BioShock Hardware Performance Guide

Find out what hardware you need to play BioShock at its very best.

Comments

Related
BioShock
Follow

From the moment you touch land in BioShock, you get the feeling that you've stepped into a scientifically and philosophically misguided world where Leave It to Beaver never drifted out of the psyche. The game takes place in underwater city that's about to crack open from numerous internal and external forces. Water, understandably, plays an enormous role in the game as you'll spend lots of time splashing through it, running around it, and sometimes using it to electrocute your enemies. The developer spared no expense in making it utterly drinkable for the eyes. You're going to need a decent rig to get everything looking just right in BioShock, but even more modest systems can provide a fantastic experience once you knock down a few settings.

We used the third-party FRAPs video program to benchmark BioShock because the game doesn't have a built-in test. We created a 30-second run through Rapture's medical facilities for our test. The tour passes through wide-open spaces (or, at least, as wide as they get in BioShock), small corridors, and dark, shadow-ridden rooms. Between these varied environments the test run should be a fair representation of the game.

We've divided our guide into four main sections that have the biggest impact on game performance: game settings, video cards, processors, and system memory.

Game Settings
There are definitely a few settings you should tweak if you don't have an up-to-date computer. You can reclaim a lot of performance if you're willing to make a few compromises. Fortunately, the game still looks fantastic at even the lowest-quality settings. We enabled and disabled each setting to see how they affected frame rates, and we've also taken graphics-comparison shots to show you what they do.

Graphics
There's no getting around it: BioShock demands a good video card. The minimum specs require at least a GeForce 6600 GT, but we'd recommend going few notches higher. Find out how the game performs across a variety of video cards, and in Windows Vista with DirectX 10.

CPU
We've found that BioShock benefits from multicore processors. If you're on an aging Pentium 4 or a slower Athlon 64, you might have something to worry about.

Memory
BioShock requires 1GB of memory according to the developer, but we tested the game with 512MB, 1GB, and 2GB of RAM to see how much memory the game really needs to function. The game does load with 512MB of system memory, but the resultant chugging makes the game almost unplayable.

Sample System Performance

We put together a few sample systems to show how the game performed using real-world computers. Our aging 2.4GHz Pentium 4 system barely managed to run the game at higher graphics settings. We had to knock the graphical settings down to medium and set the resolution to 800x600 to get the game in a playable state. Our single-core AMD Athlon 64 4000+ with Radeon X1650 XT gave us a decent experience at lower resolutions, but we did notice that the system took a bit longer to load textures, which often froze us for a few seconds when we entered new areas. The dual-core Athlon 64 FX-60 paired with the Radeon X1900 XT 256MB performed very well, and the game was more than playable at 1280x1024 with high-quality settings. Both of our Intel Core 2 setups paired with GeForce 8800 series cards had no issues whatsoever running BioShock. We cranked up the resolution and the settings with nary a hiccup.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel Core 2 E6600, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB XXX Edition, beta Nvidia ForceWare 163.44.
Athlon 64 FX-60, Athlon 64 4000+, Asus A8R32 MVP Deluxe, 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Cards: Radeon X1900 XT 256MB, Radeon X1650 XT 256MB, beta ATI Catalyst Hot Fix 8.401.1.
Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz, Asus P4C800, 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 6800 128MB, beta Nvidia ForceWare 163.44.

Game Settings

Unless you have a top-of-the-line computer, you're going to have to relax some of the settings to get adequate performance in BioShock. The game's strong art design still makes the game look great even if you disable most of the advanced graphics settings. As usual, enabling shadows takes a bite out of your frame rates. Consider disabling High Detail Shaders next. However, the shaders add a tremendous amount of detail to the game, so you might want to trade off and drop the resolution a notch or two before you lose shaders.

You can also opt to use BioShock's preset quality settings--high, medium, and low. High, as expected, leaves all the settings enabled, and low disables pretty much everything, while at the same time enabling Force Global Lighting, which actually reduces the quality of lighting in the game. According to the manual, Global Lighting disables shadows for characters and dynamic objects, as well as enabling "a one-pass inaccurate lighting method." The medium setting disables High Detail Shaders and Real Time Reflections, and takes the sliders for textures and actor detail down to medium. Check out our image comparison shots on the next page to see each graphics setting in action.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GTX, Nvidia ForceWare 163.44

