GTA V. PC Performance Analysis

GTA V. PC Performance AnalysisMake the most of your time in Los Santos with our handy guideWe’re trying something a little different this month in PC PowerPlay’s tech section, by taking one of the year’s most anticipated PC titles and putting it through its paces on a variety of GPUs and CPUs. The game in question is Grand Theft Auto V, and to say PC gamers have been itching to scratch their trigger fingers in its epic open world is like saying the media beat up around the hot coffee mod was only slightly sensationalistic. We’ve had to wait two long years for the PC version of Rockstar’s Magnum Opus to land on the one, true gaming platform, but the excruciating wait has been worth it. Past PC ports of Grand Theft Auto have been rough to say the least, but Rockstar has truly outdone itself this time around, delivering a magnificently polished experience with a huge range of graphics options. Crank these detail settings to maximum and it’s almost an entirely new game compared to the console versions, with vastly further draw distance, richer textures and a swathe of sexy new graphical effects. You’ll need an absolute beast to run it at maximum detail, yet Rockstar has ensured that even midrange systems get a console-beating experience.

GTAV is likely to inspire some serious spending amongst the PC hardware community, as it is one of the most demanding games in existence. Put simply, there isn’t a PC around that can handle every graphics option cranked to the maximum, as there are a couple of settings that will humble even a pair of Titan X graphics cards. Start by tweaking the main graphics options, and note that the distance sliders can have a huge impact on performance. The game comes with a built-in benchmark, which makes recording your performance a breeze, but bear in mind that you’ll need to complete the first story mission for it to work; try to run it straight after installing and the benchmark will get stuck loading. It’s also not really representative of the worstcase scenario when playing – expect your minimum framerate in-game to be about half that reported by the benchmark. Still, the benchmark is repeatable, so is a good yardstick for performance.Once you’ve found the general settings that you’re happy with, head into the advanced graphics options to tinker with these settings. These tend to have even heavier performance hits associated with them, so you may have to drop back some of your main graphics options to enable these. Due to the massive variety of options, expect to spend some serious time finding just the right balance for your system.We should point out that having a good CPU is crucial for this game. As an open world game it has to draw lots of objects at once, all endowed with AI and physics, which crunches through those CPU cycles like nobody’s business. We tested the impact of CPU and GPU performance on the game, but before showing you those results, let’s take a look at the myriad of graphics options and the performance hit each accrues. We tested the game on an i7 4790K with GeForce GTX Titan Black, and 16GB of DDR3 memory. Our performance metrics measured the impact between the lowest and highest setting, while all other settings remained unchanged.This shows you just how much GPU memory your various settings are chewing up, with the maximum value set to what your GPU has. Keep the slider in the green to stop your GPU from having to fetch data from your pesky – and slow – system memory.If you choose a variety of settings that see the game’s memory use soar above the limit of your GPU, you’ll get a warning that stops you from doing so. However, we’ve found that it’s sometimes ok to run with settings that exceed your GPU’s memory, as it doesn’t necessarily cause massive slowdowns. We’d suggest disabling this setting as a result.This is an easy one – most users should select fullscreen. However, if you’re running a weird custom resolution, try running the windowed or borderless windowed mode. Note that doing so will disable any multi-GPU acceleration though, as SLI and CrossFire both need games to run in fullscreen mode to work.You guessed it – select the native resolution of your display for the crispest possible image quality. If you don’t mind a bit of blurring in exchange for increased performance, you can try dropping this to lower than your display’s res.Another one that is best left at default, unless you’re running one of those crazy Ultra Wide displays and the game isn’t detecting it properly.A lot of users have found a bug whereby the game runs at 59Hz on 60Hz displays, which causes ugly stuttering. If this is the case for you, first try to force the game to run at 60Hz via the ingame control. If this still doesn’t work, and you use an NVIDIA card, disable the game’s v-sync and use the NVIDIA control panel to force v-sync instead. You should now see 60Hz as