Summary: Wondering which video cards perform best with ARMA II? Wonder no more. In this article we've combined GPUs ranging from the Radeon 3870 up to the GeForce GTX 295 across two different CPUs: a Core i7-965 Extreme Edition, and a Core 2 Quad Q8400. See how well the game scales across the various GPUs and CPUs inside!
In the game you’ll play the role of Razor team, part of the 27th Marine Expeditionary Unit that’s been dispatched to the fictional nation of Chernarus. Chernarus is a former satellite state of the Soviet Union, with a pro-West democratic government trying to fight off a mixture of different factions including insurgents with no real allegiance to anyone, and Soviet-backed Communist forces who are intent on taking over the country. Your unit of Marines is the first to arrive on the scene; it’s up to you and your men to sort things out with your trusty M4 assault rifles and M249 SAW machine guns.
The game utilizes Bohemia Interactive’s Real Virtuality 3 game engine. According to Bohemia, RV3 is built on shader model 3, with support for parallax texture mapping, hemispherical lighting, and multi-core CPUs (according to the minimum system requirements, a dual-core CPU and shader model 3.0 GPU are required). The game takes place in a 225 square kilometer area based on real satellite imagery of Eastern Europe and features a realtime day/night cycle with dynamic wind and weather. The game’s physics engine also models real bullet ballistics, material penetration, and round deflection.
Needless to say that like the flight sims of one or two decades ago, you’ll need a fairly modern PC to play the game. Because the outdoor environments you’ll traverse are so vast, you’ll need a powerful GPU to get the best performance from the game, but ARMA II is very demanding on the CPU as well – as you’ll see in our benchmarks you really can’t skimp on either system component.
For this article we setup two basic testbeds. An ultra high-end Core i7-965 PC equipped with 6GB of OCZ Reaper HPC RAM, and a midrange quad-core PC built around Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q8400, which is selling for $185 on Newegg right now. Running alongside both of these testbeds are GPUs ranging from the Radeon 3870 up to the Radeon 4890 on the ATI side, while GeForce cards range from the 9800 GTX+ up to the GeForce GTX 295.
Before we get to the benchmarks though, a couple of quick pointers. The frame rates you’re going to see are dramatically lower than other shooters like Call of Duty, Far Cry 2, or even Crysis. That’s okay though because ARMA II is a sim with a very slow pace and as such, you don’t need a blazing frame rate for this game. Anything in the 25-35 fps range should be pretty acceptable for most gamers. Some may even be willing to live with frame rates in the low 20s.
Also, our benchmark results are coming from the demo’s built-in performance benchmark. We do this in order to ensure that the workload for each card is 100% repeatable. The standard benchmark though is slightly more demanding than most gameplay scenarios.
In any case, the game has a ton of different graphics options available in the graphics menu, so you’ll want to spend a good chunk of time playing with different settings in order to optimize the game’s performance for your particular system. End users have reported playable frame rates out of GeForce 7800 and Radeon 3800-class hardware if you’re willing to compromise on the graphics settings.
Besides performance, another topic that’s frequently discussed with ARMA II is bugs. Honestly we didn’t run into the blue screens, lockups, or any other show-stopping bugs others have mentioned online – the game was 100% stable on both testbeds with ATI and NVIDIA hardware. No graphical glitches or artifacts either.
Instead our biggest gripe with the game is the absolutely terrible voiceovers. That’s another story though…
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
6GB OCZ Reaper HPC DDR3-1600
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+ (GTS 250 512MB)
NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250 1GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 192 (original)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 216 core
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295
ATI Radeon HD 3870 1GB
ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB
ATI Radeon HD 4890 1GB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 2
ARMA 2 Demo
In order to evaluate how well the cards perform with ARMA II, we ran the demo’s standard benchmark with the two default “high” and “very high” settings. We also made sure to run the 3D resolution at 100% of the screen interface resolution (which does come with a performance hit as a result). You can see our exact settings here:
Very High settings used for testing
As you can see in the benchmarks above, ARMA II is an incredibly demanding game – GTX 285 and Radeon 4890 cards struggle to hit average frame rates in the mid 40s at just 1600x1200 resolution. You’ll also notice that performance doesn’t drop off as dramatically as other games as we scaled from 1600x1200 to 1920x1200; a clear indication of the importance of the CPU even at these high settings.
