Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 Hardware Performance Guide

Modern Warfare 2 got you bogged down? Find out what you need to upgrade to make it run right.

Even if you've been living under a rock in the desert, chances are you've heard of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The game has sold millions of copies worldwide on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and the PC. Like its predecessor, Call of Duty 4, Modern Warfare 2 runs well and looks spectacular. In fact, the minimum requirements for the game have hardly budged at all, which is not to say that the minimum grants you a remotely enjoyable experience. But those that are a few steps up from the bottom can still have a great experience. In case you're looking to get a better experience, we've gone through all the hardware to see what nets you more frames and eye candy.

We used Fraps and the opening sequence of the Act II mission, Hornet's Nest, to measure frame rates in our tests. Hornet's Nest drops you off in a heavily wooded area somewhere in Rio de Janeiro and has you run up a small path leading to a shanty town full of enemies, rampaging trucks, and the ever-present explosive barrels. The level has a nice mix of the environments you're likely to encounter in the game. We ran each test three times and then averaged the results.

Game Settings

Modern Warfare 2 doesn't have too many settings you need to adjust to get the game to run well. You can leave most of them on, but two in particular will take a chomp out of your computer's performance.

Graphics

We tested Modern Warfare 2 with everything from the now-ancient GeForce 6800 up to AMD's current flagship GPU: the Radeon HD 5970. The game runs well on most video cards, but you're likely to find your biggest gains here if you want to upgrade.

CPU

You could grab an Intel Core i7-960 and be done with it, but you can get away with much less. We went through both quad-core and dual-core CPUs to see how much is enough.

Memory

Modern Warfare 2 needs 1GB of RAM to run, but we already know that that's just the starting point. We checked out what upgrading to 2GB, or even 3GB of RAM, can do for performance.

Systems

We put together a few sample systems to show how the game performed using real-world computers. Our slowest machine and the absolute minimum required to run the game, a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 paired with a GeForce 6800, struggled to churn out a barely playable experience at rock-bottom image-quality settings. Our mid-range system, outfitted with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo and a Radeon HD 5770, pumped out a more than playable experience with every setting on and a resolution of 1920x1200. The behemoth system, a Core i7-960 paired with the Radeon HD 5970, literally doubled the performance of our midrange sytem. The behemoth is entirely overkill for Modern Warfare 2.

System Setup:

High-End System: Intel i7-960, Intel DX58S0, 3GB DDR3, 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 32-bit. Graphics Card: Radeon HD 5970, beta ATI Catalyst.

Mid-Range System: Intel Core 2 E8600 , 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 32-bit. Graphics Card: Radeon 5770, ATI Catalyst 9.11.

Minimum Requirements System: Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz, Asus P4C800, 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP3. Graphics Card: GeForce 6800 128MB, Nvidia ForceWare 191.07.

Settings

Modern Warfare 2 has a handful of advanced video settings, only some of which dramatically affect performance. If you turn off shadows, you'll get the biggest performance gains--followed by a specular map--and soften smoke edges. On the following page, we have pictures of what each of the settings look like tuned on and off.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, eVGA 680i SLI, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.10 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 32-bit. Graphics Card: Radeon HD 5770, GeForce 8600 GTS, Nvidia ForceWare 191.07, ATI Catalyst 9.11.

Image Quality Comparison

Depth of Field

On Off

Shadows

On Off

Specular Map

On Off

Soften Smoke Edges

On Off

Texture Quality

Extra High Normal Low

Video Cards

Need higher frame rates? Buy a better video card! But also note that most of our tests were run at 1920x1200 with 4xAA and 8xAF on all but the oldest of our video cards. You seriously don't need much to run this game very, very well and at full quality. We tried to test the Radeon X1900 and X1600 series of GPUs, but the image the GPUs outputted came out garbled. The issue has been documented, but none of the known fixes worked for us.

System Setup: Intel Core i7-960, Intel DX58S0, 3GB DDR3, 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 32-bit. See charts for video vards. Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 191.07, ATI Catalyst 9.11.

CPU

The CPU is only a bottleneck once you start digging into the past. All of our newer Core i7 and Core i5 CPUs performed identically. Once we dropped down to Intel's older Core 2 platform, we didn't see any large performance drops until we got to the 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo, and even then, the performance was more than adequate. We encountered issues while testing with our Phenom test bed and will have those numbers up shortly.

System Setup: Above CPUs + Intel DX58S0, eVGA 680i SLI, 3GB DDR3, 3GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2, 512MB x 2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 32-bit. Graphics Card: Radeon HD 5770, ATI Catalyst 9.11

Memory

Once we cranked up the visual quality, 1GB of system RAM became quite the limitation. Frame rates became inconsistent and the machine faltered constantly. Modern systems ship with at least three, if not four, gigabytes of RAM, and doing an upgrade on an older machine will likely cost less than the price of the game.

System Setup: Intel Core2 Quad Q6600, eVGA 680i SLI, 3GB Corsair XMS Memory (2GBx2), 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 32-bit. Graphics Card: Radeon HD 5770, Catalyst 9.11.

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