Project CARS 3 PC Benchmarks and Performance: Keep Your Eyes on the Bottleneck Road

2020-08-30

Project CARS 3 just came out this week, the third in the series. What sort of graphics card and CPU do you need to get the most out of this latest installment of the racing series? That's what we wanted to find out, so we grabbed our keys and kicked the tires on our PCs to see how they stacked up. We put a handful of the (currently available — we're still waiting on and ), along with a few of the , and started running benchmarks. We're not finished yet, but we wanted to provide readers with our first set of test results.

The official system requirements from the developers says that the minimum PC should be a 3.5GHz Core i5 or equivalent, 8GB RAM, and a GTX 680 or equivalent, with 50GB of storage required. Note that while the Steam page lists an i5-3450 or FX-8350, that level of detail wasn't in the information we received from the developers. Recommended specs are higher, naturally: Core i7-8700K or equivalent, 16GB RAM, and an RTX 2070. That's quite the jump, but with no details on what sort of framerate you can expect.

Intel GPU Testbed

, ,


(2x 16GB)

(2004) 

Our testing consists of a race replay, which isn't quite the same as actually racing. We checked, and the replay tends to be more demanding than the in-game experience. However, it's highly repeatable, and what's more there are tracks that are substantially more demanding than the Monument Canyon River Run track we used for benchmarks. (Sorry, but it was the first race. I probably should have looked at other tracks, but performance does appear to scale similarly.) The Shanghai Henan Loop for example performs up to 30% slower in limited testing. Your mileage may vary, depending on your PC's hardware. This is a baseline measurement of performance, and as with any benchmark, the area and methodology used for testing will affect the results.

AMD GPU Testbed

, ,


(2x 16GB, for 3900X and 3600)
(2x 16GB, for 3400G)

(2004) 

Our test PCs are the same as we used for , but with updated that are officially game ready for Project CARS 3. The drivers don't specifically mention this game, but we didn't experience any notable issues with Nvidia cards during testing. We also test on a clean PC, and use to remove old drivers before testing.

Let's start with a look at the settings and options, and how they affect — or don't affect — performance. We've run at the maximum quality (except for super sampling) on the Core i9-9900K PC, using the and the , both of which are 6GB cards. Then we turn each setting down to minimum and rerun the test. Each setting is tested at least twice, and we discard the first result as it tends to be a bit higher (because the GPU hasn't warmed up yet). 

Project CARS 3 Settings Analysis

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AMD Settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Nvidia Settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Maximum Quality, aka Ultra (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Maximum Quality, aka Ultra (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Minimum Quality, aka Low (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Minimum Quality, aka Low (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Project CARS 3 has about a dozen settings you can tweak, depending on how you want to count. Most of the settings are pretty straightforward, but there's one glaring omission: anti-aliasing. The game doesn't support FXAA, SMAA, TAA, or MSAA. Instead, the only anti-aliasing option is super sampling. It looks great, but it's effectively the same as running at a higher resolution (and then downscaling), so it's extremely demanding even on the fastest GPUs. The lack of SMAA and TAA as options is more than a little surprising, considering how prevalent those algorithms are in other modern games.

One other noteworthy omission is any form of graphics presets. The game will attempt to auto-detect appropriate settings, but as soon as you want to make any changes, you're on your own. Thankfully, we're here to help. We defined our own presets (basically low is minimum settings everywhere, ultra is maximum settings outside of supersampling, and medium and high use the medium and high options on each setting, with 2xAF and 4xAF, respectively). Here are the major graphics settings, along with their performance impact compared to running at our 'ultra preset' — performance is in fps (frames per second), and minimum fps is based on the 99th percentile frametime.