Under the greater demands of ARMA II’s Very High graphics settings, the GeForce GTX 275 and 285 boards put up a stronger showing in comparison to the Radeon 4890. Whereas the 4890 generally outperformed the GTX 275 under the demo’s high graphics settings, the opposite is the case under very high.
As you can clearly see in the benchmarks at 1600x1200 and 1920x1200, the high-end cards like the GeForce GTX 285 and Radeon 4890 are clearly bottlenecked by the Intel quad-core CPU. As a result, less expensive offerings like the Radeon 4850 and GeForce GTS 250 are able to nearly pull even with them at 1600x1200 and 1920x1200.
Even under very high, we’re still pretty CPU-bound. If you’ve got one of the lower-end quad-cores like the Q8400 or the Q6600 which run at lower clock speeds, you’ll definitely want to OC your processor for ARMA II.
In order to determine which GPUs deliver the best value for the money in ARMA II, we’re taking the lowest price of each GPU off Newegg (before mail-in rebate). As of the time of this article’s writing, these were the lowest prices available on Newegg:
We’ve excluded the Radeon 4870 X2 and GeForce GTX 295 from the chart above, as they don’t scale properly with ARMA II at this time.
In the graphs, we used the benchmark results from the Core i7-965 system running at 1920x1200 with high and very high graphics settings divided by the prices above. We round up to the nearest cent whenever needed:
Core i7-965 High Settings:
Core i7-965 Very High Settings
As you can see, technically the Radeon 4850 512MB, Radeon 4870 512MB, and GeForce 9800 GTX+ (GTS 250 512MB) deliver the best value for the dollar in ARMA II at the settings graphed above with our Core i7-965 system. Now obviously those results would change at other resolutions and/or with the Core 2 Quad Q8400 CPU. The GeForce GTX 285, 280, and 275 deliver the worst value.
As such, you’ll definitely want to pair this game with the fastest processor you can afford, and it wouldn’t hurt to OC it as well for added measure.
ATI’s Radeon 4800 series cards deliver very good performance under the game’s high graphics setting, outrunning their nearest equivalent from NVIDIA when paired with a fast processor like our Core i7-965 Extreme Edition.
The story changes though as you begin to crank up the screen resolution and increase the game’s graphics settings. Under the game’s very high graphics setting, the GeForce GTX 200 series cards pull away from Radeon 4800.
While the GeForce GTX 285 delivered the best overall performance under all conditions in our testing, considering its high price tag and the fact that it doesn’t really pull away from the Radeon 4890 and GeForce GTX 275, it wouldn’t be the best card for ARMA II from a pure value perspective. Especially if you don’t have the latest Core i7 CPU. According to our performance per dollar charts, the Radeon 4870 512MB delivers the best overall bang for the buck right now.
Dual GPU cards like the GeForce GTX 295 and Radeon 4870 X2 don’t scale with ARMA II at this time. Fortunately you can tinker with SLI scaling with the ForceWare driver, and it does work under some conditions, but it isn’t perfect.
EVGA’s latest SLI enhancement patch (V13) offers improved SLI performance for ARMA II for all EVGA card owners, and it’s based on NVIDIA’s latest 186.18 ForceWare driver. Kudos to EVGA for providing this feature for their customers.
Like any good sim, ARMA II will give your PC a good workout. As such, you’ll want to have a PC that’s equally competent at handling the general processing tasks performed by a CPU, as well as a good GPU. If either one is out of sync, it can bottleneck the other. As we mentioned at the outset though the game does scale appropriately at lower graphics settings, but there’s no doubt that this game is the most demanding we’ve seen since Crysis.
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