The Test

Thankfully ATI's CrossFire runs on both ATI chipsets as well as Intel's 975X, so we were able to use our ultra high end GPU of choice to compare CPU performance under Oblivion. Remember that, just like in our first Oblivion article, we're manually walking through portions of the game and using FRAPS to generate our results, and thus the margin for error in our tests is much higher than normal; differences in performance of 5% or less aren't significant and shouldn't be treated as such.

While we tested with a number of AMD CPUs, we had issues with our Intel test bed where we couldn't adjust clock multipliers to give us the full spread of Intel CPU options, and thus we were only able to highlight the performance of a handful of Intel CPUs. However, with what we had we were able to adequately characterize the performance offered by Intel solutions under Oblivion. We also didn't have an Extreme Edition 965 on hand, so the EE 955 is the fastest offering from Intel in the test. The EE 965 should offer another 5% or so above what the EE 955 offers based on the tests we've done, just in case you're curious.

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 X2s
Intel Pentium Extreme Edition, Pentium D and Pentium 4
Motherboard: ASUS A8R32-MVP
Intel X975XBX
Chipset: ATI CrossFire 3200
Intel 975X
Chipset Drivers: ATI Catalyst 6.4
Hard Disk: Seagate 7200.9 300GB SATA
Memory: 2 x 1GB OCZ PC3500 DDR 2-3-2-7 1T
2 x 1GB OCZ PC8000 DDR2 4-4-4-12
Video Card(s): ATI Radeon X1900 XT CrossFire
Video Drivers: ATI Catalyst 6.4 w/ Chuck Patch
Desktop Resolution: 1280 x 1024 - 32-bit @ 60Hz
OS: Windows XP Professional SP2

Armed with a pair of X1900 XTs running in CrossFire mode - the clear GPU performance leader in our first Oblivion article - we set out to run some additional tests. Pay attention to the rest of the system as well: we've installed 2GB of high quality (i.e. low latency) RAM, which also helps performance. 1GB is sufficient, but Oblivion appears to do a good job of making use of additional memory; load times and area transitions are noticeably quicker with 2GB of RAM. We used the same "High Quality" settings we introduced in the last review:

Oblivion Performance Settings High Quality
Resolution 1280x1024
Texture Size Large
Tree Fade 50%
Actor Fade 65%
Item Fade 65%
Object Fade 65%
Grass Distance 50%
View Distance 100%
Distant Land On
Distant Buildings On
Distant Trees On
Interior Shadows 50%
Exterior Shadows 50%
Self Shadows On
Shadows on Grass On
Tree Canopy Shadows On
Shadow Filtering High
Specular Distance 50%
HDR Lighting On
Bloom Lighting Off
Water Detail High
Water Reflections On
Water Ripples On
Window Reflections On
Blood Decals High
Anti-aliasing Off
Index Oblivion CPU Performance
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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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