Crysis 2 Performance: Six Popular GPUs Tested

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Crysis 2 Performance: Six Popular GPUs Tested

When the original Crysis came out it was universally heralded for its groundbreaking graphics, and while its high-quality visuals were unparalleled at the time, not everyone was able to enjoy them. Crytek had designed Crysis to be "future-proof," meaning that no single graphics card released at the time would be able to run Crysis smoothly with all detail options enabled. For a long time after launch, maxing out Crysis while retaining smooth, playable frame rates was a pipedream for the hardcore PC gamer, resulting in the Internet meme, "but can it run Crysis?". Fast forward to today – Crytek is once again promising to raise the graphical bar with Crysis 2, but this time things are a little different. CryEngine 3, debuting with Crysis 2, is designed to not only look better, but perform better than its predecessor. In fact, Crytek has gone as far as to say that Crysis 2 will have lower system requirements than the first Crysis. So how do the most popular old and new GPUs handle the world's most graphically-ambitious game? Read on to find out.

We picked six NVIDIA GPUs for our test to discover how they perform and to determine preliminary optimal playable settings (official optimal playable settings will be released alongside the game). Using Steam's PC hardware survey we ascertained that the most popular, older GeForce graphics cards are the 8800 GT and 9800 GT, GTX 260, and GTX 460. Coincidentally, the most popular GPU on Steam, the 8800 GT, is also the minimum required video card to run Crysis 2. Providing modern-day power for our performance test are NVIDIA's three most recent graphics cards: the GeForce GTX 560 Ti (MSRP $250); the GeForce GTX 570 (MSRP $350); and the GeForce GTX 580 (MSRP $500).

With the six players established let's put them to the test.


For our benchmark we ran through Crysis 2's "Battery Park" single-player level on a near-finished build of the game, using in-game scripting to keep the benchmark uniform and repeatable.

A scene from the Battery Park benchmark.

For our test rig we used an Intel Core i7-960 3.2 GHz CPU, 6GB of DDR3 RAM and Windows 7 64-bit, and utilized the latest 266.58 NVIDIA WHQL GPU drivers.

Game Graphics Settings

Unlike the first game, Crysis 2 doesn't have any graphical sliders or checkboxes to enable. Instead, there are three preset modes: High, Very High, and Extreme. High is the lowest setting, Very High is in the medium setting, and Extreme is the highest. However, there's nothing noticeably "low-res" about the High setting, as High in Crysis 2 looks drastically better than the original Crysis on Low or Medium. Furthermore, Crysis 2 applies a form of shader-based anti-aliasing on all three modes that smoothes out jagged lines far better than prior approaches, without additional unwanted blurring.

As Crysis 2 is still in development Electronic Arts and Crytek have asked that we hold off on posting comparative screenshots between the three detail levels, though generally speaking, on High, you get a very clean looking image without strong High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting effects. On Very High and Extreme, HDR kicks into high-gear and you get wonderfully warm god rays and dynamic lights, and going from Very High to Extreme introduces shadows with soft, fading edges and a few other minor effects.

Polygon count is also increased significantly between the modes - in High each scene is comprised of roughly three hundred to four hundred thousand polygons; in Very High five hundred to six hundred thousand polygons; and in Extreme up to and above one million polygons.

In general, enabling a higher detail level increases shader quality, water detail, motion blur, particle effects, particle effect density, lighting effects, and texture quality, and on Extreme, dust effects are richer, giving the battlefield an overall grittier feel.

Now, let's take a look at how Crysis 2 performs across the three detail levels.

