Notebookcheck

SimCity Benchmarked

Florian Glaser (translated by Ariana Brodsky), 03/15/2013

The return of a classic. Look out virtual city planners: With SimCity, EA and Maxis bring one of the most successful economic simulation games in PC history back to life. Even newcomers will be drawn to the cute animations and well-designed gameplay. As usual, our benchmark article will focus on game quality and system requirements.

SimCity Logo

Description

For the original German review, see here.

Before we come to the content, we have to sharply rebuke the publishers for forcing gamers to use the internet to play the game. Every critic who despises permanent internet connections will have a field day with this title: Contrary to its promises, just days after its release the game wasn't functioning properly due to a server overload. Those on the fence as to whether to purchase the game or not will see this as a serious weakness. Luckily, after dozens of hours and login attempts, we managed to perform all our necessary benchmark tests.

Let's start with a few general impressions. After a charming and well-made intro video, the game offers us a short tutorial. There we learn SimCity's most important basics. We especially liked how the developers divided the basics into three simple area categories, which is particularly helpful for beginners. At lightning speed we lay down residential areas (green), commercial districts (blue) or industrial sites (yellow) on appropriate streets. The individual buildings are then built by the game automatically.

Here we notice the developers' incredible attention to detail. A house isn't suddenly set down on the land - it's actually built by construction workers. After the house is completed, a moving van comes with the new residents, who walk around the house turning lights on here and there. The fact that almost every building looks different also displays the effort and love the US studio put into their work.

The intro video makes you want to play more.
The intro video makes you want to play more.
We can enter into other games, or create a new one.
We can enter into other games, or create a new one.
Three cheers for being forced to go online!
Three cheers for being forced to go online!
The inhabitants are the core of the game.
The inhabitants are the core of the game.
You should never let the budget out of sight.
You should never let the budget out of sight.
Unwelcome buildings are simply torn down.
Unwelcome buildings are simply torn down.

On the subject of atmosphere, SimCity doesn't need to hear any criticism. The lovely animations, the great sound effects and the relaxing music make it easy to forget the real world. Depending on the zoom level we can both hear and see tons of details, like babbling citizens, cars driving around, shootings, protests and fire department operations. Speaking of the fire department: Most activities that take place in the city are so vividly presented that you don't really need to look at the intelligently designed (albeit occasionally a little fragmented) menus.

That's not to say that urban development takes place on its own and experts aren't handed both challenges and extensive opportunities. The innumerable statistics and special views found in various menus provide deep insight into the underlying mechanics of the city, when such information is desired. Here Maxis performs an impressive balancing act between accessibility and breadth. The bigger a city becomes, the higher the demands and needs of the citizens. While in the beginning they need little more than power, water and a working trash service, soon you'll need to set up a school, police station, and hospital.

Thanks to the easy controls and direct feedback (multi-colored bubbles in the game world) everything can be comfortably managed in the city. And if we do happen to get into financial trouble, we can raise taxes or take out up to three bonds, among other solutions. Every once in a while we're also beckoned to complete little quests with rewards.

Special views help with analysis.
Special views help with analysis.
Pros will discover tons of detailed information.
Pros will discover tons of detailed information.
Expansions can be built on to many houses.
Expansions can be built on to many houses.
Without a water supply system you'll soon have angry citizens.
Without a water supply system you'll soon have angry citizens.
We can do business with other cities.
We can do business with other cities.
A building's function is evident.
A building's function is evident.

But SimCity's most important unique selling point is trade with other (players') cities. This feature is meant not only to justify the forced internet connection, but also to improve the cooperation of the community. Those who aren't looking for human interaction and would rather build alone in peace have the option to open a private game.

All in all, SimCity makes a convincing presentation. Next to the great audio-visual experience, the intelligent interlocking of the game elements sets the title apart. The economic simulation follows the time-tested principle "easy to learn, difficult to master". You're constantly endeavoring to optimize your city and discover the innumerable possibilities. There are few games that make time fly by so quickly. The basic idea of splitting the city into three zones (living, shopping, working) is an excellent way to introduce first-timers to the game.

Sometimes the citizens stage protests in front of the city hall.
Sometimes the citizens stage protests in front of the city hall.
You can use filters to change the visuals if desired.
You can use filters to change the visuals if desired.
Zooming in you discover cool details.
Zooming in you discover cool details.
Progress is visibly rewarded.
Progress is visibly rewarded.
A few buildings are obligatory (ex. the sewage pump).
A few buildings are obligatory (ex. the sewage pump).
The graphics look good at night too.
The graphics look good at night too.

Benchmark

To make our lives easier we chose the tutorial "Getting Started" for our benchmarks. We used the Fraps tool to record the first minute or so (see video). The sequence's demand is limited, which is to say that the game runs more slowly in other places. To properly enjoy SimCity, the display refresh rate should come to at least 25-30 FPS.

Graphics

Although there is often something lacking in terms of texture sharpness, we would describe the graphics quality as above average. The title just has this model railway feel to it that you have to love. Except for the resolution, in the midst of running a game you can alter all the graphics options. The developers don't offer any practical presets, but over 10 menu items gives you a lot of room to manipulate the settings.

