Red Dead Redemption 2 has finally landed on PC and, launch woes aside, it’s glorious. If you have the gaming PC to run it, it is one of the most visually stunning games available today. But what does it take to run it? That’s the question we’re out to answer. We tested half a dozen of the most popular graphics cards today and put them up against the game’s meaty, system-straining benchmark. Wondering if your PC is up to the task? Saddle up and let’s find out.
Options a'Plenty for PC Gamers
Before we get into the benchmarks, let’s take a moment to marvel at the sheer amount of graphics options Rockstar has baked into this game. This is no mere port from the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro version. They’ve gone above and beyond to allow you to really dial how beautiful you want the game to look, right down to water physics.
All told, Rockstar has delivered more than two dozen graphics options for your tweaking pleasure. If you’re the kind of player who likes to squeeze every spare frame out of your hardware, this is the kind of graphics smorgasbord that will make you sit back and smile.
That many options can be overwhelming. Thankfully, Rockstar has included helpful tooltips to let you know what each option changes. There are also a number of presets broken into three tiers on a slider: Favor Performance, Balanced, and Favor Quality. Most gamers will be best suited choosing a level in the Balanced tier to maintain 60 FPS unless they’re running the latest and greatest hardware, even at 1080p.
Red Dead Redemption 2see dealRed Dead Redemption 2 (PS4)$59.99on Walmart also includes a generous benchmark that runs through many of the big situations you’ll find yourself in during your adventures as Arthur Morgan. It covers sweeping vistas and city streets, indoors and outdoors, weather effects, gun-fights and explosions with smoke and particle effects, and, of course, plenty of NPCs. As a representation of the actual game, I was impressed, though the camera did glitch out once or twice and stop tracking the action, forcing me to restart the benchmark.
The only downside is that applying changes more than once forced me to restart the game, though this isn’t a situation you’re likely to find yourself in after your first bouts with setting the graphics.
For my testing, I chose a half dozen of the most popular graphics cards on the market today, spanning from the budget-oriented GTX 1660 to the nuclear reactor that is the RTX 2080 Ti. Unfortunately, I was only able to pull in the Radeon RX 5700 XT to represent AMD and was not able to secure an RTX 2070 Super in time for publication. Still, this should give a good representation of the levels of performance you can expect across the different performance tiers of GPUs today.
For settings, I ran the in-game benchmark at the three major resolutions: 1080p, 1440p, and 4K. Because PC gamers love to push visual fidelity, I completed the test using what I would consider “high” or “middle-high” settings. Since the game doesn’t use common terms for its graphics presets, this amounts to the very first level of “favor quality.” After that point, we set TAA to its lowest setting (Medium) and used the lowest amount of TAA Sharpening in the Advanced Settings to slightly increase the crispness of the image. I also disabled V-Sync and triple buffering, as well as FreeSync/G-Sync.
For hardware, I used the following system:
- CPU: Ryzen 9 3900X
- Motherboard: Gigabyte X570 AORUS Master
- Memory: G.Skill TridentZ NEO DDR4-3600MHz, 32GB
- Storage Drive: Plextor M9Pe NVMe M.2 SSD, 1TB
- Hard Drive: SeaGate BarraCuda Pro HDD, 12TB
Let’s take a look at how the game performed:
Starting with 1080p, it’s immediately clear that Red Dead Redemption 2 will require at least a middle-tier card to achieve 60 FPS at high settings. The RTX 2060 Super is just able to pull it off but the GTX 1660 falls quite short, so you’ll need to turn down settings there. What’s especially striking is that the $1199 RTX 2080 Ti (our model was actually a more expensive Gigabyte Xtreme version) isn’t able to break 100 FPS at 1080p, even as the most powerful gaming GPU on the market today.
Moving on to 1440p, this is really where we start to see things separate. At these settings, the only cards able to pull an average frame rate of at least 60 are the 2080 Super and the 2080 Ti, which are each quite pricey. The 5700 XT is barely behind at 58 FPS, which is close enough to not notice the difference and respectable for $399 versus the 2080 Super’s $699. Still, if you don’t mind playing at the console frame rate of 30 FPS or lowering settings, the GTX 1660 will still provide a very playable frame rate.
Finally, we come to the real heavy-hitter: 4K. Unlike consoles, the PC version doesn’t have the option of using checkerboarding to lower the performance hit – and the hit is big. At our settings, which are still well short of the highest they can go, even the 2080 Ti couldn’t maintain 60 FPS. Anything less powerful than that beastly card couldn’t maintain 40 FPS at 4K.
What Does It All Mean?
Breaking all of this down, it really means one thing: if you want to run Red Dead Redemption 2 on high settings beyond 1080p, you’re going to need a high-end graphics card. At 4K, the most powerful gaming GPU on the market couldn’t maintain a solid 60 FPS. Even at 1080p, I was locked to double digits.
Don’t lose hope! Since Rockstar has provided so many options, it’s very possible that there are settings you could disable to squeeze out some extra frames. My colleague, Poorna Shankar, at MMORPG.com found that turning down water physics a single tick under Ultra gained him an extra ~10 FPS without any visual impact (I didn’t have time to test this myself before publication). Playing with the settings and finding a middle ground is the tried and true way of PC gaming and will surely apply here. It’s also likely that performance will improve over time as Rockstar further optimizes the game and both AMD and Nvidia roll out new drivers.
Which Video Card Should You Get?
If you’re looking to buy a new card just for Red Dead Redemption 2, these results might seem like a disappointing indicator that you’re stuck buying a 2080 Ti. Don’t be hasty. Unless you’re aiming for 4K60, going for a more affordable card is still a viable option. Red Dead Redemption 2 is still a beautiful game at balanced settings, and at 1080p or 1440p, you could easily get away with an RX 5700 XT or RTX 2070 Super.
Of the cards I tested, the best performing is the RTX 2080 Ti but the best value is the RX 5700 XT. At only $399 as of this writing, a couple of graphical tweaks could easily push it to 60 FPS at 1440p for an excellent gameplay experience.
- RTX 2080Ti
- RTX 2080 Super
- Radeon RX 5700XT
- GTX 1080Ti
- RTX 2060 Super
- GTX 1660
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a stunning game in more ways than one. It’s beautiful, deep, system-rich, and superbly crafted. You’ll need the graphics horsepower to make it look its best, but it can still look great without breaking the bank and will likely only get better with time.
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