Final ThoughtsFirst things first, we should indicate that the "Late Game View Benchmark" tests worst-case scenario performance, meaning you are likely to see better overall performance depending on the stage of your game. That said, this is a valid benchmark as anyone playing Civilization V seriously will make it past 300 turns.
This is similar to the situation we faced when testing StarCraft II, which gave us very different results in 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 scenarios. Adding AI opponents also affected performance. We eventually decided to test with four human players and four AI players on a large map, but we also had a difficult time determining when to start the benchmark. There's not much happening at the beginning of a StarCraft II game (very few units are present etc.) and that inflated the fps results.
Therefore, we would just like to reiterate that earlier stages of Civilization V will allow for much higher frame rates. For example, the 300-turn test dragged the GeForce GT 240 to a mere 9fps at maximum quality, but the card averaged more than twice that figure at the start of a new game. Also, when zooming in to focus on just a few select tiles, you can expect frame rates to double.
By the later stages of a game, Civilization V is very demanding on both the GPU and CPU. Even at medium quality settings with anti-aliasing disabled, gamers will require a mainstream card from the current generation or a high-end GPU from the previous generation, such as the GeForce GTX 285 or Radeon HD 4890.
We were surprised at how poorly the GeForce GTX 200 series performed, while the GeForce GTX 400 series dominated its Radeon competition. As it stands, the GeForce GTX 400 series is far superior to the Radeon HD 5000 series when playing Civilization V. Meanwhile, the Radeon HD 4000 cards dominated the GeForce GTX 200 line in all of our tests.
The good news is, if you're happy to play Civilization V on medium quality, affordable products like the GeForce GTS 450 or Radeon HD 5770 are more than capable of providing smooth gameplay. Those wanting to experience Civilization V in all its glory should turn to the GeForce GTX 400 series, particularly the GTX 460, which provided excellent performance for a $200 graphics card.
Our processor tests showed that Civilization V only really requires a powerful dual-core processor. When four cores are available, the game only utilizes about half of the CPU's power. Although the workload appears to be evenly distributed across all four cores, each only works at around 50%, which is true for both the Phenom II X4 and Intel Core processors.
When looking at a range of CPUs, it became clear that core efficiency matters more than the number of cores, but having four cores at your disposal is the sweet spot. By far the best value processor for playing Civilization V is the Core i5, which is at no disadvantage to the Core i7. The Phenom II X4 also performed very well, while the extra cores of the Phenom II X6 went to waste as they so often do when gaming.
The CPU scaling performance with the Core i7 architecture revealed that Civilization V fans are really going to want to juice every last MHz out of their CPU. Rarely do we see such a powerful desktop chip pushed to its limits, but when clocked at 4.0GHz, that's exactly what we saw when testing the late game performance of Civilization V.