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 Hardware and Tweaking for Vanguard

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PostSubject: Hardware and Tweaking for Vanguard   Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:14 am

Reposted from Silky Venom's Fozzik's Hardware Section - Author Gargen - Very good information that's still valid today although it was written nearly a year ago. I left all the links in place so everything should work!

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For general operating system (i.e. Windows) tweaks, I'll defer to the Fozzik's Hardware Happy Windows Guide and focus more specifically on Vanguard. While I'm doing the intro, I'd also like to point new system builders to Fozzik's recommendations. Also, before I get in to the info on each specific component, I want to cover two things. These two things can bring even the uberest drool machine to its knees.

1) Defragment your hard drive! If you don't know how to do this, here's how. Right-click on "My Computer" and select "manage". In the left box, under Storage, there will be an item called "Disk Defragmenter". Select the defragmenter and then click the "Defragment" on the right side. If I needed to tell you how to do this, it's likely that it will take several hours (maybe even 5-8 hours) so I would recommend doing it before you go to bed or work. The built in defragmenter is lightyears better than not defragmenting at all, but as defragmenters go isn't very good. There is a good freeware defragmenter available here. You should defrag at least once a month and if you really want to be on top of things could defrag after each patch. If the Vanguard patcher takes more than 45 seconds to scan your files, that is a sure sign that you need to defrag.

2) Make sure you have no viruses or spyware! If you think you have none, are you sure you have none? Are you really really sure you have none? The OS tweaking thread I linked above has lots of good info on free spyware and virus software. Also, if you don't have all of the critical Windows updates, make sure you get them. If you don't have service pack 2 because somebody said it will break your machine, go get it anyway. 7 out of 7 friends that I helped with a machine that were broken by service pack 2 ultimately turned out to be problems caused by spyware and/or viruses that couldn't function anymore... which is to say they needed the update most. If you don't know what I'm talking about, find "Windows Update" in the start menu and install all of the critical updates (it may take a few trips as some items can only be done one at a time). If you have a pirated copy of Windows, it probably won't work though. An internet savy person could probably find ways around that, but I won't get in to that on this web site.



OK, now with that out of the way, I'll get in to the primary focus of this guide. I'll start with poor performance issues as it leads well in to everything else. If you're sure you have a clean computer, you've defragged, implemented every tweak you could get your hands on and your system just won't perform any better, the first thing we need to do is figure out where your bottleneck is.

If your problem is low framerates, then do the following:
- load Vanguard
- go to a city (or some other place where you get particularly poor framerates)
- hit Ctrl-P to show your FPS
- Set your resolution to the lowest setting (1024x768)... if you are already there change it to 1280x1024.
- If there is little to no change in FPS between the two (less than 10% change), you are CPU limited. If there is a 10%-20% difference, you are a mix of CPU and GPU limited. If there is a significant difference between the two (20%+), then you are GPU limited.

If your framerates are fine, but you have a lot of hitching, then your only hope is RAM (and maaaaybe hard drive if it's really old). I'll give more specifics below, but I'll mention now that Vanguard currently has some hitching on even the best machines.

Ini Tweaks: I'm usually not a big fan of tweaking ini files. There are occasional exceptions, but most of the time the settings that matter are changeable in game and the others aren't changeable for a reason. I haven't found any golden tweaks for Vanguard yet (the big shader caching tweak is now on by default and no longer needed). In fact, if you've done a lot of heavy ini modifications, I would recommend backing up your ini file (just in case) and then deleting the file so Vanguard will make a new one based on the defaults. Several people have claimed more performance increase from that "ini tweak" than any other. On to the hardware:


CPU
Vanguard is a very CPU intensive game... more so than any other game I've played (including Oblivion, the previous title holder). Unfortunately if your CPU is the bottleneck, there isn't a lot you can do... at least not much that you will like doing.

Minimum: Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon X2 CPU should be the minimum for new system builders. Most "I've tried everything and I can't get my FPS up" threads are from people with early revision Pentium 4s in the 2.6-3.2 GHz range. They meet the official minimum specs and you could get it to run on them, but you need to turn off quite a bit to get them playable. Anything Celeron, Sempron, Pentium M, or Core (not to be confused with Core 2) is going to have a tough time with Vanguard. Only the top of the line Pentium 4 (which includes Pentium D) or top of the line single core Athlon chips are up to it.... and even then are at the low end. You can get a Athlon X2 3800+ for $135.

