June 4, 2008

Age of Conan performance issues with Radeon 3870

I had already posted a line or two about performance issues that I was having with Age of Conan before, and now it's time for a full post. With roughly two weeks after EU release I feel like I've tried every little "fix" and "trick" there is to get my FPS rate up and can describe the problem thoroughly. If AoC runs fine for you, you might as well just skip this.

Just for the record, I first started playing the game using the following system:

Athlon XP 3000+ @ 2.25 GHz
Radeon X800GTO video card

As you can see, it's just a little bit above the minimum requirements. The game didn't even start properly at first, but luckily, I found a fix on the official forums. You simply had to change the RenderSetting_ShaderModel setting from "1" to "0" in your prefs_2.xml file. The reason is, ATI X800 cards only support Shader Model 2.0; while there's an option in-game to change to SM 2.0, the game is "dumb" in a way that it starts with SM 3 by default and you have to start it with SM 3 to be able to change to SM 2.0 in options. But enough about this.

With the said system, I haven't done much gaming at all, but I was able to reach Tortage, getting around 20 FPS in the jungle on lowest settings, and an unplayable 5-15 FPS when I got to the city. Still, I was a bit impressed with the performance. If that's how an old system runs the game, with a proper upgrade I should be able to run the game very smoothly, right? Or so I thought...

As a gamer on a budget, I chose the following upgrade for my system:

Athlon X2 5000+ Black Edition @ 3 GHz
Radeon HD3870 with 512 MB GDDR4 RAM

I also got a new 460W PSU from Zalman and a Freezer 64 Pro fan for the CPU. Spent the day configuring the system and overclocking; it scored about 10.1k in 3DMark06 and passed 4 hours of combined 100% CPU and GPU load, something no game can accomplish. In the process I stupidly set /3GB switch - several sites recommended doing this as it supposedly allocates 1 GB RAM to the OS and 3 GB to applications on a 32 bit WinXP and makes it use the RAM more efficiently. However, I encountered a lot of problems (like lower 3DMark score) so I don't think the switch is needed at all if you have WinXP SP2 or SP3. Removing it fixed everything. So far, so good. At least till I launched AoC...

The problem

Low FPS no matter what kind of graphics settings I use
. Turning on Bloom, Anti-aliasing and 3D Occlusion doesn't decrease my FPS. Nor does turning them off give me any kind of FPS boost (although it does seem to reduce "stuttering" at times). Here are some screenshots which explain the problem:

  • Screenshot 1 - 1024x768 resolution, Low settings, ~14 FPS
  • Screenshot 2 - 1280x1024 resolution, High settings + Bloom + 4X MSAA + Advanced Transparency, ~15 FPS
You can clearly see how in Tortage during the Final Battle with Strom, I get ~15 FPS no matter what graphics quality settings do I use. It is also the same in other towns: Khemi (~20 FPS), Conarch Village (~20 FPS), and especially Old Tarantian where I get ~15 FPS with a lot of "stuttering". Again, turning down the graphics might reduce the "stuttering" somewhat, but it doesn't affect the FPS counter at all.

In the wilderness or dungeons, it's another story. If I suddenly start getting low FPS, I am able to boost it somewhat by "tricking" the game, but this only works for a few minutes, or until the next zone. Basically you need to make any change that makes the graphics engine of the game restart (flicker to desktop and back). This includes changing the resolution or the MSAA setting. That's why if I'm getting 20 FPS in a zone (NOT a town though) I'm able to boost it to 30-40 by turning on 8X MSAA setting. Again, this doesn't make any sense whatsoever, as 8X MSAA is supposed to give much bigger load on the graphics card, and decrease the FPS. This too indicates some poor coding or unoptimized graphics engine.

I must also add that I've never seen the FPS go over 50 - never, period. It doesn't matter if I set the graphics to Low, disable all the shadows and occlusion manually, and even reduce the resolution and the view distance sliders. People with graphics card of similar performance to the Radeon 3870 (such as various 8800 GT or GTS models) are reporting up to 120 FPS on low settings in instances - something I can only dream of. Note, I don't care about getting 120 FPS instead of 60 - I am just comparing the performance here and trying to describe the problem.

