F.E.A.R. Hardware Performance Guide

Find out how to get the most out of your F.E.A.R. experience.

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After seeing a series of games where settings mattered more than hardware, we're getting back to basics with F.E.A.R--basics as in, the bigger the hardware, the better the gameplay. F.E.A.R. is a power-hungry game that demands sacrificial offerings of high-end CPUs and video cards to run seamlessly. It can run well enough on older hardware, but you're going to have to give up quite a few atmospheric details. For a game that practically oozes tension and suspense, playing without spectacular shadows, textures, and lighting tends to be a letdown. F.E.A.R. is definitely a game that will sell quite a few video cards.

Much to our benefit, F.E.A.R. comes with a built-in performance test. This saved us an enormous amount of time in having to come up with our own reproducible test. Monolith designed the test mainly to stress video cards, and it does so magnificently. We found the built-in test quite accurate for most components, but it doesn't hit the CPU with AI computations since it's still a timedemo at heart.

Since F.E.A.R. is a first person shooter, maintaining frame rates above forty frames per second will be essential. In our book, anything below an average of forty frames per second becomes unplayable when it comes to single player gameplay. If you plan to play online with other people, try to get the most powerful equipment you can afford to avoid dipping into dangerously low frame rates. Online play stresses the game far more than single player play, and you need higher frame rates to compete with live opponents. Our tests show that with a few key component upgrades you can have F.E.A.R. running quite smoothly. The key is to know what parts of your computer to upgrade.

Guide Sections

Expect F.E.A.R. to expose every single performance bottleneck in your system. We've divided our guide into four sections: video card, game settings, CPU, and memory. In each section, we return scores for a wide variety of hardware and mix in a dose of our own in-game experience to explain how our hardware changes affected gameplay.

Game Settings

F.E.A.R. can run quite well if you relax a few graphics settings. Even if you have the best computer on the block, we highly recommend not turning up every feature available. We experimented with the different in-game graphical settings to see which options affect performance the most.

Graphics

F.E.A.R already comes with steep hardware requirements to run well, and one place you don't want to skimp on is the video card. We tested the game with all the modern video cards to see how they perform in F.E.A.R.

CPU

F.E.A.R. requires a minimum of a 1.7GHz Pentium 4, which is rather paltry considering the multi-gigahertz processors available today. We didn't have a PCI Express-enabled test bed that had that slow of a CPU, but we did use our multiplier unlocked Athlon 64 FX-57 to see how well the game performs across different CPU speeds. We reduced the speed of our Athlon 64 down to 2.0GHz, and then further down to 1.4GHz to see how the CPU scaled with performance.

Memory

We varied the amount of system RAM (512MB, 1GB, and 2GB) on our test bed to see how much memory the game needs to run effectively.

Game Settings

F.E.A.R. can look good--really good, and you're going to need a beast of a computer, or at least a beast of a video card if you want to make it spectacular. In fact, some of the settings practically require two beastly video cards.

Without even getting into the particulars of resolutions and various antialiasing settings, we highly recommend disabling soft shadows. It's enabled by default in the maximum settings, but we recommend turning off the feature. Soft shadows will kill your performance, as evidenced by our two result charts. Simply by turning soft shadows off, you can nearly double the game's performance. Even if you have a deity-esque GeForce 7800 GTX, we don't recommend enabling soft shadows. If you have two, you might be able to get away with it.

F.E.A.R. comes with two different components to its settings section--computer and graphics. The game gives you the option to choose between maximum and minimum for both components. You can also go deeper inside and tweak further if you wish. For our tests, we used the default maximum, high, medium, low, and minimum settings. For the most part, you can leave the computer section on maximum and forget about it.

To get the most performance out of F.E.A.R., you should concentrate on the video card settings, which is also where you can find the soft shadows setting. As is usual with video card-dependent games, changing the resolution greatly affects performance. If you know what's good for you, don't go past 1024x768. High-resolution LCD owners are out of luck, because frame rate performance is abysmal at high resolutions.

As expected, lowering the video quality greatly improved performance. Maximum will be far too stressful for most computers to run well. But if you still want to try, go into the detailed settings and reduce the antialiasing and anisotropic filtering qualities by a bit. Also watch out for the texture quality setting, if you set it to maximum, expect to endure a great deal of hard drive churning and the frame rate hitches that go along with it.

