Hardcore gamers generally know what they need to run the latest and greatest games on the market. However, many casual gamers don’t have time to invest in gaining this knowledge. For people in this category, I have pulled info from all over the net to identify what will run the hottest games on the market. This guide can clarify hardware choices for any gamer, no matter what their level of hardware knowledge.
I know there are many, many less intense games on the market that won’t require high-end specs and can still run on 900MHz processors. This guide is for the hardcore and casual gamer who wants to play games like Counter Strike Source, Half Life 2, Call Of Duty 1 & 2, Battlefield 2 and BF2: Special Forces, Empire at War, LOTR Battle For Middle Earth 1 & 2, Age of Empires 3, World of Warcraft, C&C Generals, EverQuest 2, Lineage, Quake 4, Doom 3, Unreal Tournament, and other demanding games like them.
We will systematically go through each of the components of your system that will affect your gaming experience in this article. But before we begin, you need a little information about the PC you are working with.
Go to Start > Run > type “dxdiag” in the dialogue box, minus the quotes. A dialog box will pop up “DirectX Diagnostic Tool” and give you tons of info about your computer.
Let’s take a closer look. Go to ‘System Information’ under the ‘Systems’ tab. Here’s a quick summary of what information you’ll find there:
- Current Date/ Time - The time when you ran the “dxdiag” tool
- Computer Name - The name the system admin assigned to the PC
- Operating System – What OS you are running and its build type
- Language – The language you selected to install your OS under
- System Manufacturer – Who built the computer
- System Model – If a manufacturer built it, there is usually a model number.
- BIOS – The BIOS your motherboard is running
- Processor – The make and model of your system’s processor (or ‘CPU’)
- Memory -The amount of RAM you have installed in your PC
- Page File &ndgash; The amount of virtual memory cache you have set on your hard drive
- DirectX Version – What version of DX you are running
The processor, memory, and DirectX version are three things we want to pay closer attention to. These all play a crucial roll in how your game will run or if it will run at all.
Now look under the ‘Display’ tab. My version (in the above image) shows two display tabs because I am running two monitors. You will probably only have one tab. You will be able to find out what graphics card and/or what onboard chip you have in your system.
- Name – The name or series of your graphic accelerator
- Manufacture – Who made the graphic accelerator
- Chip Type – What chip type it is or series it falls under
- DAC Type – Digital-to-Analog Converter for the output to the monitor
- Approx. Total Memory – How much memory your graphics accelerator has
- Current Display Mode – Current size and refresh rate of your monitor
- Monitor – Should show monitor type or brand but usually shows ‘Default Monitor’
Armed with this info, we now need to ask how we can estimate the average system requirements for PC Games. We can do this by taking a look at game developers’ currently released games and looking at what new titles will be rolling out over the next year. This guide is not meant to be a review of the year’s releases, so with this information assumed, let’s take a look at your PC component by component.
For most games, the video card affects performance much more than the processor, but the processor is still a very significant component. Most real-time strategy (RTS) and sports games on the market seem to be bulking up on the AI and first-person shooters (FPS) are making bigger and bigger levels with more detail. Therefore, a decent processor is a prerequisite to run any games currently on the market.
Basic game mechanics today are getting fairly complex because of the number of objects, the size of the maps, and more complex AI. New lighting and shadows utilized by today’s games require powerful processors, because it is the processor that has to crunch the data to be sent to your graphics card.
In Oblivion, the processor’s primary purpose is simply to feed data for the graphics card to process, but the minimum required processor speed should still be no less than 1.8GHz. It would most likely take a Core 2 Duo CPU clocking at over 2.0GHz or an AMD CPU clocking at least 2.2GHz to ensure decent performance. Other games like Company of Heroes, Crysis, and Battlefield 2142 are also processor-intensive games packing the most comprehensive physics available and require a top-notch processor.
Below is a list of current market processors with their core type and the grade I would give them for running today’s games.