More than Minimum: At $187, a Core 2 Duo E6300 is a great budget buy if you don't have to go absolute lowest price. Athlon X2 4200+ ($169) is a good choice for a few bucks less (AMD motherboards tend to be a bit cheaper too). Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 is a great high end purchase at $316. If you plan to get a 8800 series video card and turn everything up, you should get at least an E6400 ($222) or Athlon X2 4800+ ($249) with higher recommended.

Options for the restricted upgrader: If you have an older 939 socket based motherboard, there are still some great options out there. An Opteron 185 is $335 and equivalent to the $500+ FX-60. Anything Athlon X2 3800+ ($145) or higher (4600+ at $220) would get the job done. If your motherboard can't upgrade to an Athlon X2 or Core 2 Duo (most recent socket 775 motherboards), odds are that you will need to buy a new motherboard to get a Vanguard capable machine. You can ask if you think you have an exception, but be ready for the tough answer.

CPU Specific Tweaks: The only two things that will significantly increase performance for a CPU bottlenecked machine are turning off sound *cringe* or reducing draw distance *double-cringe*. I personally consider those two as game breakers, but others may not mind so much, particularly sound. The other settings that should help a CPU bottlenecked machine are detailed in the second post in this thread.


GPU (Video Card)
Being GPU bottlenecked is much more forgiving than being CPU bottlenecked. Just about every performance option will affect the load on the GPU which means it's pretty simple to balance performance vs quality. If you are buying a new card, it is important to know if you have a PCI Express (PCIe) slot or an AGP slot on your motherboard. There isn't any simple way that I know of to find out (someone correct me if I'm wrong). I would recommend downloading and running CPU-Z to find out what motherboard you have and then looking up the motherboard model number at the manufacturer's website. PCIe is the newer faster slot and is better in that there are more cards for it and the cards are cheaper. AGP slots have plenty of bandwidth for today's games, but are hindered by the limited selection of cards (most notably none of the high end cards) and small price increase over what I'll be listing below. If the only expansion slot you have is a regular PCI slot, there just aren't any Vanguard capable video cards out there for you.

If you are not familiar with at least the basics of how the GPU numbering system works, please see rabb1t's post here as it is more than I want to add to this already lengthy post. Another noteworthy website is Tom's Hardware VGA charts.

A Note on Video RAM: I would consider 256MB of video RAM to pretty much be the minimum for Vanguard with a few very low end exceptions. Ironically, having more than 256MB doesn't do a ton for you. The exact same card with 256MB and 512MB of RAM may show some very small improvements in FPS and a very small reduction in hitching, but it mostly won't make that much difference. If it's not much extra cash for the 512MB card, it may be worth it for the small performance increase and "futureproof" reasons, but the efficient dollar is spent at 256MB. You need to be careful too as the 512MB versions sometimes use slower RAM which would result in a performance decrease on a supposedly upgraded card.

Minimum: If you just want it to run and don't care about visuals as long as it's not an unplayable slideshow, the absolute minimum is an x1600 Pro 256MB ($78) or a 6600 GT 128MB ($82). A 7600 GS will perform a good bit better than either of those at $90 and is a HIGHLY recommend upgrade for anyone that is buying a card.

Low Cost: If you want to turn on at least some of the eye candy, but are still on a tight budget, the 7600 GT ($120) is for you. It is the current "low price without sacrificing too much performance" champ. 6800 series cards and some of the x800 cards would be in this performance range.

Middle of the Pack: A x1950 PRO would be good card at $170 and is also the current king of the AGP hill (AGP version is $230). A 7900 GS ($170) is good card too. Most of the high end x800 and x850 cards will be in this performance range. A 256MB RAM 7950 GT may be a good buy at $215, but generally if you plan to spend that much on a PCIe card, I'd highly recommend moving up to...