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Low settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Medium settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Ultra settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Low settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Medium settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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High settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Ultra settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Low settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Medium settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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High settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Ultra settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Low settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Medium settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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High settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Ultra settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Low settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Medium settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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High settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Ultra settings (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Our 'homegrown presets' give a performance improvement of 35-40% going from ultra to high, which is definitely something you should consider unless you've got an extremely powerful system. Visually, high and ultra look nearly the same — which is typical of most modern games. You can get an additional 15-20% going from high to medium, and another 15-20% going from medium to low. Overall, the minimum settings nearly double the performance of the maximum settings.

Texture Resolution will mostly be of use to people with less than 4GB of VRAM. Even at maximum settings, most of our testing indicates only 4GB is required (for up to 4K — if you have a 5K or 8K display, you'll need more VRAM). Of course, if you're only running on a 1080p display, the higher texture resolution settings will have less of an impact thanks to . For our testing at 1080p, lowering this improves performance by 2-4%.

Texture Filtering helps with the blending of different MIPMAP levels, as well as oblique angle surfaces. There's a modest improvement in image quality going from trilinear to 16xAF, and you may as well as it's basically free — we measured a 1-4% change in performance, with AMD's 5600 XT benefitting more.

Super Sampling is a GPU killer, rendering internally at a higher resolution and then downsampling the result to your selected resolution. The low setting appears to downsample 1440p, while the medium setting is basically like running at 4K — that's for 1080p, naturally; super sampling at 4K would be like 8K rendering. It's a visually excellent result, but unless you've got lots of GPU power to burn, you should leave this off. The medium setting dropped performance by over 40%.

Reflections — which is for screen space reflections as far as we can tell — is a relatively demanding setting. Dropping this to low improved performance by 10% on Nvidia, and 20% on AMD. The medium setting can still give a modest boost without hurting visuals too much.

Environment Map is far and away the single most demanding setting. Dropping this to low can boost performance by 35-45%, and even high or medium will yield a sizeable improvement in frame rates. 

Car Detail is important for a racing game, and lowering this improves performance by 3-5%, so you can probably leave it alone.

Track Detail affects things like skid marks, which isn't particularly important as far as performance goes — we measured almost no change in performance (0-2%).

Shadow Detail is another heavy setting, and turning this off can boost fps by 10%, but you'll probably want to leave it on at least low or medium if possible.

Mirror Quality is for the rearview mirror and side mirrors. It's mostly a minor effect, though if you like to race from the cockpit view it can be more critical. We used a chase cam, and there are only two choices: standard and high. The standard setting improves performance by 5-6%.

Motion Blur adds some fuzziness to objects and scenery that are moving at a high rate of speed. Some people don't care for the effect, though in a racing game it's arguably more realistic. Turning this off boosts performance by about 4-5%.

Detailed Grass might have a more noticeable effect on other tracks, but in our tests we saw no major change in performance.

Finally, Particle Quality and Particle Density have a negligible effect on performance. You can just leave these set to maximum in our experience.

Project CARS 3 Graphics Card Performance

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

For these benchmarks, we tested at 1080p using our custom presets, and also ran 1440p and 4K at maximum quality (sans super sampling). We'll be adding additional results in the coming days, but for this initial look at performance we've elected to focus only on a limited selection of current generation GPUs — Nvidia Turing and AMD Navi. We'll add some integrated graphics results once we're able to test with those as well.

We're only providing limited commentary for now, as it's possible that we'll see new drivers and game patches improve performance in the coming weeks. Also, let's reiterate that many of the graphical 'enhancements' moving from medium to high/ultra end up being extremely hard to see. That's especially true when the game is in motion. The aliasing (i.e., jaggies) on many edges are very visible as well, and we'd love to see Slightly Mad Studios add some form of post-process anti-aliasing rather than only offering up super sampling.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

At 1080p and minimum settings, all of the tested GPUs don't even bat an eye at Project CARS 3. The GTX 1650 Super still hits 139 fps, and since this is a racing game there's very little benefit to framerates above 60 fps. Still, if you have a monitor or TV with a 120Hz refresh rate, you could at least make some use of it. Of course that's only at low settings, and the lack of shadows is very noticeable.