Civilization V: On the Cheap

Unlike Genghis Khan, you can run an empire on a dollar-store budget.

Building empires takes patience, ruthlessness--maybe even some modern armor--and apparently loads of CPU power. Civilization V builds on the iconic brand and brings numerous advancements to the game: a complete graphics overhaul, DirectX 11 support, multithreading support, and considerably more on the actual game side of the equation. However, all of the new bells and whistles take their toll. Should those turns take a little too long or the game hitch too much, we've honed our upgrades down to the essentials to give you the most performance for the least amount of money spent.

Civilization V makes for a very odd testing scenario. There are no corridors to run down, and shooting the enemy doesn't result in anything more than two little characters poking at each other on a map. As a result, we had to break our testing down into two parts. To beat down the CPU, we actually timed how long it took for the game to complete the AI's turn. This was an amazingly taxing calculation on the CPU that was easily measurable in the tens of seconds and highly repeatable. Video card testing consisted of moving across the same map at the most zoomed-out setting, which dropped frame rates by more than half and proved to be quite consistent. Both tests were performed on a late-game scenario that had numerous computer AIs vying for superiority on a large map. Smaller maps with fewer AI opponents didn't stress the system nearly as much.

CPUs

Turn-based games like Civilization V have one true bottleneck. The moment you click the end-turn button, you get to sit back and watch the computer do its thing. Early on in the game, you'll be back to ordering around your minions in a few short seconds, but later on, once you've advanced to the 1900s, those seconds might turn into a full minute. Being able to calculate whether or not Ghandi will team up with the British to attack you does indeed take more than a few CPU cycles.

From our testing, we determined that the Core i3 or Phenom II X4 class CPUs seem to be the sweet spot. Throwing more horsepower at the problem helps matters considerably. Our Core i7 980x overclocked to 4.2GHz tore away from the pack, but the same could likely be done with a highly overclocked Core i3. The game is heavily multithreaded, but we found that dual and quad core CPUs are more than enough.

Takeaway

• Get a CPU with at least two or four executable threads.
• Brute speed matters a lot.

We recommend either the $125 Core i3 540 or the $140 AMD Phenom II X4 955; both offer a great blend of speed and affordability. You could also drop down to the $90 Phenom II X2 555 to save a little more money.

System Setup:
Intel DX58S0, Intel DP55KG, Asus CrossHair 4 Forumla, 4 and 6GB OCZ DDR3, 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 64-bit. Graphics Drivers: Forceware 258.96.

Video Cards

Civilization V doesn't need much of a video card to run, and feeding it a massive GPU won't help to get rid of the texture caching issues that plague the game. No matter the GPU, you will see textures get drawn in as you zoom in and out around the map. Even with high-end GPUs like the GeForce GTX 480 and Radeon HD 5870, you'll see blurry textures swapped out on a constant basis.

Overall frame rates will increase handily with more powerful cards--but it's not worth the money if you already have passable performance. Dropping the visual quality settings is a better bet because even at its ugliest, Civilization V doesn't look all that bad.

Should you just want a card that can run the game, pick pretty much anything from the GeForce 4xx and Radeon HD 5xxx series--even the bottom of the bin cards. They'll run the game quite well. If anything, think of another game you're looking forward to and upgrade for that instead because you shouldn't have to upgrade your GPU unless you're playing on something from the GeForce 7 series and its equivalents.

Takeaway

• Get nothing if at all possible.
• Upgrade to a $120 solution like the GeForce GTS 450 or Radeon HD 5770 only if necessary.

To save money, hit sites like Craigslist to pick up older cards or grab an $85 Radeon HD 5670.

System Setup:
Intel i7-980x, Intel DX58S0, 6GB OCZ DDR3, 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 64-bit. Graphics Drivers: Catalyst 10.9, Forceware 258.96.

Memory

Extra memory helps considerably to reduce load times and also cuts down on CPU turns once you jump up to 4GB of system RAM.

Takeaway

• Get 4GB of RAM.

The game and your system will thank you for it.

