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  Half-Life 2, all you need to know when upgrading 
  Nov 29, 2004, 10:30am EST 


By: Sander Sassen

Just a few days ago we reported back to you about a survey that Valve has conducted among Steam subscribers. The results of the survey, with over a million people participating, shows that the majority of these people are running a system that is comprised of a 2.4 GHz processor, 512 or 1GB of memory and GeForce4 or Radeon 9X00 level of graphics. As mentioned that's a top-of-the-line system from about two years ago. It won't surprise you that Half-Life 2 runs just fine on such a system, although not at high resolutions or with anti aliasing, AA, or anisotropic filtering, AF, turned on. We’ve set out to explore how we can improve the performance of such a system and what would be a good, affordable configuration to run Half-Life 2 on, and by that we don’t mean a top-of-the-line system costing thousands of dollar, but the baseline configuration you’ll need to run Half-Life 2 with.

The medium and high quality settings used, click here for a full size image.

What we’re looking for is a system that can sustain a minimum frame rate of 45 frames per second, under any circumstance and at a minimum 1024x768 resolution. To evaluate the performance we’ve recorded four custom demos (available for download here) that stress both the processor and the graphics card in different ways, so we can determine exactly where the bottleneck is. The idea is to start off with a low performance system and try to improve its performance by replacing the processor with a faster one, add more memory or simply replace the graphics card until we reach a satisfactory level of performance. We’ve limited ourselves to testing ATI cards as NVIDIA wasn’t able to get us a GeForce 6800GT and GeForce 6800 Ultra in time, but once these cards arrive here we’ll retest accordingly. We’ve started out with a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 system consisting of an Intel 865G chipset motherboard with a single 512MB DDR400 memory module. We outfitted this system with a Radeon 9600XT graphics card and installed Windows XP SP2 and Half-Life 2 on it and used ATI’s Catalyst 4.12 driver.

As is evident from the benchmarks the 2.4GHz Pentium 4 system lacks the performance to make Half-Life 2 playable at a 1024x768 resolution. Noteworthy to mention is that the fourth demo, demo_004, clearly stresses the videocard much more than the others. As this demo is recorded in a large outdoor area, which needs to be rendered in full, it is clear that the videocard fails to keep up with the workload. We see something else happening in the second demo, demo_002, where the processor is quite busy calculating all the physics needed to properly play back this scripted scene. Overall it is clear that this system configuration is not able to offer the level of performance we’re looking for. Not listed here is the fact that we’ve rerun the demos with 1GB of memory yielding zero effect, so installing more memory will not speed this system up one bit.

1. Introduction
2. Swapping out processors
3. Gauging graphic cards
4. Pricing information

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