Final Words

After our Doom 3 - CPU Battlegrounds article, we already knew what to expect from CPU performance under Half Life 2. At this point, Intel's Pentium 4 architecture does take a backseat to AMD's Athlon 64 when it comes to gaming. With performance advantages of around 15% at the same price point, the Athlon 64 does offer a noticeable increase in performance over the Pentium 4 in Half Life 2. The extensive physics engine in Half Life 2, especially as seen in Half Life 2 Deathmatch, is very CPU dependent and thus we see a real world performance advantage to the Athlon 64 over Intel's Pentium 4.

Not only is the game very CPU intensive, but because of its dependency on a fast CPU, Half Life 2 also appears to be quite dependent on high available memory bandwidth and low latency memory at the same time. Half Life 2 is actually the first game where we've seen this degree of dependency, which does make for some interesting predictions for the CPU/platform requirements of the next generation of games. Despite what we have seen in recent years, it does look like the next generation of games that employ more sophisticated artificial intelligence and physics will be quite CPU and platform dependent, just as they are GPU limited. The balance will obviously vary from scene to scene in the games, just as we've seen with Half Life 2, but the limitations will be there.

In terms of the right speed CPU to pair up with your GPU, if you have a high-end GPU (X800 or 6800GT class) then the faster you go the better off you are. Mid-range GPU owners will find that anything the speed of an Athlon 64 3000+ (Socket-939) will offer the best bang for your buck, with diminishing returns after that. If you happen to have an older Radeon 9600/9700/9800 based card, then even an Athlon 64 2800+ will be overkill for your GPU. If you are stuck with one of those older but still well-performing GPUs, don't bother upgrading your CPU unless it's something slower than a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 - you'd be much better served by waiting and upgrading to dual core later on.

The impact of the CPU on gaming performance is in a transitional stage right now. As more games use Half Life 2 style physics we will see similar impacts with regards to CPU performance, but at this point there's a great deal of work being done on multithreading game engines for the next generation of games. So while the games coming in the immediate future may behave similarly to Doom 3 and Half Life 2, it's the games that follow that will truly be interesting.

Check back in the coming weeks for more information on multithreading, dual core and the future of CPU performance in game engines among other areas...

Mid Range Graphics Card CPU scaling
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  • dderidex - Wednesday, February 02, 2005 - link

    Quick question...

    On the 'cache comparison' on page 5, where they compare an A64 with 1mb cache to an A64 with 512k cache...

    What CPUs are they comparing?

    512k Socket 754 (single channel)
    vs
    1mb Socket 754 (single channel

    or

    512k Socket 939 (dual channel)
    vs
    1mb Socket 939 (dual channel)

    or

    512k Socket 754 (single channel)
    vs
    1mb Socket 939 (dual channel)

    etc.

    No info is provided, so it's hard to really say what the numbers are showing.
    Reply
  • doughtree - Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - link

    great article, next game you should do is battlefield 2! Reply
  • dsorrent - Monday, January 31, 2005 - link

    How come in all of the CPU comparisons, the AMD FX-53 is left out of the comparisons? Reply
  • PsharkJF - Monday, January 31, 2005 - link

    That has no bearing to half-life. Nice job, fanboy. Reply
  • levicki - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    Btw, I have Pentium 4 520 and 6600 GT card and I prefer that combo over AMD+ATI anytime. I had a chance to work on AMD and I didn't like it -- no hyperthreading = bad feeling when working with few things at once. With my P4 I can compress DVD to DivX and play Need For Speed Underground 2 without a hitch. I had ATI (Sapphire 9600 Pro) and didn't like that crap too especially when OpenGL and drivers are concerned = too much crashing.
    Intel .vs. AMD -- people can argue for ages about that but my 2 cents are that musicians using Pentium 4 with HT get 0.67 ms latency with latest beta kX drivers for Creative cards and AMD owners get close to 5.8 ms. From a developer point of view Intel is much better choice too due to great support, compiler and documentation. So my next CPU will be LGA775 with EM64T (I already have a compatible mainboard) and not AMD which by the way has troubles with Winchester cores failing Prime 95 at stock speed.
    Reply
  • Carfax - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    Yeah, developers are so lazy that they will still use x87 for FP rather than SSE2, knowing that the latter will give better performance.

    Thats why the new 64-bit OS from MSoft will be a good thing. It will force developers to use SSE2/SSE3, because they have access to twice as many registers and the OS itself won't recognize x87 for 64-bit operations.
    Reply
  • Barneyk - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    I would've liked to se some benchmarks on older CPUs to, kinda dissapointed... Reply
  • levicki - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    I just wonder how would this test look like if it was made with 6800 Ultra instead with ATI X850 XT.

    Disabling SSE/SSE2 on Athlon and getting the same results as if they were enabled means that game is NOT OPTIMIZED. Using FPU math instead of SSE/SSE2 today is a sin. It could have been 3-4 times faster if they cared about optimizing the code.
    Reply
  • Phantronius - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    #53

    Its because the Prescotts wern't better then the Northwoods to begin with, hence why don't see squat performance differences between them.
    Reply
  • maestroH - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    Thx for your reply #56. Apologies for false '@9700pro' statement. Meant to say 'soft-modded with Omega driver to 9700pro'. Cheers. Reply

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