King of the "I won't have to take out a loan to buy it" Hill: The x1950 XT ($245) has ridiculously good performance for it's price.... so much so that it is the best card for the entire $225-$380 price range. This card is unfortunately not on Tom's chart, but it will have no problem running 1280x1024 at max settings and should do a very good job up to 1920x1200. The only noteworthy downside is that it takes two expansion slots (one for the card, and one for the fan) which may be a problem in microATX or other mini-tower setups, but that won't be a problem for 90% of the people out there.

High End: The 8800 GTS ($400) is recommended for anyone that wants to play at 1600x1200 or 1680x1050 at max settings. An 8800 GTX ($550) is recommended for 1920x1200 or higher resolution at max settings. Keep in mind that the 8800 GTX cards are freakin huge. It took the assistance of a hack saw to get mine in my Antec P150 case. Both of those cards are pretty power hungry too and require special attention to making sure your power supply is good enough (more below on power supplies).

What about SLI/Crossfire?: Dual GPU setups don't work in Vanguard right now and for a great variety of reasons (wishy-washy support and power consumption not the least of them) I don't recommend dual GPU solutions for anyone at any time other than somebody that is spending $3000+ on a new machine and is getting the two best video cards in SLI/Crossfire. Even when upgrading, the vast majority of the time you are better off buying a brand new card.

GPU Specific Tweaks: Just about any setting that affects what you see on your screen will affect the load on your GPU, and the best things to turn down are pretty subjective. Some people like to turn down the resolution and turn up the effects. Others like to turn up the resolution and turn down the effects. Some people like fancy reflections while others like shadows. Others (like me) consider draw distance to be more important than everything else... combined. If you find yourself GPU limited, I'd recommend going someplace where you get poor FPS and playing around with the in game settings until you get a feel for which are important to you and which have the biggest impact on performance and then adjusting accordingly. HDR lighting, Anisotropic Filtering (AF), and Anti-Aliasing (AA) are typically among the first to go because they are some of the most GPU intensive effects.

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PostSubject: Re: Hardware and Tweaking for Vanguard   Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:14 am

RAM
RAM is a funny upgrade. It doesn't always play by the usual bigger+faster=better rules... and yet in many systems it is by far the most economical upgrade. When it comes to RAM, there is a certain point when you have "enough". Before that point, more RAM will help tremendously and after that point, more RAM is pretty much pointless (and may even decrease performance a tiny bit). I'll break this down in to multiple questions rather than the way I did the two above.

What kind of RAM do I need?: I don't mean this to be a smart arse, it's just that the answer is really this simple. You need whatever type of RAM your motherboard takes. On just about any new motherboard that means DDR2. AMD motherboards older than about 6 months may take DDR RAM. Other RAM "features" like buffered/registered RAM and ECC RAM are only needed for servers. A home computer has no need for them and will see no benefit from them. When buying RAM, make sure you get two matching sticks so your computer can run in dual channel memory mode. Dual channel memory mode basically doubles the speed of your RAM by running them side by side and using bandwidth from both at the same time. They also need to be installed in the right slots in your motherboard... but unfortunately there is no standard layout and you will just need to refer to your motherboard manual to figure out the correct way to put them in. When possible, it's best to not fill more than two memory slots, but that is a very minor consideration compared to making sure you have enough RAM.

How much RAM do I need?: Generally speaking, the amount of RAM you need in based on A) your operating system, B) how many programs you have open (do you have 15 instances of Silky Venom, Allakhazam, and Thottbot open in the background?), and C) which programs do you have open? Regarding Vanguard specifically (using Windows XP), 1GB is the minimum, 1.5GB is recommended if you plan to run Vanguard ONLY, and 2GB is recommended if you plan to have other software open at the same time. If you have Vista, 1.5GB is pretty much the minimum and 2GB+ is recommended. If you are building a new system, there is no reason not to get 2GB of RAM unless you are on an extremely tight budget.

How fast does my RAM need to be?: Faster RAM will have almost no effect on framerate. It may have a very small effect on hitching, but given the cost of faster RAM, it's probably not worth it unless you are making an expensive high end machine. Value RAM (DDR2 667 MHz, CL 5) from a good brand is just fine for anyone that doesn't plan to overclock, although I would avoid 533 MHz if you're building a new system. 2GB of value RAM is as little as $165 right now. 800 MHz CL 4 RAM is $210. As I alluded to before, faster RAM is valuable for overclocking, but that is beyond the scope of this thread. A not-all-inclusive list of good brands is Corsair, OCZ, Crucial/Micron, Patriot, Kingston, GeIL, G. Skill, and Mushkin. Corsair, OCZ, and Crucial are typically considered the top end brands.

