Feature Article

How Well Does Watch Dogs Run on Low-Cost Gaming PCs?

Has your dog been neutered?

Back in April, before Microsoft announced that it would start selling Kinect-less Xbox Ones for $400, we built two gaming PCs for $550--roughly the cost of an Xbox One after taxes in North America, at the time. One PC was derived from AMD parts, and the other was a mix of Intel and Nvidia hardware. We put these machines up against the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, using cross-platform games as our benchmark, to see which platform offered the best performance per dollar. If you think capable gaming PCs are inherently expensive, the results might surprise you: for $550, you can build a gaming PC that outperforms both consoles, albeit ever so slightly in some cases.

Now that Watch Dogs is out, we figured this was a good opportunity to test our machines once again. Immediately, there was a problem: neither our AMD PC nor our Intel/Nvidia PC met the game's minimum requirements. The minimum hardware requirements for Watch Dogs weren't known by the time we got to work on the first project, and as it turned out, they are relatively lofty compared to other cross-platform games:

  • Graphics: DirectX 11 GPU with 1GB VRAM
  • Processor: Quad-core CPU
  • Memory: 6GB RAM

Watch Dogs ran on our machines as they were, but it wasn't pretty, so we had to consider upgrading their components. In keeping with our goal to spend as little money as possible, we upgraded the RAM in each machine and put our slightly enhanced rigs to the test. The results were a bit surprising.

Low-Cost AMD PC - Mark Walton

It's no secret that AMD users haven't had the best luck with Watch Dogs. Regardless of whether the company's comments about the inclusion of Nvidia's Gameworks technology and its effect on performance are true or not, it's clear from early benchmarks that comparable AMD hardware isn't performing as well as Nvidia's. It's also worth noting that the minimum specs for the game call for at least 6GB of RAM, so we had to drop in an extra 4GB stick to make sure we hit the spec.

Running the game on our budget AMD rig at 1080p with the standard drivers, we saw a real performance hit stepping up to anything above the medium settings preset. At high, the game is just about playable, while switching up to ultra results in one heck of a slide show.

Moving to the updated beta driver--released to relieve some of the issues--we see an improvement at high and ultra settings, although the latter still isn't smooth enough for Watch Dogs to be playable. Interestingly, using the beta driver at medium settings resulted in worse performance than with the official driver.

Clearly, there are still optimization issues to overcome, which will hopefully be resolved when the new driver gets a full release. Until then, if you can stomach a game that doesn't look as good as the next-gen console versions, the best 60fps performance on our budget rig came from the older driver at medium.

Low-Cost Intel PC - Peter Brown

The Pentium Dual-Core CPU that we chose for our Intel PC put it at a serious disadvantage when the time came to test Watch Dogs, and it didn't help that we were short on RAM, either. So we threw in another 4GB of RAM, but considering that we're trying to stay competitive with consoles, and the price of the Xbox One is no longer as high as it once was, we deemed it unreasonable to spend another $100-$200 to replace the CPU. That means that we went into this test without meeting the minimum hardware requirements for Watch Dogs, which didn't give us high hopes for the performance, but it solidified the conclusion that a $400 next-gen console is a great value.

Lo and behold, Watch Dogs runs on our modest Intel PC, even with the lackluster dual-core CPU. But even though it's playable, the results were underwhelming. Never mind the ultra graphics test; Watch Dogs dips below 20fps on low settings. It's telling, as demonstrated in the video above, that there wasn't a dramatic difference in performance between low, medium, and high presets. One look at the Windows task manager illustrates that the CPU, which was always pushing 98 percent or more of its power, is the obvious culprit here. Sure, the GTX 750 Ti isn't a powerhouse, but it's not as flimsy as the Pentium CPU.

At the moment, Watch Dogs has a reputation for being poorly optimized, but in this case, we can only point our finger at our hardware.

What About Other Games?

If you're curious about what's inside these PCs, and how they handle other cross-platform games, check out our original story from April. Like in this test, we found that AMD has the advantage in the low-cost gaming PC space, but the difference in performance was far less pronounced with those games than it was with Watch Dogs. Regardless, now that both consoles are priced at $400 (before taxes), it's hard to beat the value of an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 where in-game performance is concerned.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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markypants

Mark Walton

Mark is a senior staff writer based out of the UK, the home of heavy metal and superior chocolate.
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780 comments
countofwilfore
countofwilfore

how did they play without the game freezing?   o.o

justerthought
justerthought

Which all goes to show you need to drastically overkill the PS4 spec if you want to beat it, because the PS4 is extremely efficient. The PC is carrying a heavy OS and a load of general purpose background processing. Most PC gamers do not have enough power to beat the PS4 without a costly investment. And it does not end there. The same thing will keep happening over and over as it always does. It takes a lot of money and hassle to stay at the top with PC gaming. Big egos come at a price. The master race is an expensive club.

