Review Index:

Battlefield 3 Beta Performance Testing and Image Quality Evaluation - Day 1

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: EA

Closing Thoughts and More to Come

Beta Game Headaches

Keeping in mind that this is a beta, and that this is why they have betas in the first place, anything I complain about here is likely to get written off in that vein.  First, the web client is kind of a pain and the fact that your game always starts in a window is kind of annoying.  Also, the fact that you cannot change game settings without first deploying and putting yourself and your team in danger really must be changed and makes me doubt that they were really thinking about the PC platform "first" in the case.

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Still, for day one I found the game to be relatively stable (except with our issue with the Radeon HD 6970 mentioned before) and a hell of a lot of fun.


Both NVIDIA and AMD are going to love what Battlefield 3 does for their sales - and what it might have done already.  I have gotten more emails and questions on our podcast as well as TWICH (This Week in Computer Hardware) about upgrades for BF3 in the last 3 months than I can remember so I know it is a hot topic for the gaming community.  Based on my initial performance evaluation it seems that the worries were at least somewhat warranted - a GTX 560 Ti, currently selling for about $220, doesn't quite cut it at "Ultra" quality settings in my book. 

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The GTX 580 and Radeon HD 6970 users should have no problem maxing out the settings in most cases though again we are still waiting for the 64 player maps to open so we can see how that affects PC performance.

Let's take a look at current card pricing and performance:

  • Card - Price - Indoor / Outdoor FPS
  • ASUS MARS II Dual GTX 580 - $1400 - 85.8 / 74.6 FPS
  • GeForce GTX 580 - $470 - 51.6 / 42.9 FPS
  • Radeon HD 6970 - $350 - 50.5 / XX FPS
  • GeForce GTX 570 - $320 - 49.3 / 36.9 FPS
  • Radeon HD 6950 - $270 - 40.6 / 34.2 FPS
  • GeForce GTX 560 Ti - $220 - 42.7 / 30.7 FPS
  • Radeon HD 6870 - $180 - 34.3 / 27.8 FPS

The pricing stack of these cards tested puts an interesting spin on things.  The GTX 570 and the Radeon HD 6970 seem to go nearly head-to-head in cost while the HD 6950 sits all by itself between the GTX 560 Ti and the GTX 570.  Also, the HD 6870 is pretty big cost jump down from the GTX 560 Ti.  If we look at a value of cost per FPS (dollar per frame per second) then this is the break down where the lower the cost, the better:

  • Card - Indoor / Outdoor Cost (lower is better)
  • ASUS MARS II Dual GTX 580 - $16.31 | $18.76
  • GeForce GTX 580 - $8.37 | $10.95
  • Radeon HD 6970 - $6.93 | XX
  • GeForce GTX 570 - $6.49 | $8.67
  • Radeon HD 6950 - $6.65 | $7.89
  • GeForce GTX 560 Ti - $5.15 | $7.16
  • Radeon HD 6870 - $5.24 | $6.47

Wow, this is really making things more complicated though, isn't it?  If we look at the HD 6970 and the GTX 570 on the outdoor scene (since the indoor section crashed on the AMD solution) you can see that the GTX 570 is actually a slightly better deal that both the HD 6970 and the HD 6950.  On the outdoor scene that result flips and the HD 6950 is the better value than the GTX 570. The unfortunate part of this scale is that as the price goes down in our card selection it LOOKS like the best deal is the HD 6870 - our rating doesn't take the playability of the experience into account.  So this is just another factor of many to consider when it comes to making your purchase. 

Overall I think the NVIDIA cards are currently offering just a bit better experience than the AMD cards due to my instability with the HD 6970 and the better multi-GPU scaling being reported with SLI than CrossFire.  But with so much time between now and the final game release, that could shift or remain the same depending on the driver work each team puts in.

Update (9/29/11): We have new performance results for the GeForce GTX 460, Radeon HD 5850 and even the GeForce 9800 GT!  Be sure you find those on the last page of our article!

Update 2 (9/30/11): We have some quick results from our time on the Caspian Border map as well if you are interested - check them out!

Image Quality

Battlefield 3 definitely looks good, though perhaps not as good as the trailers would have led us to believe.  I'm not surprised by that.  I am surprised by how good the game looks in not only Ultra settings but also in High and Medium settings.  It appears to me that DICE decided to set the bar higher in terms of required hardware in order to not sacrifice on image quality in a large way.  

Is that the right call?  Hard to say, but if you wanted to play BF3 with image quality something like Battlefield 2 with older hardware, it looks like that might not be possible.

Also, I am hearing that it might be the case that DICE left out some of the most advanced image quality features for the beta and if that is the case, the Ultra quality levels might be harder on your hardware than we are showing here.  If that is the case, we will update our testing and let you know!

