The Sims 2 Hardware Performance Guide

If you need help tuning the Sims 2 check out our performance guide.

Comments

GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.

The Sims 2 runs contrary to the normal gaming upgrade model that usually calls for a bigger video card. With most games, you can get away with upgrading your graphics to squeeze out better performance. But with The Sims 2, you can kick that whole way of thinking to the curb. It would honestly be hard to find another game that depended less on the video card. You can play the game on a GeForce 7800 GTX and a GeForce 6600 GT and you won't notice a difference in performance. The Sims 2 lives and breathes on raw CPU power; of course, copious amounts of RAM never hurt either.

Testing The Sims 2 has proven to be quite difficult. The gaming benchmark rulebook dictates that each individual run needs to be reproducible and provide stable frame rates. If you've played The Sims 2, you know that the sims pretty much have a mind of their own. You can manage one of your sims, but the rest will go along their merry ways, painting, jumping up and down, and making repeated visits to the restroom. They'll even interact with each other and have conversations independent of any action on your part. The built-in automation hits the CPU hard and affects performance considerably. It also makes it impossible to create an entirely reproducible benchmark.

To try to minimize variance, we limited our input to simply moving the camera around in a set pattern across the Cappulet house, a preset house that comes with the game. Other houses and areas of the game could be more taxing, but for the sake of simplicity, we chose a moderately sized house with four sims in it. We went from room to room in a set circular order as we checked up on our little sims, pausing at each spot for a few seconds. For each test, we performed our minute-long circuit three times and took the most consistent results reported by Fraps.

Frame rates don't matter too much in this game since there isn't a whole lot of fast-paced sims action. You really only need 20-30fps to watch your sims, but frame rates plummet once you try to move the camera around. As soon as you stop moving the camera, the game smoothes out. Even with the best hardware, none of our testbeds proved to be entirely hitch or stutter free while moving the camera.

Guide Sections

The Sims 2 pushes certain computer components to their limits, but tweaking some of the settings and an upgrade or two will help you get the game in playable shape. We've divided our guide into four sections: video card, game settings, CPU, and memory. In each section, we try a wide variety of hardware and report performance results with a dose of our own in-game experience mixed in.

Game Settings
With most modern machines you're able to set all the graphics settings to high and enjoy the scenery. However, if you can count the dust rings on the inside of your computer, you might want to tone down some of the quality settings to improve frame rates. We experimented with the different in-game graphical settings to see which options affected performance the most.

Graphics
The Sims 2 has very reasonable hardware requirements, but we wouldn't necessarily want to play the game on a machine with bare minimum specifications. We tested the game with everything from the top-of-the-line GeForce 7800 GTX to the don't-look-at-my-video-card-it's-hideous GeForce 4 MX 440.

CPU
The Sims 2 only asks for a Pentium III 800MHz CPU. We didn't have a test bed that had that slow of a CPU, but we did use our Athlon 64 X2 4800+ and an unlocked Pentium 4 3.4GHz to test. To see how well the game performs across different CPU speeds, we reduced the speed of our Pentium 4 3.4GHz down to 2.8GHz, and then further down to 1.6GHz to see how the CPU affected performance.

Memory
We varied the amount of system RAM (256MB, 512MB, 1GB, and 2GB) on our test bed to see if memory has an affect on frame rates.

Graphical Settings

The Sims 2 comes with tons of eye candy. High-resolution textures, advanced lighting features, improved particle effects, and numerous other options help to make the game look great, but all these settings come with performance-related costs.

Our tests showed that resolution only marginally affects performance. The game might not scale so well on a weaker video card, but feel free to kick up the resolution if you have a decently powerful video card.

We tested each graphical setting by itself to see how it affected performance and then compared it to tests with all the settings turned up to their maximum, as well as down to their minimum. As expected, most of the settings affected performance to some degree, but the only one we'd really recommend looking at is shadows. With shadows cranked to its fullest, our test bed fell nearly 25 percent off its top performance levels.

The Sims 2 High Quality
The Sims 2 High Quality
The Sims 2 Low Quality
The Sims 2 Low Quality

Settings located outside the graphical section also affected performance. View distance affected performance considerably when it was set to its maximum. You can easily get away with the lowest view distance for maximum performance and suffer almost no consequences since everything you want to look at is already centered for you.

Enabling neighbors also greatly reduced performance. This setting renders all houses and trees located outside of your sims' primary residence. If you're looking to get a bump up in speed, consider getting rid of the neighbors.

We tested each setting by itself to see how it affected performance by comparing it to tests with all the settings turned to their maximum, and their minimum. As expected, most of the settings affect performance to some degree. The only one we'd really recommend looking at is shadows. With shadows cranked to their fullest, our testbed lost nearly twenty-five percent of its maximal performance.

Settings not located in the graphical section also affect performance to certain degrees. View distance affects performance considerably when set to its maximum. Due to the gameplay, you can easily get away with the lowest view distance, for maximum performance, and suffer almost no consequences.

Turning on neighbors affects performance greatly. This setting renders all houses, and trees located outside of your Sim's primary residence. We didn't fully test this setting because it does affect gameplay a little, but if you're looking to get a bump up in speed it's a good setting to disable.

AMD Athlon 64 4800+ X2 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 GT.

Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 78.01.

