What Works and What Doesn't?

Call of Duty: Black Ops shattered entertainment records in the first 24 hours on sale by raking in a reported $360 million. When compared to other successful video games, such as Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption, which made under $100 million total, it’s safe to say the developers have already considered the game to be a success.

Activision says Call of Duty: Black Ops is the highest-grossing entertainment launch ever, knocking off even Hollywood's biggest blockbusters such as Avatar. For comparison, the aforementioned movie took in just $27 million on its opening day and $77 million for its opening weekend. Despite these facts we are sure another “piracy is killing the computer gaming industry” type of news report will surface in the coming weeks… but I digress.

Getting back on topic, it appears that Black Ops has very similar hardware requirements to those of Call of Duty: World at War, at least on the GPU end. When comparing the 1920x1200 data from both games we found that frame rates recorded in Black Ops are in some cases slightly higher.

Of course, this is far from an apples to apples comparison given that World at War is a 2-year-old game and we weren’t able to test it using any DirectX 11 capable graphics cards at the time, nor did we have the kind of processors we have at our disposal today. That said, it’s interesting to note that the GeForce 9800 GT was actually 1fps faster in Black Ops than in World at War, while the GeForce GTX 260 was 2fps faster. In other words, if your graphics card was capable of playing World at War you will have no difficulty with Black Ops.

For those gaming at 1680x1050 or lower, a relatively affordable Radeon HD 5770 or GeForce GTS 450 graphics card is all you really need. The 1920x1200 resolution bumps our minimum recommended graphics cards to either the GeForce GTX 260 or Radeon HD 5830. Although the developer recommends a minimum of a GeForce 8600GT or Radeon X1950 Pro, they certainly don't have the best visual quality settings in mind.

Activision/Treyarch also recommend an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 or AMD Phenom X3 8750 processor, which is interesting given our findings. The Core 2 Duo E8500 that we tested with managed just 47fps at 1920x1200 with a Radeon HD 5970, and therefore it stands to reason that regardless of the graphics card used this is the frame rate cap.

However, we tend to agree more with the AMD Phenom X3 8750 processor, as we found that even the Athlon II X3 445 was faster than the Core 2 Duo E8500 with an average of 52fps. While the triple-core AMD processors appear adequate, we would still recommend looking into a quad-core as they provided the best performance in this game.

The truly interesting results came when looking at the Core i5 and i7 chips, which were head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. The results were so extreme that we re-tested several times, but in the end they held true and it would appear that Call of Duty: Black Ops has been optimized for these processors.

Finally, let’s take a look at the classic GPU battle between AMD and Nvidia. At 2560x1600 the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 remained the fastest single graphics card available, as it beat the new GeForce GTX 580 by a 9% margin and the GTX 480 by a 25% margin. Meanwhile, the new GeForce GTX 580 was 15% faster than the GTX 480.

The Radeon HD 5870 out-muscled the GeForce GTX 470, while the Radeon HD 6870 had just enough gas to push ahead of the GeForce GTX 460. The GTX 460 on the other hand was faster than the Radeon HD 5850 and 5830. Overall, based on the pricing for each graphics card, the performance was very much neck and neck right across the field.

Update: We've addressed numerous feedback in the comments section of this article, but because not everyone will be reading that, we are posting here for clarification:

1) Several people are complaining about performance bugs and an overall laggy experience with CoD: Black Ops. We had reported on that situation and the potential fixes issued by Treyarch a few days earlier on our news coverage. Luckily we didn't come across any such issues and thus were able to complete this performance review.
2) Per our testing methodology notes, we only tested the single-player portion of the game, which is easier to replicate for benchmarking purposes. It might be the case performance bugs are more notorious in multiplayer, however both modes share the same graphics engine.
3) When we posted this article we had mixed the Radeon HD 4850 and 4890 scores, graphs were corrected a few hours later.