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Gameplay Frustrations and Conclusion
Before talking performance I wanted to quickly give my own impression of the game, since it is rare that I put in as much time into playing a game that we test as I did with SimCity. Obviously the lack of an offline mode is the game's biggest shortcoming, I just cannot be bothered dealing with the hassle that goes along with an always online mode for a game that simply doesn't need it.
Even today I still have issues with losing connection to the server and at times not all progress is saved when I exit. If I was allowed to save multiple instances of a game to my computer, as I did back in the day with SimCity 2000, this would not be an issue.
Although I only have an ADSL connection capable of a fairly sluggish 1MB/s, every game I have ever played online has been snappy. While gameplay in SimCity was generally lag free, getting into the game was a real pain in the backside. From the moment I launch the game to the time my city is fully loaded and ready I measured an average of 90 seconds. Region sizes are also small (SimTown instead of SimCity?) and moving between them is also painfully slow, which makes resource sharing a real pain.
Having all that said, I still believe the game is very good but I can't help but think how much better it could have been. All the hard work is done, they just came up short by making a few silly choices.
Anyway, moving on to the benchmark results...
It's really important to consider the size of our test city before comparing any result you might have. While not huge, our city does make the game far more CPU dependent than GPU and that is an important factor when shaping performance.
A city with few sims will see graphics cards such as the GeForce GTX Titan and even the GTX 680 render massive frame rates because they are not being capped by the CPU (yet). As is the case with most simulation and strategy games, SimCity is CPU dependent and overclocking should result in a healthy boost if needed.
It's also very important to have the right processor to begin with. Basically an AMD Athlon II processor can be ruled out. The Intel Core i3 range will start to struggle with larger cities, as will the Phenom II processors, including the six core 1100T. Ideally gamers are going to want a Core i5, Core i7 or Vishera FX processor.
Without a doubt the Core i5 processor delivered the best performance vs. price ratio, though this is something we have come to expect from them. The Core i5-3570K and Core i5-3470 delivered virtually the same performance and both were faster than the FX-8350.
It was interesting to find that there seemed to be a 45fps limitation in our test that even an overclocked Core i7-3770K coupled with the GeForce GTX Titan couldn't break. Still, 45fps is more than enough for smooth gameplay in SimCity.
For those wanting to play SimCity using the best graphics settings at resolutions such as 1920x1200/1080p we recommend nothing slower than the Radeon HD 7850 (32fps) or GeForce GTX 650 Ti (28fps). Older cards that delivered similar performance included the Radeon HD 6970 (34fps), GeForce GTX 560 Ti (34fps) and GTX 560 (31fps).
If you are happy to reduce the quality settings to what we called medium, then the GPU requirements for 1920x1200 are less demanding. For example gamers can now get away with the Radeon HD 7770 (31fps) or GeForce GTX 550 Ti (30fps). Meanwhile seriously old GPUs such as the Radeon HD 5870 or GeForce GTX 460 will work as well.
One thing is for sure, SimCity is not a game for showing off high-end GPUs (GTX 680/670 or Radeon HD 7970/7950), as the cheaper 660 Ti and 7870 alternatives work just as well for the most part.