RAM Specific Tweaks: Reducing clipping plane is the only setting change I could see that seems like it would significantly change the amount of RAM used. Making sure you get rid of unnecessary start up programs (see Fozzik's Windows tweak guide) is the best thing you can do to free up RAM.


Motherboard
The motherboard is the core of your computer. Every component in your computer connects through it. The three main differences between different motherboards are 1) what "chipset" is on it, and 2) what connections and extra features does it have, and 3) how well is it built. The bottom line to picking a motherboard is to get one with a "recent generation" chipset, with the connections/features you need, from a good brand.

Chipset: The chipset is the main chips on you computer that handles directing traffic between everything else connected to the motherboard. Better chipsets direct traffic more efficiently (i.e. are faster). Most chipsets these days have sound, network, and RAID (discussed in the hard drive section) built in to them. "Back in the day" stability was a major concern between chipsets, but these days most chipsets are stable (that doesn't mean all motherboards are though). On the AMD side of the house, any nForce series chipset is good, especially nForce 4 series or newer. With nForce 5 and 6 series being the main focus today, you may be able to get a really good nForce 4 motherboard for cheap. ATI (now AMD) also has good AMD chipsets, but they aren't nearly as prevalent right now. On the Intel side of things, the most recent nForce 6 series chipset is probably the best chipest available, but the Intel i975X is right there with it. An Intel P965 chipset is often the best value if you don't need all the toys (which most people don't). For the most part, the difference in performance from one board to the next is pretty minimal. The main reason to get one over another (other than getting a good overclocking board) is features.

Connections and Extras: You gotta make sure that all of your hardware is going to connect to your motherboard right? Remember the talk about PCIe slots vs AGP slots in the GPU section? That depends on what your motherboard takes. Here is a run down of the main connections you need to pay attention to:

- CPU socket (gotta make sure your CPU fits)
- AGP slot or PCIe
- how many PCIe slots (need at least two x16 slots for SLI/Crossfire and other cards may use PCIe some day)
- hard drive connections (SATA vs IDE/PATA, how many of each?)
- number of USB ports
- Firewire ports (how many, if any)
- PS/2 ports for older mice/keyboards
- sound output (some have digital output)
- network connections (10/100 vs 10/100/1000, one or two ports?)
- main power connector (20 or 24 pin? must match power supply)
- Floppy disk connector

Motherboards often have lots of extras built in. Here are some things to look for if you think you'll need them:

- High definition audio
- built in RAID
- built in network traffic optimization
- Backup BIOS
- 4-8 phase power (good for overclocking)

Motherboard Brands: Having a well constructed motherboard is important for maintaining your sanity. Cheap motherboards (along with cheap RAM and cheap power supplies) can cause random stability issues that are almost impossible to diagnose. By far, the most popular motherboard brand is ASUS. They are consistently among the top boards for both performance and stability, but they tend to be a bit more expensive and other brands can certainly have boards that are just as good or better. Other good brands are DFI, EVGA, MSI, Gigabyte, Abit, and ECS. There are probably some other good ones out there too. The only reliable way to tell a good board from a bad board is to check hardware review sites, hardware forums, and the comments on the retail websites as even good brands occasionally release a stinker.

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PostSubject: Re: Hardware and Tweaking for Vanguard   Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:16 am

Hard Drive (HD)
The hard drive is one of the slowest parts of a computer. Because of that, most software is written to avoid accessing the hard drive as much as possible during actual use... thus the existence of load times. In a game like Vanguard, everything is loaded on the fly, but for the most part hard drive performance is pretty constant between different models from the same generation. Any 7200 RPM drive with 16MB cache is fine. If you are playing the game on an drive older than 4 years (or slower than 7200 RPM), you might get a big performance boost from a new HD.

