Key factors in slow framerate; your opinions? RAM, CPU speed or VRAM?

Discussion in 'Games' started by Matt01792, Nov 8, 2004.

  1. Matt01792 macrumors member

    Aug 20, 2003
    United Kingdom
    Hi, I was just wondering what you all thought were the main factors in slow frame-rates in games and what you're experiences are with them (i.e., what games, what pc).

    The main reason I ask is that I've been thinking about buying Elite Force 2 but given its specs are so close to mine (apart from RAM - I have 640 (or at least will) and it needs 256), and some of the user reviews on I'm mixed..

    Thanks for the replies!
  2. benpatient macrumors 68000

    Nov 4, 2003
    depends on the machine and the game.

    I'd say that it is usually not the CPU, but sometimes it is. It's usually either the RAM or the GPU.

    how much VRAM you have only matters if you have a small amount, honestly. right now, having more than 128 is something of a waste, because by the time games REALLY need that much VRAM, the processing power of the GPU will be considerably better than it is on any modern 256MB card.

    this will change, and doom 3 is the first indication of this, but if you have 128 mb, you'll be fine for a good while. 64, not so much, but again, the amount of VRAM isn't terribly important when compared to other aspects of the GPU...there's a 128mb version of the GeForce 4MX, and a 64mb version of the FX 5600...

    Let's just say they aren't in the same league. You'll have to look at benchmarks for that particular model to determine where it is in the graphics card pecking order. they make a 9600 256mb "SE" card that is about 30 dollars more than a standard 9600 pro with 128mb, but it's clocked down so they can use cheaper components, and it is about 20% slower, even though it has 2x the VRAM. It's just a marketing ploy.

    Short answer: it's complicated.
  3. kettle macrumors 65816


    May 12, 2002
    England, Great Britain (Airstrip One)
  4. Darwin macrumors 65816


    Jun 2, 2003
    round the corner
    It might depend on the game, whether it likes using the GPU or the CPU for most of the work (kinda like between Halo and UT 2004)

    It is also possible that the game isn't optimized properly so even with a G5 it still might not work well (don't think this is the case with EF2 though)

    Most of the time it seems to be the CPU that you need to keep on eye on, RAM too but that it easier to deal with
  5. HiRez macrumors 603


    Jan 6, 2004
    Western US
    If you want to play older (up until this year) 3D games, I'd say have at least a 1 GHz G4, at least 512 MB RAM, and at least 64 MB VRAM on your GPU. Ideally You'd have at least a G5, 1 GB+ RAM, and perhaps 128 MB of VRAM although a lot of these games won't take advantage of it. Examples of games in this category might be those based on the Quake III engine such as Medal of Honor, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Call of Duty, Star Wars: Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy, Warcraft III, The Incredibles, Splinter Cell, and Star Trek: Elite Force II. All these games should run pretty well on any new Mac and ok on some that are 1-2 years old.

    If you want to play all the newest games such as Doom III, Command & Conquer: Zero Hour, World of Warcraft, Tron 2.0, Unreal Tournament 2004, and other stuff that isn't out yet, you'd better have at least a G5, 768 MB RAM, and 128 MB of VRAM, with preference being a dual G5 @ 1.8 GHz+, 1.25 GB+ RAM, and 256 MB of VRAM. And although Halo is a somewhat older game now, I'd put it in this category because it really taxes your hardware. Some of these you can play on a fast G4 with less VRAM, but it won't be a good experience.
  6. tom.96 Suspended

    Jun 13, 2003
    All of the things (vram, gpu, ram, cpu) are important. I remember years ago when I bought the original unreal I had specs well above the minumum, but only 64mb ram. I upgraded to 192mb ram and it just transformed it, I could run at higher resolutions with all of the graphical widardry included.
  7. MacsRgr8 macrumors 604


    Sep 8, 2002
    The Netherlands
    CPU speed, GPU speed, RAM, VRAM, FSB... all are important.
    But that degree of importance is dependant of the game.....

    Couple of examples:
    Nascar 2003 is mostly CPU limited
    MOHAA is mostly GPU limited

    I agree with one of the answers: "it's complicated".
    But one thing is certain: each game will be limited by one of the factors mentioned above ;) :D
  8. dayos_x macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2004
    I believe a 1GHz G4 with even a GeForce 3 is plenty fast. Ram: 512MB and you'd do fine. (Don't believe that 1GB hype. It's silly.) Hard disk, get at least 7200RPM if you want to cut that loading time.

    That being said, the real problem we're facing here is conversion.

    We all know that over 90% games are ported over from Windows, which is heavy on DirectX, a PC-proprietary standard. To complicate matters, there are different shaders and their disparities even on the PC. To get a rough idea of the dilemma of porting games, check out this page I wrote about Splinter Cell.

    A lot is lost in transition from DirectX on the PC to OpenGL on the Mac. One of these things is optimization. The most obvious in Splinter Cell is whenever a character flick on a volumetric lighted torchlight, the game would drop to 2-3 FPS. On my test PC, volumetric lighting doesn't even faze the GeForce card. It just chugs along.

