Call of Duty 4 Hardware Performance Guide

Find out how Call of Duty 4 runs on our stable of hardware and what we did to improve frame rates.

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Call of Duty 4 leaves the oft-played battlefields of World War II behind and enters the modern age. The game takes place in current hot spots around the world, rendering the ravaged landscapes with the right amount of grit and a great amount of reality. You wouldn't expect a game that looks as good as Call of Duty 4 to run well without the best hardware, but the developers made the game accessible on a broad range of computers. Call of Duty 4 still manages to look decent even at its lowest quality settings. However, multiplayer battles--the likes of which Call of Duty 4 is famous for--will tax even the best of computers. The key to making Call of Duty 4 run really well is to upgrade evenly across all the major component classes and to select the appropriate settings.

We used FRAPs and the opening sequence of The Bog mission to measure frame rates in our benchmark tests. The Bog takes place on a war-torn stretch of road with flaming wrecks, flares flying through the sky, and scores of friendly units charging. Occasionally, those friendly units are also taking cover from a substantial amount of enemy fire. The intense map acts well as a worst-case test scenario for how the game might perform.

Game Settings
Call of Duty 4 allows you to pick and choose from a host of options. We identified three guaranteed frame rate killers; two of which, you can probably live without.

Graphics
You can run Call of Duty 4 on a GeForce 6800, but it just won't look or play all that great. We tested more than 20 video cards to help you figure out what GPU best matches your budget and performance needs.

CPU
Ditch the single-core processor. Call of Duty 4 requires a dual-core processor to run well. We tested three different kinds of Intel processors and three AMD processors to help you decide what's enough versus what's overkill.

Memory
The Call of Duty 4 system requirements state that the game only requires 512MB of RAM to run, but you're going to have to turn down all the settings to get the game to run well with that little memory. A bump up to 1GB of RAM solves most of the problems, but we went ahead and checked out what upgrading to 2GB, or even 3GB of RAM, can do for performance.

Systems

We put together a few sample systems to show how the game performed using real-world computers. Our slowest machine, a 3.0GHz Pentium 4 paired with a GeForce 6800, choked out a barely playable result at the lowest quality settings and ran a slide show at the pace of one frame every 10 seconds when we tried increasing the settings. Our single-core AMD Athlon 64 4000+ paired with a Radeon X1650 XT performed surprisingly well at the highest quality settings, but we did have to relax a few of them to get the system to play nicely. The dual-core AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 paired with the Radeon X1900 XT 256MB ran the game at a more than playable frame rate with maximum quality. Both of our Intel Core 2 rigs ran the game just fine and could handle even higher resolution, as well as antialiasing settings.

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 169.21.

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, ATI Catalyst 7.11.

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 169.09.

Game Settings

Call of Duty 4 has many settings you can toy around with to improve performance. Shadows, as usual, take a heavy toll on performance. The other two settings that sap performance are softened smoke edges and specular maps. These three settings are the surefire performance killers. We recommend ditching softened smoke edges to reclaim a decent amount of performance because the visual difference is rather subtle. Call of Duty 4 isn't a game like F.E.A.R. or Doom 3 where disabling shadows ruins the game, so feel free to disable the setting if you need a few more frames. Specular maps, on the other hand, really help make the game pop, and as such, we'd leave the setting enabled unless you're trying to squeeze out every last frame. You can see how specular maps affect image quality in our image comparisons on the next page.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.10 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, Nvidia ForceWare 169.09.

Image Comparison

Mouse over each caption to change images.

Shadow Quality

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Enabled Disabled

Specular Map

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2
Enabled Disabled

Texture Quality

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4
Extra High Normal Low

Soften Smoke Edges

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Enabled Disabled

Video Cards

Call of Duty 4 will run on a lot of older video cards, but a GPU upgrade will go a long way if you're looking for more performance. Frame rates increase as you give the game more video card power. It's a straight game of how much you're willing to spend.

Windows Vista suffers in comparison to Windows XP. The ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT and the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX took a 15 percent performance hit when we made the switch from Windows XP to Windows Vista.

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