Whenever a PC game pushes the limits of what current hardware can do, it generally ends up being fairly GPU bound. In the past, as long as you had pretty much any Socket-939 Athlon 64 you had enough CPU power to drive even the fastest single GPU video cards. You would typically be running at fairly GPU-bound graphics settings - even if you were CPU-bound, frame rates would be high enough that it wouldn't really matter. However, every now and then there comes a game that is an equal opportunity stress test on your system, requiring an extremely fast CPU as well as a high end GPU. Bethesda Softworks' latest hit title, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, is such a game.

In our initial article on Oblivion performance we compared high end and mid range PCI Express GPUs, discovering that we had finally found a game that was stressful enough to truly demand more GPU power than what is currently available on the market. Today's article uses the same benchmarks that we used in our first article, but focuses on finding the right mix of CPU and GPU performance for the best Oblivion experience.

It's worth stating up-front that we are not going to attempt to find ideal settings for every possible CPU/GPU configuration available. There are many tweaks that can be made that will dramatically improve performance on slower CPUs. Reducing the height of the grass as well as the density - or turning off grass entirely - will help a lot. Running without HDR, using medium textures, turning off shadow filtering... you can easily get performance to a level that many people will find acceptable, but it always comes at the cost of reducing the quality of the graphics - or at least the complexity of the graphics. We're interested in characterizing CPU performance under identical configurations for this article, providing an apples-to-apples look at how the Oblivion engine runs on a variety of processors.

The Test
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  • goku - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    It' really ticks me off that oblivion couldn't incorporate support for the new ageia physics processor. It would have been nice to see all those calculations being offloaded onto the PPU instead so that the CPU wouldn't have such an effect on performance.
  • DigitalFreak - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    Since they are using the Havock physics engine, it was never going to happen.
  • DigitalFreak - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    Oops, Havok
  • Madellga - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    I don't think that was supposed to happen, but when I clicked on the link under the tittle:

    SMP - enhacing performance , it goes to http://www.anandtech.com/printarticle.aspx?i=2747">http://www.anandtech.com/printarticle.aspx?i=2747 , which is the same Oblivion CPU article we are reading.

    I think the idea is to take us to the guide you are using, isn't it?

  • kristof007 - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    Same here. Please fix it Anand when you get a chance.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    Done. That page was my doing - Anand ran the tests, I wrote page 5. I forgot to paste in the link. (Actually, I ran into some issues with undo/redo and apparently lost the link in the process. I had to rewrite two paragraphs at the time.)

    Jarred Walton
    Hardware Editor
  • shortylickens - Friday, April 28, 2006 - link

    This makes me feel pretty good. I went out of my way to get the cheapest Socket 939 CPU I could find.
    Now that I've had the system for a while, I feel OK about doing one big CPU upgrade and I can actually see a performance boost.
  • bloc - Friday, April 28, 2006 - link

    The sempron line is amd's answer to intels celeron line.

    Might it be possible to see the benches for the Sempron S754 as they're budget cpu's with huge overclocks?
  • kmmatney - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    A Sempron 2800+ overclocked to 2.4 GHz performs about the same as an Athlon 64 3700+ clocked at 2.2 GHz. So for a rough estimate, lower the Athlon64 speed by 10% to get the speed of a Sempron.

    My Sempron overclock at 2.45 Ghz was 100% stable for all games and applications I'd ever used until Oblivion. With Oblivion, the game was crashing until a lowered the spu speed to 2.35 GHz.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    Part of the problem is that there's only one SLI motherboard for socket 754, and honestly I think that's more of a novelty product than something truly useful. Anyone spending the money on multiple GPUs is better off buying a faster processor as well.

    Anyway, looking at how cache seems to affect performance of the other chips, I would guess that a Sempron 128K/256K would be equivalent to an Athlon 64 512K running 200 to 400 MHz slower. (i.e., Athlon 64 2.0 GHz -- 3200+ -- would probably be about equal to a Sempron 2.3-2.4 GHz.) Single channel memory plus a reduction in cache size should cause a moderate performance hit, clock for clock.

    Of course, none of that means that Sempron chips aren't worth considering, especially with overclocking. Assuming you're not running super high end graphics configurations, though, you can probably reached the point where you're GPU limited to the same performance, whether you have an Athlon X2 or a Sempron.

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