1) Will my current PC, or one I'm considering to buy, run Railworks 3 properly?
2) Is my performance normal for my hardware, or should I be able to do better?
3) If I'm not happy with my current performance, what should I upgrade to make it better, and how much will it cost?
These are all questions which RSC spectacularly failed to answer adequately before release, but which really matter to real players. Consequently a lot of people have turned out confused and angry when they didn't get the performance they were expecting.
Note that the question "How do I get the best performance from my current hardware" is addressed elsewhere: http://forums.uktrainsim.com/viewtopic. ... 9&t=118677
To make my job that much easier, I'm going to refer to benchmarks and specifications, rather than specific articles of hardware, as much as possible. There are three aspects of performance that matter a lot to Railworks:
a) CPU - for which a couple of fast cores are more important than having lots of them. Clock speed isn't everything - a newer architecture is just as good as a clock speed increase.
b) Graphics Shaders - which allow the new, more complex effects in the TSX engine. Most cards currently on sale have enough of this, but beware that the bargain bin may contain older, less capable models.
c) VRAM Bandwidth - which is used mostly by the new shadow system. Most high-end cards from the past few years have enough of this. Current mid-range cards are also adequate, but older mid-range and current low-end cards are likely to struggle.
Let's start with the easiest benchmarks to run and understand. Note that while running benchmarks, all other computer activity should be stopped - close your Web browser (but download the installers and write down the instructions first), shut down the Steam Client, and *definitely* shut down BOINC. You know who you are.
Windows Experience Index
If you are running Windows XP, skip ahead to the next section - you cannot run the WEI benchmark, which is built into Windows Vista and 7. (Yes, it is stupid - you can only find out how well you can run the version of Windows you're already running, not the next version. Par for the course.)
Launch your Control Panel from the Start menu, open the Action Center, and click "View performance information". Hit "Refresh Now" or whatever similar link is available. Wait a few minutes for it to finish, then look at the *detailed* numbers, ignoring the big colourful one it presents to you.
The "Processor" number depends on the speed of your CPU. A number less than 5.9 here suggests that you might need a CPU upgrade to run the more intensive routes available for Railworks. Less than 5.0 suggests you need a CPU upgrade for even the more normal ones. Railworks seems to be able to absorb any amount of CPU power in certain situations, so the higher a number you have here, the better.
The "Memory" number depends on the speed and quantity of the RAM attached to your CPU. A number less than 5.5 here is a distinct liability. If your CPU scores noticeably higher than your RAM, consider getting more RAM (certainly if you have less than 4GB) or optimising it's performance in your computer's BIOS - but ask for expert help if you are at all unsure about the latter, since most computers set up your RAM reasonably well as a matter of course.
The "Graphics" and "Gaming graphics" numbers refer to your graphics card. Less than 5.9 in *either* of these scores means that you will likely struggle to run Railworks 3's new graphics - although you should still be able to run the older graphics by turning TSX off. A score above 7.0 in both of these means that you should be able to use most or all of the new graphics features at high quality - but see the other two benchmarks for potential caveats. WEI isn't really much of a game benchmark, just a rough guide.
The "Primary hard disk" number doesn't matter so much to Railworks. If Windows is installed on a traditional mechanical hard disk, you will probably see 5.8 or 5.9 here. What is important to Railworks is that it's files are defragmented, so if you haven't run Disk Defragmenter since the upgrade was installed, now is a good time to do so. (Steam's own defragmenter doesn't work on Railworks because it doesn't directly manage the files involved.)
The big number that Windows highlights for you is the lowest of the five scores. If you have a fairly new and good computer but with a mechanical disk, the disk score will normally be the lowest.
If your CPU, RAM and Graphics scores are *all* lower than they should be according to the above guide, it is probably best not to upgrade one part at a time, but to replace the entire machine. After describing the other benchmarks, I'll highlight a number of different methods of upgrading, some of which are quite inexpensive.
CPU-Z and GPU-Z
These are simple and highly technical tools to find out very basic information about your hardware's capabilities - which is quite often left out of marketing information even though it really matters. Don't be afraid of the technicalities - I'll point out the right parts to look for.
I used an old machine I set up for testing as the example for these screenshots - this is capable of running most routes with all of the major TSX features enabled, but not at the highest settings. It also struggles very badly with WCML-N. So the numbers you see in these screenshots should considered as minimum requirements for a good Railworks PC.
CPU-Z download: http://www.cpuid.com/downloads/cpu-z/1.58-setup-en.exe
GPU-Z download: http://www.techpowerup.com/downloads/20 ... 0.5.5.html
Note that when setting up CPU-Z, it will prompt you to install a browser toolbar (ugh!). Just deselect the "I agree to Ask.com's terms" box and that'll be turned off. Obnoxious pile of... ahem.
The very first piece of information is the name of the CPU. Give an expert that name, and he will immediately either know what it is, or be able to look it up easily.
The "Package" helps you determine whether you can just replace the CPU with a better one for the same socket, or whether you have to change the motherboard as well. In this case my old Opteron 185 is already the fastest CPU available for Socket 939, so 18 months ago I built a new machine entirely. Note that small differences in socket name can matter a lot - Sockets 1156 and 1155 are totally incompatible with each other, for example.