Unlike illumination, textures, shadows, geometry and animations (we test from Low to Ultra/High), some settings like anti-aliasing, full-picture mode and vertical synchronization can "only" be turned on or off. The option frame rate limitation (at 30 or 60 FPS) was of course deactivated for our benchmarks.

Low Settings
Low Settings
Medium Settings
Medium Settings
High Settings
High Settings
Ultra Settings
Ultra Settings

If you want you can play SimCity with various filters that give the graphics an entirely different look (vintage, sepia, film noir, etc.). As expected, the speed depends heavily on the zoom level. Note: Despite the visual disadvantages,  it's a very good idea for owners of weaker notebooks (HD Graphics 3000 or inferior) to completely deactivate shadows and set the illumination to "Min".

Low Settings
Low Settings
Medium Settings
Medium Settings
High Settings
High Settings
Ultra Settings
Ultra Settings

Results

The graphics prove to be surprisingly demanding. According to our benchmarks, low-end graphics cards (ex. the HD Graphics 4000) and lower middle class cards (ex. the GeForce GT 630M) only manage the game at its lowest settings. For a normal level of detail and 1366x768 pixels you'll need a GPU from the upper middle class, like the GeForce GT 650M.

High graphics options and active anti-aliasing can only be shouldered by high-end cards (starting with the GeForce GTX 660M). To run the game at maximum settings and 1920x1080 pixels you'll need a bona fide current top model (GeForce GTX 680M or Radeon HD 7970M). Considering the graphics quality, the hardware demands are a little excessive. Maxis should keep working on this.

Benchmark table: SimCity

Verdict

If you set aside the great frustration caused by those overloaded servers, which reawakened awful memories of Diablo III, SimCity makes a very good impression. Maxis masters the art of winning over newbies and simultaneously addressing the needs of experts. The economic simulation makes for several weeks of fun - and that's without dramatic Hollywood pomp, dumbing down the game, or increasing the playing tempo to a frenzy. SimCity is a nice alternative to the shallow action-trend of the past few years. It's a game that relaxes and stimulates thinking and puzzling at the same time. It's a game for the young and the old.

The developer's love of detail is obvious.
The developer's love of detail is obvious.
Finished cities are truly impressive.
Finished cities are truly impressive.
How about a decadent gaming paradise?
How about a decadent gaming paradise?
Depending on the zoom level, you can hear individual citizens and cars.
Depending on the zoom level, you can hear individual citizens and cars.
Smiling faces delight the urban planners.
Smiling faces delight the urban planners.
There are residential, business and industrial districts.
There are residential, business and industrial districts.

Test Systems

We thank Schenker Notebooks for providing our three test devices (mysn.de):

  • XMG P502 (Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 660M, GTX 670M, GTX 675M(X), GTX 680M, Radeon HD 7970M & HD Graphics 4000)
  • XMG A502 (Core i5-3360M, GeForce GT 650M)
  • Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M & HD Graphics 3000)
  • Each with 8 GB DDR3-RAM (2x 4096 MB @ 1600 MHz), 160 GB SSD (Intel 320 Series)  & Windows 7 Professional 64 Bit

GPU drivers: Nvidia 314.14 Beta, AMD 13.2 Beta 7 & Intel 9.17.10.2932.

from left to right: Schenker XMG A502, Xesia M501 & XMG P502
from left to right: Schenker XMG A502, Xesia M501 & XMG P502

