What has our Dead Space performance analysis taught us?
First, Dead Space is heavily dependent on the graphics system, while CPU performance is less important. Even a dual-core CPU at 1.6 GHz should be more than the game needs to perform admirably, but if you want to play above 1280x1024 you should look for at least a GeForce 9600 or Radeon HD 4770.
Second, the game prefers Nvidia's GeForce architecture over ATI's Radeon cards. Even a GeForce 9600 GT can handle the game at 2560x1600 using its High Detail settings. Having said that, a Radeon HD 4770 or higher will also be able to demonstrate playable 2560x1600 performance. The only real handicap is with lower-tier Radeons, like the Radeon HD 4650 and below, which can still muster playable performance if the resolution is lowered to 1680x1050 or below.
Thirdly, this gave us a chance to play with Nvidia's AO feature in the 185.85 GeForce drivers. What's the conclusion? Well, the effect is positive, but subtle. It's something we will definitely turn on when we play the game with Nvidia hardware as long as the graphics card can handle it. However, if we're using a slower GeForce card we'll probably turn it off in favor of a higher resolution, since the AO option causes a pretty huge performance hit. Is it a reason to buy a GeForce over a Radeon? Probably not for what it delivers in this specific title, but it's a nice bonus, and Nvidia deserves kudos for its efforts. We look forward to gaming with Nvidia's implementation of AO in the future and it just might be possible that it could be a must-have feature in a title we have not yet tested.
As for us, the most important thing we learned is that Dead Space is a pretty entertaining survival horror title in a nifty sci-fi universe. We're looking forward to a sequel, and we really hope that the developers will code compatibility with hardware AA next time around.