#1 Edited by dvaeg (189 posts) -

Over the last three years I've switched from being primarily a console gamer to a PC gamer. This wasn't due to snobbery, a change of taste or anything like that, but mostly because my kids are now at an age where I can't play many games in front of them. I don't want to monopolize the TV either, and I prefer to play my games during solitary time.

So I do what any rational person with more money than brains does: I use my laptop as my primary game machine. I know this means my performance isn't going to be stellar, but I've been happy with it so far and for most of the last two years it's been used primarily for MMOs and older PC games I missed out on. This got me thinking about game performance and the drastically different outcomes that come from different games. My laptop runs an Nvidea GForce GT 330M with 512MB of VRAM. My display runs at a native resolution of 1680x1050. I have 4 GB of system memory installed.

Where am I going with all of this? At the moment I'm not sure, but please bear with me.

In the last year I've played the following games at native resolution and have found their performance to be acceptable or better:

To that end, I've been incredibly happy with my game machine. But recently I hit a roadblock. Dragon Age 2. It stutters, the camera moves slowly, and I feel like the mouse is a bit more sluggish than it should be. This worried me since my next buy was going to be The Witcher 2, and I recall that the original was based on the NWN2 engine, which had notorious performance issues and had to be brute forced to be playable. So last night I installed The Witcher 2, and it ran like crap. So I'm tossing it into the pile of games that have not run well:

What concerns me is that two of these games are old(er) and yet they run horribly. It also has made me think I'm screwed for Skyrim and Rage later this year and Mass Effect 3 next year. So let's talk about PC game performance. Any ideas for me? Increase to 8GB of RAM? Chalk these bad experiences up to poor engines? Should I stop running these off an external USB drive (oh, did I forget to mention that?).

#2 Posted by Enigma777 (6058 posts) -

It's not the RAM that's holding you back. It's the VRAM.

#3 Edited by JoeyRavn (4983 posts) -

I assume that if you have a nice CPU (at least an i3), the bottleneck in your machine is the GT 330M. It is by no means a gaming GPU. The "age" of the game makes no difference, really. No matter what you do, no matter how much RAM you add or where you install those games (either an HDD or SSD, either internal or external), the GPU will severely limit your performance.

Since upgrading your GPU in a laptop is a bitch and it costs way more than it's worth, the only solution would be to get a new PC, preferably a desktop. I know it sounds ludicrous, but it's true. Everyday laptops are not meant to be used for gaming, and those that are, are extremely expensive. For the same price (or even less), you can get a much better desktop PC.

@Enigma777 said:

It's not the RAM that's holding you back. It's the VRAM.

The amount of VRAM doesn't really factor in that much. It's the GPU itself what's way too weak. A GTX 460 786MB is many times better than, let's say, a 7600 GT 1GB, despite having less VRAM.

#4 Posted by dvaeg (189 posts) -

I guess I should expand slightly. I'm curious about the relative performance problems:

  1. Burnout Paradise runs GREAT, Dirt runs like shit.
  2. Crysis barely loads, but Far Cry 2 was smooth as silk
  3. Dragon Age played great, Dragon Age 2 runs slow.
  4. AC2 seems a lot more visually complex than The Witcher 2, but there's a huge difference in frame rates.
#5 Edited by Enigma777 (6058 posts) -

@JoeyRavn: You're right. What I meant was that his GPU was the culprit here, not the amount of VRAM itself (since the only way to upgrade it is to get a new card)

#6 Edited by BrilliantLoser (33 posts) -

All it simply means is that your laptop is getting older and the games are becoming more demanding.  The 330M is a decent performer but it pales in comparison to current mid level or better graphics cards. Modern games are all moving past the current console phase as a minimum so expect your laptop to have increasingly difficult time playing them.
 
Don't expect an upgrade of ram to make much of a difference (unless you multitask constantly). By the time you will need 8gigs just to run a single game, your laptop probably could not run it acceptably. However, I expect Skyrim/Rage should still run well. Fallout 3 ran decently on my laptop with a weaker graphics card than a 330M (remember New Vegas was not made by Bethesda) and Rage seems to have a good engine behind it. However if you really do want to play those games, I would actually suggest saving up some money and building a desktop (around $600) or wait a bit more and get a gaming laptop ($1000+). Current tech can run 1080p without a sweat.  I got a low end "gaming" card, an Nvidia 550 Ti in my desktop, and it easily runs most games at 1080p though you can see it sweat on Directx 11 stuff.

#7 Posted by JoeyRavn (4983 posts) -

@dvaeg said:

I guess I should expand slightly. I'm curious about the relative performance problems:

  1. Burnout Paradise runs GREAT, Dirt runs like shit.
  2. Crysis barely loads, but Far Cry 2 was smooth as silk
  3. Dragon Age played great, Dragon Age 2 runs slow.
  4. AC2 seems a lot more visually complex than The Witcher 2, but there's a huge difference in frame rates.

