Part 2: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Test System Configuration And Benchmarks

Test Hardware
Processors
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (Deneb) 3.2 GHz, AM3, 2,000 MHz HT, 6MB L3 cache
AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition (Heka) 2.8 GHz, AM3, 2,000 MHz HT, 6MB L3 cache
AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition (Callisto) 3.1 GHz, AM3, 2,000 MHz HT, 6MB L3 cache
Motherboard
Asus Crosshair III Formula (Socket AM3) 790FX/SB750, BIOS 1003 (9-11-09)
RAM
Corsair 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600, 8-8-8-24
Graphics
ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
ATI Radeon HD 4890 1GB
ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
Nvidia Geforce GTX 295 1792MB
Nvidia Geforce GTX 285 1GB
Nvidia Geforce GTX 260 896MB
Hard Drive
Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS, 640GB,
7,200 RPM, 32MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Power
Corsair CMPSU-850HX 850W
CPU Cooler
Xigmatek HDT-S1283
Software and Drivers
Operating System
Windows Vista Ultimate Edition x64, Service Pack 1
Graphics Drivers
Nvidia GeForce 190.62
AMD Catalyst 9.8
Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Crysis
Patch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool, Very High Quality, No AA
Far Cry 2
Patch 1.03, DirectX 10, in-game benchmark, Ultra High Quality, 4x AA
S.T.A.L.K.E.R Clear Sky
Average of four segments 'a-tested object', DirectX 10/10.1, Ultra High Quality, EFD Lighting, no MSAA
Grand Theft Auto IV
Patch 1.0.4.0, in-game benchmark, High Quality Settings, High Textures, Medium View Distance
FALLOUT 3
Patch 1.7, Custom THG Benchmark "Capital Wasteland" (60 sec.), Ultra High Quality, 4x MSAA, 15x AF
Race Driver: GRID
Patch 1.20, Custom THG Benchmark "Detroit Circuit" (45 sec.), Highest Quality, 4x AA
World In Conflict
Patch 1009, DirectX 10, timedemo, Very High Quality, 4x AA / 16x AF
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117 comments
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    Top Comments
  • BlackDays:
    Please, if you want to criticise something make sure you've understood it (read in this case) thoroughly. Otherwise you'll look like an idiot.

    Anyway, this series is made out of win!
    Thank you.
    10
  • Other Comments
  • What effect does having a motherboard that unlocks the 4th core on the X2 and X3 have? In power consumption and overall performance? I'm not asking a redo of all the data, just asking for speculation by someone more knowledgeable, if I can get it.
    0
  • Readers, don't use this as your only source of info before buying a PC. The writer left out the Intel i5-750 (which has a price range around $189-209, and outperforms all of those CPUs EXCEPT the i7.) Not only that, but LGA1156 motherboards are typically cheaper than the LGA1336 mother boards. Sure, the i7 has hyper threading, and triple channel memory support, but you're gaming here, not running high end video and 3D programs that would actually make great use of hyper threading. The only benefit I can see, is if you have the extra cash to throw around and you plan on running the applications. I guess a second benefit would be expandability, since you won't be able to upgrade the 1156 chips to Intel's next line of processors, the i9. The i5 can really over clock like a beast with the right motherboard, too.

    The writer also left out a great GPU: the Radeon 4870 1GB. Single GPU card, almost perfect for anybody considering running today's games at 22" 1650x1080. Of course, you'd want the 4890 for bigger than that, but still, most of these cards (especially the nVidia ones) are not quite price matched with the performance. A good 4870 can run you $170, and a great 4890 can run you $199. The nVidia "equivalents" (GTX 275, 285, and 260) all run about $260+.

    I'm not sure why these two great products were left out (i5 and 4870,) but if there is a good reason, disregard what I said, but honestly, I don't see the good this article is doing without at least including them.
    -19
  • YAAAAAAAAAAAY part 2!
    1
  • The secret to building a balanced gaming by pc, by WarpedSystems.

    First, i have been building overclocked only gaming pc's since 2003 with zero failures and 3 year cpu warranty.

    #1 cheap cpu - 3.0c northwood - research that far back! CPU = 920 or 750 clocked to 3.8ghz or up too 4.2ghz

    #1.5 cpu cooling: in 2004 we used thermalright xp-90, while we still use the thermal right true, we perfer the noctua - research and use the best coolers.

    rule 1 of air cooling: dual fans! seal the fans - see photos!

    #2 raid, we run dual raid with short stroking - we have been short storking since 2004. Your hard drive arm should move as little as possible a 4 x 1000TB set is 1000GB of raid0 for the c drive. the remaing 3TB is raid 10.

    ssd: we run raid5 on hard drive and single ssd as the c drive, the raid 5 is data drive/game drive. This could be a raid0 or raid10.