I got out years ago and currently enjoying the power of the PS4, safe in the knowledge that future cutting edge games will work as expected when I pop the disc in without any hassle or extra expense.

dannydopamine8
dannydopamine8

Theres a difference between a game needing a beast pc.. and just being plain poorly optimized. Watch dogs is one of those poorly optimized games. I will have 60fps like butter inside a house than i will turn and face a certain part of a bedroom and my fps will plummet to 28 than right back up to 60. Very uneven performance.


And there are many decent graphic open world games that run buttery smooth. So i know its possible to look and run good at the same time. Sleeping dogs, far cry3, battlefield3(not4), just cause2, saints row3/4, crackdown, kingdoms of amalur..

asylumni
asylumni

Kudos to Mark and Peter for revisiting these machines and not just judge them against the rushed launch games and call it a day.  Curiously, you neglected to mention the resolution.  Did you stick with 1080p?  It's also pretty telling that less than two months after these machines were built, they already needed an upgrade.

Dickyslamm
Dickyslamm

"it's hard to beat the value of an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 where in-game performance is concerned." Yeah for WATCH DOGS the worst optimized game for PC in a long time. The PC´s you built are still stronger which are shown in the last article you made about this and all this shows is how Ubisoft takes care of the PC platform. Games like this are where rumors start that you have to build a 1000 - 2000 $ PC to beat the consoles. And it´s all a bunch of bull .  .

crateaday
crateaday

My tests for my $538 i3/750ti/8gb RAM machine were promising with Watch_Dogs.  I am not sure why the computers  Sadly, the game is so screwed up that it suffered from terrible frame rate stutters (just like most PC gamers who bought W_D).  Everything goes fine on the "high" presets until you get into a car and start driving.  Though I will wait for those clowns to make the patch before actually sitting down to play W_D for real, I will never buy from Ubisoft again.


Here are my W_D initial tests (before trying some fixes and tweaks): http://nextgenlastgen.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/watch_dogs/

It's pretty sad that this is the only game that gets LESS FRAMES when you lower the resolution to match a PS4's 900p.  I don't even know how that is possible...

lithus
lithus

Just goes to show that even with budgeting and cutting corners, its still too expensive to game on a PC. Twenty years ago it made sense but I can't imagine spending a couple-three thousand on a PC when consoles offer virtually the same experience. You can shove the fancy specs and PC lingo of why it's better, you're not paying for me to game.

MuddVader
MuddVader

It's funny because the low end AMD build is performing at about the same level as my PC on high.
r9 280x, fx 8320 @ 4.0, 8 gigs of ram

guru00007
guru00007

Give me a USD 400-500 Budget that can output the graphics fidelity of Killzone Shadow Fall on the PS4 that comes in par with Crysis 3 very high setting that requires a USD 2000 beast with a min GTX 780 or AMD R9 290 to run with average fps of 35-40 without shutters (Infamous Second Son, is another rigid example). The point here that people always compare apple-to-apple; the PS4 architecture with 8GB DDR5 in a unified system is by itself a next gen tech enclosed in a portable very small & silent console that will have a life cycle on average of 7 years; by then a PC owner will upgrade twice at least to match more demanding next gen games with more orientation towards targeting more VRAM as in the case of Watch Dogs (More to Come: The Witcher 3, Division etc..). See Asus and EVGA with the orientation of custom PCB of 6 GB VRAM GTX 780 … Bring the PS4 plug it with a 42 inch HD led TV and enjoy multi / single playing while resting on a couch with utmost laziness J with good optimization, graphic fidelity, and brilliant exclusives. Forget about incompatibility; updating drivers; obsolete technology; heating problems ; blue screens ; RMAs warranties ; parts replacements --- Enjoy! J (Note: I own a High End Gaming PC with an SLI 780 and I Game on 1440p too); I am saying from my personal experience and not a “fan boy” point of view. Please next time when you do a benchmark "Gamepot" mention a minimum FPS.

Hydrafiend
Hydrafiend

The issue with PC gaming is not so much whether you can build a PC that has a good shot of running games that are out now-the issue is will you be able to play the games on that PC that are current 2-3 years from now. 

RetryAgain
RetryAgain

Wait. You can listen to Rise Against while driving around?! And people said this game wasn't that great!

Seriously though, what I've seen of this game isn't too impressive.

taker254isback
taker254isback

Honestly, this game got super hyped up,... Its not all that. I bet u when GTAV comes to pc, its not gonna requier so much juice and its gonna be better than this game.

gplayer5
gplayer5

it's kind of hard to show the differences in performance on a poorly optimized game. No matter what hardware you run, the game always lags and shudders. I've even seen people who run dual GTX 780's say they experience these problems.That's when you know its the game, not the pc...

mixindave
mixindave

really hope ubisoft does some fixes that optimise the game better though  :)

mixindave
mixindave

i would say my pc is low cost when it comes to gaming.  old phenom quad core (955) and a gtx 660 runs on high at 30 frames+ 1080p.    happy

ishsgames
ishsgames

They should change the title to "How well does Watch Dogs run on Gamespot's PC's." 