Overview

Show Restrictions
Pos      Model                                     SimCity
 SimCity (2013)
low
1024x768
Low
med.
1366x768
Medium
high
1366x768
High
onAA
ultra
1920x1080
Ultra / High
onAA
 4NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M SLI
145.9
108.3
57.1
 6AMD Radeon HD 8970M Crossfire
118.3
90.4
47.8
 14NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680
190.52
122
102
71.7
 15AMD Radeon HD 7970
136.2
100.6
77.2
57.8
 21NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti
158.4
119.3
95.2
62.9
 23NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M
104.4
74.3
62.4
39.93
 27NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M
106
79
66
42
 29AMD Radeon HD 8970M
156.1
104.4
80.3
44.4
 33NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M
77.3
56.9
48.3
32.1
 34NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M SLI
179.4
66.7
55.1
30.3
 36AMD Radeon HD 7970M
69.6
51.5
43.9
30.7
 43NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770M
95.6
57
47.6
29.5
 51NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX
71.5
47
39
24.9
 52NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M SLI
53.3
43.1
23.1
 53NVIDIA GeForce GTX 850M
87
56.3
28
 57NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470
166
39
 58NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M
92.7
45.42
38.73
23.93
 64NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675M
67.5
46.1
38.6
23.6
 67AMD Radeon HD 7770
97.1
61.4
47.3
25.6
Pos      Model                                     SimCity
lowmed.highultra
 72NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 768MB
147.99
59.98
55.18
29.04
 76NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670MX
77.6
40.9
34.5
21.7
 78NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760M
45
34
22
 80NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670M
60.7
40.9
33.7
20.1
 84AMD Radeon HD 8870M
83.3
47.8
37.5
20.3
 98NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M
54.2
33.7
27.7
17.3
 100AMD Radeon HD 8850M
64
35.7
26.9
13.5
 103AMD Radeon HD 8790M
93
38
29
16
 104AMD FirePro W4170M
93
39
28
18
 109NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M
68.9
29.2
24.6
15.2
 110NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M
40.9
25
20.6
11.8
 111NVIDIA GeForce 840M
149.63
37.13
24.53
12.352
 113NVIDIA GeForce GT 745M
75.3
27.3
22.4
15
 117Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200
219.9
34.3
24.4
11
 119NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M
41.952
25.852
18.72
10.852
 124NVIDIA GeForce GT 735M
50.8
20.9
16.1
 126NVIDIA GeForce 825M
70.7
34.4
24.4
 138NVIDIA GeForce GT 730M
80.3
24.3
19.7
9.6
 140*NVIDIA GeForce GT 645M
46
24
19.4
11.7
 142AMD Radeon HD 8750M
54.252
26.42
19.552
10.8
Pos      Model                                     SimCity
lowmed.highultra
 144AMD Radeon R7 M265
141.5
34.3
22.3
 149NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M
36.1
20.8
16.7
9.8
 170AMD Radeon HD 8670D
80
30.7
23.5
11.3
 194AMD Radeon HD 8650G + HD 8670M Dual Graphics
60.6
26
17.2
 195AMD Radeon HD 8650G + HD 8570M Dual Graphics
34.2
20.1
15.2
7.8
 197AMD Radeon HD 8550G + HD 8670M Dual Graphics
54
20.8
14.8
 198AMD Radeon HD 8670M
132.1
22.2
 200AMD Radeon HD 7660D
652
28.12
20.852
8.22
 218AMD Radeon HD 8650G
60.4
26.7
16.1
 223NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M
29.252
18.052
14.92
8.352
 224AMD Radeon HD 7560D
55
24.3
17.8
7.3
 228NVIDIA GeForce 820M
126.6
21.6
17.9
 230NVIDIA GeForce GT 720M
35.3
12
8.7
 232Intel Iris Graphics 5100
120.1
24.1
16.1
7.2
 237AMD Radeon HD 8570M
95.452
14.452
11.452
7.42
 244Intel HD Graphics 4600
73.92
18.452
15
7
 248NVIDIA GeForce 710M
58.8
14.8
12.5
 249AMD Radeon HD 7660G
35.8
22.8
16.3
6.4
 278AMD Radeon HD 7620G
21
15
12
 279AMD Radeon HD 8470D
55
20.2
Pos      Model                                     SimCity
lowmed.highultra
 283Intel HD Graphics 4400
31.54
14.34
93
 286AMD Radeon HD 7550M
38.7
15.9
11.6
 320AMD Radeon HD 7480D
27.4
15.1
11.2
4.3
 321Intel HD Graphics 4000
28.93
153
113
5.4
 325*AMD Radeon R4 (Beema)
27.6
12.6
8.4
2
 326Intel HD Graphics 4200
18.8
10.1
6.8
 334AMD Radeon HD 8450G
86.3
15
9.2
 338AMD Radeon HD 8400
27.1
12
 340AMD Radeon HD 7520G
19
12
9
 349AMD Radeon HD 8350G
36
17
 350AMD Radeon HD 8330
26.1
13.1
 378Intel HD Graphics (Haswell)
59.6
11.2
 391AMD Radeon HD 7400G
24
9
6
 415Intel HD Graphics 3000
15.8
8.4
6.4
 433AMD Radeon HD 8210
37.8
7.9
 436Intel HD Graphics 2500
14.8
8
 471*Intel HD Graphics (Sandy Bridge)
9.7
* Smaller values are better. / * Approximate position

 

Legend
5Stutters – This game is very likely to stutter and have poor frame rates. Based on all known benchmarks using the specified graphical settings, average frame rates are expected to fall below 25fps
May Stutter – This graphics card has not been explicitly tested on this game. Based on interpolated information from surrounding graphics cards of similar performance levels, stutters and poor frame rates are expected.
30Fluent – Based on all known benchmarks using the specified graphical settings, this game should run at or above 25fps
40Fluent – Based on all known benchmarks using the specified graphical settings, this game should run at or above 35fps
May Run Fluently – This graphics card has not been explicitly tested on this game. Based on interpolated information from surrounding graphics cards of similar performance levels, fluent frame rates are expected.
123Uncertain – This graphics card experienced unexpected performance issues during testing for this game. A slower card may be able to achieve better and more consistent frame rates than this particular GPU running the same benchmark scene.
Uncertain – This graphics card has not been explicitly tested on this game and no reliable interpolation can be made based on the performances of surrounding cards of the same class or family.
The value in the fields displays the average frame rate of all values in the database. Move your cursor over the value to see individual results.

Comment this article:

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > SimCity Benchmarked
Author: Florian Glaser, 2013-03-15 (Update: 2013-06- 6)