Total War: Warhammer DirectX 12 performance preview: Radeon reigns supreme

Radeon wins across the board--but mind those caveats.

Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer ($60 on Steam) seems like nothing short of a love letter to geeks. This game blends the thrilling tactical action of the Total War series with the beloved Warhammer universe, and as if that wasn’t nerdy enough, it will even be an early DirectX 12 title, with a DX12 patch planned to land sometime shortly after launch.

We’re still in the process of reviewing Total War: Warhammer, which launches Tuesday, May 24. Spoiler alert: The switch from historical factions to fantastical ones breathes new life into the Total War series, both in atmosphere and mechanics. It’s good!

But today, we want to give you a taste of what to expect when that DirectX 12 patch lands. While Creative Assembly’s technical optimization blog has only said “We’re really happy with the DX12 performance we’re seeing so far, so watch this space!” AMD shot us a build of an automated Total War: Warhammer DirectX 12 benchmark to show what the game’s capable of. Second spoiler alert: Radeon graphics cards come out on top against their GeForce opposites, as expected in an AMD Gaming Evolved title, but we’ll get into that more later.

Total War: Warhammer DirectX 12 benchmarks

The automated benchmark lets you choose from a wealth of resolution and graphical options. We ran all tests on the Ultra preset, on PCWorld’s test system with a fully patched version of Windows 10 installed.

The benchmark provided, dubbed “Empire vs. Greenskins,” runs through a brief scene showing Total War: Warhammer’s Empire and Greenskin factions locked in battle. When it’s done, it spits out a results screen showing the average frame rate as well as a graph of frame rate fluctuations. Since the AMD-provided benchmark only runs in DirectX 12, we couldn’t verify frame rates or times with a tool like FRAPS, which doesn’t work with DirectX 12 yet.

warhammer scene

Part of the benchmarking scene, which mixes close-up and far-away views of the action.

That’s not the only caveat to beware. Because we can’t run the benchmark in DX11 mode, we have no idea how the frame rate results compare to standard DX11 performance for the game. Also worth mentioning: Nvidia’s drivers typically outperform AMD’s in DX11, so performance in that mode may well be tilted in Nvidia’s favor. We don’t know! Also, Nvidia hasn’t released drivers optimized for the game, and DirectX 12 is only available in Windows 10.

Finally, performance results may very well change once the final DirectX 12 patch for Total War: Warhammer is released. This is based on unfinished code.

So you’ll want to take these results with a big pinch of salt. All that said, we thought you’d be interested in seeing the early initial results.

We tested the three most popular gaming resolutions—1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160—with AMD and Nvidia’s rivals in the $200 to $500 price range to make this an apples-to-apples comparison.

First up, we tested 1080p resolution with the Asus Strix GTX 960 DirectCU II ($205 at Newegg) and VisionTek Radeon R9 380 ($200 at Amazon). Our 1440p testing was a bit more crowded, as it felt worthwhile to benchmark all of the remaining cards at this resolution. We tested the EVGA GTX 970 FTW ($325 on Amazon), Sapphire Nitro 390 ($325 on Newegg), Nvidia’s reference GTX 980, and the MSI R9 390X Gaming 8GB ($420 on Newegg).

Finally, we tested the GTX 980 and MSI R9 390X at 4K, and we tossed in Nvidia’s new $600 GTX 1080 for good measure, because we had one handy. Even that powerhouse can’t come close to cracking the hallowed 60fps barrier in Total Warhammer at 4K/Ultra.

total war warhammer perf

Total War: Warhammer DX12 benchmark results. Note: A zero fps score indicates that graphics card wasn’t tested at that resolution.

Now that the raw benchmarks are out of the way, with the Radeon cards beating their rivals across the board and the cutting-edge GTX 1080 destroying everything else (as expected), there’s one other tidbit to mention. The frame rate fluctuation graphs that appear at the end of the benchmark show AMD’s Radeon cards running far more smoothly over the course of the scene…

390x frames

Frame rate fluctuations for the MSI Radeon R9 390X.

…than their GeForce counterparts.

gtx 1080 frames

Frame rate fluctuations for the GTX 1080.

A dedicated Total War: Warhammer driver from Nvidia could likely alleviate the problem somewhat, but it’s unlikely to eliminate the gap completely. As a strategy title featuring dozens if not hundreds of on-screen units to keep track of, Total War: Warhammer—much like Stardock’s superb Ashes of the Singularity—relies heavily on CPU utilization to process everything. Moving to DirectX 12 lets the game handle those commands much more efficiently, and Total War: Warhammer’s DirectX 12 implementation leans on the dedicated asynchronous compute engine (ACE) hardware baked inside AMD’s Graphics Core Next architecture.

Nvidia’s GTX 700- and 900-series graphics cards don’t have that dedicated hardware, relying instead on a software-based task switching technique called pre-emption that isn’t as efficient as the Radeon ACEs. As a result, while AMD’s cards see massive performance gains switching from DX11 to DX12 in Ashes of the Singularity, Nvidia’s GTX 900-series cards see none whatsoever. In fact, the Ashes developer disables asynchronous computing when Nvidia cards are detected because it could actually reduce frame rates. (Sadly, we can’t compare DX11 vs. DX12 in this DX12-only Total War benchmark.)

Nvidia isn’t taking the threat sitting down. The new Pascal GPU in the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 packs a bevy of new hardware and software features dedicated to improving async compute performance. In our tests, its AoTS DirectX 12 performance skyrocketed despite the async hooks' ostensibly being disabled.

Just how well Nvidia’s new GPU architecture responds to async compute tasks remains to be seen—as does the DX11 performance of Radeon GPUs in Total War: Warhammer. Like we said, this was more an exercise in fun than anything else. Happy Greenskin hunting!

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags AMDnvidia

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?