Red Dead Redemption 2 PC performance: easily hit 60fps with your graphics card | PCGamesN
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Red Dead Redemption 2 PC performance: easily hit 60fps with your graphics card

Saddle up your best horse because it's going to be a bumpy ride

red dead redemption 2

It’s been a long ol’ wait but Red Dead Redemption 2 is finally available on PC. Over a year since its console release, Rockstar’s six-shooting, turn-of-the-century western is now optimised and ready to roll on the very best graphics cards and CPUs from AMD, Nvidia, and Intel – but how well will Red Dead Redemption 2 run on PC?

For some, not well at all – and you don’t need me to tell you that. It appears that a handful of users are still experiencing the “exited unexpectedly” bug that plagued systems from launch – and currently remains without an official resolve that works for everyone. We found that nuking Windows back to the Stone Age worked for us, but it’s some price to pay for a little cowfolk action.

If you’ve managed to salve your launcher woes and boot the game, however, you can finally enjoy some gunslinging gameplay in sharp, 4K glory. But Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t exactly what Arthur Morgan might call a pot shot in performance. In fact, you might just need an RTX 2080 Ti to run it anywhere close to high settings at 4K.

So let’s run through the basics of today’s testing. Lucky for us, Red Dead Redemption 2 has an in-game benchmark comprised of four passes – three of those are scene fly-overs. The final pass, however, is gameplay following protagonist Arthur Morgan on a police chase through one of the west’s larger towns. Thankfully this is representative of the game itself, and saves us trudging about in the snow trying to figure out another for today’s purposes.

We’re also opting to ignore the in-game graphics fidelity slider within the game’s graphics settings. Rather than simple high, medium, and low presets, Rockstar has opted for a granular slider that adjusts to favour either performance or quality – the values of which appear to change alongside the GPU installed in the machine.

That won’t net us consistent results, so we’re going to instead opt for a mix of medium and high settings that span two pages of A4 paper, as evidenced in the table below, and with ultra texture quality to really make every Ne’er-do-well and ageing frontier settlement come alive in vivid technicolor. And, of course, we’ll be disabling V-Sync and triple buffering, too.

 Graphics settings
Texture quality Ultra
Anisotropic filtering x16
Lighting quality High
Global illumination quality High
Shadow quality Medium
Far shadow quality Low
SSAO Medium
Reflection quality Medium
Mirror quality Medium
Water quality Medium
Volumetrics quality Medium
Particle quality Medium
Tesselation quality High
TAA Medium
FXAA Off
MSAA Off
Advanced graphics settings
Graphics API Vulkan
Near volumetric resolution Medium
Far volumetric resolution Medium
Volumetric lighting quality Medium
Unlocked volumetric raymarch resolution Off
Particle lighting quality Medium
Soft shadows Medium
Grass shadows Medium
Long shadows On
Full resolution SSAO Off
Water refraction quality Medium
Water reflection quality Medium
Water physics quality Middle
Resolution scale Off
TAA sharpening Lowest
Motion blur Off
Reflection MSAA Off
Geometry level of detail Lowest
Grass level of detail Lowest
Tree quality Medium
Parallax occlusion mapping quality Low
Decal quality High
Fur quality Medium

We’ve carried out a few tests favouring both quality and performance – graphics fidelity slider to either extreme – to gauge the potential performance across the span of options. We found that while maximising quality was visually exceptionally pleasing, it performed notably worse than our high/medium preset for only a slight tangible benefit to visuals. Maximising performance, on the other hand, was a major boon to overall fps. However, with textures dropped all the way down to low, the game was a shadow of its former self – and a rather dismal affair.

But don’t fret if you find your card isn’t performing quite as you’d hoped with the graphics settings we’ve decided upon. We’ll be delving into the best settings for 60fps in Red Dead Redemption 2 later in this guide.

As for API, Red Dead Redemption 2 has two options: Vulkan or DX12. We’ll be utilising Vulkan for the majority of our tests, but we will also be pitting both APIs against one another and testing Vulkan’s Asynchronous Compute functionality.

Driving a carriage down a tree-lined road

Which is the best graphics card for Red Dead Redemption 2?

If you really want to nail down 60fps or greater in Red Dead Redemption 2 at high/medium settings, you’ll need to pack at least an Nvidia 16-series GPU or greater. While the GTX 1060 6GB is one of the most popular graphics cards on the market for mainstream gaming, it only just scrapes 1080p60 on average in our benchmark run.