System Setup:
Intel i7-980x, Intel DX58S0, 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 64-bit. GeForce GTX 460 Graphics Drivers: Forceware 258.96.

Settings

The game gets get better looking if you crank up the settings, but with all the texture swaps and hitching, it might not be worth the effort.

Very High, DirectX11 High Medium Low Minimum

Strategic Mode

Strategic mode (you can access it by pressing F10 or pushing the onscreen button next to the minimap) helps considerably with performance. Keep in mind that it's also like playing on a stripped-down version of Google Maps.

Strategic Mode High Quality

We did discover one interesting tidbit though: Enabling the strategic map before you end your turn shaves off more than 20 percent of the time to complete a turn--that's pretty much a free upgrade!

High End System - Core i7-980x, Intel DX58S0, 6GB OCZ DDR3 RAM, Windows 7 64-bit, Seagate 750GB 7200.11, GeForce GTX 480. Graphics Driver: Forceware 258.96.
Low End System - Core 2 Duo E6320, EVGA 680i, 2GB DDR2, Windows 7 64-bit, Seagate 750GB 7200.11, GeForce 7900 GT. Graphics Driver: Forceware 258.96

The Big Picture

Do not underestimate the power of the strategic map to increase performance. The performance gains could be enough for you to avoid an upgrade altogether.

If you have to upgrade, we've got a few options available to use for small system builds that will handily run Civilization V. Even the low end of the spectrum, with an astonishingly small outlay, gives fantastic performance.

Full System:

• Intel Core i3 540 - $125 / Phenom II X4 955 - $140 / Phenom II X2 555 - $90
• Socket 1156 Motherboard - $90 / Socket AM3 Motherboard - $45
• Radeon HD 5770 - $140 / GeForce GTS 450 - $130 / Radeon HD 5670 - $85
• 4GB DDR3 RAM - $75
• 500GB Hard Drive - $50
• Case + Power Supply - $70

Total System Cost - $415 to $550

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99 comments
klurg
klurg

@Asuran_Oberoth The system idle process isn't using your cpu :P, it's only a row in taskmanager that shows you how much cpu is NOT used.

Asuran_Oberoth
Asuran_Oberoth

I'm running Civ 5 on a ATI Radeon HD3470 mobile gpu and it runs pretty smoothly, although it does get a bit of lag when the system idle process decides it wants to use up all the cpu so civ uses up 40% and system idle process takes up the rest. I'll have to try it on my PC which has an Athlon X4 630 and a ATI 4200 onboard and see how that handles the game.

coaltango
coaltango

to be honest the 460 gtx it way too hyped not worth the purchase i would rather buy a 4890

Lord_luke
Lord_luke

The CPU maybe the bottle neck. But its still not the only problem. its how the game is coded. I'm watching my CPU usage on my core 2 Quad, and the game is not even using them to its full potential. its staying around 75%ish. it Pisses me off that this game is coded so badly if my Quad core is still sitting in 25% Idle and the game runs like crap...

commander1122
commander1122

my q6600 4gb ram and 8800GTX max everything except AA off......run fine.....just after the game getting longer...like 400-500+ turn...it will start slowing down...

ParaBellum71
ParaBellum71

Yeah I am going to have to say that this will not due well as a console port, unless features are massivly reduced alongside map sizes. I'm not even as knowledgeable as you all, but any idiot can see that this game puts a stress on your rig towards the modern era. Hell I play ARMA alot on maps where thousands of flight path calculations for bullets/shrapnel/ or whatever are taking place at once, and my computer has never gotten above 70-75c. This game puts my average temperature up to 100c. And thats completley cleaned, new fan(Properly installed.), an extra auxillary fan, in a room with the AC at 70f, and about 30-40f outside. I honestly have never had heating problems until this game. Now I have heating problems up the ass.

killa32130
killa32130

@CrimsonSword88 Oh, i thought it was Fps and they screwed up the seconds part lol.

CrimsonSword88
CrimsonSword88

@killa32130: shorter bar indicates less time taken to compute something, hence faster cpu, hence better performance

killa32130
killa32130

'CPU Performance Tests - Seconds' '(Shorter bars indicate better performance)' Doesn't it mean longer? Correct me if i'm wrong...