Jovola
Jovola

They pumped the prices on pc components (ATI rig)


you can buy 8Gig ram for 40 $ they put 4Gig and said it was 40$

they bought 45$ case and 40$ psu and you can buy those for 20 each

they gave too much for cpu and too little for gpu


and then they reviewed it on their badly chosen rig

FuzzyPancakes
FuzzyPancakes

The test between the two PC's Intel and ADM wasn't really fair, across all of the settings on either PC, its difficult to tell how much better which PC ran from the other because you drive faster cars in one than you do the other, so the PC has to render in more objects quicker, which causes the FPS to continue to drop, but it sounds like the Intel PC might have been bottle necked and obviously didn't run as well, but its difficult to tell how much worse it ran, and some people do consider 15-30 FPS playable, even though it may be not as responsive, also if you turned off Fraps the FPS could have went slightly higher, causing it to look a little smoother (but only by like 3-10 fps at most, but it still helps) 

also I'm assuming you didn't record with Fraps, if you did that could explain the poor performance... and I would recommend you redo the test recording similar to a way you would record content from a console so it doesn't add strain on the CPU, GPU, ram and hard drive

leandrro
leandrro

i just got battlefield bad company 2 vietnam for 2 (two) dollars and im playing it on 1080p 60fps max settings on my super cheap pc

im going to flametorch some people on a vietnamese jungle, can a console do that?

leandrro
leandrro

watch dogs is close to medium and 900p on ps4 and close to low and 792p on xbox one, and both at 30fps

you are trying to get high or ultra at 60fps and 1080p for your "comparable" benchmark on pcs?

this is totally stupid, get you sh** toghether GS

riotinto876
riotinto876

Blaming a horribly optimized game on hardware and drivers is hardly anything to form an opinion off of.

lilflipp
lilflipp

Man Ubisoft totally pulled a Peter Molyneux on us. They totally Molyneud us. BOOM, Molyneud all up in our faces.

They even forgot to teach NPCs to ride bikes. Don't try to invade while on a motorcycle and "blend" it with the population.

DarkLight748
DarkLight748

The thing is that games are subsidised on console, so before you ask "how much more am I paying for hardware" you must first ask "how much less and I paying for games".


Watch_Dogs PS4 and Xbox One: £44.00

Watch_Dogs PC: £34.99

(both from amazon)


Xbox Gold: £39.94 for 1 year

PlayStation Plus: £39.00 for 1 year

PC: £0.00

nomailx
nomailx

quiet well on a gt 740M laptop with i7 3400.


This said! I hate PC gaming. Can't wait to get my PS4 next year (when price and games availability will be optimum). I hate to have to tweak graphic settings, i hate to install softwares like nvidia experience to do that, i hate the chunkiness and constant configurations and having to fix controller settings.


A gamer plays on Consoles. It's that simple. PC is for Nerds who like to "do stuff on pc", making them think they are in control.


You want gaming? Get a PS4. period. Stay as far as possible from PC.

taker254isback
taker254isback

Im running an athhlon iix4 @3.5 with 8 gb of ddr2 and a r9 270x on 1080p, i get 50 fps on high. Good enough.

soullessshadow
soullessshadow

@Jovola Depends what form factor of case you're going with and you should never skimp out on the PSU. Without that, your computer is just a bunch of useless parts. Don't get a cheap one that you'll think you're going to fry within the first couple days of using it. I spent 114 on mine. Also, I haven't seen 8 gig sticks of RAM for that price, but that's just me. I bought 16 and I think it cost me a little more than 150. Having said all this...I definitely spent more than 550 for my pc.

soullessshadow
soullessshadow

@FuzzyPancakes They could have recorded with a capture card. They don't necessarily have to use cpu power to record gameplay.

Leeric420
Leeric420

@leandrro thats also a game over 4 years old, you don't think a PS4 could run that? Get real....

elcivor
elcivor

@leandrro No, Watch Dogs on PS4 AND Xbox One are more running like the PC version on high, except for the exclusive PC settings (meaning standard AO and Temporal SMAA).

Ultra and the exclusive features (TXAA and HBAO+ and the like) is what sets PC apart from consoles, even if it's considered marginally better.

