Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth - AMD DX & Mantle Versus NVIDIA DX
Civilization is without a doubt one of the most successful strategy games ever released and chances are you are anticipating the release of Civilization: Beyond Earth this week. Civilization: Beyond Earth reimagines the expansive franchise in a new sci-fi setting where you are part of an expedition sent to find a home beyond Earth. This means you get to explore and colonize an alien planets to create a new civilization in space. Check out the Civilization: Beyond Earth intro cinematic below.
If you liked Civilization V you will most likely be a fan of Beyond Earth as it uses the same game engine and mechanics. The similarities pretty much stop there though as Beyond Earth has new units, new victories, a completely new tech tree, new leaders, new civilizations and a handful of things under the hood that are also brand spanking new. One of those features is that Firaxis Games became a development partner with AMD and us using the Mantle API for this game title. In April 2014 Fireaxis made the following statement about Mantle:
By reducing the CPU cost of rendering, Mantle will result in higher frame rates on CPU-limited systems. As a result, players with high-end GPUs will have a much crisper and smoother experience than they had before, because their machines will no longer be held back by the CPU. On GPU-limited systems, performance may not improve, but there will still be a considerable drop in power consumption. This is particularly important given that many of these systems are laptops and tablets. The reduced CPU usage also means that background tasks are much less likely to interfere with the game’s performance, in all cases.
Finally, the smallness and simplicity of the Mantle driver means that it will not only be more efficient, but also more robust. Over time, we expect the bug rate for Mantle to be lower than D3D or OpenGL. In the long run, we expect Mantle to drive the design of future graphics APIs, and by investing in it now, we are helping to create an environment which is more favorable to us and to our customers.
We were able to get early access to Civilization: Beyond Earth (Build 220.127.116.114) and figured that we can do a little AMD versus NVIDIA to see who has the best video card performance in this game title. We of course will be running both cards with DirectX 11 and then the AMD cards with the Mantle API.
You can't test Mantle with FRAPS, so we utilized the games built-in benchmark utility that gives you the frame times. After some light work in Microsoft Excel we were able to break out the Frame Per Second (FPS) scores that gamers are more accustomed to.
We will be testing at 3840x2160, 2560x1440 and 1920x1080 with 8X MSAA and Ultra image quality settings. Let's take a look at the test system and then see what Fireaxis, which is owned by triple-A publisher Take-Two Interactive, was able to do on this game title when it comes to overall performance and the Mantle API.
The Test System
Before we look at the numbers, let's take a brief look at the test system that was used. The Intel X99 platform that we used to test the Cilization: Beyond Earth is running the ASUS X99-Deluxe motherboard with UEFI/BIOS 0904 that came out on 9/22/2014. An Intel Core i7-5960X Haswell-E processor was used to power the system and a Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB SSD with 19nm MLC NAND and firmware M311 kept the Windows 8.1 installation chugging along. All NVIDIA graphics cards were tested with GeForce 344.48 WHQL drivers and the AMD Radeon cards were tested with Catalyst 14.9.2 Beta drivers.
Intel X99 Test Platform:
Here is a quick look at the CPU-Z information for our main test system that we'll be doing the testing on.
Let's get on to the testing!
Civilization: Beyond Earth Benchmark Performance
Civilization: Beyond Earth 3840x2160 (4K Ultra HD) Gaming Performance:
With Ultra image quality settings and 8xMSAA we figured that many of the high-end video cards on the market today would struggle to run Civilization: Beyond Earth at a 4K resolution, but we were shocked to see that wasn't the case on this game title. The graphics in the game don't look too punishing and the benchmarks show that is most certainly the case here today. Users with older video cards like the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 will find that they will be in need of an upgrade, but GeForce GTX 780 and above gamers will be able to run the game just fine at 30FPS and above at 4K. The AMD Radeon R9 290 and 290X video cards performed well at 4K resolutions and most certainly benefited from the Mantle as the API was able to improve the average FPS by a good 4-5 FPS. Even with the Mantle API the Radeon R9 290X with Catalyst 14.9.2 beta drviers was unable to catch the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 G1 Gaming video card with GeForce 344.48 WHQL drivers. It should also be noted that AMD has added overhead reducing DX optimizations to their DX11 drivers some months ago, but they have more optimizations coming for Civilization: Beyond Earth that are not in GeForce 344.48 drivers. We aren't sure how much this will boost NVIDIA GPU based cards in the future, but they say more improvements are in the works.
Civilization: Beyond Earth 2560x1440 (WQHD) Gaming Performance:
When we tested at the 2560x1440 screen resolution we found that the Sapphire Radeon R9 290X with the Mantle API enabled was able to top the performance chart. The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 G1 Gaming was just ahead of the Sapphire R9 290X when both cards were running DirectX 11. The XFX Radeon R9 290 Double Dissipation Edition video card was just a couple frames per second faster than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti reference card and the EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Superclocked 'Maxwell' video card. We were pleasantly surprised to see the MSI GeForce GTX 760 GAMING was able to average over 30 FPS at 1440p. This just goes to show that you can game at WQHD resolutions and don't need to spend a fortune on a video card to get a good gameplay experience.
Civilization: Beyond Earth 1920x1080 (1080P) Gaming Performance:
For those that are still gaming at 1080P you shouldn't have much of an issue with most high-end graphics cards as the MSI GeForce GTX 760 GAMING was averaging 46.84 FPS and the relatively old NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 reference card was able to turn in a very respectable score of 58.15 FPS. The Sapphire Radeon R9 290X video card turned in basically the same scores at 1440P that it did at 1080P, which is a bit odd and we don't have an explanation for that. The XFX Radeon R9 290 DD performance improved as the screen resolution went from 2560x1440 to 1920x1080, but for some reason we didn't see that on the Radeon R9 290X and we triple checked the numbers and they were spot on.
The AMD Mantle API appears to improve gaming performance by about 12% at 4K resolutions on the Radeon R9 290 and 290X video cards. This is a pretty substantial performance improvement and one that is most certainly welcomed at such a large resolution. The bad news for AMD is that the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 is a beast of a card and even with the Mantle API, the AMD Radeon R9 290X has a hard time surpassing NVIDIA's flagship video card.
We are going to conclude this performance article about Civilization: Beyond Earth as there is no reason to spend more hours benchmarking and testing various cards. We've had access to the game title for just a couple days and there have been three builds of the game released since we have begun trying it out. NVIDIA also came out with GeForce 344.48 WHQL drivers yesterday
, which we used for our performance tests today. NVIDIA has driver optimizations in the works, AMD will be releasing a public version of the Catalyst 14.9.2 beta drivers that we were using and there are more game patches coming from Firaxis on launch day. Nothing like new drivers and a day zero patch to make your benchmark numbers obsolete just days after they are posted!
Civlization: Beyond Earth is available to pre-load now and releases this Friday, October 24th. Gamers who have already pre-ordered Civilization: Beyond Earth will receive the Exoplanet Map Pack at launch, which adds six custom maps to the game's lineup. The #BeyondEarth
launch event has also begun and you can watch it live here