Test System and Benchmarks

With that introduction out of the way, let's just get straight to the benchmarks, and then I'll follow up with a discussion of image quality and other aspects at the end. As usual, the test system is what I personally use, which is a relatively high-end Haswell configuration. Most of the hardware was purchased at retail over the past year or so, and that means I don't have access to every GPU configuration available, but I did just get a second ZOTAC GTX 970 so I can at least finally provide some SLI numbers (which I'll add to the previous Benchmarked articles in the near future).

Gaming Benchmarks Test Systems
CPU Intel Core i7-4770K (4x 3.5-3.9GHz, 8MB L3)
Overclocked to 4.1GHz

Underclocked to 3.5GHz with two cores ("i3-4330")
Motherboard Gigabyte G1.Sniper M5 Z87
Memory 2x8GB Corsair Vengeance Pro DDR3-1866 CL9
GPUs Desktop GPUs:
Sapphire Radeon R9 280
Sapphire Radeon R9 280X
Gigabyte Radeon R9 290X
EVGA GeForce GTX 770
EVGA GeForce GTX 780
Zotac GeForce GTX 970
Reference GeForce GTX 980

GeForce GTX 980M (MSI GT72 Dominator Pro)
GeForce GTX 880M (MSI GT70 Dominator Pro)
GeForce GTX 870M (MSI GS60 Ghost 3K Pro)
GeForce GTX 860M (MSI GE60 Apache Pro)
Storage Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB
Power Supply Rosewill Capstone 1000M
Case Corsair Obsidian 350D
Operating System Windows 7 64-bit

We're testing with NVIDIA's 344.65 drivers, which are "Game Ready" for Assassin's Creed: Unity. (I also ran a couple sanity checks with the latest 344.75 drivers and found no difference in performance.) On the AMD side, testing was done with the Catalyst 14.11.2 driver that was released to better support ACU. AMD also released a new beta driver for Far Cry 4 and Dragon Age: Inquisition (14.11.2B), but I have not had a chance to check performance with that yet. No mention is made of improvements for ACU with the driver, so it should be the same as the 14.11.2 driver we used.

One final note is that thanks to the unlocked nature of the i7-4770K and the Gigabyte motherboard BIOS, I'm able to at least mostly simulate lower performance Haswell CPUs. I didn't run a full suite of tests with a second "virtual" CPU, but I did configure the i7-4770K to run similar to a Core i3-4330 (3.5GHz, 2C/4T) – the main difference being the CPU still has 8MB L3 cache where the i3-4330 only has 4MB L3. I tested just one GPU with the slower CPU configuration, the GeForce GTX 980, but this should be the best-case result for what you could get from a Core i3-4330.

Assassins Creed: Unity 4K High

Assassins Creed: Unity QHD Ultra

Assassins Creed: Unity 1080p Ultra

Assassins Creed: Unity 1080p High

Assassins Creed: Unity 1080p Medium

Did I mention that Assassin's Creed: Unity is a beast to run? Yeah, OUCH! 4K gaming is basically out of the question on current hardware, and even QHD is too much at the default Ultra settings. Also notice how badly the GTX 770 does at the Ultra settings, which appears to be due to the 2GB of VRAM; I logged system usage for the GTX 770 at QHD Ultra and found that the game was trying to allocate nearly 3GB of VRAM use, which on a 2GB card means there's going to be a lot of texture thrashing. (4K with High quality also uses around 3GB of VRAM, if you're wondering.) The asterisk is there because I couldn't actually run the benchmark, so I used a "Synchronize" from the top of a tower instead, which is typically slightly less demanding than our actual benchmark run.

Anyway, all of the single GPUs are basically unplayable at QHD Ultra settings, and a big part of that looks to be the higher resolution textures. Dropping the texture quality to High can help, but really the game needs a ton of GPU horsepower to make QHD playable. GTX 970 SLI basically gets there, though again I'd suggest dropping the texture quality to High in order to keep minimum frame rates closer to 30. Even at 1080p, I'd suggest avoiding the Ultra setting – or at least Ultra texture quality – as there's just a lot of stutter. Sadly, the GTX 980M and 880M both have 8GB GDDR5, but their performance with Ultra settings is too low to really be viable, though they do show a bit better minimums relative to the other GPUs.

