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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  • kmmatney - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    If you look at the Tom Hardware charts, plot the performance of the 256K cache Semprons on a chart, and then extrapolate to higher frequencies, a Sempron at 2.45 GHz will perform better than the Athlon 3500+, and closer to the Athlon 3700+. It does start to fall back a little in the heavy multitasking benchmarks, but for gaming and content creation its very close to an Athlon 3700+.

    For instance, if you take the Far Cry benchmark at 1280 x 1024 (other benchmarks behave the same):

    Sempron 256K 1.4 Ghz = 126.9
    Sempron 256K 1.6 Ghz = 140.0
    Sempron 256K 1.8 Ghz = 151.6
    Sempron 256K 2.0 Ghz = 162.7

    This forms a linear curve with very little drop-off with speed increase
    Now extrapolate to 2.4 GHz

    Sempron 256K 2.4 GHz = 186.95 (predicted)
    Sempron 256K 2.45 GHz = 189.95 (predicted)
    Sempron 256K 2.5 GHz = 192.9

    Athlon 3700+ San Diego: 190.9
    Athlon 3500+ Venice : 186.2
    Athlon 3200+ Venice : 176.5

    For a given amount of money, an overclocked Sempron paired with a high end video card will give you the best bang-for-buck for gaming.

  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    I'm not talking about as an overall platform; I'm talking specifically about Oblivion performance. Clearly, looking at the 3500+ vs. 3700+, the jump from 512K to 1024K L2 helps quite a bit. Looking at Celeron D, 256K and a lower FSB kills performance. It's not too much of a stretch to guess that Sempron chips will do proportionately worse in Oblivion than in many other games/applications.
  • kmmatney - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    Also, the low end S939 Athlon 64s have come down in price, with the cheapest now at $109, so right now, I would agree that Socket 939 is the way to go now, even for a low end system.

    If you look in the area of the game that counts, the outdoor scenes, the extra 512K of cache gives you an extra 2 fps. An educated guess would put a Sempron 3100+ running at stock speeds at 28.5 fps. Overclocked to 2.4 Ghz it would be around 35 fps. Not great, but very playable.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    True, you won't notice 2 FPS difference. The thing is, a few people are talking about overclocked Sempron versus stock clock speed Athlon 64. If you're going to overclock one, you have to overclock the other. My experience is that socket 939 overclocks far better than socket 754, the so a lot of those Athlon 64 3000+ chips can hit 2.5 to 2.7 GHz on air cooling.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 29, 2006 - link

    Oops -- posted too soon.

    You might be talking about five to 10 frames per second difference at that point, which would definitely be noticeable. Of course, if you're looking at running a Sempron with the typical PCI express or AGP card, you will likely be GPU limited anyway. Even a GeForce 7600 GT is going to struggle with the outdoor scenes.
  • Powermoloch - Friday, April 28, 2006 - link

    Yeah, I was wondering about that too :). My gaming rig is being powered by 3100 sempron paris and I did overclocked it @ 2.069 Ghz. Oblivion went out pretty fine at most times, and I'm really enjoying the game.

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