This is a very widespread "low FPS problem" and I don't have much faith in Funcom's ability to fix it anytime soon. After all, it took them 5 years to get the game to the state where it is now (far from finished, as Gaute himself said) and "fixing" this problem would probably involve modifying the graphics engine itself. Some people even reported that the problem existed back in beta, but didn't receive any attention from the developers. It isn't listed as a "known issue" anywhere I could find even now!

Here are a few forum threads to read up, if you're interested.

http://forums-eu.ageofconan.com/showthread.php?t=13465 [now closed]

While everything I wrote here up till now is related to ATI 3870 cards, some people with nVidia cards are having similar problems as well - take this guy for example. Most fanboys respond to such problems with "Your PC is too weak for the next generation graphics of AoC, upgrade it" but that's just not true with the powerful computers listed in the threads linked above, and is simply ignoring the issue at hand.

Personally, I've made a clean WinXP SP3 install, downloaded the newest Catalyst 8.5 drivers and did everything else I could. All other games work just fine, so I have to make a conclusion that the problem is Age of Conan, not my system. Plus, note the number of people complaining about low FPS both on official AoC and AMD Game forums.

All I want is to enjoy the game I waited so long for, which I cannot at the moment. I hope the developers will officially recognize this as a real issue and then start working on fixing it. If you still don't believe this is real and are too lazy to read the 50+ pages of forum talk, just take a look at this post. All this person did was change his video card from 3870 to 8800GT, and the performance increased more than two times. Does this mean everyone has to change their cards to nVidia because they are "better"? Hell no. My 3870 runs other resource-hungry games just fine, and it makes you think if nVidia's "The way it's meant to be played" movie at the start of the game actually means something... Well, I know I won't be buying a new card just because Funcom can't code properly. Forget broken quests, feats missing descriptions and useless skills - they need fixing, yes, but this is something much more important, fundamental even.

Gaute Godager, the Game Director of Age of Conan says in his letter to the community that the game as it is now is merely a platform, the engine on which all the good stuff will be built. Well, it seems the platform itself is flawed.

Please forgive the long rant; I hope you understand how frustrating it is not to be able to enjoy the game to the full. It's playable, but the performance is not nearly close to what it should be. Hoping for better times in Hyboria soon.


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Openedge1 said...

Ok...got a trick for you

The issue with the 38x series is actually an ATI bug (not withstanding their weird shadows issues also...)
So, it really is not funcom...but ATI being stupid..

Anyways...here is the problem
ATI has the "Overdrive" system which keeps the card running at half speed while in windows then cranks the speed to full for games.
But, the way it is implemented, no matter what the games do, they cannot force the card to the standard speed...
EQ2 does this, and several other games as well.
But, there is a fix...
Download this file

Read more here
Install this,
Step one - Go to Catalyst Control Center, and unlock the Overdive system (it looks like a padlock)
Next start ATI Tool and FORCE the standard clock speeds for your card
(May have to look this up...unless it is stated on your box..)
Also may want to crank your fans to prevent overheating.

Anyways...I can get a steady 60 with VSync, Forced AF and if you still see issues, finally turn off grass...and this helps immensely.

Hopefully Funcom gets a way to force the clock, but it is not their responsibility...SOE still has not figured it out either..

Good luck

Andrew said...

Thanks for the help, but I'm not sure that this is the issue. I used RivaTuner to monitor the speed of the card. It's 300 MHz in 2D mode (Windows, etc.) and 850 MHz in games. In Conan it's always 850 MHz, that's why I don't think that there's a problem here.

The weirdest thing is that turning off grass, lowering AF, turning off Bloom, AA, etc. has almost no impact on my FPS.

Openedge1 said...

Uh oh

Could you do me a favor, and look at your power supply?

What are the ratings for the 12V rails...
there should be a
12V1 and a 12V2

What are each of those?

Andrew said...