TheFreeloader
TheFreeloader

@threeunder3 If you are using your keyboard to play Civilization, you are doing it wrong.

apollo333
apollo333

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

threeunder3
threeunder3

I admire anyone that can use a keyboard to play a game - my fingers - well they just aren't that coordinated!! I really like the look of this game but I dont think it will ever come to PS3 and I work on a Mac so there goes that!!

Maim00
Maim00

"It would be nice to have some actual measurement instead of "Shorter bars indicate better performance."" CPU Performance Tests - Seconds Notice how it says seconds, and then on the bars there are numbers?

PogieBait
PogieBait

lol i like how the settings make the terrain go from good bad good bad good bad

WRXRated
WRXRated

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

demoneyes4
demoneyes4

I'm not a pc elitist I have a ps3 and xbox and a wii, I prefer the term "gamer". I just so happen to know how to build my own pc. So freema, whats your point? I never said you have to spend 1200 dollars, thats what I spent. 600 dollars will build you a respectable pc. Also you said you spent "the same amount that I spent" and bought two low end systems. I have to ask...Why? It seems to me that the joke is still very much on you. Plus I am sure the "best games" that you're talking about are of the shooter variety. I don't know about you...well, yeah I guess I do know what you would prefer, but I on the other hand will take my shooters with a keyboard and mouse over a controller any day. Also since you seemed to miss the main point of my first post I saved 1200 dollars building my own computer hence saving money. Re-read calanorns post because he took the words right out of my mouth.

made_u_look
made_u_look

@Freema Oh god here go again, OK answer me this why the hell when there is a article about computer hardware or any type of performance tests you ignorant fan boys come on here spewing your retarded comments. First it is easy to build a PC go on Youtube and search gaming rigs there's ten year olds putting them together which is sad if you don't. Now here's the big debate MONEY right? Blah blah my console costs me 200$ blah blah my ps3 costs me 300 to 400$ great what did the extra controllers cost you? extra headsets? Red Ring of death? Add that up, now for my PC that built running strong same 3 hard drives I've had for 4 years running RAID sure your ignorance doesn't know what that is, all in all I've pretty much have only upgraded my video card recently because it was my decision and that's key, we upgrade hardware when we decide to not because a company makes the decision for us when a new box comes out. Also the real gaming community is on the PC we started the real gamers with the first real Fps like Wolfenstein, Doom, Duke Nukem, Counterstrike, RPG games like the original Fallout Baldurs Gate and all the Bioware games, strategy games like warcraft starcraft. I mean we started maybe more than half of the IP's today. What have you had Halo? I mean come on seriously PC gamers aren't even in the same category as you console fanboy's not to mention all the modding communities so as Ed Lover would say,"come on SON get the @$%# outta here with that bullsh$%."

Shadow_zone
Shadow_zone

Runs ok on mine, a little bit slow with CPU turns. Might give it a go in DX10 mode. Running a GTX 265 SOC with 4 gig ram and an i5 CPU (cant remember exact model). @freema, no need to feel sick, PC gamers actually like modifying their PC, its part of the fun, if you are smart about it its not that expensive.

blargX
blargX

I like the lack of data in this article. It would be nice to have some actual measurement instead of "Shorter bars indicate better performance." That said, I run this game flawlessly on a Phenom 9850 and a HD 5770. Both are very cheap.

Fancelot
Fancelot

@apollo333 Unless you lack first grade grammar, periods go at the end of sentences.