Grade F: Most likely will not run current games
- Intel Pentium III or II: 1.2Ghz or less (Klamath Core, Mendocino Core, Deschutes Core, Katmai Core)
- Intel Celeron: 1.5GHz – 2.2GHz (Willamette Cores, Northwood Cores – Pentium 4 revisions only)
- AMD Duron: 1.4Ghz or less (Morgan Core, Spitfire Core, Applebred Core )
- AMD Athlon: 1.4Ghz or less (Thunderbird Core)
- AMD Athlon XP: 1.6Ghz or less (Palomino Core, Thoroughbred “A” “B” Cores)
Grade D: May be able to start the games and run
- Intel Celeron: 2.4GHz Northwood Core
- AMD Athlon XP: 1700+~2400+ Thoroughbred Cores
Grade C: Probably run games
- Intel Pentium 4: 1.6GHz-2GHz (Willamette Core, Northwood Core)
- Intel Celeron: 2.4GHz – 2.8GHz (Prescott Core)
- AMD Athlon XP: 2500+ – 3000+ (Barton Core)
- AMD Sempron: 2800+ (Thoroughbred Cores, Barton)
- AMD Athlon 64: 3200+ (ClawHammer Core)
- AMD Opteron: 1.8GHz (Sledgehammer Core)
Grade B: Should run games very well
- Intel Pentium 4: 2.0GHz – 2.66GHz (Prescott Core, Northwood Core)
- Intel Celeron: 2.4GHz – 2.8GHz (Prescott Core)
- Intel Core 2 Duo: 1.66GHz – 1.8GHz (Allendale Core, Merom Core, Conroe Core)
- AMD Athlon XP: 3200+ (Thorton Core, Barton Core)
- AMD Sempron: 3000+ – 3400+ (Thoroughbred Cores, Barton, Palermo Core)
- AMD Athlon 64: 3400+ – 3600+ (Clawhammer Core)
- AMD Athlon 64 X2: 3600+ – 3800+ (Manchester Core, Windsor Core, Brisbane Core)
- AMD Athlon 64 FX: FX-51 – FX-53 (Sledgehammer Core, ClawHammer Core)
- AMD Opteron: 144 – 156 (Venus Core, Troy Core, Denmark Core, Santa Ana Core, Italy Core)
Grade A: Ideal for today’s gaming
- Intel Core 2 Duo: 2.13GHz+ (Allendale Core, Merom Core, Conroe Core)
- Intel Core 2 Extreme: 2.93GHz (Conroe Core)
- Intel Core 2 Quad: 2.66GHz (Kentsfield Core )
- Intel Pentium 4 E: 2.8GHz+ (Prescott Core, Smithfield Core)
- Intel Pentium EE: 2.6GHz+ (Prescott Core, Prescott 2M Core, Gallatin Core)
- Intel Pentium D: 2.8GHz+ (Smithfield Core)
- Intel Xeon DP: 2.0GHz (Prestonia Core, Gallatin Core, Nocona Core)
- AMD Athlon 64: 3800+ – 4000+ (ClawHammer Core, Newcastle Core, Winchester Core, Venice Core, San Diego)
- AMD Athlon 64 FX: FX-55 – FX-74 (ClawHammer Core, San Diego Core, Toledo Core, Windsor Core)
- AMD Athlon 64 X2: 4200+~6000+ (Manchester Core, Toledo Core, Windsor Core, Brisbane Core)
- AMD Opteron: 165 or higher (Denmark Core, Santa Ana Core, Italy Core, Santa Rosa Core)
Everyone knows memory is critical in a gaming system. Without sufficient memory, frame rate and response speed will drop into the digital toilet. While it has less effect than the graphics card on frame rate, even a top graphics card won’t help if you only have 128MB of system memory.