SATA vs IDE/PATA/ATA133/ATA100: There are two main types of drive connections in a computer today. First, the newer sexier model is serial ATA (SATA). The older slower model goes by many names (see topic heading). The truth is that the actual speed of the hard drives today are slower than either interface so it doesn't really matter from a performance standpoint. SATA is still preferred though because the cables are a ton easier to work with and a feature called Native Command Queuing (NCQ) is only available on SATA (both your motherboard and drive must support NCQ for it to be enabled... add that to the motherboard features list). SATA optical drives are starting to appear on the market too. SATA drives require a special power connection so make sure your power supply supports SATA.

Different Brands: Of the four main HD brands (Western Digital, Seagate, Hitachi, Samsung), there is no one that is clearly better or worse than the others. Samsung drives are usually the coolest and quietest at the cost of a little bit of performance. Hitachi drives usually have the best performance stats, but are also usually the hottest and loudest (and the performance difference is tiny). Seagate and WD (other than the Raptors) take a more balanced approach.

High End Drives: As I stated in the first paragraph, any 7200 RPM 16MB cache HD will be fine. The actual real world performance gain from a fast hard drive is only noticeable during load times, and given the extra expense, it's not worth it unless you are already planning to spend a lot on your computer. Also, if you plan on upgrading to a Raptor drive, get the 150GB model. The 74GB model and especially the 36GB model are slower than the 150GB model. A couple of the better 7200 RPM drives outperform them.

RAID: RAID is a setup that uses multiple drives working together to increase data security or performance (or both). RAID 0, the most common type of RAID on home computers, has two HDs working together to pool their bandwidth. The main disadvantage is that it only takes one of two HDs to fail for you to lose information. The performance gain for gaming is also pretty negligible in most cases. The best use of two drives would be to have one as your operating system/page file drive and the other as your application drive. There are other versions of RAID that put information on multiple drives to increase protection from data loss from a HD crash and even some more complex one that use a mixture of both to get performance and security, but they aren't really practical for home use so I won't go in to them.


Power Supply
The power supply is one of the most overlooked components in a computer. Having a high quality stable power supply is essential to having a high quality stable computer, but don't confuse higher watt ratings with higher quality. Think of a power supply like a pick-up truck. Two trucks may theoretically be able to tow and carry the same amount of weight, but a well built truck will handle it's load without breaking down and will use gas more efficiently while the poorly built truck will sputter, have a rougher ride, and may eventually turn out to have a really weak tow package... which would suck if the main reason you wanted it was to tow your boat. A good gaming power supply is typically going to be $100+. There are some good deals in the $60-$100 range though.

The Voltage Rails: Power supplies provide electricity to your computer in three voltages: 3.3v, 5v, and 12v. Going back to the truck analogy, imagine your truck is rated to carry a certain amount of weight in the cab, a certain amount in the truck bed, and a certain load on the trailer hitch... and then you also need to worry about how much weight you engine and breaks can handle. The limit of each area in the truck would represent a power supply's limit on a voltage line while the amount of weight your engine and brakes can handle would represent the total watt rating of a power supply. If you add up the limit for each individual area, it will probably exceed the total limit for the power supply. You also need to be careful to make sure your power supply can handle the load where you need it. Many cheap power supplies will claim huge 600w+ ratings, but most of the power is on the 3.3v and 5v lines. High powered gaming machines need more 12v power than other computers (video cards in particular use a lot of 12v power). The power rating on each line is given in amps. 24-30 amps on each of the 3.3v and 5v rails will be enough for most computers. For a computer with a low power draw video card like a 7600 GT and only a couple drives in it (one 7200 RPM drive and a DVD drive), 18 amps on the 12v line and a 400w total would be enough. A mid to high end video card (x1950 XT or 8800 GTS) should have a 500w power supply with two 16+ amp 12v rails or a single 25+ amp rail. If you want a to have a 8800GTX, you should bump that up to 550w total rating and at least two 18+ amp 12v rails or a single 30+ amp 12v rail. Add in Raptor hard drives, multiple hard drives, multiple optical drives, and higher end CPUs and you should add another 50-100w (mostly on 12v). If you plan to overclock, that's another 50w (spread through all the rails). If you plan to use SLI or Crossfire, you'll need to add another 100-200w (depending on what cards you are using) and most of that should be on the 12v rail.

