Unreal Tournament 3 Hardware Performance Guide

Fast-action first-person shooters like Unreal Tournament 3 require brute speed. Find out what you need to do to run Unreal at a blazing pace.

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Unreal Tournament 3, based on Epic's Unreal Engine 3, has been in development for years. BioShock, Gears of War, and Mass Effect also use Unreal Engine 3 yet preceded Unreal Tournament 3's arrival by a few months, and almost a year in the case of Gears of War. The games may all use the same engine, but they have very different hardware requirements. Whereas BioShock requires powerful hardware to run, Unreal Tournament 3 doesn't leave anyone out of the fun. Mid-range CPUs and video cards from two years ago can run the game just fine, and with marvelous image quality. Of course, if you want more performance, higher resolutions, and antialiasing, more power is the way to go.

We tested Unreal Tournament 3 using the UT3Bench utility. The utility uses multiple demos, but we stuck with the Suspense flyby demo for all of our performance tests. The flyby takes a 60-second aerial tour of one of the larger vehicle-based multiplayer maps. All results are the average of three test runs.

Game Settings
Unreal Tournament 3 doesn't have too many settings, but what you do select makes a big difference on how the game performs and looks.

Graphics
The minimum specs for Unreal Tournament 3 call for a GeForce 6800, and it runs surprisingly well with one. We tested the game with more than 20 video cards, and checked to see how performance varied across three different operating systems: Windows XP, Windows Vista 32-bit, and Windows Vista 64-bit.

CPU
If you've got a CPU made in the past three years, you probably won't have too much trouble running Unreal Tournament 3. We tested out some of the more recent processors on the market to show you what an upgrade might do for you.

Memory
Unreal Tournament 3 requires 512MB of RAM, but you're definitely going to need more than that if you want to run the game at higher image-quality settings. We tested Unreal Tournament 3 with varying amounts of memory across Windows XP, Window Vista 32-bit, and Windows Vista 64-bit.

Systems

We built a few sample systems to show how the game performs using real-world computers put together with parts from past hardware generations. Our slowest machine, a 3.0GHz Pentium 4 paired with a GeForce 6800, didn't churn out a playable frame rate at 1600x1200 with maximum quality, but we got it humming along just fine after reducing the resolution and tweaking the quality settings. We also had to tone down the settings on our single-core AMD Athlon 64 4000+ and Radeon X1650 XTsystem to get it running smoothly. The dual-core Athlon 64 FX-60 and Radeon X1900 XT 256MB system ran the game with high-quality settings just fine. Our Intel Core 2 Duo setups also ran Unreal Tournament 3 at exceedingly high frame rates.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel Core 2 E6600, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista 32-bit. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB XXX Edition, beta Nvidia ForceWare 169.12.

Athlon 64 FX-60, 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: Radeon X1900 XT 256MB, Radeon X1650 XT 256MB, ATI Catalyst 7.11.

Intel Pentium 4 3.0GHz, Asus P4C800, 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MBx2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 6800 128MB, beta Nvidia ForceWare 169.09.

Game Settings

Unreal Tournament 3 probably has the fewest image quality options we've ever seen. Aside from resolution, there are only two settings you can adjust to increase performance: texture and world detail. Both function on a five-point scale; the higher the number, the better the image quality. Of the two, adjusting world detail yields the most performance. If you want to see large performance gains, you're going to have to drop world detail settings down to 2, although it does take its toll on image quality.

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 7900 GS, Nvidia ForceWare 169.09.

Image Comparison

As we discovered on the previous page, settings 3, 4, and 5 share similar performance profiles. The comparison images also indicate that they look quite similar.

Mouse over each caption to change images.

World Detail and Texture Settings

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World Detail Settings

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Texture Settings

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Video Cards

You likely won't need to run out and buy a better video card to play Unreal Tournament 3. The game runs on just about anything if you're willing to compromise on resolution.

Windows XP performs better than Windows Vista if you have an Nvidia based video card. The difference between the operating systems was marginal when we switched over to the Radeon HD 2900 XT.

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 GT 512MB, 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, Radeon HD 3870 512MB, Radeon HD 3850 256MB, Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB, Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB, Radeon HD 2400 XT 256MB, Radeon X1900 XT 256MB, Radeon X1650 XT 256MB, Radeon X1300 XT 256MB, Radeon X800 256MB. Graphics Drivers: beta Nvidia ForceWare 169.09, beta Nvidia Forceware 169.12, ATI Catalyst 7.11

CPU

We tested Unreal Tournament 3 across a broad range of CPUs. We also tweaked the CPU frequencies to see how clock speeds affected performance. The game scaled accordingly at lower resolutions, where the game is more likely to be CPU-bound. Faster clock speeds produced better performance; however, more cores didn't yield large performance gains. All but the slowest of our CPUs became video card-bound at high resolutions. Unless you have an older CPU, your best bet is to upgrade your video card if you’re looking for better performance.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel Core 2 QX6600 Intel Core 2 Duo E6600, Intel Core 2 Duo E6300, Intel 975XBX2, AMD Phenom 9900, Asus M3A32 MVP Deluxe, 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. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GTX, beta Nvidia ForceWare 169.09.

Memory

The Unreal Tournament 3 system requirements list recommends 512MB of RAM in Windows XP and 1GB of RAM in Windows Vista. The 512MB minimum barely ran the game at maximum-quality settings. Overall, we didn't see any measurable performance gain once we went past 1GB in Windows XP. We highly recommend going with 2GB of RAM on Windows Vista, given that the load times with 1GB of RAM weren't exactly stellar.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 3GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2 + 512MBx2), 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), Corsair XMS Memory 1GB, 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MBx2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista 32-bit, Windows Vista 64-bit. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, Nvidia ForceWare 169.09 and 169.12.

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