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Multi-Core Processors in 3D Games

A few games tested with Intel Core 2 Quad.

December 30, 2008



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Unreal Tournament 3

Unreal Tournament 3 (based on the famous Unreal Engine 3) is another multiplatform game in our list. It uses multiple cores well. We'll see whether it's true.

The only problem is the lack of accurate benchmarks in all games based on this engine. There are so-called flyby demos, which do not load CPUs much, and botmatches, which are good for CPU tests, but the spread of their results is too large. But they are all we've got:



The game is apparently limited by the speed of a single CPU core even to a greater degree than both STALKERs. Additional cores are still useful. We just don't see it, because performance is limited by a single core. Perhaps, we should have enabled antialiasing in the driver, which cannot be enabled in game options. So the load is not very heavy. Still, it wouldn't have removed the CPU bottleneck completely. Let's see the load on CPU cores in the process of our tests:


  Core 1 Core 2 Core 3 Core 4
Average 91.0 40.3 39.1 52.3
Maximum 100 75.0 75.1 78.3

So Unreal Tournament 3 depends much on a processor. All cores of a quad-core processor are loaded, one of them almost completely, so this is the bottleneck. The other cores also get half the possible load. This game will apparently gobble triple- and quad-core processors. But just like in both S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, a CPU clock rate is also important. That is, this game needs a high-clocked multi-core CPU.

The total CPU usage exceeds 220%. So even a dual-core processor won't be sufficient. But a CPU clock rate is even more important, it limits game performance.

Far Cry 2

And the last game in our review is the latest Far Cry 2. It has nothing to do with Far Cry, except for the title. It's based on an absolutely different multiplatform engine from Ubisoft, which threatens to actively use multiprocessing on PCs and consoles.

Even though it's a multiplatform game, it uses advanced technologies. There are high requirements both to a graphics card and a CPU. Let's compare configurations with different number of active processor cores:



On the whole, performance is mostly limited by a GPU. But the second CPU core also brought a 20% boost in all resolutions. What concerns dual-, triple-, and quad-core systems, we notices no differences between them. Perhaps, Far Cry 2 may run fine on two 2.4GHz cores (Core 2). We'll check it up now:


  Core 1 Core 2 Core 3 Core 4
Average 29.2 24.4 57.5 39.3
Maximum 51.6 37.5 70.3 62.5

That's right, four cores of the Core 2 Quad Q6600 are not loaded much -- two cores are loaded by half, the other cores are loaded by a quarter. So the total CPU usage amounts to 150% of a single core. That is it's another proof that a dual-core processor will suffice, and there is no point in adding more cores.

Besides, the game is not limited by the speed of a single core. None of them were loaded by more than 70% in our test. That is the main bottleneck is GeForce 9800 GTX. Performance depends on a CPU only in a single-core configuration.

Conclusions

1. There's an apparent relationship to game release dates: newer applications use multiprocessing much more efficiently and can gain more performance from it. Developers used to increase performance of their games by optimizing video drivers for multiprocessor systems and executing the graphics API thread on the other core than the main game thread. That is most games are optimized for multiprocessor configurations. Games use several threads executed on different cores. There are usually separate threads to compute AI, physics,to load resources dynamically, to render scenes, etc. It all shows that modern games need multi-core CPUs.

2. It's multiplatform games, which engines are optimized for modern game consoles (Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3), that demonstrate higher performance gains on multiprocessor configurations. These consoles also use multi-core processors, and such games benefit from multi-core CPUs on personal computers as well. If an engine uses several threads on consoles, it can do the same on desktop computers.

3. The average performance gain (frames per second) from the second CPU core amounts to 20-40% in games, which use one heavy thread and several lighter ones. And it reaches twofold or even more in games optimized for multiprocessing. Performance gains from the second core are small only in a few games. It appears due to optimizations in video drivers and more efficient distribution of background and system processes. Most modern games are multithreaded applications that benefit from the second core in a CPU. Some of them can even use triple- or quad-core processors.

4. A dual-core processor is presently the minimal requirement (and an optimal choice) for modern games (in fact, you cannot find a single-core processor anymore). Triple- and quad-core processors still make little sense for games, it's fast dual-core processors that are the optimal choice for gaming PCs. Most games use one of the cores more actively than the others, and performance is often limited by the speed of that core. In other words, for games you'd better buy a dual-core processor operating at 3.0GHz than a quad-core processor at 2.4GHz (within the same CPU family, of course). The former will be faster in most games. But this situation may change in future titles, because we can see a tendency to increase threads in games. For example, Race Driver: GRID and NFS: ProStreet.


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