Our Game Guides Editor Matthew Rorie had this to say about F.E.A.R.:

I've had some good and bad experiences with F.E.A.R. on a couple of different systems. Most curious was the thrashing issue on my work machine, a 3.6 GHz Pentium 4. Even with 1GB of RAM, I experienced a number of slowdowns on both the single-player demo and the full retail version. "Slowdown" might not be the right word; the game would just stop, sometimes for upwards of ten seconds, while the hard drive accessed data.

After trying both an ATI X800 XT and an Nvidia 7800 GT, I finally decided to set everything to minimum and see what was causing it. It turned out to be a familiar culprit: the texture resolution setting. Setting this to Maximum was a recipe for choppiness. Setting it to Medium solved most of the problems, save for the larger, open areas late in the game, where I finally just set it to Minimum and played through most of the rest of the game without a problem.

AMD Athlon 64 FX-57 CPU, Asus A8N SLI Deluxe, 1GB (512MB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 250GB Maxtor Maxline III SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Graphics Cards: GeForce 7800 GTX.

Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 81.84.

Video Card Performance

As we said earlier, F.E.A.R. will eat through video cards and still ask for seconds. If you keep resolutions low, you might be able to get away with a lesser video card, but the moment you switch over to 1600x1200 nothing aside from a pair of very powerful video cards will save you.

In a sense F.E.A.R. makes things easy on the consumer. If you want more performance, buy a better a video card. From our results, you’re virtually guaranteed better performance the moment you drop in a faster graphics processor. The more you spend on the video card, the faster F.E.A.R. will run. If you’re only planning on playing the single player portion of the game, anything that provides around an average of 40 to 50 frames per second will be adequate. If it’s multiplayer action you’re after, spend as much as you can safely afford.

F.E.A.R. supports the DirectX 8 rendering path, but we highly recommend you purchase a DirectX 9.0 video card to really take advantage of the game. If you play F.E.A.R. with a DirectX 8 video card, you’re really missing out on many of the features that the game has to offer. It’s almost like calling wiffle ball baseball. The game is the same, but you know it’s just not right.

AMD Athlon 64 FX-57 CPU, Asus A8N SLI Deluxe, 1GB (512MB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 250GB Maxtor Maxline III SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Graphics Cards: GeForce 7800 GTX, GeForce 7800 GT, GeForce 6800 GT, GeForce 6800, GeForce 6600 GT, GeForce 6200 TC, Radeon X1800 XT, Radeon X1800 XL, Radeon X1600 XT, Radeon X1300 Pro, Radeon X850 XT, Radeon X800 XL, Radeon X700 Pro, Radeon X600 Pro, Radeon X300 SE.

Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 81.84, Catalyst 5.10, Beta Catalyst.

CPU

The built-in performance test doesn't stress the CPU much according to the F.E.A.R. developers. The benchmark doesn't have any artificial intelligence testing to ensure that the benchmark functioned well for video cards.

We went ahead and performed a few tests of our own just playing the game with different CPU speeds, and found that the CPU has some impact on the game, but not enough to justify upgrading the CPU instead of the video card. If you're already set on the video card side, then spend some money on your CPU. But if you have a weak video card, a faster CPU won't help as much as a new video card if you want to improve frame rates.

AMD Athlon 64 FX-57 CPU, Asus A8N SLI Deluxe, 1GB (512MB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 250GB Maxtor Maxline III SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Graphics Cards: GeForce 7800 GTX.

Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 81.84.

Memory

The game loves its hardware, and memory is no exception. However, the built-in performance test doesn't show any perceptible performance difference, even when we loaded up the system with 2GBs of RAM.

In game testing showed us that there is a small, but noticeable difference in performance depending on how much memory you have in your system. You can probably get away with 512MB of RAM, but if you jump up to 1GB, new areas will load quicker on the screen. The extra RAM helps to mitigate the hitching because your computer won't have to hit the hard drive as much.

AMD Athlon 64 FX-57 CPU, Asus A8N SLI Deluxe, 2GB (1GB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 1GB (512MB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 512MB (256MB x 2) Samsung Memory, 250GB Maxtor Maxline III SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Graphics Cards: GeForce 7800 GTX.

Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 81.84.

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