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Disillusioned by a horse’s ass in Oblivion

Posted by briandh on December 21, 2006

Note: I have resolved this issue – see “23% Performance Boost – no overclocking

If you have read any of my previous posts you might know that I have bought myself a nice new kick-ass computer. This, and the fact that I have been busy with other “real life” stuff, has been why I have not posted anything for a while. What time I have had to play with my new computer has been dedicated to doing just that – playing with it. Not posting blogs, not uploading images to Zooomr, just setting up and playing with my new toy.

I decided to go as close to the top of the line for my new computer as I think is reasonable – about one step from the bleeding edge. As a software engineer working on high performance simulation software I appreciate and enjoy games that push the boundaries of the technology but, until recently, have been unable to financially justify really pursuing that interest.

My previous computer (with a recently added surplus graphics card from work) has been able to handle most current games, like Half Life 2, provided that I turned down or off some of the more advanced graphical options, and that I did not mind the stuttering sound and halting graphics.

As well as Half Life, and similar styled games, I also like games like NeverWinter Nights and Morrowind. Half Life 2 : Lost Cost, Episode One and Oblivion then came along which required a little more horse-power than my existing machine. This was the push I needed to get that new toy.

At the time of purchase my new machine had the second from the top of the line Intel processor (Core 2 Duo E6700) and not one but two of the top of the line ATI graphics card (an X1950XTX Crossfire and matching X1950XTX) plus oodles of SATA disk space and 4Gb dual-channel 900MHz interleaved RAM.

Aside 1: OK, smart arse! I now know that, with those two cards, Windows XP refuses to recognise 2Gb of my precious RAM. Live and learn.

So, I get myself a copy of Oblivion. Being a savvy punter I make sure I download the latest patch, the latest graphics card drivers and read up all the tips and tricks for optimizing my system for playing Oblivion. I know Oblivion is an absolute hog that needs a kick-ass system to get the most out of. But, I have bought a kick-ass system.

You start Oblvion in the jail, work your way out through some caves and underground ruins. Frame rates are high – very high – I’m pleased. I am easily getting frame rates above 100fps – nice.

Aside 2: I wonder how many people who buy a machine like mine, who are not as savvy as I am, do not realise that you have to turn on Crossfire before you are even using both the cards! If you buy and install them separately then you probably will, but if you buy them as part of a complete system you might not.

You then step out into the open air. Whooomph! Down goes the frame rate – down to below the 25fps mark.

This is one seriously over-the-top game graphically. It eats advanced graphics card for breakfast.

So, back to the tips and tricks and I find a reasonable compromise between quality and speed that I am happy with.

At this point I started to worry that my system was not performing as it should and was not set up correctly. In particular I was concerned that my second graphics card was a complete waste of money since turning it off seems to have little or no effect. I ran loads of tests with Half Life 2 and got even more worried. I then searched the Internet and discovered that I was not alone, and should not worry – well not too much.

Enabling a second card via Crossfire does not necessarily have a significant positive effecton frame rates and in some cases can reduce performance. This is particularly true at lower resolutions, specifically below 1600 x 1200. My LCD screen is 1600 x 1200 – bang on the cross-over point.

The above statement is scary but should not be surprising if you give it some thought. I will not go into the technical details but there are two linked critical factors that govern this:

  1. Processor bound games will not be able to produce frame fast enough leaving your graphics card idle for a lot of the time.
  2. Even for mostly graphical games, there comes a point at which the processor cannot keep up with the graphics card and produce frame fast enough – if your graphics card is that powerful.

What the above means, for Oblivion, is that in caves and inside buildings I can achieve very high frame rates as the processor is not busy sorting out all of the objects, critters, and characters. But outside, looking into infinity, with grass and trees and critters galore – the processor is going nuts and the graphics cards are being starved of frames. And in the buildings and caves I still cannot go above a certain threshold before the processor cannot provide any more frames.

So, I cannot run Oblivion with anything like the full graphical options (internally and externally) turned on – especially whilst in the open air. This leaves me wondering what mythical machines they actually tested Oblivion on.

Further tests proved that my second card was having an impact – in certain situations. If I turned it off in caves or indoors I could see a very marked drop in frame rates. But outside the processor limit was kicking in and it was having no effect – or was it. I did find that I could have some of the external image processing options turned up a little higher with Crossfire enabled – specifically Anti-aliasing. So I could have higher quality graphics outside and higher frame rates inside – not bad.

If you are still reading you might be wondering where the horse’s ass come in.

Wonder no more.

In Oblivion you can ride horses – but when you visit cities your horse gets stabled outside the city gates. So, I come outside the city and wander into the stables to pick up my horse. As I look around for my horse I get to a point at which this particular hore’s ass is taking up my entire field of view (it was an accident – honest). All of a sudden the frame rate drops down to 1 (yes – one!) and I am stuck. I eventually exit the game and turn off every advanced graphics feature and turn down every in-game feature there is – and still the frame rate stays at around 1 at this particular point.

Someone, somewhere, at Bethesda Softworks has modelled a horses ass in such immense detail that two of the most powerful graphics cards on the market working in parallel can only render it at one frame per second.

Now that is dedication.

I am left a little disillusioned that I have bought a kick-ass computer and still have to turn down graphics options to play a game that had already been out for a few months. I have got it playing most of the time at a good compromise between quality and speed – but still.

P.S. Half Life 2 : Lost Coast and Episode One are incredibly smooth.

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3 Responses to “Disillusioned by a horse’s ass in Oblivion”

  1. Gareth said

    Am seriously considering buying an Xbox 360 just to play oblivion on. Had opportunity to play Oblivion at Christmas on the 360.

  2. briandh said

    I’m not a console jockey so can’t really comment. Having just spent the whole day fiddling around with my graphics card chasing a problem that turned out to be a complete phantom in the end and ending up in a slightly worse state than I started – I can now understand the allure of consoles, just decide which one you want and thats it.

    Oblivion is a great game although I prefer how the map and inventory panels work in Morrowind – you can keep them on screen whilst playing, in Oblivion they pause the game. The Quest logging is much better in Oblivion.

  3. kevstelo said

    I think I’ve read something simillar a few days ago. I don’t remember where, might have been on digg.com or slashdot.

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