Image Quality Comparison

High Quality vs. Medium Quality

Medium Quality vs. Low Quality

High Quality Textures vs. Medium Quality Textures

Medium Quality Textures vs. Low Quality Textures

Shadows Maps Enabled vs. Shadow Maps Disabled

Distortion Enabled vs. Distortion Disabled

Image Quality Comparison Continued

Real Time Reflection Enabled vs. Real Time Reflection Disabled

High Detail Shaders Enabled vs. High Detail Shaders Disabled

High Detail Post Processing Enabled vs. High Detail Post Processing Disabled

Force Global Lighting Enabled vs. Force Global Lighting Disabled

Actor Detail High vs. Actor Detail Medium

Actor Detail Medium vs. Actor Detail Low

Image Quality Comparison Continued

Our original DirectX9 and DirectX10 comparison shots didn’t show the differences due to a glitch in the game. After forcing BioShock to run in DirectX9 via a command line switch, we got to see just how different the game looks. Some effects, like sharper shadows, are subtle. Once we waded into the water the differences were stark. Even smoke rolling effects are obviously different in how they interact with objects in the game. Also pay particular attention to the cash register in the first set of shots, the DX10 version has much more detail than the DX9 version.

DirectX 9 vs. DirectX 10 Set 1

DirectX 9 vs. DirectX 10 Set 2

DirectX 9 vs. DirectX 10 Set 3

Video Cards

BioShock, not surprisingly, performs better on more expensive video cards, but they aren't required. We could get almost all of the video cards we tested to run reasonably well at high quality, but we had to drop the resolution to get them to do so. Note that BioShock requires a DirectX 9.0c or better video card, which will be a problem for PC owners who are still rockin' cards from 2003.

The game had noticeably higher frame rates in Windows XP than in Windows Vista. According to our quick-and-dirty image quality comparison, you probably aren't missing out on very much by sticking with DirectX 9 instead of DirectX 10. The Radeon HD 2900 XT took an enormous performance hit when we moved from Windows XP to Windows Vista; our guess is that ATI will have a patch out shortly. In addition, the Radeon HD 2900 XT CrossFire failed to load the game properly, owners will likely have to wait for a new driver release to enable functionality.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, eVGA 680i SLI, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB XXX Edition, GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB, GeForce 8600 GT 256MB, GeForce 7900 GS 256MB, GeForce 7600 GT 256MB, GeForce 6800 128MB, GeForce 6600GT 128MB, Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB, Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB, Radeon HD 2600 Pro 256MB, Radeon HD 2400 XT 256MB, Radeon X1950 XTX 512MB, Radeon X1900 XT 256MB, Radeon X1950 Pro 256MB, Radeon X1650 XT 256MB, Radeon X1300 XT 256MB. Graphics Drivers: beta Nvidia ForceWare163.44, beta ATI Catalyst Hot Fix 8.401.1.

CPU

Our Intel Core 2 and dual-core Athlon 64 processors ran BioShock with ease, but performance dropped once we switched over to our single-core Athlon 64. It also seems like having at least two processing cores is more important than overall processor speed. Our 2.4GHz and 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors had the exact same framerate.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel Core 2 Duo E6600, Intel Core 2 Duo E6300, Intel 975XBX2, AMD Athlon 64 FX-60, AMD Athlon 64 4000+, ASUS A8R32-MVP Deluxe, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GTX, beta Nvidia ForceWare 163.44.

Memory

Even though the game requires 1GB of RAM to run, we went ahead and tested it with 512MB of RAM. BioShock did run, but we experienced a lot of stuttering, as the game struggled each time we turned a corner or entered a new room. The game played great when we jumped up to the recommended 1GB. Moving up to 2GB of RAM didn't affect our performance significantly.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), Corsair XMS Memory 1GB (512MB x 2), Corsair XMS Memory 512MB, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, beta Nvidia ForceWare 163.44.

Systems

We put together a few sample systems to show how the game performed using real-world computers. Our aging Pentium 4 paired with a GeForce 6800 barely managed to run the game. We had to knock the graphical settings down to medium and set the resolution to 800x600 to achieve playability. Our single-core AMD Athlon 64 4000+ paired with a Radeon X1650 XT gave us a decent experience at lower resolutions, although we did notice that the system took a bit longer to load textures, which left us walking around in a blurry mess for a few seconds when we entered new areas. The dual-core Athlon 64 FX-60 paired with the Radeon X1900 XT 256MB performed very well, and the game was more than playable at 1280x1024 with high-quality settings. Both of our Intel Core 2 setups paired with 8800 series cards had no issues whatsoever running BioShock. We cranked up the resolution and the settings with nary a hiccup.

System Setup:
Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel Core 2 E6600, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB XXX Edition, beta Nvidia ForceWare 163.44.
Athlon 64 FX-60, Athlon 64 4000+, Asus A8R32 MVP Deluxe, 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card:Radeon X1900 XT 256MB, Radeon X1650 XT 256MB, beta ATI Catalyst Hot Fix 8.401.1.
Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz, Asus P4C800, 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 6800 128MB, beta Nvidia ForceWare 163.44.

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

  •   View Comments (0)
    Join the conversation
    There are no comments about this story