PCGN test bench: Intel Core i7 8700K, 16GB Corsair Dominator @ 3,466MHz, MSI Z390 Gaming Edge AC, Seagate Firecuda 510 1TB, Corsair HX1200i, Corsair H100i V2, Philips BDM3275

Across the board, framerates above and beyond 60fps are possible at 1080p, but don’t expect ultra-smooth high refresh rate gaming on anything other than the very best Nvidia Turing graphics cards – such as the RTX 2080 Super and RTX 2080 Ti.

The 1440p club is even more elusive. At this resolution even the latest 16-series mainstream cards fall a little short of 60fps. An RTX 2060 Super will net you acceptable frame times, although its bitter rival, the AMD RX 5700, manages just a few frames more.

Ramping up to 4K is a privilege enjoyed only by graphics card royalty. Red Dead Redemption demands serious silicon to reach 60fps at 4K, and even the RTX 2080 Super struggles to get there despite its power and price tag. The RTX 2080 Ti is the only option for 4K in Red Dead Redemption 2 – at least without drastically dropping graphics settings.

In case you were wondering about the lack of RX 570 4GB results, we couldn’t get this card to boot past the launcher. Sadly, it seems the 4GB GDDR5 at this card’s disposal was not enough to see it through, with our selection of settings nearly maxing out its VRAM allocation at even 1080p. However, a few tweaks, such as those outlined below, may see this card whir back to life.

Two armed gang members

What is the best CPU for Red Dead Redemption 2?

Both AMD and Intel offer CPUs more than capable of delivering the performance required to let your graphics card run free. The Intel i9 9900KS was the best of the bunch, with the i7 8700K not far behind, likely due to both chips’ frequency buffs and single-threaded performance.

PCGN test bench: Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti, 16GB Dominator @ 3,466MHz/Trident Z Royal @ 3,600MHz, MSI Z390 Gaming Edge AC/MSI X570 GODLIKE, Seagate Firecuda 510 1TB, Corsair HX1200i, Corsair H100i V2, Philips BDM3275

AMD’s 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X also performed well, trailing by only a few frames in the CPU-intensive 1080p benchmark. And what this chip lacked in average framerates, it more than made up for with superb minimum framerates – even higher than that of frontrunner Intel.

Trekking through the snow on horseback

What are the best settings for 60fps in Red Dead Redemption 2?

If you can’t quite hit the magic 60fps mark in Red Dead Redemption 2, don’t fret. All you need to do is drop one of the following graphics settings: TAA anti aliasing, texture quality, global illumination quality, or screen space ambient occlusion. Only a minor change to any of these settings will see improvements anywhere from 2-4fps, while maintaining a high level of visual fidelity.

PCGN test bench: Intel Core i7 8700K, Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti, 16GB Corsair Dominator @ 3,466MHz, MSI Z390 Gaming Edge AC, Seagate Firecuda 510 1TB, Corsair HX1200i, Corsair H100i V2, Philips BDM3275

And while you won’t net any major uptick in performance, those few frames here or there could be the difference between a smooth gameplay experience and a sluggish one.

red dead redemption 2 gameplay 2

Should you use Vulkan or DirectX 12 in Red Dead Redemption 2?

Simple answer: Vulkan. This open API offers the most consistent and highest fps in our testing across both Nvidia and AMD GPUs.

There’s one more consideration if you’re running red team tech, however. AMD GPUs support asynchronous compute, which essentially means compute tasks are not held to a steady clock and thus are faster in number-crunching tasks with supported software. Asynchronous compute can be activated in Red Dead Redemption via a small file tweak, which we’ll explain below.

PCGN test bench: Intel Core i7 8700K, 16GB Corsair Dominator @ 3,466MHz, MSI Z390 Gaming Edge AC, Seagate Firecuda 510 1TB, Corsair HX1200i, Corsair H100i V2, Philips BDM3275

To enable asynchronous compute in Red Dead Redemption 2 follow these simple steps.

  • Head to Documents > Rockstar games > Red Dead Redemption 2 > Settings
  • Locate System.xml and open in notepad
  • Locate the line “asyncComputeEnabled=false”
  • Change false to true
  • Save the file
  • Boot the game

In our testing, Asynchronous Compute netted us zero avg fps gain on an AMD RX 5700. However, if we ignore 99th percentiles for a second and look directly at the slowest frame times across runs, these were dramatically faster with asynchronous compute switched on. Minimum frame rate increased from 29fps to 59fps thanks to this feature, making for a smoother gameplay experience. It’s well worth taking a look at the instructions below if you are running on any compatible AMD Radeon GPU.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is the PC port we've all been waiting for. But just like life on the frontier this title can be incredibly demanding – and if you won't settle for less than 4K, you best be prepared to pony up for an RTX 2080 Ti.

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