Battlefield 3

Its popularity aside, Battlefield 3 may be the most interesting game in our benchmark suite for a single reason: it’s the first AAA DX10+ game. It’s been 5 years since the launch of the first DX10 GPUs, and 3 whole process node shrinks later we’re finally to the point where games are using DX10’s functionality as a baseline rather than an addition. Not surprisingly BF3 is one of the best looking games in our suite, but as with past Battlefield games that beauty comes with a high performance cost

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3

How to benchmark BF3 is a point of great contention. Our preference is to always stick to the scientific method, which means our tests need to be perfectly repeatable or very, very close. For that reason we’re using an on-rails section of the single player game, Thunder Run, to do our testing. This isn’t the most strenuous part of Battlefield 3 – multiplayer can get much worse – but it’s the most consistent part of the game. In general we’ve found that minimum framerates in multiplayer are about half of the average framerate in Thunder Run, so it’s important to frame your expectations accordingly.

With that out of the way, Battlefield 3 ends up being one of the worst games for the 7970 from a competitive standpoint. It always maintains a lead over the GTX 580, but the greatest lead is only 13% at 2560 without any MSAA, and everywhere else it’s 3-5%. Of course it goes without saying that realistically BF3 is only playable at 1920 (no MSAA) and below on any of the single-GPU cards in this lineup, so unfortunately for AMD it’s the 5% number that’s the most relevant.

Meanwhile compared to the 6970, the 7970’s performance gains are also a bit below average. 2560 and 1920 with MSAA are quite good at 30% and 34% respectively, but at 1920 without MSAA that’s only a 25% gain, which is one of the smaller gaps between the two cards throughout our entire test suite.

The big question of course is why are we only seeing such a limited lead from the 7970 here? BF3 implements a wide array of technologies so it’s hard to say for sure, but there is one thing we know they implement in the engine that only NVIDIA can use: Driver Command Lists, the same “secret sauce” that boosted NVIDIA’s Civilization V performance by so much last year. So it may be that NVIDIA’s DCL support is helping their performance here in BF3, much like it was in Civ V.

But in any case, this is probably the only benchmark that’s really under delivered for the 7970. 5% is still a performance improvement (and we’ll take it any day of the week), but this silences any reasonable hope of being able to use 1920 at Ultra settings with MSAA on a single-GPU card for the time being.

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  • Wreckage - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    That's kind of disappointing.
  • atticus14 - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    oh look its that guy that was banned from the forums for being an overboard nvidia zealot.
  • medi01 - Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - link

    Maybe he meant "somebody @ anandtech is again pissing on AMDs cookies"?

    I mean "oh, it's fastest and coolest single GPU card on the market, it is slightly more expensive than competitor's, but it kinda sucks since AMD didn't go "significantly cheaper than nVidia" route" is hard to call unbiased, eh?

    Kind of disappointing conclusion, indeed.
  • ddarko - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    To each their own but I think this is undeniable impressive:

    "Even with the same number of ROPs and a similar theoretical performance limit (29.6 vs 28.16), 7970 is pushing 51% more pixels than 6970 is" and

    "it’s clear that AMD’s tessellation efficiency improvements are quite real, and that with Tahiti AMD can deliver much better tessellation performance than Cayman even at virtually the same theoretical triangle throughput rate."
  • Samus - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    I prefer nVidia products, mostly because the games I play (EA/DICE Battlefield-series) are heavily sponsered by nVidia, giving them a developement-edge.

    That out of the way, nVidia has had their problems just like this card is going to experience. Remember when Fermi came out, it was a performance joke, not because it was slow, but because it used a ridiculous amount of power to do the same thing as an ATI card while costing substantially more.

    Fermi wasn't successful until second-generation products were released, most obviously the GTX460 and GT430, reasonably priced cards with quality drivers and low power consumption. But it took over a year for nVidia to release those, and it will take over a year for ATI to make this architecture shine.
  • kyuu - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    Wat? The only thing there might be an issue with is drivers. As far as power consumption goes, this should be better than Cayman.
  • CeriseCogburn - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    He's saying the 28mn node will have further power improvements. Take it as an amd compliment - rather you should have.
  • StriderTR - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    EA/Dice are just as heavily sponsored by AMD, more in fact. Not sure where your getting your information, but its .. well ... wrong. Nvidia bought the rights to advertize the game with their hardware, AMD is heavily sponsoring BF3 and related material. Example, The Controller.

    Also, the GTX 580 and HD 6970 perform within a few FPS of each other on BF3. I run dual 6970's, by buddy runs dual 580's, we are almost always within 2 FPS of one and other at any given time.

    AMD will have the new architecture "shining" in far under a year. They have been focused on it for a long time already.

    Simple bottom line, both Nvidia and AMD make world class cards these days. No matter your preference, you have cards to choose from that will rock any games on the planet for a long time to come.
  • deaner - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    Umm, yea no. Not so much with nvidia and EA/DICE Batttlefield series giving nvidia a development edge. (if it does, the results are yet to be seen)
    Facts are facts, the 5 series to our current review today, the 7970, do and again continue to edge the Nvidia lines. The AMD Catalyst performance of particular note, BF3, has been far superior.

  • RussianSensation - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    ."..most obviously the GTX460 and GT430, reasonably priced cards with quality drivers and low power consumption. But it took over a year for nVidia to release those"

    GTX470/480 launched March 26, 2010
    GTX460 launched July 12, 2010
    GT430 launched October 11, 2010

    Also, Fermi's performance at launch was not a joke. GTX470 delivered performance between HD5850 and HD5870, priced in the middle. Looking now, GTX480 ~ HD6970. So again, both of those cards did relatively well at the time. Once you consider overclocking of the 470/480, they did extremely well, both easily surprassing the 5870 in performance in overclocked states.

    Sure power consumption was high, but that's the nature of the game for highest-end GPUs.

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