Game Tests: Halo

Mainstream Graphics: FX5700U vs Radeon 9600XT - Graphics Cards  1 Halo: Combat Evolved

Halo for the PC has proved to be very successful even though it debuted on the XBOX well over ages ago. Unfortunately as good as this game is, it performs slowly even on some of the most capable machines. We have three different Halo tests here at AMDMB.com. The first test is in a very demanding part of the game and we turn on every detail to see how bad the hardware performs. The second test is the same demanding location but with only 1 feature enabled. The final test is in a more “typical” portion of the game to see how well hardware performs in a typical setting.

Situation 1 – Truth & Reconciliation: High Details
“As Bad as it Gets”

In the first few chapters, I found two spots that made the test system crawl: the stairwell in the Pillar of Autumn (Chapter 1), and in the storage bay on the Truth and Reconciliation (Chapter 3). In many ways, these two situations are very similar:

  1. Large quantity of enemies attacking (not just standing there)
  2. Large multiple floors viewable from the player’s location
  3. Large amount of bump-mapped surfaces

This test was done on the Truth & Reconciliation in the above mentioned storage bay. I have chosen a situation that’s tough on the video subsystem on purpose so we can see how bad the hardware performs. So rest assured that the rest of the game should be much better (as we will see in our 3rd situation test).

Game Configuration
Screen Resolution 1024×768
Difficulty Heroic
Shader Version v2.0 (forced through the -use20 switch)
VSynch OFF
Specular Effects ON
Shadows ON
Decals ON
Particles High
Textures High
Anti-aliasing Since Halo does not support anti-aliasing, we don’t have any of those tests here. Instead we can only adjust anisotropic filtering.

Mainstream Graphics: FX5700U vs Radeon 9600XT - Graphics Cards  2

Here we see some pretty poor results. In this particular scenario, neither the Asus Radeon 9600XT or the NVIDIA FX5700 Ultra manage to fulfill any useful play settings. What is interesting here however is that the Radeon 9600XT does perform much better than the FX5700 Ultra when comparing the high frame rate data points.

Situation 2 – Truth & Reconciliation: Feature Tests

For this test, I disabled all the features and then played the same room used in the previous situation. Then one by one, I enable only one feature to see what effect it has on performance (i.e. the performance cost of having Effect X enabled). Then for the last test (Test #7), we enable everything except Specular to see how well things run without the most costly feature.

Game Configuration
Screen Resolution 1024×768
Difficulty Heroic
Shader Version v2.0 (forced through the -use20 switch)
VSynch OFF
Test 1 – Everything OFF All effects LOW or OFF if available.
Test 2 – Specular Specular ON, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 3 – Shadows Shadows ON, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 4 – Decals Decals ON, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 5 – Particles Particles HIGH, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 6 – Textures Textures HIGH, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 7 – No Specular All effects ON or HIGH, Specular OFF

Mainstream Graphics: FX5700U vs Radeon 9600XT - Graphics Cards  3

The Asus Radeon 9600XT shows it’s true capabilities in Halo in these tests. As we can see from the data points above, the Asus manages to play the game reasonably well with all settings except for Specular effects (Test 2). The high and low points are significantly better than the FX5700 Ultra and the superiority of the Radeon 9600XT is plain to see in Test 7. The NVIDIA FX5700 Ultra only manages two points above what I consider a playable setting in Halo (24 FPS), but even these two points are too close for comfort.

But to put this all into perspective, this particular test is carried out in an environment that’s atypical and intentionally taxing on the graphics card. So even though the FX5700 Ultra fails at pretty much every test so far, it is not what a consumer will experience most of the time. The next test will show you more typical results.

Ch. 4 The Silent Cartographer: Specular Effects Test

Seeing how Specular effects has the greatest effect on performance, we will do another test using it ON and OFF on a more “typical” situation. Here I have chosen a room in the 4th Chapter “The Silent Cartographer” just after the “Shafted” checkpoint. The room has a number of enemies (6+ Grunts, 2 Elites, and 2 Jackals) in a room with two floors. Unlike the room in the previous situation, this room is a little smaller and has less bump-mapping which is more typical of Halo single-player and multiplayer maps.

Game Configuration
Screen Resolution 1024×768
Difficulty Heroic
Shader Version v2.0 (forced through the -use20 switch)
VSynch OFF
Specular Effects

1. ON
2. OFF

Shadows ON
Decals ON
Particles High
Textures High
Anti-aliasing Disabled

Mainstream Graphics: FX5700U vs Radeon 9600XT - Graphics Cards  4

With a more typical scenario, we see both video cards perform substantially better compared to our last test. However, the FX5700 Ultra only manages a playable result when Specular is turned off and in reality this isn’t such a big deal since Specular effects is just icing on the cake and is not entirely necessary. With Specular effects on I found fighting difficult when there were a lot of plasma shots in the air and it almost felt like Max Payne’s “bullet time”, but in Halo.

The Asus Radeon 9600XT manages a marginally playable result with everything turned on, but a substantially better result with Specular turned off. Overall the Radeon 9600XT is the better performer in Halo and has a 10FPS lead on the FX5700 Ultra when specular effects are turned off. Like the FX5700 Ultra, there were some noticeable slowness during an intense fight involving plasma guns. Looking at the high/low data points, it’s interesting to see that the Asus Radeon 9600XT has much higher max FPS than the FX5700 Ultra. What this means is that on the Radeon, you can expect periods where the game performs extremely smooth, more so than on the FX5700 Ultra.

Overall

Overall, the Asus Radeon 9600XT is the winner in Halo. It manages to achieve much better average FPS and even exhibits better high points. The 9600XT is the only card I would consider capable playing this game with Specular effects enabled. With specular effects disabled, the Radeon produces very playable frame rates with enough breathing room for even the toughest rooms (like that used in our first two charts). The FX5700 Ultra on the other hand, is only capable playing this game with Specular effects turned off. Though it would have been nice to use specular effects, it isn’t entirely necessary. However I can’t feel a bit let down by the FX5700 Ultra’s performance in Halo.

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