Those things you said can be better applied to the PS3 and Xbox 360, because it's like you don't even know what Medium and Low looks like on Watch Dogs.

taker254isback
taker254isback

They got payed to sell consoles, thats what they trying to do witht this article

leandrro
leandrro

@riotinto876 why "intelligent" and "independent" journalists jump into the "console is a better option" BS so easy?

leakingdogmilk
leakingdogmilk

@DarkLight748


Not buying crap games : £0

Not paying for online for just stupid cawodoody and battleshit : £0 

Money you saved from impulse purchase at steam sale : £0

Ferric24
Ferric24

@DarkLight748 Exactly. PC's cost more initially but it's backward compatible for 30 years and you get awesome deals on steam if your willing to wait a couple of months. I will play watch dogs, but I'm going to wait a couple of months were I can get it 50% off and by then it will be patched and optimized for PC and will run beautifully on my mid-range rig. 

chrischupp2
chrischupp2

I still play games on PS2 and old Xbox, PC can't look that amazing. I like games that work too

leandrro
leandrro

@nomailx good look aiming with a stupid joystick and aim assist (consolites aways-on cheat) on your ps4

utterlyotter
utterlyotter

@nomailx  Save your hate for things like genocide, starvation and such..

And maybe, maybe just a little for Fox News, Tea Partyists and persons who think that the Earth was created 6000 years ago and we coexisted happily with dinosaurs..



(just throwing in a little firebrand that hasn´t got a thing to do with this article, but wich bugs me enormously ;)

Ferric24
Ferric24

@nomailx I'm a lazy dude. Once you get a pc gaming rig built it's not complicated at all to game the way you want. Nividia has an app that actually optimizes all your games for you if you don't want to mess around with the settings. I recently replayed the mass effect trilogy. Imagine my delight when I figured out just by going to the control panel that I could apply fxaa to mass effect 1 and 2 so they actually have anti- aliasing and that I could play it in 1080p. Trust me, it makes mass effect 1 go from looking horrible to just mediocre. It was a big difference. Also imagine my delight when I discovered mods for Skyrim. Sure it took me a couple of hours to actually learn how to use Skyrim nexus but once I did I now have hundred of hours of new content to enjoy for free. Content that console gamers will never enjoy. PC gaming is a superior gaming experience period. 

lithus
lithus

You guys are worse than guys bragging about their cars.

Jovola
Jovola

@soullessshadow 

RAM

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_nr_p_89_5?rh=n%3A172282%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A541966%2Cn%3A193870011%2Cn%3A172500%2Cp_n_feature_four_browse-bin%3A2253866011%2Cp_n_feature_five_browse-bin%3A673263011%2Cp_89%3AHP&bbn=172500&sort=price-asc-rank&ie=UTF8&qid=1402175544&rnid=2528832011


I found it on amazon but I buy all stuff locally as there is much more chance to strike good deals


PSU I use is 15$, never bought expensive one. No PSU will protect your machine from power surge, not even an ups will do that it's just too fast. If it died i'd still have a 2 year warranty and even if it went out of it it, would still be less than 40$.

leandrro
leandrro

@greaseman1985 @DarkLight748 i can, i sold saints row 4 past month 

im selling far cry 3 and tomb raider 2013 if you want them  make just give me a number $ you want to pay

i got all 3 games for free with my graphics card of my "U$400 PC beats PS4" (search youtube)

riotinto876
riotinto876

@greaseman1985 @DarkLight748 Games bought for PC will be playable forever, regardless of "generations", so you will want to keep all your games. Plus horribly optimized and ported games get the pirated to hell treatment, which reduce their cost to $0.

Leeric420
Leeric420

@Ferric24 @DarkLight748 I like how no one of the PC fanboys factor in the used games for consoles, whether from gamestop, walmart or craigslist its not a huge gap as all you fools assume, getting real tired of people on here only thinking one way...

DarkLight748
DarkLight748

@Ferric24 @DarkLight748 You won't have to wait that long before the regular price is down 33% and there is a 66% or even 75% off sale.


Saint's Row IV, released 20th of August 2013 at £39.99, currently £29.99, last sale 66% off at £10.19.

lithus
lithus

Lol no one plays their games forever. And it's obvious you're not old enough to know new pcs will not be able to play older games. Try playing a DOS game for Windows 95 on a Win 7 and see what happens. You're just trying to justify blowing $2k to game

lilflipp
lilflipp

@DarkLight748 @Ferric24 Bought Tomb Raider for 4$. The Witcher 1 was on sale for 2$ and The Witcher 2 for 4$. Both Enhanced editions fully patched working flawlessly.

Sure they are a bit old, but tell me those two games combined aren't worth 6$, TELL ME DAT BRO!

riotinto876
riotinto876

@lithus With your statement you proved yourself to be both ignorant and stupid, so this will be my last reply. Know that everything you said is not only wrong, but absurd. It baffles me how people can make such confident statements when their knowledge of the subject is obviously non-existent.