A minimum requirement for most PC games is 256MB system memory and some require twice that. Even if the minimum specs are said to be 256MB, running with 256 or even 512MB would result in long loading times and performance that can hardly be called acceptable. A clean Windows XP SP2 system easily takes up 300MB of system memory without the additional help of programs eating memory, and systems with 256MB of memory are highly unlikely to run any modern games. I would count on the 512MB to 1.5GB range for lag-free game play.
As an example, Battlefield
is one of the most memory-intensive games out there right now. I use 2GB of memory in all my systems that have this game installed. It seems to run 100% better with this greater amount of memory available. But with new RTS games hitting the market, we are seeing 1+GB of memory required to get tolerable multiplayer games. Make sure to read your computer manual to find out how much memory your system supports and what type it supports.
If you don’t have a manual, head on over to the manufacture’s website for more information.
With DDR2 being the most common memory type on the market and DDR on its way out, it has never been more confusing to figure out what type of memory your computer should use. If you are going DDR-400, dual channel is the way to go if your motherboard supports it. If you’re going DDR2-800, dual channel (which is what most current Intel chips can support) gets the best performance.
But if you’re a hardcore enthusiast, you will be running DDR2-1200 in your system to squeeze out that one extra frame per second
. No matter what you decide, always read up on your motherboard’s manual and find out what your limits are.
Graphics Card Selection
This is the determining factor. Your graphics card is what actually processes everything you see on the screen: all the detailed models, pretty reflections, realistic environment, and awesome explosions. If your processor or memory is not up to par, it may take excruciatingly long for your click to register in the middle of a hardcore RTS battle, or it may take fifteen minutes to load into a game of Battlefield 2. The game would probably run even if your graphics card isn’t up to par, but trying to play games at higher settings than your system can handle causes the frame rate to drop below that of a PowerPoint presentation. If the graphics card is really bad, it just crashes to the desktop or gives you the illustrious Blue Screen of Death.
One of the most misleading factors about graphics card is the amount of memory. Almost all game boxes put this for their minimum requirements, while companies release 256MB and even 512MB versions of their low-end graphics cards, as though they were the flagship chips. ” OMG my 512MB Geforce 6200 is going to PWN your puny 256MB X850XT lol. “ The amount of memory has jack to do with the performance of the card itself.
While we can safely assume that a card with only 32MB of memory isn’t going to have a fast enough GPU (graphics processing unit) to run Doom 3, some graphic cards with 128MB (Intel Extreme Graphics 2) or even 256MB (Geforce FX5200) of graphics memory are going to run the game far poorer than a higher end 128MB graphics card like a 6600GT. In the case of the Intel Extreme 2 and its fellow integrated graphics worthlessness, it will again either run at less than 5 frames per second with everything turned down to minimum, or just refuse to run altogether. I would rather have more capacitors on my graphics card than more memory. I gnore how much memory that graphics card has. Throw the concept of “more graphics memory = better graphics card” out the window. I can’t stress this enough.
Even the idea that a graphics card with less memory than the minimum specs for a game won’t run it is no longer true. NVIDIA has released graphics cards which contain only 16MB memory, but by borrowing system memory it can run faster than some 128MB cards. The 6200TC is great example of this. It comes with 32MB of memory and can use up to a added 1GB of system memory (which you can allocate in your bios). The original card may only have 32MB of memory, but with Turbocache tech from NVIDIA, the 32MB 6200 now can run as fast as the 5900 series. This seems mind boggling, but it allows us cheap guys to get that little bit more performance out of today’s graphic technology.
Let’s name names. What graphics cards are able to run today’s games at a resolution of least 800×600? If in your DirectX diagnostics tool turns out a graphics card made by Intel, SiS or VIA, you can pretty much give up hope. These three would lag on today’s PC Games. The one exception is if you see something along the lines of “965G” or “GMA955.” This indicates Intel’s latest integrated graphics, which is still slow but is capable of running most games. The same applies if it is made by Matrox or 3dfx. If your manufacturer is NVIDIA and the name has the letters “MX” or “TNT” in it, your hopes sank to the bottom of the pool. If your manufacturer is ATI, and the name has the word “Rage” in it, give up. If it has the letters “IGP” in it, you might have a chance, but you won’t be able to run it at high settings. All these combinations don’t even deserve a grade!
