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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Now it's time to pop in a graphics card and look at gaming performance. We've raised the display resolution and image quality settings substantially, but the CPU should still be the primary performance limiter. Again, we're using our latency-focused game testing methods. If you're unfamiliar with what we're doing, you might want to check out our recent CPU gaming performance article, which has a subset of the data here and explains our methods reasonably well.

The scope of our ambition is laid bare, as we present frame-by-frame results for 22 different CPUs. I'll admit, we have gone entirely overboard here. My only defense is that people keep asking for more data! No, I don't know what's wrong with them, either.

The FPS average and 99th percentile results mirror each other handsomely. However, what they show isn't good for AMD. This is quite the reversal of what happens when you're running games on the IGPs. The Pentium G2120, an $86 processor, performs better in this test than any CPU AMD has ever produced. And, yes, ye olde Phenom II X4 980 remains AMD's fastest gaming chip, at least in this test case.

In the past, we've attributed the struggles of the newer AMD chips in this test to their relatively weak per-thread performance, and we still think that's the case with Trinity. Notice how the dual-module chips like the A10-5800K and the FX-4170 outperform the quad-module FX-8150. The chips with fewer modules reach slightly higher clock speeds, giving them an edge in lightly threaded performance.

We had hoped Piledriver's modest IPC improvements would make a noticeable impact, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Compare the Bulldozer-based FX-4170 to the A10-5800K. The FX-4170 runs at 4.2GHz with a 4.3GHz Turbo peak, while the A10-5800K runs at 3.8/4.2GHz. Despite a difference in Turbo frequencies of just 100MHz, the FX-4170 remains faster than the 5800K. The A10 does achieve similar performance in a 100W TDP, while the FX-4170's power envelope is 125W, so that's progress—just not progress in per-clock throughput.

The latency curves capture the trouble with the newer AMD CPUs—it's that spike upward for the last 5% of frames. Flip between the plots, and you'll see that the Phenom II X4 980's curve looks much nicer than the newer chips'.

Ahh, our old measure of "badness" keeps us grounded once again. Although AMD is slower than Intel in this test scenario, none of the chips perform horribly. Virtually no time is spent beyond our customary 50-ms threshold, and even 33 ms isn't much of a challenge, so we've ratcheted our threshold down to 16.7 milliseconds—the equivalent of 60 FPS. Some of the fastest processors come very close to delivering a steady stream of frames a 60 FPS or better. The Trinity-based APUs can't match that—and in fact are among the weakest CPUs here—but we're asking them to meet a very tough standard.