High Settings

Gamer Performance Comparison: 1680x1050

Gamer Performance Comparison: 1900x1200

Gamer Performance Comparison: 2560x1600

Analysis: As you can see from the data, despite being roughly three years old, the popular 8800 GT proved capable of running High settings at 1680x1050, with a respectable average of 43.2 frames per second, though performance did begin to suffer at higher resolutions. While the 8800 GT isn't geared to run the game at 2560x1600 due to its lack of texture memory, we ran the test anyway, and as expected performance suffered, with the frame rate dropping to an unplayable 17.7 frames per second average. It should be noted that we attempted to also measure minimum frame rates in all of our tests, but due to a quirk in CryEngine 3 each result was erroneous. Moving up the GPU ladder, the 260 and 460 ran High settings adequately at 1920x1200, with both generating average frames per second results slightly above 30 at 2560x1600 (34.2 and 35.6 respectively).

Both current and older generation cards handled High settings without difficulty, and the newer 500 series GPUs frequently exceeded 60 frames per second, suggesting that they are really itching to tackle the higher detail levels. With that said, let's examine Very High.

Very High Settings

Advanced Performance Comparison: 1680x1050

Advanced Performance Comparison: 1920x1200

Advanced Performance Comparison: 2560x1600

Analysis: With the detail level increased to Very High, added lighting effects and improved graphical shaders were introduced to the benchmark, resulting in an average frames per second reduction of 28% across our range of GPUs. The GeForce GTX 260 and 460 produced playable results at 1920x1200, but both proved impractical at 2560x1600, with average frame rates of just 26.8 and 28.5, respectively. The older 8800 GT, on the other hand, can technically play on Very High at 1680x1050, but its average frame rate of 33 may be too low for comfort.

Compared to the older cards the GTX 500 GPUs handled Very High with ease at all resolutions, with even the affordably-priced GeForce GTX 560 Ti managing a very playable average FPS of 38.3 at 2560x1600. At the top end the GTX 580 didn't break a sweat, averaging 55.5 fps at 2560x1600. To discover whether the mighty GTX 580 can be challenged let's examine our Extreme results...

Extreme Settings

Hardcore Performance Comparison: 1680x1050

Hardcore Performance Comparison: 190x1200

Hardcore Performance Comparison: 2560x1600

Analysis: Extreme didn't disappoint – by cranking everything to max the mighty GTX 580 was challenged. With that in mind, the 8800 GT was unsurprisingly unable to break the magical 30 frames per second barrier at even the lowest resolution, and at 2560x1600 only recorded a 7.1 frames per second average. The GeForce GTX 260 fared better, just making the cut at 32.3 frames per second at 1680x1050, but was impractical at higher resolutions, producing 27.1 frames per second at 1900x1200 and 17.4 at 2560x1600. The GeForce GTX 460 fared better still, maintaining an average frame rate of 39.6 at 1680x1050, and was also able to break the 30 frames per second barrier at 1920x1200, with an average rate of 32.4. At 2560x1600 the 460 managed just 19.6 frames per second.

In terms of the latest generation GPUs, all but the GTX 560 Ti could legitimately max out Crysis 2 on Extreme at 2560x1600. At 1680x1050 the 560 Ti recorded a 52.8 frames per second average, and at 1900x1200 a comfortable 42.6. The GTX 570, with its 1.2GB of VRAM, was the first GPU to break 30 frames per second at 2560x1600, though with the average only being 31.4 some may see that figure as too close for comfort. The GTX 580, however, was able to attain an average frame rate of 35.4 thanks to its increased processing power and 1.5GB of VRAM, making the top-end GPU the best performer in our test, unsurprisingly.

Optimal Playable Settings

Having examined how each Crysis 2 detail setting performs with each of the tested GPUs, we can now provide some general recommendations as to which setting will likely work best with each graphics card.

GeForce 8800 GT: Given the minimum system requirements we knew that the 8800 GT could run Crysis 2, but were unsure of how well the venerable GPU would run the game at our chosen resolutions. Thankfully the results surprised us, showing that the 8800 GT can run Crysis 2 just fine at High settings at 1680x1050 and below. The resolution can be increased to 1920x1200, but performance drops to the mid-thirties and may result in some sub-thirty gameplay in the most graphically demanding scenarios. Alternatively the 880GT can play Crysis 2 on Very High settings at 1680x1050, but with an average frame rate of 33 the likelihood of sub-thirty frame drops is high, resulting in a worse overall experience than running High settings at 1920x1200.

