When both Doom 3 and Half Life 2 came out we burned the midnight oil trying to put together guides for CPU and GPU performance in the games as soon as they were released. Much to our surprise, especially given the performance hype that had preceeded both of them, both games ran relatively well on most mainstream hardware that was available at the time. One GPU generation later and the worries about performance under Doom 3 and Half Life 2 were yesterday's news. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about Bethesda Softworks' latest immersive RPG: Oblivion.

The game itself is more addicting and immersive than any of its predecessors and its reviews confirm that. But we're not here to tell you that the game is great, we're here to tell you what you need to run it. The fact of the matter is that Oblivion is the most stressful game we've ever encountered, taking the crown away from F.E.A.R. as something that simply doesn't run well on anything. Obtaining good performance under Oblivion is so hard that a number of optimization guides have popped up helping users do whatever it takes to make the game playable. At AnandTech we've been using the Oblivion Tweak Guide from Tweakguides.com and recommend reading it if you're looking to get a good idea for the impact of the many visual settings available in the game.

Just as we've done in our previous articles on Doom 3 and Half Life 2, we're splitting our Oblivion performance coverage into multiple parts. This first part will focus on high-end and mid-range PCIe GPU performance and future articles will look at CPU performance as well as low-end GPU and AGP platform performance if there is enough demand for the latter two. Where we take this series of articles in the future will depend on many of your demands and requests, so please make them heard.

Benchmarking Oblivion

There are really three types of areas you encounter while playing Oblivion, you'll find your character either: 1) Outdoors, 2) Inside a town but still outdoors, or 3) Inside a building or dungeon. Interestingly enough, our seemingly haphazard list of Oblivion locales is actually organized in ascending order of performance. You'll encounter your absolute highest performance inside buildings while you'll actually contemplate spending $1200 on graphics cards whenever you find yourself outside. It only made sense that we benchmarked in each of those three areas, so we constructed manually scripted (read: walk-throughs by hand) benchmarks taking us through one of each type of area in Oblivion.

Oblivion Gate Benchmark

The first test is our Oblivion Gate benchmark, which just so happens to be the most stressful out of all three. In this test we've spotted an Oblivion gate in The Great Forest and walk towards it as scamps attempt to attack our character. The benchmark takes place in a heavily wooded area with lots of grass; combined with the oblivion gate itself, even the fastest GPUs will have trouble breaking 30 fps here.

Town Benchmark

The next test takes place in the town of Bruma and simply features our character walking through a portion of the town. There are a few other characters on screen but no major interaction takes place. Despite the simplicity of the test, since it takes place outside the frame rate is already quite stressful on some mid-range GPUs.

Dungeon Benchmark

Our final test takes place in the Sanctum on our way to the Imperial City prisons; this "Dungeon" benchmark showcases indoor area performance and consists of our character sneaking through the dimly lit Sanctum. There are guards around however none appear in the view of our character. Many cards will do well in this test, but unless they can pass the first benchmark their performance here is meaningless.

We measured frame rates using FRAPS and reported both the minimum and average frame rates in our charts (we left out maximum frame rates because they simply aren't as important and they made the graphs a little too difficult to read when we included them). The minimum frame rates are indicated by a vertical white line inside the bar representing average frame rate.

Since we measured performance using FRAPS and not through a scripted timedemo sequence, the amount of variance between runs is higher than normal; differences in performance of 5% or less aren't significant and shouldn't be treated as such.

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  • Yawgm0th - Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - link

    ...or Oblivion is playable with an average of 20 FPS. I did a benchmark of my own (at a big Oblivion gate with 6-10 enemies and several allies fighting) with settings completely maxed (everything at it's highest except AA) at 1280x960, and my system pulled framerates slightly better than the 7900GT according to the FRAPS results. More importantly, the game is completely playable in all areas. Framerates are low for about four seconds anytime I enter a new area through a door of some kind, but that's not unusual for most games. After those first couple seconds, things pick up and I see no reason for the game to appear to have such abysmal performance as the article would indicate. My system consists of the following:
    2x1GB of Patriot 2-3-2 at 205MHz in dual-channel
    Venice: 274x9 (about 2.47GHz)
    7800GT with a slight overclock
    Audigy 2
    XP Pro x64 with latest nVidia drivers

    Furthermore, that RAM was a recent upgrade. I had the game maxed with 1GB of the same stuff in single-channel.

    At this point, I'm convinced that either there's something wrong with FRAPS (and there's certainly something different that caused the low frames in this article, because I shouldn't be outperforming the Anandtech test system when it's better than mine) or that the game is completely playable with mid-20s framerates. I don't think I've ever played a 3D game and found anything less than high-30s to be playable.
  • ueadian - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    Yep you nailed it that's my exact feeling. I played the game with my X800XL and it was very playable on high settings, oblivion gates killed my computer but not enough to drive me insane, other then that i didnt see any lag other then after entering a new area. Benchmarks are overrated I played Counter-Strike : Source at 20-30 fps for a year just fine and when I got a card to do 50+ fps miminum I really didn't notice that much of a difference. Reply
  • TejTrescent - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link


    Testing just now, I got 20-30 on my system, no matter where I was, with a bit higher than those medium settings.

    The game's ENTIRELY playable at even 18.

    Dunno how, but it doesn't feel choppy when it falls, as long as it's above 15. Weird.
  • dhei - Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - link

    Laugh, real excitement comes from online play. Might as well pay $15 a month for a game with just as good graphics that is updated constantly. Plus you can play missions and fight monsters yourself just like a single player game if thats your bag or slay other people that are actull people online.

    Looking at screenshots, i've seen 4 year old MMO games that look better after they got free graphics updates. /shrug

    I never understood why people pay for single player games like this. :D
  • kmmatney - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    You really can't judge the graphics of Oblivion by screenshots. The actual look and feel is much more impressive than the screen shots show. Reply
  • ueadian - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    Agreed. Screenshots do not to ANY game justice. HL2 didnt really impress me visualy with screenshots, but then I played the game all the way through and was blown away by the graphics. Reply
  • poohbear - Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - link

    "i've seen 4 year old MMO games that look better after they got free graphics updates. /shrug "

    name one
  • bobsmith1492 - Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - link

    What's "mmo" ?? Reply
  • xsilver - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    when a cow is on crack it cant say "moo" properly :P

    Massivly Multiplayer Online

    as mentioned before its difficult to play a game that has no end and is pressuringly addictive if you join a guild/faction

    eg. most deaths that have resulted from gaming have been from players of such games; most recently from WoW i think
  • dhei - Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - link

    Dark Age of Camelot. Reply

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