Each game is a world. Burnout Paradise is extremely well optimized, maybe the first Dirt no so much. I've noticed that Dragon Age II runs a lot better than DA:O on my machine, for example. Well, DA:O always run at 60 FPS maxed to begin with, but I notice better effects and whistles with the same performance. If that's "better", well, that's that.

The "complexity" of the game is relative. Maybe AC2 has more pretty things on screen, but The Witcher 2 loads everything differently, hence the difference in performance. A game may rely more on the GPU, while another on the CPU. For example, Civilization V is a rather simple game, nothing as complex as Crysis or The Witcher 2. But try playing a game with at least 3 civs and you'll start noticing how the game basically hits 0 FPS in-between turns. The tax on the CPU is HUGE in order to calculate the movements of the players, the possible outcomes of each move, how they should react to what the player had done in the previous turns... In this case, a beast of a GPU like an HD6990 or a GTX 590 really don't help with the performance of the game. It relies on the CPU to do the heavy work, so if it's weak, the game's performance will be low.

#8 Posted by dvaeg (189 posts) -

@BrilliantLoser said:

However, I expect Skyrim/Rage should still run well. Fallout 3 ran decently on my laptop with a weaker graphics card than a 330M (remember New Vegas was not made by Bethesda) and Rage seems to have a good engine behind it. However if you really do want to play those games, I would actually suggest saving up some money and building a desktop (around $600) or wait a bit more and get a gaming laptop ($1000+). Current tech can run 1080p without a sweat. I got a low end "gaming" card, an Nvidia 550 Ti in my desktop, and it easily runs most games at 1080p though you can see it sweat on Directx 11 stuff.

Switching to a desktop isn't going to be in my future, as my only real dedicated game time is when I'm away from home. That said, I upgrade my laptop every other year, so next year I'll be getting whatever the new hotness is.

Your other point is what I'm interested in. I forgot that Fallout ran smoothly as well, and I'm curious if there's any way to gauge what will or will not be acceptable. Skyrim and RAGE being two big contenders, knowing their engines are pretty new. If they are being designed to also run on a 360, and I've had great success running other games that are 360 bound...

Truth be told, I'm probably looking for an answer that doesn't exist.

#9 Posted by mosdl (3259 posts) -

@dvaeg said:

I guess I should expand slightly. I'm curious about the relative performance problems:

  1. Burnout Paradise runs GREAT, Dirt runs like shit.
  2. Crysis barely loads, but Far Cry 2 was smooth as silk
  3. Dragon Age played great, Dragon Age 2 runs slow.
  4. AC2 seems a lot more visually complex than The Witcher 2, but there's a huge difference in frame rates.

btw, Witcher 2 is way more visually complex that AC2. You could tone down the Witcher 2 settings to increase frame rate probably, but it uses a brand new engine that can do a lot of fancy stuff your GPU can't handle well.

#10 Posted by JoeyRavn (4983 posts) -

@dvaeg said:

Switching to a desktop isn't going to be in my future, as my only real dedicated game time is when I'm away from home. That said, I upgrade my laptop every other year, so next year I'll be getting whatever the new hotness is.

Your other point is what I'm interested in. I forgot that Fallout ran smoothly as well, and I'm curious if there's any way to gauge what will or will not be acceptable. Skyrim and RAGE being two big contenders, knowing their engines are pretty new. If they are being designed to also run on a 360, and I've had great success running other games that are 360 bound...

Truth be told, I'm probably looking for an answer that doesn't exist.

"Gaming laptops" are, well, a controversial topic in the PC gaming community. The amount of money needed to buy one of those is extremely high if you compare it piece-by-piece with a desktop PC. The "mobility" aspect of the laptop sorta gets canceled by the sheer volume of a gaming laptop and the constant need for a power output. The Alienware Mx18 is, AFAIK, the best gaming laptop in the market right now (or last time I checked) and it's priced at $2000 for the base model. That's around $1000 more for what a beast of a desktop PC would be. The problem is that there are no shades of grey in terms of laptops: you either content yourself with something decent for everyday use, but knowing you are bound to encounter problems running games sooner or later, or pay the (rather hefty) price for something more gaming oriented.

To answer your other question, it all depends on the game. We can't say how RAGE or Skyrim will run right now because, as you've said, the engines are pretty new. Fallout and Oblivion are not a reliable way to gauge how Skyrim will run, for obvious reasons. As for RAGE, I assume that if you can run fine games like Wolfenstein or Brink, which use the latest version of the id Tech 4 engine, you should be able to run it, though probably not max it. If you are struggling to run those games, I wouldn't hold my breath for RAGE running in any playable state...

