 2 and the steamed version available for internet purchase to see if there's any sort of performance difference? Or does the retail version just run through an offline steam client anyway? (I bought over web)
  • cryptonomicon - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    if your game crashes when switching to fullscreen it is because you have refresh overrides in place.

    -width X -refresh Y

    to your command line, for example
    -width 1024 -refresh 100

    it fixxed all my video problems.
  • meatless - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    #10 - That's a pretty stupid thing to say. Kyle used the cards that his readers were most likely to buy; I know I wouldn't waste my money on a non-BFG nVidia 68xx card, and I know most other gamers wouldn't either. It's a part of [H]'s focus on doing real-world-style benches instead of OMG LETZ C IF NV RULZ ATI 2DAY IN HL2!!111111

    With all that said, it's great to see stiff competition in the video card arena, finally--should make for exciting product lines on the next go-round.
  • Jedi2155 - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    there is a hidden HL2 MP in the game....however its not yet complete....


    11/17/2004 22:58 PST | Half-Life 2 | by MarmaladeMan
    HL2 World is reporting that they've found a working Half-Life 2 multiplayer built in to standard retail HL2. Here's the story, including how to do it:
    Here's how:
    sv_lan 0
    deathmatch 1
    maxplayers (whatever you want)
    map (mapname)
    It will add you to the master server and it works. I know, it looks like the leak, but I assure you this is the retail HL2.
    They have a screenshot, as well as a test map for you to check out if interested. Head on over to HL2 World for the full story.

  • jonmcc33 - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    Get back to Half-Life 2? Why? There's no point other than the fact it's a pretty single player game. If I wanted single player than I would have raved about Max Payne 2, which I didn't. Why Valve didn't think to make a Half-Life 2 MP side is beyond me. That's where the market is these days. Single player games, you play them once and you are done. Multiplayer is always changing. I don't want to wait for any stupid MP mod either. Curse you, Valve, for making us wait a year longer and then only giving us one piece of the cake! Reply
  • TrungRacingDev - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    you do realize that the fx5900 is default directx 8.1 right? if u think its beautiful now...try a directx 9.0 card =) Reply
  • Motley - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    I'm glad I didn't read this article before actually playing HL2.

    My system:
    P4 3.4GHz, 2GB Ram
    5900 Ultra video card
    ASUS P4P800 Motherboard

    I was playing HL2 at 1280x1024 with 6xAA, and 16xAnitropic Filtering, with everything else turned on to maximum. Besides a half-second stutter just after loading a new level, the game played GREAT, looked GREAT.

    Then again, maybe I'm not expecting the world, but, I can say that I was pleased, and maybe the x800 or 6800 can turn out better numbers, HOWEVER, at no time did I feel that I needed (or even wanted in the slightest) faster frame rates, or smoother gameplay. It just owned from the beginning to the end.
  • southernpac - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    Anand, In light of the significant ATI X800XT DX9 (HL2) performance over the nVIDIA 6800 Ultra, would you today favor the X800XT PE graphic card in combination with the MSI K8N Neo2 motherboard? In your last High-End Buyers Guide (30 August) you recommended the nVIDIA 6800 Ultra be used with the MSI K8N Neo2 because Wesley thought that motherboard performed "a bit better" with a nVIDIA card. What would your recommendation be today? Can we anticipate another High-End Buyers Guide this month(its been 3 months)? Bill Reply
  • blckgrffn - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    I know, I know, but if gf2 can play at 800*600 MQ than maybe they can handle 1024*768...that would mean that a bunch of my friends wouldn't have to upgrade from their $60 cards, and they would be overjoyed :) Reply

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