Recommend Optimal Playable Setting: High at 1680x1050 (Average FPS = 43.2)

GeForce GTX 260: The GeForce GTX 260 can adequately run High settings at all three resolutions, and on Very High it performs similarly well at 1680x1050 and 1920x1200, though it does struggle at 2560x1600, which pushes the average frame rate below 30. On Extreme the GTX 260 breaks the 30 frames per second average at the lowest resolution, but with only a 2.3 frame per second margin it is likely that frame drops will occur in action-packed sequences.

Recommend Optimal Playable Setting: Very High at 1920x1200 (Average FPS = 43)

GeForce GTX 460: Like the GeForce GTX 260 the GeForce GTX 460 was able to run Crysis 2 smoothly on Very High at 1680x1050 and 1920x1200, but once again was unable to break the 30 frames per second barrier at 2560x1600 - here, the GTX 460 averaged just 28.5 frames per second. On Extreme the GTX 460 performed well at 1680x1050 and even managed an average frame rate of 32.4 at 1920x1200, but at 2560x1600 performance dropped drastically, resulting in an unplayable 19.6 average.

Recommend Optimal Playable Setting: High at 2560x1600 (Average FPS = 35.6) or Extreme at 1680x1050 (Average FPS = 39.6)

GeForce GTX 560 Ti: Moving on to the newer GTX 500 series cards, the mid-range GeForce GTX 560 Ti was able to effectively run every setting at every resolution extremely well, apart from Extreme at 2560x1600. Here, the frame rate averaged 25.8, but at other detail levels and resolutions the GTX 560 had no problems maintaining an average frame rate of 38.3 or above.

Recommend Optimal Playable Setting: Very High at 2560x1600 (Average FPS = 38.3) or Extreme at 1920x1200 (Average FPS = 42.6)

GeForce GTX 570: Going up in both price and performance, the higher end GeForce GTX 570 proved to be the first graphics card to step up to the plate and max out Crysis 2, even at the formidable Extreme 2560x1600 setting, where it just broke the 30 average barrier. On Very High the GTX 570 recorded an average frame rate of 46.9 at 2560x1600.

Recommend Optimal Playable Setting: Very High at 2560x1600 (Average FPS = 46.9) or Extreme at 1920x1200 (Average FPS = 51.4)

GeForce GTX 580: Last up to the bat is the current heavyweight champ, the GeForce GTX 580. Out to prove its worth, the GeForce GTX 580 showed that it can max out Crysis 2 at any setting and at any resolution - technically, the GTX 570 can also max out Crysis 2 at 2560x1600, but its 31.4 frames per second average makes it too close to a flat 30 to safely recommend. However, the added performance and VRAM of the GTX 580 results in a 35.7 frames per second average that should ensure that frame rates stay above 30 even in the most graphically demanding action scenes.

Recommend Optimal Playable Setting: Extreme at any resolution


Prior to going hands-on with Crysis 2, we weren't sure how the range of NVIDIA GPUs were going to handle Crytek's highly ambitious game; after all, its predecessor had left countless GPUs, and their owners, in tears. Fortunately, Crytek made good on their promise to deliver a game that both looks and performs better, even with an old PC.

In summary, if you are a GeForce 8800 or 9800 GT owner don't be afraid to try the demo – it will run Crysis 2 adequately at 1680x1050 High settings. If you own a GeForce GTX 260 you can expect to enjoy Crysis 2 with great visuals at up to 1920x1200 in Very High mode, and if you're lucky enough to own a GTX 500 series card you'll be able to crank the settings to Extreme and enjoy Crytek's fantastic first-person shooter as the developers intended with all options enabled at a high resolution.

While the numbers should speak for themselves, we want to hear what you have to say about the game's performance. Did Crytek fulfill their promise to really optimize Crysis 2? Sound off on our forums.