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Half-Life: Alyx PC performance report - Graphics card benchmarks
By Chad Norton on March 24th, 2020 at 07:30pm - original article from game-debate

Well, ¬¬g_id:36729[Half-Life: Alyx]¬¬ is finally here. It’s been 12 years since we last got a new Half-Life game, and as most of us know, this one is VR-exclusive. While most people who have a VR headset are likely to go and buy a big hit game like HL: Alyx (nice move, Valve), not everyone is going to get the expensive VR hardware required to run the game, especially without first checking if their hardware can run it. So, we are going to take a look at some of the expected PC performance that Half-Life: Alyx gets in these frames per second benchmark results, across a few of our graphics cards…

Gaming in virtual reality is pretty sexy but comes with a huge price tag, which presents a big barrier to most of us. This in turn stops developers making games for VR because not enough people have the hardware that would then buy their games. And although its pretty obvious that Valve have released their next Half Life game to help flex the potential muscles of the VR game space, it is also intended to give their own VR headset, the Valve Index a sales boost (another good move, Valve).

Firstly, its worth noting that we have used an HTC Vive for our tests, which as you may know has a total resolution of 2160×1200 (1080 x 1200 per eye). As a point of interest the newer Valve Index's total resolution is 2880 x 1600 (1440 x 1600 per eye).

As performance is significantly influenced by the number of those beautiful little pixels our GPU's are rendering, our HL: Alyx VR benchmark FPS listed below will be higher compared to running Alyx on a higher resolution Valve Index.

But first, let’s quickly take another look at those ¬¬g_id:36729[Half-Life Alyx system requirements]¬¬…

Half-Life: Alyx Minimum System Requirements

  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-7500 4-Core 3.4 GHz or AMD Ryzen 5 1600 6-Core 3.2 GHz
  • RAM: 12 GB System Memory
  • GPU RAM: 6 GB Video Memory
  • GPU: GeForce GTX 1060 6GB or Radeon RX 580 8GB
  • HDD: TBA
  • DX: DirectX 11
  • VR: SteamVR Headset

Okay, now we can get to the good stuff! What GPUs did we benchmark with? We used the Nvidia ASUS GeForce GTX 970, Nvidia MSI GeForce GTX 980 Ti, Nvidia MSI GeForce GTX 1060 (which is the minimum graphics card spec listed above), a Nvidia PNY GeForce RTX 2060 and an AMD MSI Radeon R9 380. These were all done with a core i7-3770K and 8GB of ram. The minimum specs for the processor is an i5-7500, which is pretty much similar to the i7-3770K, however the 8GB of ram is just under the required 12GB, which may account for some of the anomalies we see in the FPS results below, but other than that we didn’t really see much of a performance hit due to the lack of ram on the higher-end cards. We will do some further benchmark testing with other RAM setups at a later point, but went for 8GB RAM for now because that is what we had and it seemed most popular in our visitors lower end PC systems.

Half-Life: Alyx benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on Nvidia PNY GeForce RTX 2060 6GB | Intel i7-3770K | 8GB

Half-Life: Alyx RTX 2060 VR Performance Graph

RTX 2060 Half Life Alyx FPS Avg FPS Min FPS Max FPS 1% Low 0.1% Low
Low 82.1 40.4 90.4 4.4 3.8
Medium 82.3 45.1 89.9 33.7 10.2
High 83.2 44.4 90 40.4 11.6
Ultra 77.4 44.3 90 37.6 18.9

The ¬¬gc_id:4051[RTX 2060]¬¬ did an okay job running Half Life Alyx. Whilst it did achieve consistently high avg framerates on Low Medium High and Ultra, they all seemed to sit around the same FPS mark. There were also a few noticeable stuttering and lag moments, that were seemingly unconnected to whether it was running on Low or Ultra graphics settings. So we suspected another graphics card limitation was being reached on occasions. However, overall the RTX 2060 delivered a reliable and good experience in VR while running Half Life Alyx VR. We would recommend either High or Ultra graphics settings for the RTX 2060.