Video Card Performance

EA and Maxis claim that The Sims 2 will "run" on a 32MB video card that has texture and lighting features. That statement essentially means that the game will run with a GeForce 2, which came out sometime in 2000. We don't actually have a GeForce 2, but we do have a GeForce 4 MX, which is sufficiently dusty enough to test EA's claims. We went ahead and threw the GeForce 4 MX in along with a slew of other more modern video cards to see what would happen. We used a PCI Express system paired with an Athlon X2 4800+ and an AGP-based 3.4GHz Pentium 4 to perform our experiments.

On the PCI Express side of things, all the modern video cards fared quite well. In fact, the performance scores look a little too uniform. The CPU is truly the limiting factor for The Sims 2. If you're looking to improve performance, and already have a modern video card, you should then spend your money on a CPU upgrade. If you're still looking to speed things up, then pick up a faster hard drive or even more RAM. Buying a faster video card will give you little to no boost in performance.

We tested a couple of older AGP video cards, and they managed to provide passable frame rates because the game tones down graphics settings considerably when using these video cards. We spoke with engineers from Maxis and they told us that video cards not capable of DirectX 8 or 9 will drop down to DirectX 7. When running in DirectX 7 mode, the graphics will change slightly. You'll notice that the water, lighting, shadows, and small details all look quite different. If you're looking to improve your frame rates by a bit you too can force DirectX 7 mode by entering "boolprop useshaders false" into a command prompt (CTRL+SHIFT+C). To revert the game back to its original state simply enter "boolprop useshaders true".

ATI's cards performed considerably worse than Nvidia's in The Sims 2. It was even more apparent when we were playing the game, as the frame rates didn't demonstrate the amount of hitching that really occurred. We spoke to some engineers at Maxis and found out that the performance difference is a recent development. Before, both brands of video cards performed more or less equally, but with ATI's latest driver release, performance took a nosedive. It isn't certain where the problem lies, but we expect to see it remedied shortly. We also wanted to test with the Radeon 9800 Pro, but Fraps wouldn't register a frame rate during our testing.

In short, if you have a DX9 video card with four or less pixel pipelines and less than 128MB of RAM, you could stand to benefit from a faster video card with more memory. Also consider forcing the game to run in DX7 with the "boolprop useshaders false" command.

AMD Athlon 64 4800+ X2 CPU, Asus A8N SLI Deluxe, 1GB (512MB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 250GB Maxtor Maxline III SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz, Asus P4C800-E, 1GB (512MB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 250GB Maxline III SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Graphics Cards: GeForce 7800 GT, GeForce 6800 GT, GeForce 6600 GT, GeForce 6200 TC, Radeon X800 XL, Radeon X700, GeForce 4 Ti4600, GeForce 4 MX 440.

Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 78.01, Catalyst 5.8.

CPU Performance

If there were a game that needed CPU power more than The Sims 2, we'd be surprised. Even with a moderately powerful 3.4GHz Pentium 4, The Sims 2 can barely eke out 40 frames per second. When we pumped the resolution up to 1600x1200 to try to tax the video card, the frame rate counter didn't budge one bit. The same pattern followed us as we used slower grade CPUs. Our GeForce 6800 Ultra begged for something to do, but The Sims 2 diverted all the CPU power to the AI and other game engines. The only time the video card got to flex its muscle was during the neighborhood flyby. During that sequence, we regularly saw frame rates reach into the hundreds; but once we loaded a house to play the game, we were hard pressed to break 60 frames per second.

We highly recommend upgrading your CPU to the best you can afford if you're looking to improve game performance. You can easily pair a powerful CPU with a mid-range video card for excellent performance in The Sims 2.

Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz, Asus P4C800-E, 1GB (512MB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 250GB Maxline III SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Graphics Cards: GeForce 6800 Ultra.

Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 78.01.

Memory Performance

As much as The Sims 2 loves CPU power, it also likes RAM. Unlike other games, where more memory helps with hitching and stutters, no reasonable amount of RAM will stop those problems with The Sims 2. Even with our system loaded up with 2GB of RAM, we still experienced frame rate drops due to hard drive accesses. 512MB of RAM seems to be more than sufficient to run The Sims 2.

As we've shown numerous times, even if the game says it can run with 256MB of RAM, it doesn't necessarily translate to a playable experience. We had to turn all the settings to their absolute minimum to get the game to run even moderately well. With the game set at high quality on a 256MB machine, it'd be an overstatement to call the result a slide show.

To reduce the amount of hitching due to hard drive accesses, we'd highly recommend defragmenting your hard drive. In fact, we'd recommend defragmenting your drive immediately after installing the game. A defragmented hard drive will have reduced seek times, and consequently less hitching. If you're still not satisfied, go out and pick up a faster hard drive, like the 10,000RPM Western Digital Raptor. If you have a 5,400RPM hard drive you will definitely see an improvement in performance if you upgrade to either a 7,200RPM or 10,000RPM hard drive.

AMD Athlon 64 4800+ X2 CPU, Asus A8N SLI Deluxe, 250GB Maxtor Maxline III SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Memory: 2GB (1GB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 1GB (512MB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 512MB (256MB x 2) Samsung Memory, 256MB (128MB x 2) Samsung Memory.

Graphics Cards: GeForce 7800 GT.

Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 78.01.

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

Join the conversation
There are no comments about this story