The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Our test run for Skyrim was a lap around the town of Whiterun, starting up high at the castle entrance, descending down the stairs into the main part of town, and then doing a figure-eight around the main drag.
We set the game to its "Ultra" presets with 4X multisampled antialiasing. We then layered on FXAA post-process anti-aliasing, as well. We also had the high-res texture pack installed, of course.
Since Skyrim doesn't use DX11, all of the legacy cards can participate here. However, we really are pushing all of the cards with 1GB of memory pretty close to the edge by testing at these settings. You can see the occasional spikes in the plots for cards like the GTX 460 and GTX 560 Ti, likely caused by memory capacity issues. Then again, I'm not sure it matters for cards like the GTS 250 and GTX 260, since their plots are riddled with latency spikes throughout. They're just not up to this challenge.
The Radeon HD 7870 has a solid lead over the GTX 660 cards in this test scenario. Notice, however, how there's a pretty good-sized gap between the top cards and the mid-pack entrants in the FPS sweeps? That gap shrinks to almost nothing, just a few milliseconds or less, with the latency-sensitive 99th percentile metric. That's likely because we're running into another limitation, like CPU performance. Now, we have one of the fastest gaming processors available in our test system, so this limitation is going to be pretty common no matter what your PC config. In scenarios like this one, spending more on a faster graphics card would arguably be a waste.
Don't be fooled by the different scales on the vertical axis for the legacy cards versus the newer ones. We had to use a higher peak value to fit the curves for the GTS 250 and such on the plot. You can see the spread between the older cards and the GTX 660 here. The upgrade benefits are more pronounced the further back you go.
Click over to the newer GeForces, and you can see how they converge together in the last 10% of frames, so that the Asus GTX 660 TOP offers essentially equivalent performance to the much pricier Zotac GTX 670 AMP! in the toughest portions of the test run. Click to the next plot, and you'll see the Radeons converging, too. At the very tail end of the curve, though, the R7870 and friends maintain lower frame times than the GTX 660 cards.
Here's where we get an even bigger dose of perspective: none of the current cards waste any time beyond the 33-ms threshold, and most of them don't spend a substantial amount of time working on frames beyond 16.7 ms. The "badness" numbers escalate quickly for the older cards, in part because we're probably bumping up against a memory size limit, as we've noted.
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