the refresh rate. It’s also worth setting this to 30Hz if you’re running a low to mid-range PC that can’t display frame rates much beyond 30 fps. By limiting it to 30Hz, you’ll get an overall smoother performance. By the way, the 59Hz bug can reappear if you alt-tab out of the game and then back into it, requiring a full restart of the game to return to 60Hz. Hopefully this is patched in future.If you’re running more than one display, choose the one you’d like the game to run on here.This stands for Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing, and it’s a nice way to smooth out jaggies without too much of a performance hit. However, it’s definitely not in the same league as good old fashioned MSAA when it comes to producing sharp, clear images. Then again, the performance of FXAA is much better.Multisample Anti-aliasing has been a mainstay of PC gaming for many years, yet it’s getting harder to find on modern titles due to its issues with deferred rendering. Thankfully GTAV allows users to set MSAA, but be warned – this is a performance killer, especially at higher values.Performance between 0xMSAA and 8xMSAA: 30%If you’re lucky enough to own an NVIDIA product that supports TXAA (Temporal Anti-Aliasing), you can try enabling it here. It’s a compromise between the image quality of MSAA and the performance hit of FXAA, though some find that it can dull texture detail. It can also require hefty performance at higher resolutions, albeit not as much as maximum MSAAPerformance hit between 0xTXAA and 4xTXAA: 21%Choosing whether or not to enable VSync is definitely a personal opinion. We hate screen tearing, and have a PC powerful enough to maintain 60fps most of the time, so leave it on. However, if you hate the stuttering and lag introduced by Vsync, or don’t have the most powerful PC around, try disabling this setting to increase your overall framerate.This setting determines just how busy the streets of Los Santos are, both in terms of pedestrians and vehicles. Cranking this to the maximum will give you a very busy city, but it can cause rather large performance issues in the city centre. This also impacts performance of the reflection, shadow and post Fx settings, as the higher the number of entities in each city, the more of these effects need to be applied to each one. Dialling up the density may require turning down the other three, and vice versa. Note that this setting doesn’t have much impact on the benchmark, but it will have more of an effect in-game.This has no performance impact, outside of the amount of memory consumed on your GPU. It determines how many different models are used amongst the population, and the more GPU memory you have, the higher you can crank this settings.This affects the Level of Detail of distant objects; the higher it is, the more detail and less pop-in you’ll see on far off objects, including cars, buildings and terrain. Obviously this can cause performance issues, especially on PCs with lesser CPUs. This is one of the main differences of the PC version, as it allows much higher detail levels of distant objects than the console versions.One of the major improvements to the PC version is the inclusion of higher resolution textures, and the Texture Quality setting determines just how detailed they are. This impacts the amount of GPU memory used by the game, so drop it down a notch if you’re having memory related performance issues. On our system it barely caused any performance hit.GTAV uses a wealth of different shaders to improve detail on different things, including but not limited to water, vegetation, lighting, other small but noticeable changes. One major difference between Very High versus Normal is the intricate detail on textures; rocks and other surfaces look much more detailed when Shader Quality is cranked to its maximum level. This setting has a huge impact on performance, so crank it to full only if you have frames to spare.Shadow quality has a huge impact on the image quality, as all objects in the game cast dynamic shadows. If this is set to low, they’ll appear blocky and square, while at their highest value they’re soft and realistic.GTAV has plenty of shiny vehicles and surfaces, and this setting determines just how crisp the reflections seen within them are. This is most obvious inside buildings with mirrors; at the highest level the reflections are nigh perfect, whereas lower settings see rather blobby representations of the reflected world. It can have a considerable hit on performance though, as much as 25% depending on your GPU.Rockstar has considerately offered gamers the option to tweak how much antialiasing is applied to reflections, which is a first for us. It’s not that noticeable in-game though, and the 10 to 15% performance hit between the highest and lowest settings means it can be safely knocked back a notch or two to allow extra performance elsewhere.This