Half-Life: Alyx benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on Nvidia MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB | Intel i7-3770K | 8GB

Half-Life: Alyx GTX 1060 VR Performance Graph

GTX 1060 Half Life Alyx FPS Avg FPS Min FPS Max FPS 1% Low 0.1% Low
Low 73.1 35.8 89.9 4 2
Medium 74.7 30.3 90.3 3 3
High 63.7 31.4 89.9 28.2 10.2
Ultra 53.6 43 89.6 29.3 18.6

As you will see the ¬¬gc_id:3540[Nvidia GTX 1060]¬¬ is the graphics card listed in the minimum specs for Alyx and we were really pleased to say it handled Half Life in VR pretty well. You could definitely set Alyx on Medium settings with the GTX 1060 card and enjoy a reliable FPS experience. If you put the graphics setting to High or Ultra we noticed an occasional stutter. Weirdly, again the 1% and 0.1% low results above do not quite support our in game experience and they seemed like an anomaly in Low and Medium settings.

Half-Life: Alyx benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on Nvidia MSI GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB | Intel i7-3770K | 8GB

Half-Life: Alyx GTX 980 Ti VR Performance Graph

GTX 980 Ti Half Life Alyx FPS Avg FPS Min FPS Max FPS 1% Low 0.1% Low
Low 86.6 53.4 90.2 42.9 36
Medium 86.1 48.4 90.6 42 35.5
High 84.9 49.7 90.5 42.3 17.1
Ultra 78.1 33.4 90 30.3 28.1

The ¬¬gc_id:2935[GTX 980 Ti 6GB]¬¬ performed very well. There was hardly any stuttering and it ran very smoothly. This is definitely the star card out of everything that we've benchmarked here today. Chuck this one on Ultra settings and you'll find no issues. We put this down to the higher cores, TMUS, ROPS and Bus width that the 980 Ti has over the other cards in our list.

Half-Life: Alyx benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on Nvidia ASUS GeForce GTX 970 4GB | Intel i7-3770K | 8GB

Half-Life: Alyx GTX 970 VR Performance Graph

GTX 970 Half Life Alyx FPS Avg FPS Min FPS Max FPS 1% Low 0.1% Low
Low 81.1 44.6 90.2 40.8 24.9
Medium 66.8 43.5 89.9 41.1 24.3
High 44.5 32.4 57.9 29.5 25.1
Ultra 20.8 17.3 23.8 17.2 3.7

Next up we have one of the most popular cards of the now old 900 series ¬¬gc_id:2438[GTX 970 4GB]¬¬. This card could handle Low settings pretty well, but it was immediately clear after increasing the graphics settings how much of a performance hit there was. Whilst you could technically play Half Life Alyx with a GTX 970 at Medium settings, I would recommend keeping it on Low for those extra few frames to keep yourself from getting any headaches or motion sickness in any particularly demanding moments. But, this old GTX 970 card can just about run HL Alyx.

Half-Life: Alyx benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on AMD MSI Radeon R9 380 2GB | Intel i7-3770K | 8GB

Half-Life: Alyx R9 380 VR Performance Graph

AMD R9 380 Half Life Alyx FPS Avg FPS Min FPS Max FPS 1% Low 0.1% Low
Low 33.4 13.4 44.9 2.6 2.3
Medium 36.2 15.9 45.1 5.6 3.4
High 32.3 15.5 44.9 4.9 3.8
Ultra 27.1 18.7 35.9 15.8 9.9

In all honesty, the ¬¬gc_id:2266[AMD Radeon R9 380]¬¬ can not run Half Life Alyx. The game was pretty much unplayable on any graphics setting. And while it technically managed to run the game, you would have to adjust your definition of 'playable' to consider playing it with a card of this sort of performance, as it would likely give you headaches and possibly make you feel sick if you tried.

So right off the bat we can see that Half-Life: Alyx, much like the recent DOOM Eternal, requires a hefty amount of VRAM in order to take full advantage of those higher graphical fidelity settings. But the GTX 980 Ti managed to shine here. It was the best card out of our 5 for running Half-Life: Alyx for sure, with the most consistent average FPS as well as the least amount of stuttering and lag. As we mentioned it seemed to be because of the higher respective number of cores, TMUS, ROPS and Bus width the GTX 980 Ti has, compared to the RTX 2060 and GTX 1060.

If you want to play Half-Life: Alyx at it's very best, you'll need at least 6GB of VRAM. Whilst we would recommend going for the 12GB of ram if you can, we found that the 8GB was perfectly fine running Half Life Alyx, especially when accompanied by the higher-end graphics cards.

We hope this helps give some early insight into the sort of PC performance we can expect from Half Life Alyx across a range of graphics cards and will do our best to test more GPUs over the coming weeks. As always we are all going to be interested to hear if you think HL Alyx is ace, or if you are now tempted to try VR, or perhaps you will hold off until the initial VR headset costs come down a bit.