The "Technology" indicates how small the transistors are, and thus roughly how new the design is - smaller numbers are better here. Currently new hardware is being built at about 30 nm, so this Opteron is clearly quite old already.
Highlighted in red is the clock speed of a single CPU core. Some CPUs deliberately run at a lower clock speed when not being used very much, so the number you see here might not actually be correct. If it is very low, eg. 1000 or 800 MHz, then try starting a YouTube video (or starting Railworks in windowed mode) so that the CPU is in use, and see if CPU-Z picks up a new speed.
The Cache section indicates the size of the very fast on-chip memory which is used to reduce dependence on real memory accesses. In this case we have a 1024KB cache attached to each of the two cores, which is a fairly good specification, especially for the age of this machine. Some CPUs have a Level 3 cache as well as Level 2 caches, if so read off that number instead. If there is no Level 2 cache, then you have a bit of a problem!
Then we have the numbers of cores and threads. Here we have two cores, which is enough. There is one thread per core - most Intel CPUs have two threads per core, which they call Hyperthreading. Larger numbers are fine, but note that they might have been provided at the expense of clock speed, which is more important to Railworks.
Moving to the SPD page, we get some information about the memory installed. In particular we see that it is currently running at 200MHz, and the maximum specified speed is 200MHz, so it is already correctly set up.
Once again we can see the name and the technology level of this card straight away, and even a release date. This is a high-end card from several years ago, and has withstood the test of time surprisingly well. The technology level shows it to be just slightly newer than the CPU.
The DirectX Support field shows that it support DX10 and Shader Model 4.0. As long as your card supports Shader Model 3.0 or better, you should be able to run Railworks 3 with at least the basic graphics.
The Memory Size here is 512MB. Less than that might be painful - at least turning down the texture detail may be necessary. Most new cards have at least 1024MB, even the cheap ones.
You'll notice that I haven't bothered to highlight the pixel or texel fillrate fields. They matter, but are better covered by the WEI and 3DMark benchmarks, and are less important than...
Highlighted in red, because it is very important, is the Memory Bandwidth field. I believe this is what permits this card to run so well despite it's age. Here is a rough calculation to see how much Bandwidth you need to see here, in order to turn on the new shadows in TSX:
Code: Select all
Bandwidth (GB/s) = (Screen Width * Screen Height (in pixels) * 25) / 1,000,000
There are still a lot of low-end cards on the market with memory bandwidth equal to or lower than this old stalwart. You really do get what you pay for here.
At the bottom you can also see that SLI is disabled (because there is only one graphics card), and that PhysX acceleration is supported. Railworks does not properly use either of these features, so I have not highlighted them.
Finally, we have the well-known benchmark from a Finnish company called Futuremark. I've chosen the five-year-old version since it uses rendering techniques roughly similar to the ones Railworks uses, whereas the newer ones use more advanced techniques which would not be representative. 3DMark has always been a bit ahead of the curve, and Railworks has always been a bit behind it.
Get it from here: http://downloads.guru3d.com/downloadget ... f548ac91b4
Running this should be straightforward - there aren't any options to configure on the free version. Watch the demo if you like - the smoothness (or otherwise) of that is a fairly good predictor for how well Railworks will behave. The real meat is when you run the benchmark proper, though. Once finished, hit the big orange button to see the results in your Web browser.
After dismissing the advert in the middle of the screen (sigh), scroll down to see the "Overall" and "CPU" lines of the detailed result. Here are some sample results to compare your machine to:
Intel Atom D510 with ION graphics: 2632 overall, 880 CPU. (This machine is *way* too slow for Railworks 3, due to the extremely weak CPU.)
Opteron 185 with Radeon X1650 Pro: 1907 overall, 1886 CPU. (This machine runs Railworks 2 fine except for some heavy routes, and should also be fine in Railworks 3 without TSX.)
Opteron 185 with 8800GT: 8940 overall, 1878 CPU. (With the same CPU performance, but much better graphics, Railworks 3 with TSX runs quite well with careful setup.)
AMD Fusion A8 3850 with internal Radeon 6550D: 7095 overall, 4113 CPU. (The graphics are not far behind the 8800GT, and the CPU is much better. I'll come back to this one later.)
AMD Fusion A8 3850 with Radeon 5750: 13945 overall, 4172 CPU. (Same CPU, better graphics. This one runs even demanding routes with TSX, with some care.)
AMD Phenom II X4 955 with Radeon 5870: 17757 overall, 4574 CPU. (This is my main PC. Aside from some remaining performance problems on specific routes, which still show up on extremely powerful PCs, this is the dog's whatsits. But I still can't turn on SSAA.)
There might also be a graph indicating where your system lies in comparison to "similar" systems. Don't be surprised if you seem to be at the low end of the bulge in the graph - "similar" also counts overclocked versions of the same system. Just make sure you're no more than a few percent below the norm. If there's a very large difference, especially in the CPU score, and especially if you are testing a laptop, then you might be running into thermal throttling problems.
Upgrade recommendations to follow...