It’s been nearly two decades, but I can still remember wreaking havoc in the original Grand Theft Auto and GTA 2 like it was yesterday. Both games were a blast but Rockstar really blew our minds when it shifted from bird’s-eye visuals to a fully 3D game engine and environment with GTA III in 2001, allowing players to experience open world mayhem across Liberty City from a third-person perspective.

Having found a winning formula, Rockstar followed up with two more crime simulators: Vice City arrived a year later and then San Andreas two years after that, both of which were powered by Criterion’s RenderWare engine (like GTA III) while 2008’s GTA IV is more of a true successor with larger gameplay changes and graphics based on Rockstar’s own engine (RAGE).

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Naturally, the PC version of GTA IV was delayed from spring to holiday 2008, though it shipped with enhanced features such as traffic density control, draw distance configurations, a replay editor, a customizable radio station for your own music, and 32 player online sessions instead of 16 player.

Now seven years after GTA IV’s arrival, fans have been craving for the next installment, which landed some 18 months ago on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, as you’re undoubtedly aware of thanks to the game’s $265 million development and marketing budget. After watching GTA V ship for current-gen consoles last November, PC gamers are finally getting their chance to play in Rockstar’s latest sandbox this week.

On the upside, Rockstar has made many improvements to the PC version, including increased resolution and graphical detail, denser traffic, greater draw distances, upgraded AI, new wildlife, and advanced weather and damage effects.

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Though it sounds great on paper, some of previous Rockstar ports have disappointed — including GTA IV — though ax Payne 3was pretty special and we wound up spending a lot of time benchmarking new GPUs with that game. So far GTA V looks to be a well-executed port truly optimized for PC, but we’ll have a better notion of this after some tests.

We used the latest AMD and Nvidia drivers on 26 DirectX 11 graphics card configurations covering most price ranges. Our test rig was outfitted with the Intel Core i7-5960X to remove CPU bottlenecks that could influence high-end GPU scores. For testing we didn’t use Fraps and instead relied on the built-in benchmark.

Testing Methodology

To use the benchmark tool in GTA V, simply launch the game and navigate to the “graphics” menu. Then press the “tab” key to initiate the benchmark sequence. NOTE: You need to run through the first “Franklin” mission in the Story Mode of the game for the benchmark to operate properly.

Make sure to set the graphics options you want to use before launching the benchmark. The sequence will follow five unique scenes in the world of Los Santos simulating a wide array of actual gameplay scenarios. The benchmark will track performance and output results in the following location: “My Documents\Rockstar Games\GTA V\benchmarks”

Rather than take the result from just one of the five scenes we took the average frame rate from all five scenes. However, as the world in GTA V is always changing, the tests are never exactly the same, the traffic density changes quite a bit on each run. Therefore we ran each test three times and took the average.

All told we ran the benchmark over 350 times. It’s been a long week ;).

GTA V was tested at three resolutions, 1920x1080, 2560x1600 and 3840x2160. We tested using the normal textures and the very high textures. Additionally the game was also tested using FXAA and MSAAx4, as well as the advanced graphics settings.

Texture Quality set to ‘Normal’

Texture Quality set to ‘Very High’

Advanced Graphics Enabled

MSAAx4 Enabled

Test System Specs

  • Intel Core i7-5960X (3.00GHz)
  • x4 4GB Kingston Predator DDR4-2400 (CAS 12-13-13-24)
  • Asrock X99 Extreme6 (Intel X99)
  • Silverstone Strider Series (700w)
  • Crucial MX200 1TB (SATA 6Gb/s)
  • Gigabyte Radeon R9 290X (4096MB)
  • Gigabyte Radeon R9 290 (4096MB)
  • Gigabyte Radeon R9 285 (2048MB)
  • Gigabyte Radeon R9 280X (3072MB)
  • HIS Radeon R9 270X (2048MB)
  • HIS Radeon R9 270 (2048MB)
  • HIS Radeon R7 265 (2048MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7970 GHz (3072MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7970 (3072MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7950 (3072MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7870 (2048MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7850 (2048MB)
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan X (12288MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 (4096MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 (3584+512MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 960 (2048MB)
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan (6144MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 780 Ti (3072MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 780 (3072MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 770 (2048MB)
  • Palit GeForce GTX 760 (2048MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 750 Ti (2048MB)
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 680 (2048MB)
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 660 Ti (2048MB)
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 660 (2048MB)
  • Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
  • Nvidia GeForce 350.12 WHQL
  • AMD Catalyst 15.4 Beta

Normal Texture Quality

The game is still demanding when playing GTA V at 1080p with everything set to maximum except anti-aliasing and textures. Here we are using normal textures and FXAA with MSAA disabled.

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For an average of 60fps gamers will require a Radeon HD 7970 or GeForce GTX 680, though it’s possible to get by comfortably with the GTX 960 and HD 7950/R9 270X.

Current-generation mid-range GPUs such as the R9 285 had no trouble delivering 60+ fps while the higher end GPUs were pushing 80+ fps.

Already we are seeing that it’s quite difficult to sustain 60fps at higher resolutions as the R9 290X and GTX 970 average 59fps while mid-range GPUs such as the GTX 770 and R9 285 were limited to around 45fps and the GTX 960 and R9 270X struggled to reach an average of 40fps.

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As expected, the GTX Titan X is the fastest single-GPU delivering a whopping 84fps, making it 24% faster than the GTX 980 and over 40% faster than the R9 290X.

Very High Texture Quality

Cranking the textures to their maximum setting saw the required VRAM exceed 3GBs so we needed to turn on the ‘ignore suggested limits’ option in order to test graphics cards with less than 3GB of memory buffer.

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At 2560x1600 we still saw very playable performance from the R9 290X and GTX 970. In fact, both were only around 2fps slower when compared to the performance seen using the normal textures.

To give the GTX Titan X some competition we threw in the R9 295X2 which was only able to deliver one more frame at 83fps.

Those wanting to play GTA V on a 4K monitor will need some serious GPU power as the R9 290X was only good for 33fps and the GTX 980 just 36fps. The GTX Titan X was able to provide playable performance with 47fps, while the R9 295X2 produced 51fps.

Advanced Graphics Performance

Turning on the advanced graphics features sees the GTX 980 suffer an 18% performance loss while the R9 290X was 24% slower dropping down to 45fps. The R9 295X2 was still good for 59fps, though the GTX Titan X was faster at 64fps.

At 4K the GTX 980 and R9 290X are virtually wiped out, managing around 30fps. The GTX Titan X saw a 38% loss when going from 2560x1600 to 3840x2160, while the R9 295X2 and GTX 980 SLI cards dropped less than 30% of their performance at 2560x1600.

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Steven Walton is a writer at TechSpot. TechSpot is a computer technology publication serving PC enthusiasts, gamers and IT pros since 1998.