1920 x 1080 Benchmarks
If one were just to look at single-player benchmarks on quad-core machines, which is what you'll find on most websites, you'd think that the game was entirely GPU-limited at 1080p. Well, that's not quite true, as we see the eight-core 6900K pull ahead of the Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700K, despite a significant instructions per clockcycle (IPC) disadvantage due to its older Broadwell architecture. Furthermore, the 6900K is running at a lower overclock, owing to the fact that Broadwell-E does not have as high a limit as Skylake. But no matter, the 6900K gets ahead of the quads in the single-player game, and makes mincemeat of them in multi-player. Simply put, if you're a ultra-competitive amateur or a professional BF1 player, you're going to want more than four cores.
Interestingly, this game doesn't quite scale like the common wisdom suggests it would. If single-player were truly CPU-limited here, all three CPUs would be about even (within the margin of error). But BF1's engine is taking advantage of extra cores in a manner we've never seen before, allowing it to pull ahead where the 6700K's Hyperthreading has no effect. But make no mistake: Hyperthreading is clearly working in this game, as the 6700K's massive advantage over the 6600K in multi-player makes clear. Yes, it also has more cache, but there's just no way that alone is responsible for the big gulf in performance we see between the two quads.
2560 x 1440 Benchmarks
Now, as we go up in resolution, CPU bottlenecks fade as the bottleneck moves to the GPU. But our Titan X Pascal is so powerful that the 6900K is still ahead in the single-player game, although not by much, and it's way, way ahead in multi-player. Trust us, this came as a big shocker, given that in our recent Gaming CPU Shootout, the 6700K blew the 6900K out of the water. Welcome to the new reality of gaming as we enter 2017. Cores actually matter!
All right, at 4K, our Titan X Pascal should be hurting pretty bad, right? Well, surely it's not running as fast at this point, but amazingly, it's still pulling all it can from the CPUs. That means the 6900K has a big lead in the single-player game, as well as a slim lead in multi-player. The 6600K and 6700K meanwhile are neck and neck, suggesting that the 6700K's extra cache and Hyperthreading just aren't doing anything at this point, even though one or both features allowed it to pull ahead at lower resolutions.
Overall Thoughts on CPU Performance
Having recently benched these same CPUs in Battlefield 4 single-player, we fully expected no difference between them in BF1's single-player. We were proved wrong on that, and the multi-player mode just made the difference more evident. Eight cores trumps four cores in this game, at least when you're throwing a ton of GPU power at the game. We'd suggest anyone running with Titan X Pascal levels of power, which would include GTX 980 Ti SLI, GTX 1070 SLI, and GTX 1080 SLI, consider a platform with more than four cores.
To provide a more detailed look at what happens when you run a high-end GPU configuration with too little CPU power, we've provided a snapshot of MSI Afterburner's output during a 4K gaming session using the Titan X Pascal on our overclocked Core i5-6600K. We've highlighted a point near the maximum GPU usage. The Titan is utilizing 90% of its power at this point, but during most of the session, it's quite a bit lower. At the same time, the CPU is pegged at or near 100% the entire time, suggesting that it is a true bottleneck to performance. For a better look at the graph, simply click on the inset image.
On the next page, we'll explore the performance available from nine different GPU options, to see if we can identify the ultimate gaming setup as well as the sweet spot for both budget and high-end gamers.