Fallout 3 Hardware Performance Guide

Fallout 3's radioactive wastelands look fantastic, but they do sap your computer's performance. Find out what you need to do to get the game to look and run great.

The post-apocalyptic world of Fallout 3 makes the current state of the worldwide economy look about as pleasant as apple pie. Bethesda rendered the bleakness of a nuclear bomb-ravaged Washington DC with the perfect amount of despair and, given the nature of the franchise, humor. From the moment you step out of Vault 101, you want to explore every single bombed-out shack and collapsed building. The radioactive wasteland is filled with incredible detail, and the long draw distances practically beg you to wander around by giving you so many landmarks to march towards. Fallout 3 is based on the Oblivion graphics engine, but runs much better than Oblivion and with greater detail. However, even with the engine performance improvements, you'll most likely need to upgrade a system component or two if you want the game to run at maximum quality settings.

We tested Fallout 3 by running through the area outside of the Jefferson Memorial and Rivet City. The region has long draw distances, nearby water reflections, and plenty of action from supermutants. Our final result was the average of three 40-second runs.

Settings

Fallout 3 has a ton of settings but none that single-handedly destroy performance. Each setting takes an almost imperceptible bite, but when combined the game slows to a crawl. Think of it as the death by a thousand pixels.

Video Cards

Long draw distances, copious amounts of antialiasing, and high resolutions make Fallout 3 look amazing. Of course, you're going to need a decent amount of pixel-pushing power to get Fallout 3 running maxed out. We went through almost 20 video cards to help you determine what's enough.

CPU

To put Fallout 3 to the test, we pulled out all our chips, ranging from quad cores down to Pentium 4s, to see how the game scales. As it turns out, as long as you have any Core 2-based CPU, you're going to be fine. Anything less and you might want to consider upgrading.

Memory

Fallout 3 requires 1GB of RAM to run in Windows XP and 2GB to run in Windows Vista. We loaded up our system with 1, 2, and 3GB of RAM to determine the sweet spot.

Systems

Fallout 3's minimum requirements call for a 2.4GHz Pentium 4, 1GBof RAM, and a GeForce 6800-class video card. We were able to get the game to run on the aforementioned system, but performance wasn't great. The game becomes unplayable as soon as you venture outside of the lowest image-quality and resolution settings. If you want to actually play the game, you might want to get something a bit more powerful. The recommended system, a Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz CPU with a GeForce 8800 GT and 2GB of RAM, ran the game perfectly at high resolutions and with high image-quality settings. Our custom high-end system packed with a 3.2GHz quad core and a Radeon 4870X2 didn't have any problems at all either.

System Setup:

High-End System: Intel Core2 QX9650, eVGA 780i, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Card: Radeon 4870X2, beta Catalyst HotFix 70517.

Recommended System: Intel Core2 Duo E6600 2.4GHz, eVGA 680i, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GT, beta Nvidia ForceWare 180.42.

Minimum System: Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz, Asus P4C800, 1GB Corsair XMS Memory, Seagate 160GB 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 6800, Nvidia Forceware 180.42.

Settings

Fallout 3's settings proved quite difficult to test. Outside of the preset quality settings, our usual testing strategy where we go through and enable each setting one by one failed to find any single setting that destroyed performance. We recommend starting with a preset quality setting and tweaking it until you get a decent balance between performance and image quality. In general, you can disable antialiasing and lower the resolution to recoup frames on high and ultra image-quality settings.

We've provided image-quality comparisons on the following page to help you determine which settings you can live without. However, if at all possible, try to keep transparency multisampling enabled. Fallout 3 has a tremendous number of wires, trees, shrubs, and broken piping that need to be cleaned up. Even distant buildings look better with the setting enabled.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 QX9770, eVGA 680i, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista SP1. Graphics Card: GeForce 9800 GTX, Nvidia ForceWare 180.42.

Graphics Comparison

Quality Settings

Ultra High Medium Low

Textures

High Medium Low

Shadows

High Medium Low

Transparency Multisampling

Enabled Disabled

More Graphics Comparisons

View Distance

100% 75% 50% 25% 0%

Distant LOD

100% 50% 0%

Water Reflection (W.R.) Settings

W.R. Max W.R. Disabled Full Detail Reflec. Disabled Full Scene Reflec. Disabled Soft Reflec. Disabled W.R. Low

Video Cards

As taxing as Fallout 3 is, the game runs well on quite a few older video cards. More GPU power gets you more frames, but you don't need a $300 card to get decent performance. Midrange cards like the Radeon 4850 manage to run the game at high resolutions and with high image-quality settings. Older cards like the GeForce 7900 GS fair decently with moderate resolutions and medium image-quality settings.

System Setup: Intel Core2 QX9770, eVGA 680i SLI, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Cards: GeForce 280 GTX, GeForce 260 GTX, GeForce 260 GTX Core 216, GeForce 9800 GTX 512MB, GeForce 9600 GT 256MB, GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB, GeForce 7900 GS 256MB, GeForce 7600 GT 256MB, Radeon HD 4870 X2, Radeon HD 4870, Radeon HD 4850, Radeon HD 4670, Radeon HD 3870 X2, Radeon HD 3870 512MB, Radeon HD 3850 512MB, Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB, Radeon HD 2600 Pro 256MB, Radeon X1950 Pro 256MB. Graphics Drivers: beta Nvidia ForceWare 180.42, beta ATI Catalyst 70517.

CPU

As long as you have a Core 2 Duo, Fallout 3 doesn't care how many cores you have or how fast your CPU is. Our 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo ran the game very well. Adding more cores and increasing the clock speed only brought marginal returns.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 QX9770, Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel Core 2 Duo E6600, Intel Core2 E6320, Intel Pentium 4 3.8GHz, AMD Phenom X4 9600, AMD Phenom X3 8750, eVGA 680I, Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Card: GeForce 9800 GTX, Nvidia ForceWare 180.42


Memory

Fallout 3 requires 2GB of RAM to run on Windows Vista. We found that the game runs with no problems with 2GB or more RAM. Amazingly, the game even runs well with 1GB of RAM. It hitches at times, but is still pretty playable.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 QX9770, 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 Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Card: GeForce 9800 GTX, Nvidia ForceWare 180.42.

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