Monday, 5 December 2011

SWTOR On Minimum System Specs

SWTOR on an almost-minimum spec system
In a galaxy far, far away, a long time ago, I bought a PC. I've kept that PC by my side for years, but last weekend it faced it's sternest test yet.

The specs of my system are:

Windows XP Home
Intel Core 2 6600 @ 2.4 GHz
2.75 GB RAM
Geforce 7800 GTX 256 MB RAM

Now let's take a look at the minimum specs for SWTOR:
Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4000+ or better
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz or better
Operating System:
Windows XP or later

RAM:

Windows XP: 1.5GB RAM
Windows Vista and Windows 7: 2GB RAM

Note: PCs using a built-in graphical chipset are recommended to have 2GB of RAM.
Star Wars: The Old Republic requires a video card that has a minimum of 256MB of on-board RAM as well as support for Shader 3.0 or better. Examples include:
ATI X1800 or better
nVidia 7800 or better
Intel 4100 Integrated Graphics or better
So I am sitting just above the minimum system specs.

So how did the game go? In a word: okay. In the last weekend build, the graphics somehow improved a lot, with everything looking sharper. Now I've taken screen shots for before and after and I can tell no difference. Still, it felt better. I suspect they increased the texture resolution on NPC faces, so cut scenes look decent.

I had everything on minimum settings - that's Low for everything, shadows disabled, no vsync, and at 1900x1080 resolution.

The game ran at a general average of 25 frames per second (FPS) (using the Ctrl-Shift-F shortcut to show FPS), sometimes more, sometimes a lot less when there were many player characters around. In space combat I was getting more like 15-20 FPS.

That frame rate is ok, it is certainly playable but won't be winning any awards for graphical prettiness. With low resolution textures things look ok but not really sharp.

Space combat certainly looks good at any system spec
Memory
One caution, SWTOR on my system really did need all of the free memory available. With even Firefox loaded, the game was constantly disking to the swap file, even when my toon was stood still. With nothing whatsoever loaded (apart from Windows XP), there was no disk access unless needed, the 2.75 GB memory was enough. I don't think 1.5 GB is enough RAM really.

Laptop Play
I also tried SWTOR on a laptop which was an Intel Core 2 Duo t9400 2.53 GHZ, with 2.99 GB ram and some ATI mobility graphics card. That also ran at 1920 by 1200 at much the same speed. Certainly playable.

Now that is interesting, because the Geforce 7800 certainly out-performs the mobile chip in the laptop. However the CPU in the laptop is faster. So is SWTOR somehow dependent on CPU as well as GPU?

SWTOR Performance Analysis
Helpfully the chaps at PC Games Hardware have taken a look at Star Wars The Old Republic, and here is their report, and translated into English.


What they found is that High-end graphics cards run at the CPU limit, making all the most powerful cards close to each other in FPS. For example, a £100 Geforce GTX 260 ran their 1080p non-AA benchmark at 42 FPS whereas the more powerful £400 GTX 580 runs at 81 FPS. Now 42 FPS is no slouch and is perfectly acceptable.

They discovered that with dual-core CPUs the game runs almost double the speed of a single core CPU (37 FPS vs 66FPS) with a top-end card (GTX 580), but having a 4-core CPU doesn't give much more of a boost (only 73 FPS). Therefore a dual-core CPU is fine for SWTOR, and it may be that the clock speed of the CPU and/or faster architecture is more important than having more cores. Perhaps the game engine will only use two cores, and more are only used for background programs like Windows.


An upgrade is quite certainly required, captain
Conclusion
Although based on beta versions of the SWTOR client, this is certainly interesting reading. It means splashing out for an 4 core Intel i7 is unnecessary, a dual core i3 is perfectly fine or a 4 core i5 would allow for more slack for a web browser/video capture in the background, while being cheaper than the i7. Going for the newest chip architecture and fastest Ghz speed looks like it is better than getting more cores.

Getting a top end graphics card is also unnecessary, a one hundred pound GTX 260 managed 42 FPS, which is fine, whereas for 4 times as much, you might see almost double the frame rate. The data suggests going for some mid-range card or something like a GTX 260 would do fine.

More RAM is better, and I would say 3 GB of system RAM is an absolute minimum, so best make it 4 GB just to be safe.

I will probably stick with my current system for a while, then maybe pick up an Intel i5 or i3 system with something like a low-medium end graphics card, and 4GB of RAM.

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