    The volumetric lighting portion of the code needs to be improved. I just hope the programmers can figure out how.

    Another interesting thing. Any of you who follow game benchmark should head over to There, you should be pleasantly surprised by the results. These are a few facts. 1: There is no performance difference between 1GB RAM and 512. 2: a G4 1.5GHz can outrun iMac G5 1.6GHz with just a Radeon 9700. 3: Until a genius comes along, OpenGL < DirectX. 4: My test PC of 2GHz (NOT dual processors) with Radeon 9200 runs Splinter Cell faster than a G5 1.6GHz. 5: We need more optimization.
  9. Mechcozmo macrumors 603


    Jul 17, 2004
    GPU is good.

    A dualie will usually do better than a single, cause most games use the 2nd CPU as a pseudo sound card.

    RAM is key for OS X, always.
  10. Jigglelicious macrumors 6502


    Apr 25, 2004
    CPU and GPU are easily the most important aspects of getting good game performance. You need a fast CPU (specifically the FPU which does all the complicated 3d number crunching) which helps push your framerate, and a good GPU with a high fill rate which allows you to run at higher resolutions and with higher quality settings without any slowdown. Its not always this simple as others have stated, but both are extremely important for good gameplay.

    Unfortunately, the G4 is not up to snuff to play the latest games. It might have a fast vector unit and might be reasonably efficient, but its raw processing speed, and especially its FPU, is no where as fast as games today require it to be. While those people out there who say that a 1ghz G4 = a 2.5ghz Pentium 4 might be somewhat correct when looking at some obscure photoshop filter, it is NOT correct when looking at games. In some cases, it seems a G4 is actually *slower* than a similarly clocked P4. The G5 is a step in the right direction, and has a very powerful FPU. But like the P4, it requires a high clock rate to really shine, and IBM has not been able to push it as high as they'd like to. At 3GHz+, the G5 should really be a gaming monster. But if Apple continues to bundle PowerMacs with Geforce 5200's, then thats like taking 2 steps forward and 3 steps back.

    RAM is important too, but it'll never speed up your gameplay, or increase your FPS. At best, it'll smooth out your game by reducing HDD access. If you're playing any game, and you turn a corner and the game suddenly pauses for 2 seconds while you hear your hard drive go "grind grind grind", then you're low on ram. RAM can also reduce loading times.
  11. carlos700 macrumors regular


    Dec 17, 2004
    Omaha, NE
    I don't play games on my 1GHz G3. I prefer to use a PC for gaming. But a 1GHz+ G4 or maybe a dual 867 MHz G4 will do fine.
  12. dayos_x macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2004
    The problem, as I have tried to explain, is that games are PC ports. And the argument that "the G4 is not up to snuff to play the latest game" is not a correct assessment. For those who are TRULY interested, please refer to the xlr8yourmac benchmark here:

    Run a search for Splinter Cell for both G4 and G5 processors. Check for MIN FPS rather than MAX FPS. It will show you that a PowerBook (G4) 1.5GHz does indeed outpace a G5 1.6GHz when equipped with the right video card. Whether this is due to the 10.3.7 driver update that optimizes certain ATi functions, I can't say. But given that both ATi and nVidia renders Splinter Cell in exactly the same way, (refer to my earlier link to see why that shouldn't be so) I wouldn't be surprised that further optimization would boost fx5200, the so-called "2 steps forward and 3 steps back" card to a new high.

    Just take a look at two more screen grabs. Both are from the CIA HQ level, under the exact same staircase.

    This is fx5200 Ultra on an iMac G5:

    Generic fx5200 on a PC:

    Check the shadow resolution on the PC screen. You can see that there is a lot of detail left out of the Mac port.

    Like I said, there are tons of work yet to be done on the Mac.
  13. applekid macrumors 68020

    Jul 3, 2003
    Are my eyes playing tricks? Look closely at the text. It's not as flat on the Mac version...

    Anyways, the lack of dynamic lighting and proper shadows is quite odd. Part of the reason Splinter Cell was delayed was to make sure we get every feature that the PC version has. I suspect it's just the FX 5200 drivers on the Mac not being up to par. That is if on other cards the shadows are rendered properly.
  14. MacsRgr8 macrumors 604


    Sep 8, 2002
    The Netherlands
    Gr8 pics.

    I wonder if Doom 3 will get the same treatment.
    If a PowerBook G4 running @ 1.5 GHz with Radeon 9700 mobility outpaces an iMac G5 with GeForce 5200 (see a post above), then the minimum specs will presumably (read: hopefully) drop.
    Apsyr still say a G5 is required.
  15. socamx macrumors 6502

    Oct 7, 2004
    Like the splinter cell thing, the mac version of unreal tournament 2004 lacks a lot of shadow options, expecially character shadows.

    I even showed someone a screenshot of my game, this guy being a pc guru said the filtering of the textures was "sub-par" at best. Screenshot came from my G5, 1280x960 max settings.