As we continue down the charts, NVIDIA's GTX 780 and 970 (and faster) cards finally reach the point where performance is totally acceptable at 1080p High (and you can tweak a few settings like turning on HBAO+ and Soft Shadows without too much trouble). What's scary is that looking at the minimum frame rates along with the average FPS, the vast majority of GPUs are still struggling at 1080p High, and it's really only 1080p Medium where most midrange and above GPUs reach the point of playability.

There's a secondary aspect to the charts that you've probably noticed as well. Sadly, AMD's GPUs really don't do well right now with Assassin's Creed: Unity. Some of it is almost certainly drivers, and some of it may be due to the way things like GameWorks come into play. Whatever the cause, ACU is not going to be a great experience on any of the Radeon GPUs right now.

I did some testing of CrossFire R9 290X as well, and while it didn't fail to run, performance was not better than a single 290X – and minimum frame rates were down – so CrossFire (without any attempt to create a custom profile) isn't viable yet. Also note that while SLI "works", there are also rendering issues at times. Entering/exiting the menu/map, or basically any time there's a full screen post processing filter, you get severe flicker (a good example is when you jump off a tower into a hay cart, you'll notice flicker on the peripheral as well as on Arno's clothing). I believe these issues happen on all the multi-GPU rigs, so it might be more of a game issue than a driver issue.

I even went all the way down to 1600x900 Medium to see if that would help any of AMD's GPUs; average frame rates on the R9 290X basically top out at 48FPS with minimums still at 25 or so. I did similar testing on NVIDIA and found that with the overclocked i7-4770K ACU maxes out at just over 75 FPS with minimums of 50+ FPS. We'll have to see if AMD and/or Ubisoft Montreal can get things working better on Radeon GPUs, but for now it's pretty rough. That's not to say the game is unplayable on an R9 290X, as you can certainly run 1080p High, but there are going to be occasional stutters. Anything less than the R9 290/290X and you'll basically want to use Low or Medium quality (with some tweaking).

Finally, I mentioned how 2GB GPUs are really going to have problems, especially at higher texture quality settings. The GeForce GTX 770 is a prime example of this; even at 1080p High, minimum frame rates are consistently dropping into the low teens and occasionally even single digits, and Medium quality still has very poor minimum frame rates. Interestingly, at 1600x900 Medium the minimum FPS basically triples compared to 1080p Medium, so if the game is using more than 2GB VRAM at 1080p Medium it's not by much. This also affects the GTX 860M (1366x768 Low is pretty much what you need to run on that GPU), and the 1GB R7 250X can't even handle that. And it probably goes without saying, but Intel's HD 4600 completely chokes with ACU – 3-7 FPS at 1366x768 is all it can manage.

What About the CPU?

I mentioned earlier that I also underclocked the Core i7-4770K and disabled a couple CPU cores to simulate a Core i3-4330. It's not a fully accurate simulation, but just by way of reference the multi-threaded Cinebench 11.5 score went from 8.08 down to 3.73, which looks about right give or take a few percent. I only tested the GTX 980 with the slower CPU, but this is basically the "best case" for what a Core i3 could do.

Looking at the above 1080p charts, you can see that with the slower CPU the GTX 980 takes quite the hit to performance. In fact, the GTX 980 with a "Core i3" Haswell CPU starts looking an awful lot like the R9 290X: it's playable in a pinch, but the minimum frame rates will definitely create some choppiness at times. I don't have an AMD rig handy to do any testing, unfortunately, but I'd be surprised if the APUs are much faster than the Core i3.

In short, not only do you need a fast GPU, but you also need a fast CPU. And the "just get a $300 console" argument doesn't really work either, as frame rates on the consoles aren't particularly stellar either from what I've read. At least one site has found that both the PS4 and Xbox One fail to maintain a consistent 30FPS or higher frame rate. 