calanorn
calanorn

tomcrole your comment made me laugh if you have the patience to learn how to build a new system it can easily be done for 500 pounds and thats above mid range not the same level as enthusiast systems but plenty for gaming on. Also if you buy one of those god forbid mid range systems!!!! :P its still going to out power both the 360 and the ps3 in the graphics department with a much larger and more varied games catalogue. I spent large amounts on my own PC purely because i like having the new components to test and game just like i have watercooling because i wanted it not because i need it. but i buy every game i want which is most easily over 50 a year including indie dev games pc games in england are 10 pounds cheaper than console versions and comes with higher grade textures in most cases in 1 year i save an average of 500 pounds over console prices on games i have a computer thats useful for mroe than gaming i have the knowledge to fix my own hardware unlike 90% of xbox owners. and i have access to games other than sports and FPS That to me is a far better reason to get a pc. I also have a 360 and a ps3 for exclusives and blu ray for the missus but PC will always be first for me. I work in a pc repair and sales shop and our budget gaming system is 500 and that is enough to play games on high settings and when it comes to the most expensive part the graphics card my advice to all is buy what you can afford but a good entry point is the higher mid range and then in a year add a second one of the same card when the prices are rock bottom a dual card setup like that lasts years.

Shardz7
Shardz7

My rig plays Civ 5 like a dream on my newly built system; i5-750, 4 Gig 1333, nVidia 250. It runs the game in native 1080p resolution very smoothly with no crashing even after 12 hours running. I built this system for a little over $700 (the GF 250 card helped bring this down quite a bit) and runs everything quite well. I can run either the DX10 or DX11 version with no problems, but I ended up choosing the DX10 shortcut since my card is the 250 and not 260+.

hangman04
hangman04

wow! what a debate: my system: i5 650, 4GB dram3, ati 4770 and 320GB hdd. The system worths 500 euros. u can play with no headaches at very good details! enjoy the game!

apollo333
apollo333

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

grigjd3
grigjd3

@ejkeecha, a shame you never played civ rev. It's a great game if you're looking to play civ for only a little bit.

freema
freema

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Fancelot
Fancelot

Oh for those saying Civ 4 is much better than Civ 5... Civ 4 had 2 expansions and NUMEROUS patches to make it what it is today. Civ 5 even though it is a new engine is MUCH MUCH MUCH better than Civ 4 when Civ 4 just came out with no expansions or patches.

blue_francis14
blue_francis14

You can't play cafe world on a PS3. Oh and the special edition kicks ass! It has 5 metal figurines and the package is heavy to boot!

ejkeecha
ejkeecha

I am a PS3 gamer. (Used to be an avid PC gamer for 15 years until a mortgage killed that). However, every time a Civ game comes out, I manage to find an excuse to "repair" the pc. And then on a budget I get to play other AAA PC games I missed out on over the years on a budget. I just "repaired" my PC for this game. I think the next time my PC needs fixing will be around the time Diablo 3 comes out. I think some games are meant to be for PC and some for consoles and I refused to by CIV Revolutions as I believe the Civilization franchise is meant to make the PC its home.

demoneyes4
demoneyes4

to spencertaylor your quote "who the hell builds their own computer?" I just priced a brand new hp computer straight from the factory with no warranty and is top of the line for 2400 dollars. I built the exact same pc for 1200 dollars and maybe took about four hours to put together and the majority of that was waiting for the OS to load and adding all the software to my pc. So you have fun paying double the price for the exact same thing I have because why the hell would I ever want to build my own computer? Oh, that's right because I have time and money to "fritter" away. So, now my question. Why wouldn't you build your own computer? I have my own theories...most of them contain the phrase bellow average intelligence.

agpickle
agpickle

My 9800gt ran it fine on high.

aferrara50
aferrara50

@francisismyhero: u can't run dx11 with a gts250... it is only dx10 capable. @garcardo: I downloaded mine from steam (after I bought the retail copy) because it was faster than installing off of the disc... only 10 minutes to download. Time to upgrade ur intertubes. @baltim123: the game does "stutter" pretty badly when calculating ai turns. It happens because ur cpu is doing so many processes it cannot feed ur gpus. I'm running tri sli 480s and an i7 920 @ 4.4ghz and still have lag in between turns. it is the nature of the beast @francelot: that's a pretty solid rig for the money. get that sucker watercooled and u wont need an upgrade for a while except for the gpu (that is if u want dx11 capability) @people saying console > pc. Console will always be more affordable than pc. Pc gaming is a luxury. Anyone who says it's not is clearly lying to themselves. To build a true to form gaming pc you're looking at over $6000. Granted that $6000 pc is apx 20x faster than an xbox 360 or ps3 with floating point calculations. Anyone who disagrees I would like you to look at which gpu ur gaming system uses. The xbox one is based off of the ATi R600 chip and the ps3 one is based off of the nvidia 8000 series gpu. They are both garbage compared to top end pc gfx cards. pick urself up 3 or 4 gtx 480s and u will never say that console is better again. A pc with the same specs as an xbox360 or ps3 will only score p4000-6000 on 3dmark vantage. High end gaming computers hit p45000.

