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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  • Crassus - Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - link


    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.

    Here, demand *wave* (at least concerning an AGP platform review). I've got a trusty K8N Neo2 with a 939 3000+ and a 6800 GT that was sort of standard about 1 1/2 years ago and I'm trying to figure out if I would gain a FPS increase worth talking about switching over to PCIe, while staying in about the same price range, or getting a 7800 AGP, or just turning down settings and saving the money.

    Cheers and thanks for an article that I was very anxious to read.
  • Ozenmacher - Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - link

    Everyone argues about how bad the performance is outside. I am running a 7900 GT and I was getting around 20 fps outside, I truned the grass off completely and now I get over 30. And honestly, I don't even notice it. I tjhink the game looks better than the rather lame looking grass. Reply
  • Madellga - Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - link

    I can't see any pictures in this article. I've tried both IE and Firefox, at 2 different computers.

    Is it only me or anyone else has the same?
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    Can you see the graphs even? Reply
  • nicolasb - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    I can't see any of the pictures either, including the graphs.

    I'm getting really fed up of this happening in Anandtech articlres: it's been happening on and off for months, now. Could you guys please <b>sort it out</b>? It's really very unprofessional to have allowed the problem to go on for this long.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    Nothing has changed on the images in a long time. Are you surfing from work or home? Do you have any ad blocking software? I suppose it could also be browser settings. I know you can configure Internet Explorer and Firefox to not load images by default, or to only load images for the originating web site. The article content comes from www.AnandTech.com or as the images come from images.AnandTech.com. There's really nothing for us to sort out if the problem is on your end, but hopefully my comments will help you solve your issues. Reply
  • Madellga - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    I found it. The feature causing the problem is Privacy Control. I just turned off and now the page works fine. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 28, 2006 - link

    I'm glad to hear you got it working. If it's any consolation, I've felt that every release of Norton Internet Security since 2002 has actually been a step backwards. The latest release seems more bulky, slow, and more prone to causing errors. There was a time where I thought Norton Utilities was the greatest thing ever in terms of useful software. Windows 95 started to reduce its usefulness, and as far as I'm concerned windows XP pretty much killed it off. These days, I feel like I can get better overall quality from free software in many cases.

    I think the only reason Symantec is still in business is due to all of their bundling agreements with various computer manufacturers. So many systems come with Symantec software preinstalled as a 90 day trial, but lucky for me I've found that 90 days gives me more than enough time to uninstall the junk! I've found that a hardware firewall is generally much more useful, in that it's less likely to cause problems, either with web sites or with system performance.
  • Madellga - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    It was definetely not the browser. All options are default.

    Add blocking is turned off. I have to find which Norton feature is causing the issue. Interesting enough, the problem seems to happen only at Anandtech.
  • Madellga - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the reply. I am surfing from home and I have this problem since a couple of weeks. Based on the comments above, the only thing I have running that could be the problem is Norton Internet Security......

    I just turned off the Norton Firewall and reloaded the page. Now it works!

    Jeez, it sounds silly but I expected more from Symantec. And my copy is an original one, legally purchased - no hacking.

    That feels awful....


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