Summary: After testing Fallout 3 with the latest high-end cards last week, we're back again to see how the card performs with one dozen mainstream GPUs ranging from the 9500 GT up to the latest Radeon 4850 and 9800 GTX GPUs. Which cards come out on top and where? Read the article to find out!
Since itís largely based on the same Gamebryo game engine used in Oblivion, Fallout 3 performs quite well with the mainstream cards represented here in this article. We did turn down the graphics settings one notch, from "very high" to "high", but otherwise no real compromises were made; we even included 8xAA benchmark results.
Fortunately going from very high to high doesnít compromise image quality badly, weíve taken a batch of screenshots to highlight the differences:
Visually the biggest difference between high and ultra high quality lie in shadow quality and water reflections, as well as draw distances for items like actor/item/object fade (toggles when NPCs and other objects are first visible), grass/light fade, and level of detail (LOD). Honestly the shadowing in Fallout 3 isnít nearly as extensive as what Bethesda provided in Oblivion, and the water reflections only apply in limited situations. Even the LOD and view distances between the two settings are hard to illustrate properly in screenshots.
Because of these limitations, you really donít sacrifice much when going from ultra to high quality.
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650
ASUS P5E3 Premium
4GB (4x1GB) OCZ DDR3 PC3-16000 Platinum
EVGA GeForce 9600 GSO 384MB
NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT DDR2 512MB
NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT GDDR3 512MB
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT
ATI Radeon HD 4670 512MB GDDR3
ATI Radeon HD 3850 512MB
ATI Radeon HD 3870 1GB
ATI Radeon HD 4830 512MB
ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
Far Cry 2/STALKER Hotfix driver
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
The GeForce 9800 GTX and 9800 GT swept our performance tests with 4xAA. Even the 9600 GT put up a surprising showing against the Radeon 4850, running neck-and-neck with the ATI card in our testing. We have a feeling that drivers may be playing a role in the 4850ís performance, as the card should be performing closer to the 9800 GTX rather than the 9600 GT. For instance, the Radeon 4850 runs 19% slower than the 9800 GTX at 1600x1200. Likewise, ATIís Radeon 4830 performs closer to the 8800 GTS 640MB than the 9800 GT itís intended to compete against.
The GeForce 9800 GTX continues to outperform the Radeon 4850 under 8xAA, although the margin separating the two cards has shrunk to just 5% at 1600x1200. In a similar fashion, the performance picture changes drastically for the Radeon 4830 under 8xAA. In fact the 4830 actually outran the 9800 GT at 1600x1200 and 1920x1200.
Because of this, the Radeon 4830 finished behind the GeForce 8800/9800 GT under 4xAA, but managed to pull ahead of the GeForce GT boards under 8xAA.
The GeForce 9600 GT really surprised us with its performance in Fallout 3. Not only did the card outperform the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, it nearly matched the 9800 GT in performance, running just 4-9% slower than the 9800 GT overall. The Radeon 3850 and 3870 also put up a stronger showing than we expected.
Moving further down the totem pole, the Radeon 4670 struggled against the 9600 GSO under 4xAA, although the tables turned with 8xAA, with the newer Radeon card pulling ahead of the 9600 GSO by 19% at 1600x1200. Our GeForce 9600 GSO board shipped with just 384MB of memory, which certainly put it at a disadvantage at such a high AA level. A 768MB GSO board would have fared better, but these cards generally sell for $20-$30 more than 384MB cards. At that point youíre better off going with a 9600 GT.
We tested the GeForce 9500 GT DDR2 and GDDR3 under 4xAA, although honestly we feel that hardware enthusiasts in this price bracket would be best served by holding onto their cash until they can afford to spend another $30 or so for a Radeon 4670 or GeForce 9600 GSO. Both of these GPUs deliver much better performance than the GeForce 9500 series, as well as ATIís own Radeon 4500s.
Fallout 3 doesnít push GPUs like Crysis or STALKER: Clear Sky, but it is an enjoyable experience nonetheless. Because it isnít as graphically demanding as some of the other games on the market, you donít have to fork over $400 or more on a new graphics card for the best Fallout 3 experience if you donít want too, in fact the cards we tested today are more than capable of handling the game.
This is probably a refreshing change if youíre tired of hearing the hype around DX10 graphics and Vista; Fallout 3 requires neither to deliver its best graphics. In fact the game is surprisingly tame on hardware and loads quicker than any game weíve tested in quite some time. When combined with the gameís solid gameplay and storyline, Fallout 3 should appeal to a large audience of RPG fans as well as FPS gamers looking for an alternative to the linear style of most shooters.
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