Further Testing

We aren't done testing Battlefield 3 yet - we have lots more to do.  First, we'd like to see the larger maps and see how vehicles and having 64 players affects gaming performance.  I'd also like to spend more time looking at how the processor affects BF3 performance and if upgrading in that direction will make much of a difference.

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And obviously we want to test more cards - and we are open to suggestions in our comments below - including things like the GeForce 9800 GT for those of you REALLY long in tooth and maybe the GTX 260 and GTX 460 - both great sellers in their day.  AMD has quite a backlog of cards to test out as well including the Radeon HD 5000 series including the HD 5800 cards that were the most popular of the last few years.  

I also want to see just how much performance we can get back by dropping from Ultra to High settings, or to Medium, since we aren't seeing THAT dramatic of image quality differences.  I am guessing performance differences will be just as minimal, but if they aren't it might make more sense to run at lower settings rather than Ultra.

Closing Thoughts

As you can see we have a lot more to do and not a lot of time to do it.  So excuse us as we get back to playing some Batt, er I mean testing some Battlefield 3. 

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for our follow up to this story, please leave them in the comments below!!

September 28, 2011 | 02:39 PM - Posted by ZackJ (not verified)

Thanks Ryan for your day 1 review, I along with the community greatly appreciate this at the time. I can't wait to hop on BF3 come Thursday to test out my GTX460. I could get 45 - 70fps at 1680 x 1050 on Battlefield Bad Company 2 at max so looks like BF3 is going to be pretty rough on my card. Can't wait to see more test from you and your crew.

September 28, 2011 | 05:34 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Hopefully I'll be able toss in a GTX 460 today and post some updated results.

September 28, 2011 | 09:11 PM - Posted by 72VirginExpress (not verified)

I have the following specs:
AMD Phenom II 1100T Black Edition
EVGA GTX 460 1024 GDDR5
8.0 Ghz 2X4 Kingston DDR3 1600Mhz Barracuda 1-TB

Had absolutely no problems running all settings on high with no noticeable glitches...except for ability to bind mouse settings.

You can contact me if you are looking for more information.

Good bit of research you have done to date....keep it up. First time visit to your site, not last I should think.

September 28, 2011 | 03:52 PM - Posted by mark (not verified)

man the new metro benchy.....nice article

September 28, 2011 | 04:58 PM - Posted by AMDftw (not verified)

I used the 11.9 cat for my dual 5870. I didn't have any problems with mine. I was getting detween 45-70 fps@ 1920*1200. I didn't try my 3 monitor setup tho. I will later on tonight. My set up is. AMD 1090t@4.1 ghz 8gb gskill 2000 mhz flare. 2x120gb ocz ssd in raid. Ga-990fxa-ud7 mobo. 2xga5870 Gpu. 1200watt psu.

September 28, 2011 | 05:34 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

At first I was very surprised by your results then I saw you were using TWO Radeon HD 5870s. That falls much more in line with my thinking.

September 28, 2011 | 06:02 PM - Posted by Paul (not verified)

I also am using 2 5870s with an i7 920 @3.2. I am using the 11.9 driver also and am getting 55-85 FPS on Ultra setting @1920*1200

Pretty happy and the 11.10 driver is supposed to be better with cf support for bf3.

September 28, 2011 | 04:59 PM - Posted by Adam (not verified)

AMD just released a new video driver for the BF3 beta today and nvidia just did the same a few days ago. i think you need to retest things with the updated drivers. Awesome review Ryan.

September 28, 2011 | 05:09 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If you read page one where Ryan tells us the specs of the PC being used he says and I quote ”We used the latest drivers from both NVIDIA and AMD that were released specifically yesterday for Battlefield 3: 285.38 for NVIDIA and 11.10 Preview for AMD.”

September 28, 2011 | 06:11 PM - Posted by rahul (not verified)

Hi Ryan, thanks for putting so much effort into testing BF3!
I was wondering, if you could do some CPU performance tests? Perhaps testing scaling with number of cores or frequency?

September 28, 2011 | 06:16 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I would like to do that and see how frequency and CPU cores helps. May not be until tomorrow sometime that I can sort of play with that.

September 28, 2011 | 06:32 PM - Posted by M3rc Nate (not verified)

I just wanted to say that i have a Q9550 (3.6ghz) and a 6950 2Gb Flashed to 6970 shaders (BF3 Beta Drivers installed). I am getting 50 average outdoors in the park (never dipping below 40) and indoors the average is about 80, sometimes as high as 90FPS.
I game settings are on auto, which has res at 1920x1080, Ultra, 16x AA, and everything on High and Ultra.
To be honest i was expecting much lower frame rates. BC2 and the Witcher 1 had worse frame rates than im getting in BF3. Im loving it though, and im buying a second 6950 to Crossfire.

