The Battlefield 3 Beta
Looking at the first day of BF3 testing we summarize some of our performance testing and image quality evaluations.
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!
It was an exciting day at PC Perspective yesterday with much our time dedicated to finding, installing and playing the new Battlefield 3 public beta. Released on the morning of the 26th to those of you who had pre-ordered BF3 on Origin or those of you who had purchased Medal of Honor prior to July 26th, getting the beta a couple of days early should give those of you with more FPS talent than me a leg up once the open beta starts on Thursday the 29th.
My purpose in playing Battlefield 3 yesterday was purely scientific, of course. We wanted to test a handful of cards from both AMD and NVIDIA to see how the beta performed. With all of the talk about needing to upgrade your system and the relatively high recommended system requirements, there is a lot of worry that just about anyone without a current generation GPU is going to need to shell out some cash.
Is that a justified claim? While we didn’t have time yet to test EVERY card we have at the office we did put some of the more recent high end, mid-range and lower cost GPUs to the test.
Before I jump into the results, I thought I would just take a quick moment to describe the way Battlefield 3 works on the PC as it is quite different than what you might be used to with other PC games. Rather than just launching the game, you first have to launch Origin, which is essentially EA’s take on the Valve Steam client. Yes, I am one of those people that desperately wanted EA to just adopt the Steam platform so we could have "one to rule them all", but giant companies like this just don’t do that. So Origin it is. After opening it and logging in, then selecting the BF3 Beta, rather than starting the game you actually get a browser opened up:
The entire server browser, friends list, group creation and more actually launches from your default web browser rather than the Origin client or even the BF3 game itself. And since we saw disabled buttons for co-op and for single player selections I am guessing that even when this game is released on October 25th, this interface will remain.
The controls aren’t really THAT bad and in some ways it is nice to be able to look for servers to join while still having other windows open and being able to do or check on other tasks besides Battlefield 3. The server list doesn’t update as often as I would like so you never know if you are trying to join a server that has become full since the list originally loaded but most of my first day of testing was done hitting that magical "quick match" button.
Initially, the BF3 game loads in a window and that happened in ALL CASES for me. EA tells you in several places that the shortcut to go full screen is "ALT + ENTER" and in my case only the left ALT button actually did that. Other than that minor nuisance, the game loaded up pretty well.
Our Testing Process and Headaches
Testing a multiplayer game is hard and is made even more so by the fact that you cannot create your own servers to control who joins, etc. This left me running around on seemingly random servers (since getting on the same server twice seemed nearly impossible) trying not to die during my many 120 second FRAPS runs. Because of this, keeping an exact path and process for our benchmarking testing was impossible and instead we mitigated that issue by playing it for MANY sets of benchmarking results for each card and in each setting. We then had to manually look at the results and find which were the "average" while kicking out those that had especially high or especially low scores.
For the most part, we were able to get fairly consistent benchmark runs though at the expense of whatever team happened to be saddled with me. (Sorry Internet!) Here you can see a set of three results from the outdoor section of the Metro map on the GTX 580 with Ultra quality settings:
So even though there was some variance that is pretty much impossible to avoid in a large multiplayer game like this, my methods did result in good repeatability.
As I mentioned above, all of our testing was done on the "Operation Metro" map as it was the only one publicly available on the first day of the beta. Rumors are circulating that soon the second map will open with 64 player support and vehicles so we are going to keep an eye on that for sure and see if performance is drastically affected.
There were two sections of the Metro map though that had very different performance characteristics and thus we tested them independently. Of three main areas on the map, the first starts in a larger outdoor area, the second takes place inside tunnels of a subway while the third returns outside in a more cityscape style design. My testing differentiated between the first outdoor section as being the most GPU intensive while the indoor section was much easier on the graphics card. You will see results for both map areas on the following pages.
Also, just to get as many different cards in as we could with the limited amount of time in a day, we ran all of our testing at 1920×1200 resolution and at Ultra quality settings.
We will start with performance testing between our NVIDIA and AMD cards on the next page and then take a quick look at image quality comparisons between NVIDIA and AMD following that.
Our test setup included a Core i7-965 Nehalem processor, 6GB of DDR3 memory and a 600GB VelociRaptor hard drive. 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.