Fancelot
Fancelot

@Garcardo You don't need to download the game if you have the disk... Unless you're tech illiterate... not meant to flame but just saying. I'm sorry steam is one of the easiest software programs I've ever used, and I truly feel sorry for you if you can't figure out how steam works.

Fancelot
Fancelot

@meleekill989 I get all my parts from newegg.com . I built my computer roughly 3 years ago, costed me 1200 bucks for monitor/desktop/mouse/everything. I would only costed me 800 for the desktop. Even though its been over 2 years, I haven't had to upgrade and can run basically every game that has come out on high or max with no problems. The bulk of my costs was my Q9450 quad core and my Ati HD4870 which costed me 500 bucks, but was worth it because these two components made my computer future proof till this day. I still can't see myself upgrading anytime soon since my over 2 year old quad core still allows me to run multiple programs like a champ. Anyways, Newegg.com is an awesome site. They have tons of user reviews that give you a good idea what you're getting yourself into before you buy the product. Also the shipping is fast and they have tons of sales/rebates going on all the time so its a good idea to check the site frequently to grab some steals.

Garcardo
Garcardo

The game wasnt worth the 22 and a half bloody hours it took to downloud of that steam garbage I got off the disk. I find that the game wasnt worth the money and wont be buiying any future Civilization games until i can download THE GAME off the disks, cause the fact of the matter is, is that my net is fast but it sometimes stops for a few seconds I have no need for the steam community. Furthermore the game is crap compared to civ 4 cause it takes away religion and the hotseat mode which me and my friends played sometimes. All in all the only thing that they improved is long range combat and graphics. Lastly I dont know if there was something wrong but it didnt seem to have keybord comands down, is that the same for anyone else, And since its a computer game I cant even return this piece of **** game, so thanks 2K games for making the only game that I can sincerly say I hate.

francisismyhero
francisismyhero

Actually, I had to revert back to DirectX 9, becuase I kept getting messed up red lines and textures on every tile in DX 11. However, doing that sped up game for me and gave me better visuals. I have a quad core system, 6 GB RAM, with the min recommended graphics card, a GTS 250.

francisismyhero
francisismyhero

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

francisismyhero
francisismyhero

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

baltim123
baltim123

Does anybody know why it has super bad lag and frame rate drops to like 10 fps when i go into dx11 mode? I have a gtx 460 an i5-680 (dual-core 3,60 ghz) and 6 gb ram so my system should be able to run this game very smooth.

N7SSV
N7SSV

I hope i can play it on my Mac. I usually play on consoles, but i just don't imagine playing this with pad.

sandgroper
sandgroper

Running on the first 64bit amd processor from way back... not looking forward to the endgame.

made_u_look
made_u_look

Why the hell do you console fanboys come on here flaming PC gamers, and I'm directing all my comments towards spencertaylor. You just made the biggest most ignorant comment I've read on here congratulations.

Exorte
Exorte

@ andalore Yea, I play with the F10 mode its so much easier to track everything without those fancy graphics.

Exorte
Exorte

@ Halloll Any idea how large the map is? rendering such a big map is no easy task since you need to render the whole map not like FPS where only small part of the map is rendered.

Exorte
Exorte

@ Fancelot If 50% of people is below average than then is a problem with your definition of average

jogunther
jogunther

That would be an interesting turn of events.

dzimm
dzimm

No, he has a point, Civ 5 is certainly simplified enough to be a console game.

Nekromenos
Nekromenos

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

freema
freema

this blows. definately waiting for the console version.