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Team Fortress 2
We'll kick off our gaming tests with some Team Fortress 2, Valve's class-driven multiplayer shooter based on the Source game engine. In order to produce easily repeatable results, we've tested TF2 by recording a demo during gameplay and playing it back using the game's timedemo function. In this demo, I'm playing as the Heavy Weapons Guy, with a medic in tow, dealing some serious pain to the blue team.

We tested at 1024x768 resolution with the game's detail levels set to their highest settings. HDR lighting and motion blur were enabled. Antialiasing was disabled, and texture filtering was set to trilinear filtering only. We used this relatively low display resolution with low levels of filtering and AA in order to prevent the graphics card from becoming a primary performance bottleneck, so we could show you the performance differences between the CPUs.

Notice the little green plot with four lines above the benchmark results. That's a snapshot of the CPU utilization indicator in Windows Task Manager, which helps illustrate how much the application takes advantage of up to four CPU cores, when they're available. I've included these Task Manager graphics whenever possible throughout our results. In this case, Team Fortress 2 looks like it probably only takes full advantage of a single CPU core, although Nvidia's graphics drivers use multithreading to offload some vertex processing chores.

With only one core at full utilization, TF2 doesn't respect quad-core processors in the least. The Q9300 likely beats the E7200 thanks to its faster FSB. Startlingly, even the E7200 outruns anything AMD has to offer, placing ahead of the Phenom X4 9850 by a few frames per second and ahead of the Athlon 64 X2 5600+ by a couple more.

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Lost Planet puts the latest hardware to good use via DirectX 10 and multiple threads—as many as eight, in fact. Lost Planet's developers have built a benchmarking tool into the game, and it tests two different levels: a snow-covered outdoor area with small numbers of large villains to fight, and another level set inside of a cave with large numbers of small, flying creatures filling the air. We'll look at performance in each.

We tested this game at 1152x864 resolution, largely with its default quality settings. The exceptions: texture filtering was set to trilinear, edge antialiasing was disabled, and "Concurrent operations" was set to match the number of CPU cores available.

The "Snow" test is obviously GPU-bound, but the "Cave" level gives us a rare scenario in a real game engine where four CPU cores truly present an advantage. Here, the E7200 outpaces the Athlon 64 X2 5600+, and the Q9300 surpasses both the Q6600 and the Phenom X4 9850. In fact, the Q9300 outruns the older Core 2 Extreme QX6800, despite having smaller caches and a lower clock frequency.

Then again, we're talking about relatively minor differences in frame rates overall. Most of these processors should have no trouble running these games fluidly.