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

  • araczynski - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    yawn, i'm too busy enjoy the game (6800gt) to read the article and/or care which card is better :) i'm playing at 1600x1200 0AA/4AF (2.4@3.3/1GB) and have absolutely no complaints, other then knowing that the game will eventually end :( Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    #57... poorly :) Reply
  • blckgrffn - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    I would also like to to see how the 9200/9000 series Radeons perform too, and if you have extra time, the 8500/9100.

    Again, Thanks!
  • Jeff7181 - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    #16... that's correct, although the only REAL observation that needs to be made is that Half Life 2 makes heavy use of pixel shaders which is very GPU dependant, and GPU's are just now growing the required testicles to process those shaders :) Reply
  • blckgrffn - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    Anand -

    I would like to see how the 6600 performs. As an 8 pipe card, it should perform better than the 9600xt and a little under a 9700 Pro, but it would be interesting to see if that is true. It is a great budget PCIe card along with the x700.

  • eva2000 - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    nice review downloaded your demos to run on AMD64 3700+ @ 12x 222 = 2664mhz with 1GB BH-5 @ 222mhz 2-2-2-6 1T and Powercolor X800XT PE @ 520/560 and all demo results were within 3-4fps of the reviews :) Reply
  • Live - Thursday, November 18, 2004 - link

    Good reading as always. Would like to see minimum FPS tough. I find it very important to see how low the cards drop when stressed. You can't see that with only average FPS. Reply
  • housecat - Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - link

    So... wheres the Nvidia SLI versus ATI results??

  • Avalon - Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - link

    Hey Anand, I have an interesting request. Could you try Rivatuner on your 6800, unlock its pipes, and then bench it again? :P
    Just kidding. Actually, I'm glad you've confirmed what I've been thinking...that AF hasn't been doing much for me. Since I'm running on a lowly 9700, I think I'll just turn it off now, and enjoy a nice speed boost.
  • PrinceGaz - Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - link

    How about throwing a GF 5600 and maybe even a GF 5200 in as well for part 2, as an awful lot of people have them. Ultra versions of either if you prefer.

    I don't have one of them myself as I'm still using a Ti4200, but it would be interesting to see how they stacked up in the DX8 codepath against the Ti4600 you are planning to test. And it should be worth a giggle to see just how "fast" the 5600 or 5200 can manage the DX9 codepath :)

    Thanks to the resolution scaling-graphs this review included and how the fastest cards were generally CPU limited with that A64 4000+ when the resolution was dropped to 1024x768, I'm not sure how much a CPU scaling article for part 3 will show that can't already be quite accurately guesstimated from how different CPUs generally tend to perform in games. But a comparison of the Athlon 64 4000+, against an Athlon XP, a Prescott, a Northwood, and if time permits a fast P3, Duron and Celeron also, would be great.

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