does exactly what it says on the tin – crank it up and water will look almost photorealistic, with less impressive ripples and reflections as the setting is lowered. Expect a 5% performance hit between low and high detail settings.Particles are used extensively throughout GTAV, from the way water splashes in wet scenes, to the smoke and sparks in the middle of a firefight. Surprisingly there’s no PhysX acceleration offered for particle effects. Given the importance of explosions in the GTAV experience, we reckon the 10% performance trade-off for maximum particle effects ain’t too shabby.This is one of the surprising performance killers, with the Ultra setting basically unplayable on any rig. It determines just how much grass is drawn, as well as how detailed the grass and its accompanying shadows are. If you can run this on Ultra, please tell us how you managed to transport a PC from 2020 back in time.This determines just how realistic soft shadows are in the game. NVIDIA owners should select the NVIDIA PCSS option, while AMD users should select AMD CHS, as these are proprietary shadow techniques, unique to each manufacturer. Soft Shadow quality can have quite a large impact on performance though, up to 18% in our test.A huge range of different special effects make up this single setting, and they include bloom lighting, glare, lens flare, depth of field, HDR lighting, heat haze, god rays and volumetric effects. Is it any surprise then that this setting can have a huge impact on performance?This blurs things when you’re looking down your sights, or getting into vehicles, with a minimal performance impact.Crank this to the maximum for the cleanest textures at long range, all with basically no perceptible drop in frame rate.This subtle effect is supposed to make lighting and shadows appear more realistic, but is apparently a little buggy in the current build of the game.Tessellation creates extra surfaces in object models, but appears to be very limited in GTAV. We could barely spot any difference between this being on or off.Want better looking shadows that stretch as the sun rises or falls? This is the setting that handles just how long they’ll grow.If you’re using the AMD or NVIDIA specific shadows, this setting will have basically no impact. However, it does create nicer shadows when using the other soft shadow settings.If you spend a lot of time in the air, make sure this is enabled, as it will reduce the amount of pop-in while flying. Notice that we said reduce, as it’s impossible to remove pop-in entirely.If you want extreme detail at long distance, crank this slider up, and you’ll see far-off objects embued with more polygons and better textures. It can suck away your frames though, especially in areas with a long viewing distance filled with objects.Believe it or not, this setting increases the distance at which shadows are drawn around objects. The performance hit is minimal, and it can help stop that annoying shadow pop-in that can be so jarring.Now that you can see which settings have the greatest impact, let’s take a look at the performance of the game using six of the most popular graphics chipsets on the market. For the following test, we ran the game at Very High Texture quality, with all advanced effects turned off, at the standard HD resolution of 1920 x 1080. We ran our own benchmark this time, with our character standing in a busy part of the city as the traffic flowed by.As you can see, the high-end and mid-range cards from AMD and NVIDIA are both very equally matched, but the GTX 960 lags well behind the pack.Running the same graphics details, but with a GeForce GTX 980 in place, we tested four popular CPUs to see how GTAV scales according to processor type and speed. As you can see, it’s quite CPU bound.After several days of benchmarking GTAV on the PC, we’ve come to several conclusions. Firstly, this is by far the finest offering that Rockstar has ever made to PC gamers. They’ve thrown basically every graphics technology currently available at the game, via a list of comprehensive options that are frankly a little overwhelming to play with. Still, we’d rather have too many options than not enough. Secondly, with everything cranked high, GTAV is an absolute stunner, especially during dusk and dawn settings, with weather effects covering the screen. Finally, there is no PC on the planet that can run this with everything maxed. Thankfully, by backing off on the most demanding settings – MSAA, TXAA, Grass Quality, Soft Shadows and PostFX – it’s still possible to have a version of GTAV running that makes the consoles look positively archaic. Now that we’ve figured out the best settings that deliver smooth performance while looking absolutely stunning, we’re off to grind our way through another heist. See you on the mean streets of Los Santos. BENNETT RING

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