PhysX Settings Comparison

We spent a few hours testing a Borderlands 2 benchmark at different PhysX settings with the GTX 680 and HD 7970.

Borderlands 2 is a hell of a game; we actually ran a 4+ hour live event on launch day to celebrate its release and played it after our podcast that week as well.  When big PC releases occur we usually like to take a look at performance of the game on a few graphics cards as well to see how NVIDIA and AMD cards stack up.  Interestingly, for this title, PhysX technology was brought up again and NVIDIA was widely pushing it as a great example of implementation of the GPU-accelerated physics engine.

What you may find unique in Borderlands 2 is that the game actually allows you to enabled PhysX features at Low, Medium and High settings, with either NVIDIA or AMD Radeon graphics cards installed in your system.  In past titles, like Batman: Arkham City and Mafia II, PhysX was only able to be enabled (or at least at higher settings) if you had an NVIDIA card.  Many gamers that used AMD cards saw this as a slight and we tended to agree.  But since we could enable it with a Radeon card installed, we were curious to see what the results would be.

Of course, don't expect the PhysX effects to be able to utilize the Radeon GPU for acceleration…

Borderlands 2 PhysX Settings Comparison

The first thing we wanted to learn was just how much difference you would see by moving from Low (the lowest setting, there is no "off") to Medium and then to High.  The effects were identical on both AMD and NVIDIA cards and we made a short video here to demonstrate the changes in settings.

One thing you may not right away – we are using an upcoming benchmark scene that was developed by Gearbox and sent to us by NVIDIA.  I know, I know, some of you are going to complain about using a benchmark provided by NVIDIA, but I understand that this will soon find its way into the main game via an upcoming patch so I feel comfortable utilizing it now.  The automatic run through uses real-time game engine code, AI implementation and effects of gun fire, exploding barrels and more, just as we saw in our 4 hours and more of game time.

Another interesting note is that this early version of the benchmark has two additional scenes when PhysX is set to the High preset – a bug according to our contacts at NVIDIA.  Annoying, but not that big of a deal since it occurred on both AMD and NVIDIA based configurations.

From the video above you can see that the difference in game play from having PhysX at Low and Medium is pretty substantial – there are particles that come up from the ground when you shoot it, fluids that come out of exploding barrels, etc.  The changes in moving from Medium to High are quite a bit more subtle and include additional fluid interactions and more particles in general. 

Initially, NVIDIA told us that the PhysX settings were utilizing the CPU when a non-NVIDIA graphics card was installed, but as we looked at our results (on the next page) that doesn't actually appear to be the case. 

Testing Setup and Configuration

For our quick testing today we were just going to run one AMD card and one NVIDIA card.  In this case we used the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition 3GB card and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB – the top single GPU options from each vendor.  Driver versions were 12.8 and 306.23 respectively. 

Using FRAPS we recorded 80 seconds (almost all) of the benchmark map to get our average, minimum and maximum frame rates as well as our frame rates over time.  Because we expected PhysX to use some additional CPU horsepower on the AMD card than the NVIDIA card, we used the Windows Performance Monitor to record total CPU utilization during the benchmark as well. 

We ran Borderlands 2 at 1920×1080, maximum image quality settings with only the PhysX configuration changing from Low, Medium and to High.

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