#11 Posted by ajamafalous (12156 posts) -

@JoeyRavn said:

I assume that if you have a nice CPU (at least an i3), the bottleneck in your machine is the GT 330M. It is by no means a gaming GPU. The "age" of the game makes no difference, really. No matter what you do, no matter how much RAM you add or where you install those games (either an HDD or SSD, either internal or external), the GPU will severely limit your performance.

This is basically your answer, even though it may not be what you want to hear. The GT 330M is by no means a gaming card. It's a low-end mobile graphics card.

#12 Posted by Grumbel (910 posts) -
@dvaeg said:
From my experience the PC version of Dirt 1 is just plain broken. From what I could gather from numerous forums its something about the way the thing does sound, which gets incredible CPU heavy on tracks with multiple cars, but runs perfectly fine with just a single vehicle. So it's bad performance shouldn't really be much of an indicator for other games. 
 
As for the future, hard to tell, it's very game depended, check the system requirements and forums of each game for specific issues. Some games actually get more optimized with time (i.e. Mass Effect 2 ran a good bit better then Mass Effect 1) while other just get more wasteful with resources.
#13 Posted by h0lgr (911 posts) -

You're also not telling us what CPU you're using.

#14 Posted by tourgen (4542 posts) -

GForce GT 330M is the problem.

#15 Edited by Maginnovision (487 posts) -

RAGE is likely to run great for whatever your hardware. ID games usually do pretty well in the regard as long as you're willing to make the necessary visual sacrifices. But yea, your video card is really not great. I recently upgraded my pc, but before my new card I had an 8800GTX, and for it's age that thing did amazingly well, but once I went past 1680x1050, it wasn't able to keep up any longer. Overall though, your computer isn't likely to age well, and it was never a great machine. I think you should be happy with what you get out of it at this point.

#16 Posted by dvaeg (189 posts) -

@h0lgr said:

You're also not telling us what CPU you're using.

Core i7

So how best to know what games will run well? DA:O runs great, Fallout 3, too. I haven't tested Oblivion, or Drakensang or Two Worlds 2 -- all of which are on my "upcoming" list of games to play. I'm more an RPG guy than FPS overall.

#17 Edited by RIDEBIRD (1233 posts) -

VRAM and the card in general is holding you back. CPU is fine, so is RAM. Rage, Skyrim, etcetera, will not run very well on your 330M, as they're all boasting some new technology. Your card is simply not strong enough.

#18 Posted by JoeyRavn (4983 posts) -

@dvaeg said:

@h0lgr said:

You're also not telling us what CPU you're using.

Core i7

So how best to know what games will run well? DA:O runs great, Fallout 3, too. I haven't tested Oblivion, or Drakensang or Two Worlds 2 -- all of which are on my "upcoming" list of games to play. I'm more an RPG guy than FPS overall.

There's no way to be %100 sure how a game will run on a PC, especially if it's a new engine, like in the case of RAGE or Skyrim. Most of the games that run on a same engine (for example, Gears of War and Batman: Arkham Asylum) can be expected to have more or less the same performance in the same computer, but, again, each game is a world. I've had some major problems running E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy recently, though it's a Source game and I can run the rest of Source-powered games (L4D/2, HL/EP1/EP2, TF2, CS:S, etc.) maxed at constant 60 FPS. It all depends on the game, really.

A CPU-intensive game will probably run better on that PC than a GPU-intensive game. DA:O happens to be quite taxing on the CPU, not so much on the GPU. The GT 330M will be your biggest problem, as I told you.

#19 Posted by ShockD (2421 posts) -

Apart from some bad PC ports that run like sh*t on no matter what system, the GeForce GT 330M with 512MB is a big holdback and I'm even surprised that you played some of the games mentioned above without experiencing problems.
 
Then again you have a laptop, not a PC, so it's pointless to discuss the PC's performance. I myself have an average PC, but run everything just alright.

#20 Posted by Marz (5671 posts) -

Are you trying to run high settings or something on that laptop.  Dragon Age 2 should run pretty similar to DA:O at medium settings (basically the same game engine), high and very high add ambient occlusion, depth of field, tesselation.  Definitely not something that 330M can handle very effectively.   Witcher 2 is pretty obvious, very graphically intensive and will chew up older hardware.  You mention you have an core i7 but speed still matters when it comes to some of these games so it would be nice to know how fast it is.   But yeah looks like your biggest culprit is the GPU on that laptop.

#21 Posted by dvaeg (189 posts) -

Thanks for all the continued feedback. My laptop is my only computer, and I use it for everything. Since I replace it every other year, I buy the best GPU I can get when it's time to upgrade. So far I've actually been getting better performance that I though I would, and I probably got my hopes too high. I'm due to upgrade next summer and my backlog is HUGE, so I'm hoping Skyrim, ME3 and RAGE will work on my next laptop in summer 2012.