    As for performance, besides the actual hardware, how well the software is programed will make a big difference, IE: Halo, UT2k3 after the altivec update.

    All the people I've ever spoken to say the same thing, macs have the best hardware, its the software (OS and gameside) that is holding back the performance...and these are comments coming from die hard pc users.
  16. MrCommunistGen macrumors regular


    Mar 14, 2004
    "Wherever you go, there you are..."
    No offense but...

    I sorta feel dumb saying this but I beg to differ. My guess is that Apple still hasn't gotten a great implementation of OpenGL which is why it seems to have lower quality and runs slower on Mac ports. We probably don't have a lot of the OpenGL optimizations and rendering extensions that are available on the PC side. Hopefully 10.4 will fix this. If it does then developers would have to rewrite their code in existing games to take advantage of them (translation: only newer games will probably get OpenGL improvements). This could be part of why Doom III for Mac isn't out yet, the game may require some of these OpenGL upgrades to run decently.
    Even if OpenGL is slower than DirectX on a PC, DOOM III for the PC uses OpenGL, and it has graphics at least on par with if not better than any other PC game I've seen, DirectX or otherwise.

    Take from this what you will.


    Edit: dayos_x if your name is a reference to Deus Ex... right on! :D That's gotta be the (last) best game that will run on my iMac. If not, its still cool :rolleyes:

    PS: Check out this link regarding CPU/GPU stuff... its sorta related
  17. Converted2Truth macrumors 6502a


    Feb 6, 2004
    My doom3 PC box says nothing about OpenGL. Rather is says it requires directX 9.0b(included). So it seems it uses directX. Whether it's just using direct Input/play/sound and not the graphical components, i do not know, all i know is that it uses directX.

    As to the main question... Frame rates(on NEW games) suck for two reasons. The first being the most important.

    1. Poorly optimized graphics SDK's (OGL crappy implementation) and poorly written (probally due to crappy OGL) graphics drivers for the graphics cards avaliable.

    2. CPU speed. Because of the above, it requires more horsepower to push the game throught the system.

    It's kinda like a cascade of minor problems, that sometimes can amount to very depressing performace on top end hardware.

    Maybe 'poorly' is too harsh. It's just the sum of these three issues that equals dissapointment (sub-par FPS).
  18. applekid macrumors 68020

    Jul 3, 2003
    Backing up what people are saying, it really comes down to software. Even the underclocking Apple does to graphics card should not be making such a significant difference.

    When a game is getting ported, just think of it as if some long literature was getting translated into another language. Things are going to get lost. And all of those small bits lost are what makes our games slow. Also, the graphics driver and OpenGL implementation is probably doing us some harm (both visually and performance-wise). Apple can make all the strides it can, but there's going to be some sort of overhead from porting.
  19. dayos_x macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2004
    Exactly right, applekid. You also have to take into account that Microshaft left the OpenGL board in 2003, a move that delivers a big fat FU to OpenGL developers.

    As long as games come to us by way of the PC, you can expect less than desirable gameplay. And no amount of "let's buy dual G5 PowerMacs costing more than 2 PCs with kickass nVidia cards just to play games" goading will solve the problem.

    Bottom line:

    OpenGL needs to grow up.

    Apple needs to focus more on enhancing gaming APIs instead of pushing out a new 3-6 month lifespan All-In-One Mac every season like it's a new dress.

    And Mac game companies need to find a way to get right with the gaming god. Pushing Mac hardware is one thing. Making Mac quack like a PC just so the two can play together is another. This is why news like this always comes up:

    See how the odds are stacked against the Mac?

    Btw we did get everything ported from the PC... just not the nVidia portion. Compare your Mac screenshot to the PC ATi's. They're the same.
  20. MrCommunistGen macrumors regular


    Mar 14, 2004
    "Wherever you go, there you are..."
    Doom 3 is OpenGL

    Quote from interview with Id Software's programmer Robert Duffy

    "THG: Do you intend to switch your Engine to Direct3D sometime? What was the main reason to go with OpenGL?

    Robert - id: One of the primary reasons is that John has so far preferred OpenGL as a development API. Also a` very good reason to stay with OpenGL is that as we make the game cross-platformed, you know we have a full OpenGL driver under Linux and Macintosh and Direct3D is not available under either of those. As we are moving forward with technology however the Direct3D API has matured really well and it is effectively equivalent to OpenGL at this point. There are probably some compelling reasons for us to take a good look at Direct3D as an option (Note: Xbox). But at this point there isn't a real reason or desire to move from OpenGL."

    Speaks for itself.

  21. dayos_x macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2004
    Dunno. Look at the last two shots I posted here. Either the Mac port was so rushed, that they totally skipped the nVidia code, or OpenGL simply "isn't up to snuff". Either way, someone somewhere has some explaining to do, considering that this is a UT engine that'd be used in future games as well.

    In OpenGL's defense however, I should clarify that the iMac G5 plays a lot smoother than my 2GHz test PC with Radeon 9200. But something needs to be done about the volumetric lighting, because that ALONE accounts for the 2-3 fps slowdown.

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