The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Our Skyrim test involved running around the town of Whiterun, starting from the city gates, all the way up to Dragonsreach, and then back down again.
Testing was done at 1280x720 using the game's "Low" quality preset. Our Atom system had to sit this one out, since it couldn't run the game properly at any settings.
Let's preface the results below with a little primer on our testing methodology. Along with measuring average frames per second, we delve inside the second to look at frame rendering times. Studying the time taken to render each frame gives us a better sense of playability, because it highlights issues like stuttering that can occur—and be felt by the player—within the span of one second. Charting frame times shows these issues clear as day, while charting average frames per second obscures them.
To get a sense of how frame times correspond to FPS rates, check the table on the right.
We're going to start by charting frame times over one representative test run for each system. (That run is usually the middle one out of the five we ran for each card.) These plots should give us an at-a-glance impression of overall playability, warts and all. You can click the buttons below the graph to compare the different solutions.
Right away, it's clear that the A4 delivers a huge graphics performance improvement over the E-350. Also, the A4 achieves very consistent frame times overall, even if the plot line isn't particularly low. (40 ms works out to about 25 FPS, for the record.) The E-350 and the Core i3 are both all over the place, and their frame times are clearly higher on average.
Only one chip beats the A4, and that's the Core i5. Of course, that chip is equipped with dual-channel memory, whereas the A4 is limited to only a single channel—and real-time graphics is a very bandwidth-intensive task.
Now, we can slice and dice our raw frame-time data in several ways to show different facets of the performance picture. Let's start with something we're all familiar with: average frames per second. Average FPS is widely used, but it has some serious limitations. Another way to summarize performance is to consider the threshold below which 99% of frames are rendered, which offers a sense of overall frame latency, excluding fringe cases. (The lower the threshold, the more fluid the game.)
The average FPS and 99th percentile results confirm our initial observations: the A4 is second only to the Core i5, and it's well ahead of both the E-350 and the Core i3. However, the A4's 46.3 ms 99th-percentile frame time is a little on the high side if you're hoping for fluid animation.
By the way, those 99th-percentile figures only capture a single point along the latency curve, but we can show you that whole curve, as well. With single-GPU configs like these, the right hand-side of the graph—and especially the last 5% or so—is where you'll want to look. That section tends to be where the best and worst solutions diverge.
The A4 and the Core i5 both manage to keep frame latencies consistent throughout about 98-99% of the frames. That's the kind of consistency we'd expect from a good discrete desktop GPU.
Finally, we can rank the cards based on how long they spent working on frames that took longer than a certain number of milliseconds to render. Simply put, this metric is a measure of "badness." It tells us about the scope of delays in frame delivery during the test scenario. You can click the buttons below the graph to switch between different millisecond thresholds.
The Core i5 spends comparatively so little time working on frames over 50 ms that its bar is too thin to show up in the graph above. The A4 trails reasonably closely, although it's at a disadvantage in the 33.3-ms rankings because of its relatively high average frame times. Still, 4368 milliseconds (or 4.4 seconds) over that threshold isn't bad out of a 90-second run.
From a seat-of-the-pants perspective, Skryim feels fluid enough to be playable on the A4—at least in this test run, which involved multiple characters and detailed geometry but no combat. The high average frame times mean the game isn't as silky-smooth as it would be on a decent desktop gaming rig. Still, frame times are low and consistent enough to make the game playable.