Game Benchmarks stub

Star Citizen v0.9.2.2 GPU Benchmark - GTX 980 vs R9 290X, GTX 770, Others

Posted on December 14, 2014

CIG's Star Citizen aims to revitalize the PC gaming space by fully utilizing every system component to its fullest potential, starting with multi-million poly-count objects that hit the GPU heavily. In our very first interview with CIG's Chris Roberts – a man who has managed to raise $60 million in crowd-funding – we discussed Star Citizen's emphasis on full system hardware utilization. Roberts told us “I've got eight cores – I want to use them.”

The game is currently in alpha, versioned at version Star Citizen's persistent universe (the major multiplayer component) has yet to begin production and is still in the design phase, though the “Arena Commander” module is currently available for download to early backers. The next module in the release schedule will patch-in FPS elements, but the game's current alpha offers dog-fighting, free flight, hangar exploration, and “murray cup” racing.

Given the game's graphics and bug overhauls since initial launch, we decided to revisit the updated alpha for system performance analysis. This GPU benchmark tests Star Citizen's FPS performance on various video cards, including the GTX 980, 780 Ti, 770, and AMD's R9 290X, 270X, and 7850.

Star Citizen Alpha Racing on Max Settings & Benchmark

First, Our Previous Star Citizen Content:

Disclaimer: We're Testing an Alpha & This Benchmark Has Limitations

It should be heavily emphasized – and will be again momentarily – that this game is presently in alpha. It is not anywhere close to completion, in the grand scheme of things. This state of development means a few things:

  • The game's art assets are not complete and will likely only improve with time.
  • The game is not fully optimized for hardware.
  • This benchmark is relevant only to the current v0.9.2.2 version of the software. Once the software has moved closer to release, this benchmark should be disregarded in favor of our updated tests as it will no longer be representative of real-world performance.
  • Despite improving art assets, it is likely that Star Citizen's overall framerate performance will be bettered with time.
  • Our results may be vastly different from yours based upon other system variables. The GPU is generally the most relied-upon when benchmarking games, but in the instance of an alpha, any component could trigger vastly different results – the same goes for background processes and operating systems.
  • Drivers aren't yet built for SC.

Test Methodology

For this test, we varied the Star Citizen settings between “Very High,” “Medium,” and “Low,” testing each video card for 120 seconds in an identical circuit on the Murray Cup racing map. Note that performance is staggeringly different in the dog-fighting and hangar modules; we selected the race for our benchmark because it is currently the most recent and most graphically demanding. Each test was conducted three times for parity.

We used FRAPS' benchmark utility for real-time measurement of the framerate, then used FRAFS to analyze the 1% high, 1% low, min, max, and average FPS.

NVidia 344.75 stable drivers were used for all tests conducted on nVidia's GPUs. AMD Catalyst Omega drivers were used for the AMD cards.

GN Test Bench 2013NameCourtesy OfCost
Video Card

(This is what we're testing).

XFX Ghost 7850 
GTX 750 Ti 2GB SuperClocked
GTX 770 2GB (we used reference).
GTX 780 Ti 3GB
AMD R9 290X 4GB (from CyberPower)
ASUS R7 250X 1GB
MSI R9 270X 2GB (we used reference).
GTX 980 4GB

CPUIntel i5-3570k CPU
Intel i7-4770K CPU (alternative bench).
Memory16GB Kingston HyperX Genesis 10th Anniv. @ 2400MHzKingston Tech.~$117
MotherboardMSI Z77A-GD65 OC BoardGamersNexus~$160
Power SupplyNZXT HALE90 V2NZXTPending
SSDKingston 240GB HyperX 3K SSDKingston Tech.~$205
Optical DriveASUS Optical DriveGamersNexus~$20
CasePhantom 820NZXT~$130
CPU CoolerThermaltake Frio AdvancedThermaltake~$65

The system was kept in a constant thermal environment (21C - 22C at all times) while under test. 4x4GB memory modules were kept overclocked at 2400MHz. All case fans were set to 100% speed and automated fan control settings were disabled for purposes of test consistency and thermal stability.

A 120Hz display was connected for purposes of ensuring frame throttles were a non-issue. The native resolution of the display is 1920x1080. V-Sync was completely disabled for this test.

A few additional tests were performed as one-offs to test various graphics settings for impact.

The video cards tested include:

Star Citizen Max Settings Benchmark – GTX 980 vs. 780, 770, 750 Ti, R9 290X, 270X, etc.


On “very high” settings, the game operates playably on all devices above (and including) the GTX 770 – though the 770 is borderline unplayable in some tighter situations. In order to play Star Citizen in its current alpha state with very high settings, you'd really need to opt for a 970 (not shown here), 780 Ti, or better. The R9 290X is fairly playable, but suffers a few drops – similar to the 770 – that make a few sharper turns unpleasant.

We expect these numbers will improve substantially as the game matures and is optimized. The cards with the most horsepower are pulling ahead strictly because of brute force, not necessarily because of architecture or optimization.

star-citizen-bench2.1 star-citizen-bench3.1

Medium settings bring most cards to a more globally acceptable “playable” framerate of 50-60FPS, including the R9 290X, 780, 780 Ti, and GTX 980. The GTX 970 – if we had a permanent test sample to show here – would be around the same performance as the 780.

Low settings allow for the GTX 770 to operate at a fluid FPS, with the R9 270X in territory edging close to playable performance. The 750 Ti remains below our target threshold for “playable” FPS.

What's the Best Graphics Card for Star Citizen?

That's just the thing: There isn't one right now. To buy specifically and only for Star Citizen at this point is unnecessary, given the tremendous difference in performance that we'll see as the game moves toward completion. Right now, the best cards are only the best because of raw horsepower on the hardware side -- there's no software-driven optimization (on the part of the GPU manufacturers) and minimal optimization in Star Citizen. The GTX 980 ($550) is barely touching 60FPS on "Very High," which is something we expect will change shortly. We would recommend waiting before purchasing GPUs.

It's good progress so far for Star Citizen, considering the bugginess of initial launch. We'll continue posting benchmarks like this as the game develops.

- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.