The oldest game in our test suite, Crysis 3 can still make any system sweat if you turn the details up. In fact, believe it or not, these are the lowest framerates you'll see from any of our eight game tests! That being said, Crysis 3 has a very sophisticated game engine that uses both GPU and CPU power in rendering its gorgeous graphics, and this is patently clear when you look at the weak showing of our stock Core i5-6600K. This game is simply begging for more CPU power, even at a demanding 2560x1440 resolution. Give the 6600K a healthy overclock, 10% faster than a stock 6700K, and the 6600K still doesn't have a chance. This has been, and likely will continue to be, the poster child for Hyperthreading's positive effect in video games. In fact, we found the game's graphics choppy and distracting on the Core i5-6600K despite the relatively decent averages. It just wasn't smooth.
And all of this makes the 6900K's result quite puzzling. If even virtual cores could benefit the 6700K so much, why doesn't having double the physical cores push the 6900K way ahead? Even when overclocked to 4.4GHz, a speed that actually gives it higher IPC than a stock 6700K, it still loses. This is a pattern we're going to look for in the rest of the games we'll be presenting, as it's a troubling sign of what we'd call "core overload." Essentially, we believe that the game engine and operating system are miscommunicating, causing the overhead of managing so many cores to overwhelm the benefit of having the cores at the engine's disposal.
We hate to ruin the surprise so early on, but this is going to be the 6900K's best showing. When all CPUs are overclocked to 4.4GHz, the 6900K is 1.7% ahead of the 6700K and 6600K, despite the 6900K's IPC deficit. This is a bit odd given that the 6700K's Hyperthreading actually does not put it ahead of the 6600K. In fact, we think what we're seeing here is simply standard test-to-test variance, all within the margin of error (which we'd put at about 2%). In other words, we're GPU bottlenecked in this game, despite the relatively-old engine and high framerates.
Some readers may question why we included games that are GPU-bottlenecked. Well, if we didn't, we'd be skewing the results, wouldn't we? The truth is that to get a good sense of how CPUs impact the gaming experience, you have to test a lot of game engines. And some will be like Crysis 3, and others will be like Battlefield 4. Interestingly, when we tested BF4 back in November 2013, just after it was released, we found that it was very CPU-intensive, and more importantly responded negatively to Hyperthreading. Since then Intel's CPUs have picked up enough extra speed that it's really all about the GPU at this point. We also have a hunch that DICE, the developer of BF4, has since finessed the game engine to allow it behave better with Hyperthreaded CPUs.
Despite being a completely different game engine, and a very different type of game, Grid AutoSport replicates the results we saw in Crysis 3. The Core i5-6600K is just flailing about here, unable to get its footing even with a massive overclock, while the Core i7-6700K's Hyperthreading propels it to the win, regardless of clockspeed. Interestingly, the 6900K is far behind at its low stock speed, and still can't catch up to the stock 6700K even once overclocked 4.4GHz. Considering how effective Hyperthreading is for the 6700K, it's again surprising that eight real cores don't give the 6900K a win here. Remember what we said about "core overload." Yup, it looks like it's rearing its ugly head again! One technical note: this is the only game for which we used a built-in benchmark, as it actually stresses the CPU quite well, unlike typical built-in benchmarks.
All right, it's time to jump into our circa-2015 games to see if they can make any better use of the 6900's extra cores!