Get your PC ready for Battlefield 3
There aren't many game launches which get people looking at their PC and wondering if it's powerful enough. But the seemingly high system specs of Battlefield 3 have got a lot of us suddenly concerned about the state of our hardware.
With just one weekend to go until it's released, it's time to face the question: do you need to upgrade for Battlefield 3?
Confession time: I didn't get enough hands on time with the beta to do reliable benchmarking, but since there's a day one patch and new graphics drivers already confirmed, even if I had it wouldn't mean much. If you do want to see a very thorough analysis of graphics card performance in the beta, though, I can recommend Ryan from PC Perspective's work comparing 10 different chips at a range of settings here.
What I can say is that I think a lot of concerns will turn out unfounded. It ran flawlessly at Ultra settings on my generation old Radeon HD5870 from 2009. That was backed up by an embarrassingly good CPU, mind you.
Then again, perhaps I'm in the minority in thinking that. According to a report on IGN a couple of days ago, Battlefield 3 has already resulted in $1bn of PC sales and upgrades in the last year. I'm a little sceptical about that figure – NVIDIA's last three month sales figure are good, but only $100m more in GPUs than last year.
Minimum System Requirements
Processor: 2 GHz Dual Core (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 2.7 GHz)
Memory: 2 GB
Hard Drive: 20 GB
Graphics card (NVIDIA): DirectX 10.0 compatible with 512 MB RAM
Recommended System Requirements
Processor: Quad-core CPU
Memory: 4 GB
Hard Drive: 20 GB
Graphics Card: DirectX 11 compatible with 1024 MB RAM
Not too demanding, huh? I'd argue any PC built in the last few years should meet the highest recommended specs. But if you are planning to upgrade, here's the kit I'd recommend for playing BF3 on a single standard 1920x1080 desktop monitor.
Any quad core CPU should be able to run Battlefield 3 flat out, but the best buy at the moment is Intel's Core i5 2500K, which costs around £170/ $220. There are lower cost, slower Core i5s - and I'd argue that the performance difference is going to be negligible – but the K designation means this chip is unlocked for overclocking, which is a useful talent to have for just £10/$10 more. If you afford the extra £100/$100 for a Core i7 chip, you'll get four extra virtual cores thanks to Intel's Hyperthreading technology. Again, nice to have, but not essential just for Battlefield 3.
Remember that a CPU upgrade almost always involves changing your motherboard and RAM too (these chips all require a motherboard with an Intel Socket 1155 compatible chipset). The point being that if you're on limited funds and already have a Core 2 quad or later, you'll probably find a much bigger performance upgrade by changing your...
The recommended specs include a reference to a GeForce GTX 560 (approx £140/$210). That should get you running at Ultra settings. It's worth reiterating that there's more than one type of GTX 560, though. Those that have the 'Ti' suffix have more shader cores and a higher clockspeed. The Ti versions cost £40/$40-ish more, but will likely give you headroom to add things like anti-aliasing if you want better image quality.
If it's a Radeon you're after, the HD6870 is an incredible bargain at the moment, at around £120/$180. It's broadly similar to the plain GTX 560 in performance. Given that there's not that much difference between image quality at High settings and Ultra settings in the game, I wouldn't blame you at all if you wanted to save the cash and go for this. To give yourself a comfortable amount of headroom for maximum settings if you can afford the 2GB version of the HD6950 (£220/$280) it'll likely last you for years - although it is more expensive than the GeForce GTX 560Ti.
More expensive GPUs like the GeForce GTX 580 or Radeon HD6990, or even a Crossfire or SLI set-up, are really only likely to be necessary if you're thinking about triple monitor set-ups or using 3D. There's a whole other article in that for another time.
Keyboard, Mice and Headsets
Given that the differences between Ultra settings and High settings in Battlefield 3 really are cosmetic, and if you're looking at aliased outlines you're not paying enough attention to the game, there's a good chance you won't need to upgrade at all. In which case, if you have the money to spare, you might be thinking about new peripherals. There are some great new mechanical keyboards coming through at the moment, like Razer's Black Widow Stealth Ultimate or Corsair's K60, which are amazing if you can afford them. Otherwise it's hard to beat Microsoft's X4 if you're on a budget.
Headset wise, you'll want something to help you communicate with team-mates. As anyone who regularly reads the mag will know, I'm normally quite dismissive of cheap headsets, but Corsair's HS1A is currently available for just £30 over at Overclockers, and at that price is pretty much unbeatable.
Feel free to add your own recommendations/reviews/bargain finds below...