Connections: You need to make sure your power supply has enough of the right connections for your components. The main power connection to the motherboard can be either 20 or 24 pins. IDE drives use a standard 4 pin connection, but SATA drives use a special power connection. Some motherboards require an extra 4 pin plug (sometimes the standard rectangle shape, sometimes they need a square 4 pin plug). Many new PCIe video cards require a 6 pin plug. A 8800 GTX requires two 6 pin plugs (so a SLI 8800 GTX system would require a power supply with four 6 pin plugs).

Brands: The brands listed below have shown themselves to typically be high quality. High quality in this case refers to stable voltages as close to the voltage it's supposed to be as possible, reliability, efficiency (all power supplies waste some electricity... some more than others), and noise. Extras such as modular cables and blue LEDs cost extra and don't always represent a high quality power supply.

Top Tier Brands:
--Enermax
--PC Power and Cooling
--Seasonic

Great Brands: (unless you plan to try to squeeze out top overclocks at a overclocking competition level, these brands are just fine)
--Antec
--Cooler Master
--Corsair
--FSP (Fortron)
--OCZ
--Silverstone
--Zalman

Other brands I'm not as confident about, but have heard good things about:
--Rosewill (very inexpensive too, if you really can't afford more than $60, Rosewill is a good bet)

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PostSubject: Re: Hardware and Tweaking for Vanguard   Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:23 am

Other Hardware Bits
All those that weren't big enough for their own section go here

Monitor: Do not underestimate the importance of a good monitor. You will spend more time interacting with your monitor than anything else in your computer. CRT monitors are pretty straightforward. Some lines have sharper pictures than others, but for the most part its just a matter of getting a monitor that has the resolution you want with good picture quality (which is pretty subjective). There is a ton to say about LCD monitors, but Fozzik already has a great guide here so there is no need to duplicate the effort. It's a long read so I'll give you the essentials. Reported response times are so bogus you might as well not even worry about them, 8-bit color (16.7 million colors) is a big increase in quality over 6-bit color ("16.2 million" colors, but it is actually 262 thousand colors with dithering to simulate 16.2 million), widescreen (with at least 1680x1050 resolution) rocks by almost all accounts, and the best way to pick out a monitor is to go to an actual store and look at them. There is a lot of subjective preference involved in monitors. For example, some people don't really notice a difference between 8-bit and 6-bit color and can save $100+ on a 6-bit model.

Sound Card: Onboard sound is "good enough" for most people, but if you have good enough speakers a separate sound card can increase sound quality quite a bit. Separate sound cards can also offload a lot of the sound computations off the CPU increasing framerate, but so far this doesn't seem to apply to Vanguard (perhaps that's why turning on hardware sound can only be done through a direct ini edit... just for the record, Fozzik disagrees here... tests to follow soon). The latest cards from Creative, the X-Fi series, are so far ahead of any other gaming sound cards that it would be tough to recommend any less. The most basic X-Fi (X-Fi Xtreme Audio) is $66. The X-Fi XtremeGamer (has gaming focused features) is $90.

Optical Drive: There are only a few brands making optical drives these days and none of them are particularly better or worse than the others. Find one with the speed rating you want and the right color faceplate and you're set. SATA optical drives have recently become available too.

Keyboard: The right keyboard is mostly a matter of preference. Some people like ergonomic designs (the keyboards that are split in the middle) and some don't. Some people like the extra buttons across the top, some don't. Color is of course a matter of preference too.

Mouse: Logitech and Microsoft are the two most popular brands. RAZER makes some mice specifically designed for gaming that get good reviews. Logitech does too. I prefer a Logitech G5. I personally don't like wireless mice just for the peace of mind that I don't need to worry about batteries, but others love wireless mice. Some of them come with recharging stands.

Case: Case aesthetics are of course completely subjective. I prefer what I refer to as "simple with style"... think Macintosh. Others like a bit more flash. As far as aesthetics go, the best thing to do is go to a website that has good pictures and browse cases (I recommend www.newegg.com). Case construction is another matter. Many cheaper cases are built with thin steel that isn't very stable and have sharp edges. Well built cases will have features like toolless install, larger fans (larger fans move more air with less noise), aluminum construction (to reduce weight), and stronger designs. You need to also make sure it will have room for everything you want to put in it. Will it have a spot for all of your drives? Will your boards fit in it?

