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Borderlands 2: is CPU capable of handling the PhysX effects?

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Borderlands 2, latest and probably one of the greatest games with support for GPU accelerated PhysX effects, is a HOT topic these days.

Update: GPU PhysX in Borderlands 2 – PhysX review and comparison video

Update #2: Borderlands 2 PhysX Benchmark Roundup

Usually, extra PhysX effects are meant to be executed on compatible NVIDIA GPUs, so even if one can force his CPU to do the work, it is not very effective – massive slowdowns and fps drops during scenes with intence physics are make the games hardly enjoyable. This is valid for titles like Batman series, Alice: Madness Returns, Mafia II and others.

Said matter was a tough topic over recent years, even resulting in claims that NVIDIA “hobbles” the CPU PhysX performance by purpose, to make their GPUs look more advantageous.

However, recently we saw many reports (mostly from AMD users) that Borderlands 2 shows surprisingly good performance, while running with all PhysX effects enabled even without a NVIDIA card in the system.

Thus, we decied to perform a little investigation to answer the question – can a CPU handle all the extra PhysX effects in Borderlands 2 ?

A boss fight against “Boom and his brother Bewm” is a good candidate for PhysX testing – scene contains a lot of particles (also, particles are constantly generated over time) and some cloth objects.

Gun in our hands has explosive rounds - this produces even more particles

Testing system: i7 2600K CPU, GTX 580 GPU, 8 GB RAM, Win 7 64-bit.

In-game settings: 1680×1024, all High. 60 sec sequence was recorded with FRAPS.

First of all, Borderlands 2 is showing excellent performance while utilizing GPU for PhysX calculations – minimum framerate is above 60 even on high PhysX settings.

But most interesting, CPU execution can also provide playble framerate, despite the fact that Borderlands 2 is still using good old PhysX SDK 2.8.4. We assume that some scenes in the game, containing lots of fluids, particle effects or your co-op friends, may result in lower fps (~15-20), but still – framerate won’t crawl most of the time, like in previous games.

UPDATE [26.09]: we have recieved several commentaries, that the scene we have choosen for our previous test, while being pretty heavy on PhysX effects, is still not producing too much load for the CPU.

Thus, we decided to give it another try, but now using one of the most demanding levels of the game, as we heard – Caustic Caverns.

Crystalisks are vomiting SPH Fluids

A place near the beginning of the level presents a good opportunity for testing, as it comprises several high-poly cloth pieces, many particle effects, Crystalisks and Varkids spitting SPH liquids.

Results are averaged over the two runs for each of settings.

While GPU performance took a large hit, it still can maintain minimum framerate above 30 fps and keep average framerate at pleasant 50 fps.

CPU execution of PhysX effects, in comparison, crawls at nearly unplayable 15-20 fps level. We can now clearly say that fluid simulation is affecting the CPU performance the most.

UPDATE #2 [28.09]: final round of testing, now using PhysX benchmark, built into Borderlands 2 (will be available soon in a patch).

It is designed to extensively utilize all kind of PhysX effects during the sequence.

As you may see, numbers are located somewhere in between our two previous results – benchmark scene indeed includes some complex physics interactions, but the ones you may encounter in real game will affect your framerate in more dramatical way.

To summarize: If you are playing Borderlands 2 in Single Player mode, carefully avoiding fluid emitting weapons/enemies and staying away from certain areas of the game – you may find a CPU execution of PhysX effects sufficient. But if want really comfortable gameplay, without any compromises – presence of NVIDIA GPU is still a mandatory.

P.S. if PhysX option is grayed out on your system, you still can change the settings using "PhysXLevel" parameter in "WillowEngine.ini" file:
(\Documents\My Games\Borderlands 2\WillowGame\Config)

PhysXLevel=0 - PhysX Low
PhysXLevel=1 - PhysX Medium
PhysXLevel=2 - PhysX High

P.P.S. Hybrid PhysX configurations are also supported.

Written by Zogrim

September 22nd, 2012 at 3:12 pm

27 Responses to 'Borderlands 2: is CPU capable of handling the PhysX effects?'

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  1. Dylfin: I didn’t seen scenes with dramatically decreased FPS

    Glad to hear that :)
    Indeed, CPU overclocking is pretty efficient in this case.




    28 Sep 12 at 3:04 pm

  2. Test 4 player. My runs with a 690 show that 1 player is like 80-130fps for the most part, but as soon as I get 4 people and use e.g. the sirens skill and the turret with rockets and all the extra chaos, the FPS drop to basically 0 now and then and the average is WAY down. I realize it’s hard to benchmark 4 player consistently, but check it out. Single player is way less intense.




    30 Sep 12 at 7:34 pm

  3. w4rrior: Test 4 player.

    Are those yours ? Not bad.

    So far, I don’t see critical fps drops from your benchmarks.




    30 Sep 12 at 11:41 pm

  4. I log my FPS during a game and made a graph in google spreadsheet.
    It seems that even 4 core with 4.2Ghz each not enough for battle scenes to render. Minimal FPS – 9.




    4 Oct 12 at 1:56 am

  5. This is miss leading . I know for a fact since Phsyx is using my CPU my game runs like shit ! I have two GTX680s and will not give up one 680 just for 20-30% PhysX .

    CPU BS needs to stop its consolized and then some . Phsyx based on CPU ruins my 120 frames because of stuttering .




    30 Oct 12 at 2:20 am

  6. Zogrim: First thing I did after the release – I have asked the PhysX content team, who has worked with Borderlands, if game using APEX – it is not. Just default PhysX Cloth and PhysX Particle System implementations.
    So those settings have no use.

    That will just disable hardware acceleration, not something you want to do on “Medium” or “High” PhysX settings.
    A real way to reduce the load is to choose “PhysX Low”.

    Zogrim I would like to talk to you about this game if possible. Since you were in contact with the team responsible for the physx integration. Please contact me at




    1 Mar 17 at 4:56 pm

  7. Ph: Zogrim I would like to talk to you about this game if possible. Since you were in contact with the team responsible for the physx integration. Please contact me at

    I haven’t touched Borderlands since I wrote this article and I don’t think I have any active contacts left in NV team, but if you want to talk, drop me e-mail – zogrim at




    2 Mar 17 at 4:47 pm

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