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Our testing methods
Now, we should clarify a couple of choices we made in our testing. First, we benchmarked the game's single-player missions. While the same graphics engine powers the single- and multiplayer campaigns, testing a multiplayer game makes a number of variables rather difficult to control: network latency to the server, how many players are running across (and flying above) a map, how those players interact with the tester, and so forth. It can be done, but single-player skirmishes can be just as violent and explosive as multiplayer ones—sometimes more so—and they're much more consistently repeatable.

You'll also note that we tested at a resolution of 1920x1080 throughout. Battlefield 3's lack of a built-in, scripted benchmark forced us to test manually, so covering multiple resolutions would have been a significant time sink. We therefore settled on what's unarguably the most popular resolution not just for mid-range builds, but also in the market overall. Right now, Newegg lists no fewer than 182 1080p LCD monitors; the next most popular resolution is 1280x1024, with only 61 displays listed. 1080p displays range in price from $109.99 to well over $600, and they come with all manners of panel types and sizes, from 21.5" TN designs to larger IPS offerings.

As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers, with tests run five times per card. Our test system was configured as follows:

Processor Intel Core i5-750
Motherboard Asus P7P55D
North bridge Intel P55 Express
South bridge
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Kingston HyperX KHX2133C9AD3X2K2/4GX
DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-24 1T
Chipset drivers INF update 9.2.0.1025
Rapid Storage Technology 10.1.0.1008
Audio Integrated Via VT1828S
with 6.0.1.8700 drivers
Graphics XFX Radeon HD 6850 1GB (HD-685X-ZNFC)
with Catalyst 11.10 WHQL drivers
Asus Radeon HD 6870 1GB 915MHz (EAH6870 DC/2DI2S/1GD5)
with Catalyst 11.10 WHQL drivers
Gigabyte Radeon HD 6950 1GB 870MHz (GV-R695OC-1GD)
with Catalyst 11.10 WHQL drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB (ZT-40402-10P)
with GeForce 285.62 drivers
MSI GeForce GTX 560 1GB 870MHz (N560GTX Twin Frozr II/OC)
with GeForce 285.62 drivers
Asus GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB 830MHz (ENGTX560 TI DCII/2DI/1GD5)
with GeForce 285.62 drivers
Hard drive Samsung SpinPoint F1 HD103UJ 1TB SATA
Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB
Power supply

Corsair HX750W

OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
Service Pack 1

Thanks to Asus, Intel, Corsair, Kingston, Samsung, and Western Digital for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. XFX, Gigabyte, and MSI for supplying the graphics cards for testing, as well.

We conducted testing using the Catalyst 11.10 WHQL driver from AMD and the GeForce 285.62 driver from Nvidia. We left optional AMD optimizations for tessellation and texture filtering disabled. Otherwise, image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following test applications:

We used the Fraps utility to record frame rates while playing a 90-second sequences through each level we tested. Although capturing frame rates while playing isn't precisely repeatable, we tried to make each run as similar as possible to all of the others. We tested each Fraps sequence five times per video card, in order to counteract any variability.

The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.