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PostSubject: Re: Hardware and Tweaking for Vanguard   Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:29 am

In Game Performance Tweaking (CPU Focused)
As I wrote the CPU guide above and tried to recommend which tweaks would affect CPU performance, I realized that there were only a few givens and a lot of "it depends on how Vanguard is programmed" things, so I decided to try it out myself. My methodology is a bit crude and by no means as controlled as a professional hardware reviewing site, but it still provides meaningful data.

The machine:

AMD Athlon64 X2 4200+ (939) overclocked 15% (2530 MHz)
ASUS A8R-MVP motherboard (ATI northbridge, ALi southbridge)
2 GB Patriot DDR RAM, 460 MHz effective with DDR, 2.5-4-3-7 timing
EVGA 8800 GTX Video Card
Western Digital 2500KS hard drive (7200 RPM, 16MB cache, SATA 2, 31% full, defragged after last patch with JKDefrag
Windows XP x64
Avast Anti-Virus and Windows Defender Anti-Spyware both running with full protection
Firefox open in the background with a single tab with this thread in it

It's not hard to see that even with the CPU overclocked, my system is CPU limited on Vanguard. Just to prove it I went from 1920x1200 resolution to 1280x1024 resolution and my FPS changed from 26-27ish to 28ish. Since the rest of these tests are based on my system being completely CPU bottlenecked, I will be staying at 1280x1024.


Test Methodology:
-- The test process is simple. I start with Highest Quality settings. Next I go down the line and turn off each feature and see if the FPS changes. After testing each item I turn it back up/on before moving on to the next item. All tests are done with the settings window open. All tests are done in full screen mode.
-- FPS is measured by hitting Ctrl-P and watching where the FPS is. Noticable FPS changes show CPU dependence for that effect.
-- All test are done in the SE part of the Autumnglow Outpost near Ca'ial Brael facing the group of dancing pilgrims to simulate a group of PCs in a fairly low PC density area. There is a good bit of vegetation around and some distant mountains. Compressed jpg attached to show location.

Setting Changed: Hardware Occlusion
Observed FPS before change: 26.5-27 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 28-29 FPS
Visual Effect: None
Conclusion: Just as the setting description says, turn it on unless it causes visual anomolies

Setting Changed: Animation LOD (100% to 0%)
Observed FPS before change: 27-28 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 29.5-30.5 FPS
Visual Effect: None that I could see, I'm sure it would show up in other places
Conclusion: good candidate for improved CPU performance

Setting Changed: Show Names
Observed FPS before change: 27.5-28 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 28-28.5 FPS
Visual Effect: names turn off
Conclusion: Change was very minor, but definitely was there

Setting Changed: Far Clipping Plane (aka draw distance). Highest Quality is set at 204800. The UI allows for higher numbers, but it doesn't seem to actually change draw distance. I set this one to several variables.
Observed FPS before change: 204800: 28.5-29.5 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 159214: 28.5-29.5 FPS --- 96085: 29-29.5 FPS --- 67390: 30.5-31 FPS --- 44434: 32-33 FPS --- 10000 (minimum): 35.5-36.5 FPS
Visual Effect: 96085 represented the point when you could just barely start to see the effect on the mountain, after that the world closed in pretty quick
Conclusion: There doesn't seem to be a sweet spot as the point when you can see the difference is the point when it starts to matter, but you can definitely get a big performance gain here

Setting Changed: Detail Mode (Super High to Default) --- For this test, I tried moving to different places with more buildings
Observed FPS before change:
Observed FPS after change:
Visual Effect: I could not find a place where this setting changed anything in Autumnglow Outpost.
Conclusion: I could not find a place that it affected performance either. NOTE: This setting is not changed by the master quality/performance setting at the top.