They are 16A and 18A.

But I mean, I can run 3DMark without problems (over 10k score) and Furmark which gives the GPU a 100% load - it's like a stress test, I ran it for hours without any problems either.

Andrew said...

Well, if anyone's interested - installing 64 bit Vista SP1 solved most of my performance problems! I still would like AoC to perform better, but now at least graphics settings are making sense - if I set them to Low, I finally see an actual increase in FPS! The game also feels much smoother, FPS counter aside.

This gave me a number of other problems though :( Such as NPCs "popping in" or textures streaming slowly. I read about people having problems like these but never experienced them in WinXP SP3.

So now it's dual-booting Vista just to play AoC for me!

Googley said...

I had similar FPS problems. With the graphics on Low, I was getting about 15-20 FPS.

I have an Athlon 3500 and an nVidia 8600, so not too far above the minimum requirements.

The way I got round this was to turn my graphics to High (yes, that's right, I upped the graphics detail) and turned off the shadows (in the advanced settings). I now get 25-30 FPS as standard.

I think this works for two reasons:
1. It appears the graphics have been optimised for the higher detail settings and to dumb them down makes the graphics processor work harder, and
2. The shadows seem to take a lot of processor cycles to generate, so by getting rid of them you significantly increase your FPS.

Darkskypoet said...

Just to add some more info for those hitting this page;

I run 2 x 3870's in Crossfire
Athlon 64 x2 @ 3000 mHz
8Gb DDR 2
on XP 64 sp2

Running at settings of:
1680x1050 High, Medium, or Low;

I can run at 8x mSAA or none, and sit around the 30 FPS marker. Sure at 8x MSAA there is the odd more noticeable stutter as I would honestly expect anyways; but at no AA, there is no speedup in frame rate at all. But a noticeable degradation in Quality.

Just found it funny that I was essentially doubling your frame rate with 2 cards :)

As to the "Overdrive" comment previous to mine; Overdrive is a built in OC utility, it is not the technology that drops the core / mem clock in 2D. I believe that is actually called power play, and only effects some games in Windowed mode, not usually Full Screen mode. It's a great power saving tech.

Further; BE CAREFUL with ATI TOOL, if misused, or used on a card not fully supported; you can cause havoc and issues that lead to system instability / trip to safe mode to get your system to boot properly.

Mark said...

Hey, this should definatley be posted on the AoC forums. This issue really needs to be bought to Funcoms attention. I'm running..

Athlon 4600+ Dual Core 2.4GHz
2GB DDR2 800 RAM
Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 512MB GDDR4
Win XP SP2 Pro.

I get the same exact frames as you with practically the same settings (except my highest res. is 1680x1050).

I heard a rumor on a website that someone from Funcom hinted the issue wont be fixed til after the release of DX10 for AoC, if that is so.. then I will probably not play AoC at all.


Andrew said...

I would suggest you try Vista (if possible). It worked for me, and I heard that ATI drivers are, quote "more mature" for this OS than for WinXP, which might explain the performance improvement in AoC.

Oh and this is all over the Technical Support forums, but it seems Funcom hasn't responded yet or acknowledged this as a real issue.

Kris said...

Hi Guys,

I had the same problems that i couldn't get any FPS in the game but i solved it by updating the driver to 8.9 and i found out that the GPU dropped from 100% to around 50% with everything maxed out when I enabled full screen in the game. It seems if you run the game windowed you get a big performance drop. Hope this helps.

Btw i run on xp SP3 with a 3870 x2 card.


Kris said...

Hi Again,

I found this on a forum and it really works!!!! I have 60FPS with a resolution of 1280*1024.

Press ESC *or F10*.
Go to Video Options.
Click "High". I don't care if your computer sucks. Click it and shut up.
Go to the Advanced Tab.
Disable shadows completely.
If you are on a laptop, scroll down to the system texture cache bar and maximize it.
Click Apply, then OK.

There is a bug that causes low settings to actually produce worse FPS than high settings. With the shadows disabled, you can actually play better on high settings than low.


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