Below is a list of current graphic cards on the market that I think will run today’s games. It consists exclusively of ATI and NVIDIA cards. “Radeon” indicates the former and “GeForce” indicates the latter.
Grade F: Will Run Low Resolution
- GeForce FX 7100GS
- GeForce FX 5600, 5500, or 5200
- GeForce 6200, 6200 TC, 6200 LE
- Radeon 9600 XT or Pro
- Radeon 9550, 9250, or 9200
- Radeon X300 or X300 SE
- Radeon X1050
- Radeon Xpress200
Grade D: Will Run Low/Medium Resolution
- GeForce 7400
- GeForce 7300 GS, LE or GT
- GeForce FX 5800 and 5800 Ultra
- GeForce FX 5700 Ultra or LE
- GeForce 6600, 6600LE
- Radeon 9800, 9800 XT, or 9800 Pro
- Radeon 9700 Pro
- Radeon X600XT or Pro
- Radeon X1300 LE
- Radeon X550
Grade C: Medium/High Resolution
- GeForce 7600GS
- GeForce 6600 GT or GT OC
- GeForce 6800 LE GT, or GS
- GeForce FX 5950 and 5950 Ultra
- GeForce FX 5900, 5900 Ultra, and 5900 XT
- Radeon X700XT or Pro
- Radeon X600XT or Pro
- Radeon X1300 or X1300 Pro
Grade B: High Resolution
- GeForce 7600 GT
- GeForce 6800 Ultra, GT OC,
- Radeon X800XT, XT AIW, Pro, or XL
- Radeon X850XT PE, XT, or Crossfire
- Radeon X1600 XT or Pro
- Radeon X1650 Pro
Grade A: Ultra High Resolution
- GeForce 8800 GTX or GTS
- GeForce 7950GX2 or GTO
- GeForce 7950 GTor GTO
- GeForce 7900 GTX, GT, GS or GTO
- GeForce 7800 GTX, GT, or GS
- Radeon X1950 XTX or XT or Crossfire
- Radeon X1900 XTX, XT, GT
- Radeon X1900 Crossfire or AIW
- Radeon X1800 XT, XL AIW, XL, or Crossfire
Conclusion: Full systems
Finally, here are my estimations of systems that might be able to run games at each desired level of performance. I’ve attempted to balance the memory, graphics card, and processor in each category.
Grade F: Minimum
Intel Celeron 2.2GHz / AMD Athlon 1.4Ghz
256-512MB DDR/Rambus memory
GeForce FX 7100GS or equivalent (MX don’t count)
Grade D: Recommended (800×600 with low / medium settings)
Intel Celeron 2.4GHz / AMD Sempron/Athlon 2400+ or equivalent CPU
512MB DDR memory
Geforce 7400 / ATI Radeon 9800 or equivalent video card
Grade C: Medium / high settings
Intel Pentium 4 2.5GHz / AMD Athlon 64 3200+ or equivalent processor
512MB-1GB DDR or DDR2 memory
GeForce 7600GS / Radeon X700Pro or equivalent
Grade B: High settings
Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz / AMD Athlon 64 X23800+/ Athlon 643500+/ Athlon FX 51
1.5GB DDR or DDR2 memory
GeForce 7600 GT, 6800 Ultra / Radeon X800XT / X1600 XT
Grade A: Max / ultra-high settings (1280×1024 with max settings)
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.13GHz or above / AMD Athlon 64 3800+ or above
2GB DDR or DDR2 memory
Geforce 7800GT or above / Radeon X1800XL or above / All SLI systems
I hope this guide was able to help you in your upgrade choices and that you will be able to find the right level of performance for your budget and desired experience. Game hard and all night!