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PostSubject: Re: Hardware and Tweaking for Vanguard   Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:29 am

Setting Changed: Simple Terrain
Observed FPS before change: 28-28.5 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 28-28.5 FPS
Visual Effect: Ground becomes noticeably less detailed
Conclusion: This does not seem CPU dependent and makes a definite visual quality decrease (it most likely affects GPU load)

Setting Changed: Grass Density (Max Quality is 50%)
Observed FPS before change: 27-28 FPS (50%)
Observed FPS after change: 0%: 27-28 FPS --- 100%: 27-28 FPS
Visual Effect: Grass goes from nonexistent to freakishly dense (50% seemed about right)
Conclusion: This surprised me as I expected it to be CPU dependent, but clearly it is not (should make a significant impact on GPU load). Grass blending did not have an effect on CPU load either.

Setting Changed: Tree Detail Range (Max Quality is 80%)
Observed FPS before change: 26.5-27.5 FPS (80%)
Observed FPS after change: 0%: 29.5-30 FPS --- 100%: 26-27 FPS
Visual Effect: Trees get significantly less detailed once they are moved inside of this range. At a distance it's not so bad, but up close it looks pretty poor.
Conclusion: You could slide this one in to an acceptable level to increase CPU performance. (Tree LOD Blend made no difference in CPU load)

Setting Changed: Volumetric Clouds
Observed FPS before change: 25.5-26.5 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 25.5-26.5 FPS
Visual Effect: Visual quality of clouds decreases, but even with it off they look good
Conclusion: No CPU load difference (another surprise), but it is most likely a big GPU load as several people report big gains from turning this off

Setting Changed: Normal Mapping. This setting has a % slider but seems to only be on/off with 0% being off and everything else on
Observed FPS before change: 25.5-26.5 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 25.5-26.5 FPS
Visual Effect: All terrain and becomes quite significantly less detailed
Conclusion: No CPU performance hit here and you would have to be pretty hard off with your GPU to consider turning this one off

Setting Changed: Environmental Detail
Observed FPS before change:
Observed FPS after change:
Visual Effect:
Conclusion: Like "Detail Mode" above, I moved all over Autumnglow Outpost and could find no location where this made a visual or performance difference.

Setting Changed: Environmental Shaders (Max Quality is 50%)
Observed FPS before change: 26.5-27.5 FPS (50%)
Observed FPS after change: 0%: 26.5-27 FPS --- 100%: 21-22 FPS
Visual Effect: On this particular view, I could not find any difference, but from the description it would probably change the way water looks.
Conclusion: From 0%-50% it did not seem to be CPU dependent, in fact it even seemed to increase CPU dependency a tad when turned all the way down (although with margin of error it is by no means conclusive). From 50%-100% the increase in CPU load was huge.

Setting Changed: Bloom (I skipped all lighting effects other than this one and shadows below as none of them had any effect on CPU load including HDR and Tone Mapping)
Observed FPS before change: 27-27.5 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 28.5-29 FPS
Visual Effect: Some of the lighting effects aren't as pretty. I couldn't see them in this screen, but have seen them in other places when playing with settings.
Conclusion: Overall, not that big of a loss and decreases CPU load a fair bit.

Setting Changed: Shadow Detail (100%-0%)
Observed FPS before change: 27-27.5 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 29.5-30 FPS
Visual Effect: Shadows go from being the same shape as the object that made them, to big blobs, to nonexistent
Conclusion: Another effect with decent CPU load that it wouldn't be that hard to do without

Setting Changed: Specular
Observed FPS before change:
Observed FPS after change:
Visual Effect:
Conclusion: This one is left blank because it affects refelctions and there were no noticable refrelctions around the area. FWIW, I played with it and it made no difference.

Setting Changed: Shader LOD/Refractive Distance/Reflective Distance
Observed FPS before change:
Observed FPS after change:
Visual Effect: I could see no difference in this screen.
Conclusion: None of these had any effect on CPU load.

Setting Changed: Balanced Change. I applied changes from above with an attempt to balance performance and visuals. Clip plane was left at max. Tree LOD was set to 40%. Names were left on. Shadows were left in blobs.
Observed FPS before change: 27.5-28 FPS
Observed FPS after change: 37.5-38.5 FPS
Visual Effect: Visual quality was only minimally decreased
Conclusion: Definite performance was gained.

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