Benchmarked - Assassin's Creed: Unity Image Quality and Settings


View All Comments

  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    I'll bet you a dollar you're CPU limited at mid to high 70s when you're down on the streets. Anyway, I ran the Medium numbers as well at 1080p, which is basically FXAA with High textures and a few other items turned down a notch that don't really affect things that much. As to what's "an accurate representation of the kind of performance you can get", well, the numbers don't lie. If you want to run different settings, the numbers change, but there's a reason the developers don't just use FXAA as the default at all settings. Reply
  • Carfax - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    I probably am CPU limited with V-sync off, but considering I'm above 60 FPS and how much is being rendered (the game is absolutely massive in scope and detail), I would say that the engine is still fairly optimized. When I'm playing the game, my CPU is usually around 50 to 60% loaded on all 12 threads with V-sync on. I haven't tested CPU usage with V-sync off though.

    The game definitely uses a hex core processor, so that's probably why your frame rates are lower than mine..
  • mcmilhouse - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    I wonder if Apple didn' take all the 20nm production this year, and amd/nvidia had 20nm cards, if we wouldnt have a $200-300 card that outputs 60fps easy at 1080p ultra. We really should of been at 20nm this year. Reply
  • Crazyeyeskillah - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    Why don't u turn off AA and show people what the game can actually run at. I don't know why this is a must have when you can't get solid frame rates. If you ran all the same benches without any AA i don't see why it would be so abysmal. AA is a luxury not mandatory. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    You mean like the 1080p Medium graph? That uses FXAA, which is nearly "free" to enable. Reply
  • Crazyeyeskillah - Friday, November 21, 2014 - link

    No, more on some of the high end numbers where aa starts to get redundant, especially at 4k. I loved crysis when it came out and it slapped my 7900gtx sli around because I knew it was the start of something great to come. This game does have some nice touches, especially in the quantity of npc's on the screen, use of ai and level of detail for such an expansive city, but is nowhere close to heralding in a new concept look of what's to come in terms of textures and reach. Most people are gonna set it to highest textures, turn off AA and get their playable fps at whatever resolution their card supports so I have to admit this is the first time i've really felt a little leary at the state of the game presented on ANANDTECH. I've been reading the site since it was launched but this game benchmark just didn't make me come off with a sense of what performance is really going to be like across various setups. Reply
  • FITCamaro - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    I don't understand how they can do a poorer job of porting the game to PC on AMD hardware than Nvidia when the consoles are using AMD GPUs. Unless they built it for PC with Nvidia in mind and then did a crappy job of porting it to consoles. Of course given the poor performance of the game on consoles, that isn't hard to believe.

    Ubisoft is quickly becoming the new EA. I won't be buying this game this year. Probably in a year when it's down to $20 and they've maybe patched it to a reasonable state. I say maybe because Watch Dogs has been out for months and is still pretty bad.
  • FlushedBubblyJock - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    The bleeding edge has to be pushed, lest there be no need for more.
    Same thing was said about Crysis, then it wound up being the most famous FPS freak game ever, and still is, until perhaps now.
    So getting down on the leading edge games that present a challenge to GPU designers is not in all of our best interest.
    Also it's nice to see a "port" frustrate the highest end elite desktops and see the whining not be about how cruddy for any sort of gaming ported games are, but in this case how " slow my thousands of dollars are ".
    Very glad too see it crushing the best of the best, we need more of this at a faster rate, then we hopefully won't hear so much about and so often " the increase with the new core isn't worth it ".

    Now the GPU makers must overcome, a challenge is a good thing.
  • Horza - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    This would be a reasonable sentiment if in fact the game was "bleeding edge" graphically. Crysis was a landmark visually (and still looks impressive) and I feel very safe to wager that Unity will not be remembered in even close to the same way. Anyone can make a game that brings "elite" hardware to it's knees, it's not an impressive feat on it's own if it doesn't deliver the experience to justify it. Reply
  • Daggard - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    *shrug* runs fine on my PS4. I'd give it more of an 8.5 personally. Paris is the best playground yet for this series. Online features are still being ironed out, but the game is great :) Reply

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