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Crysis Warhead
We measured Warhead performance using the FRAPS frame-rate recording tool and playing over the same 60-second section of the game five times on each processor. This method has the advantage of measuring real gameplay, but it comes at the expense of precise repeatability. We believe five sample sessions are sufficient to get reasonably consistent results. In addition to average frame rates, we've included the low frame rates, because those tend to reflect the user experience in performance-critical situations.

We tested at relatively modest graphics settings, 1024x768 resolution with the game's "Mainstream" quality settings, because we didn't want our graphics card to be the performance-limiting factor. This is, after all, a CPU test.

The new Core i5 and i7 processors kick off our real-world performance tests with a flourish, finishing second and third behind a thousand-dollar processor. The Core 2 and Phenom II are quite a bit slower, both in average frame rates and in the lows.

To give you a closer look at things, here are frame rates over time from a single, hopefully representative test run.

That last graph gives us the clearest impression of the competitive situation among some key contenders. The Lynnfield chips produce frame rates that are pretty consistently between 10 and 20 FPS higher than the fastest Core 2 Quad or Phenom II.

Far Cry 2
We decided to try something new with Far Cry 2, as well, and test with its built-in benchmark tool to give us some automation and more repeatable results. This tool should be a little more realistic than your average timedemo, because it's purported to keep the game's AI and physics engines active. For this first test, we ran the tool's "Ranch Small" demo at 1024x768 with DirectX 10 enabled and all of the game's visual and physical simulation options at their highest settings.

These results pretty closely mirror what we saw in Crysis Warhead, with the Lynnfield processors taking second and third place once again—undeniably impressive, especially the showing from the Core i5-750. We can only surmise that its very low memory access latencies must be giving it this unlikely edge over the Core i7-950.

Another trend of note is the relatively poor showing of the high-frequency dual-core processors we've included the group, the Core 2 Duo E8600 and the Phenom II X2 550. This isn't a trend we've come to expect, the higher clocked dual-cores falling behind even the slower quad cores like the Core 2 Quad Q9550. We are using newer versions of both of these games, which could have better threading optimizations. I kind of doubt that's it, though. My stronger suspicions involve Windows 7 and the switch to Nvidia GPUs and graphics drivers. Somewhere along the line, something has changed that's tipped the balance in the favor of higher core counts.

Incidentally, that fact makes me hesitate to credit Turbo Boost for the strong performance of the Lynnfield processors. If more than two cores are occupied, they'll only be running at one or two ticks up from stock clocks.

Now, some of you have been pestering me to take GPU limitations into account when testing CPU gaming performance. This game's automated benchmark tool gave us an opportunity to take a look at that angle, so we did by testing at two additional resolutions: 1280x1024 with 4X antialiasing, and 1600x1200 with 4X antialiasing. When GPU performance limits came into play, well, some expected things happened. And some unexpected.

True to form when a GPU becomes the primary constraint, the pack of CPUs begins to bunch together. Yes, Virginia, it's true: if your graphics card is too slow for the resoluton and quality settings you're using, a faster CPU won't do you much good when gaming. Shocking, I know.

Oddly, though, the CPUs don't quite converge on the same point. Instead, the Core i5 and i7 processors converge on a point about 10 FPS below the other quad-cores. I'm not sure what the story is here—could be some sort of platform optimization issue. We may have to investigate further when we have time, but we don't today.