Odd however is my friend whos using my GTS-250 (512mb) is unplayable in full screen with everything on as low as it can go (at 1920x1080) but he played BC2 on medium everything (same res) and it was smooth.

September 30, 2011 | 12:02 AM - Posted by TinkerToyTech

Hey, I have the exact same setup and I'd be interested in your clocks, timings and voltages as I've little experience with this CPU and OC'ing it. Your help would be most appreciated.

September 28, 2011 | 10:15 PM - Posted by durjoy184 (not verified)

Hi Ryan, i own a i5-2500k @ stock clocks 3.30Ghz...i am planning on overclocking it to 4.5ghz to take advantage of its "K" my question is...will that increase the fps ingame by much?
and in between...RAM, processor speed, GPU...which might you think will be a dominating factor and by how much?

On a different note Seeing as there isnt much difference between high and ultra except for a little smoothing of textures and the AA...would you kindly put up a performance chart of the cards running on high?

Because if there is a considerable increase in the fps, there might not be any reason to run the game at ultra at all... keeping in mind the comparitively high loss in performance.

any feedback is greatly appreciated :)
and thank you for all your hardwork, really is helping us make important decisions on our purchases.

Thank You :)

September 28, 2011 | 10:20 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"Overall I think the NVIDIA cards are currently offering just a bit better experience than the AMD cards due to my instability with the HD 6970 and the better multi-GPU scaling being reported with SLI than CrossFire."

How can you say SLI scaling is better than Crossfire scaling when you didn't even test Crossfire? If you're generalizing, that's some pretty bad "scientific" testing.

September 28, 2011 | 10:55 PM - Posted by Jesse (not verified)

I find this funny because the textures in the beta on ALL platforms are around half quality. They aren't even showing you the best graphics yet. Therefore, your benchmarks are a waste of time =P

September 28, 2011 | 11:06 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

This is incorrect - verified through both GPU vendors and their developer relations teams. That WAS the case in the alpha though.

September 28, 2011 | 11:47 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You are of course aware that the majority of 'ultra' settings aren't functional yet, and don't do anything.. yes?

September 29, 2011 | 12:06 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Reference? I am hearing the exact opposite from both NVIDIA and AMD.

September 29, 2011 | 12:27 AM - Posted by Tim (not verified)

Great rundown PcPer. Just gotta wait for the 7900HD's now :(

Depends what the bottleneck is. What is your graphics card? I play Medal of Honor and had a Q6600@4GHz, with a 5850. when i changed to a 2500K, at stock, it doubled my frames. But still at 4.5GHz, it only added about about 5% more frames

September 29, 2011 | 06:12 AM - Posted by durjoy184 (not verified)

AMD HD6870 stock clocks...i know its a mid-level card...but its all the money i had :\

September 29, 2011 | 12:30 PM - Posted by fuzzynuts69 (not verified)

lol you will be fine!!!

September 29, 2011 | 10:18 PM - Posted by durjoy184 (not verified)

so your saying that i might get a considerable performance boost if i go from 3.3-4.5ghz? :O

and as for ur MOH situation...i think games like those that dont demand much of the cpu....just get overkilled after a stage and cant go any im playing C0D right now....and play it after 4.5ghz....there wouldnt be any difference at all....but on games like crysis, metro 2033...which are more may take effect

i just wanted to make sure of the same for battlefield 3 too before i did any overclocking. :)

September 29, 2011 | 03:00 AM - Posted by HM (not verified)

for the poor folks like me who are still stuck on dual core CPUs, could you disable 2 cores, I mean set affinity to 2 cores only during the game to see the difference (and HT off)?

September 29, 2011 | 05:59 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

We might be able to fit that testing in over the next couple of days, sure.

October 2, 2011 | 06:20 AM - Posted by Pablo (not verified)

That would be cool. I'm not really sure if it's worth upgrading to a 6870 while rocking an i5 650.

October 3, 2011 | 05:15 AM - Posted by Irishgamer01

I think a visit to ebay might help.
Some serious bargins. Got my 990x there.
(Yip. Was nervous but it arrived and worked a treat.)
I did my brothers dell too. A Core 2 system. Just swapped out the chips,Dual to quad. Ebayed the dual and got some money back. Just need to check your chipset.

September 29, 2011 | 04:28 AM - Posted by Nilbog

Definitely one of the best articles I've ever read, thank you for such an in depth look.

September 29, 2011 | 04:39 AM - Posted by HalloweenJack (not verified)

wouldnt mind seeing the ultara low end results - minimum spec ones , like HD4xxx or 9800GT , or a minimum cpu/ram combo (amd and intel)

September 29, 2011 | 06:21 AM - Posted by scottwd (not verified)

I agree with HalloweenJack, I wouldnt mind seeing the ultara low end results. I play on a nice beefy PC at home and and barely functional one at lunchtimes at work.

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