    Video card, you put all your money in the video card! A $2000 computer can have a GTX 295 use the i5 750. A $3000 air cooled system will have 2 video cards.

    Power supply = .6 x true max power. this is usually 500 watts to 600 watts of max power. A 750, 850 or 1000 is best. NEVER GO LESS THEN 40% OF AVERAGE! 60% rule allows for a video card upgrade.

    Case ...fans, fans and more fans. Anetec 1200 can not be beat for air cooling. All cases are copies of the antec 900. There are many good cases but you want 1 120mm in, 120mm out rear and 1 120 mm blowing on the video card. or 2 80's or bigger

    antec 1200 has 2 rear 120mm and 2 front - we pull one section on both the 900 and 1200 and hide wires in the lower cubbie. That means we move the bottom cage up 1 slot, we remove 1 3 slot cage.

    check THG links: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&rlz=1T4GGIH_enUS236US236&um=1&q=warpedsystems+thg&sa=N&start=0&ndsp=18

    finally bios tuning - memory and bus speed are critical, too high is bad!!! Too high is bad! fsb 1600 or 400x4 has been the sweet spot for years. Whether your running a G0 6600 at 3.6GHz 1600fsb or QX9600 at 1l multiplier at 4.4ghz 1600fsb works! Above that you run into many many issues. At fsb 1600 ram timmigs are ddr2 = 2.0-2.1v 4-3-4-10, 4-4-4-12, etc with core 2 ddr3 at 1.91v you have 7-7-7 with the i7/i5 you run 1.64v at 8-8-8-20 or 8-7-8-20. you find true 100% stablity with the correct timings and fsb and you do not get odd phase bus speeds.

    yes, you can tweek the system to 1800mhz but do the tests and you find in most cases you spent more money to get little performance gains and lost stability -- 97-100% stablity. 100% = zero crashes - never!

    temps, video card temps are key. Manually set fan speeds to stay under 75c with 70c the best. Stock temps and high cards run 80-85c even with good systems. You can use really good cooling to reduce that with antec 1200 etc. A 120mm fan does not fit an i7 mobo - we use 92mm fans in the door and hot glue it.


    Conclusion, overclock your cpu, remember the difference between an i7 920 and 975 may only be factory setting and both run the same speed! Buy the best video card, use the best cooling case and cpu cooler. If your not using a SSD ....RAID RAID RAID! RUN RAID! IT IS EASY!

    good luck, you find you get alienware level performance just as i did in 2003 after a few weeks of bios tuning!
    -10
  • BlackDays:
    Please, if you want to criticise something make sure you've understood it (read in this case) thoroughly. Otherwise you'll look like an idiot.

    Anyway, this series is made out of win!
    Thank you.
    10
  • This article truly is revolutionary. I have been waiting for an article like this since I began building my own PCs ten years ago. This article coupled with your CPU and GPU hierarchy chart will go a long way towards eliminating CPU/GPU bottlenecks. This article truly is the first of its kind and I hope to see it at least twice a year if not four times a year. Thank you.
    3
  • Great article, it's educational, looking forward to ATI’s 5000’ series comparisons.
    8
  • In your conclusion, you state that a $100 CPU does a far better job than a $100 GPU when it comes to maxing out a low resolution like 1280x1024. Can you elaborate?
    -4
  • Hooray! Now this is a good reference on the forums when people ask for bottlenecks
    3
  • How can this take weeks to plan? Perhaps if one works 15mins a day.

    Good to see vanilla HD4890 puts up a serious fight for GTX 285. Not that it gets any credit for that.

    You should stop using Vista. It's dead already.
    -6
  • Good article. Will read parts 3&4.
    0
  • So now comes the next point - why are nvidia's GPU-s consistently requiring a faster CPU to show what they can do, while Radeons perform very well even with a dual core?
    Best example of course is the GTX295 - are nvidia-s drivers really that lousy, or is there something else at play?
    6
  • howray at last :D
    -3
  • Good article. I was awaiting the part 2 showcasing AMD's line-up. I was starting to think you guys at Tom's forgot about it ;)

    Overall a good article. But,I think these charts can be deceiving though to someone who is not well versed in PC gaming and the hardware involved.

    For example,I have a HD4850 paired with an aging system that incorporates an Athlon64x2 5200+ 2.6GHz Windsor(2x1MB L2 model), 2GB of DDR2 800 (5-5-5-15 timings) and using XP Home with the latest service pack.

    I have yet come across a game I cant play at acceptable frame rates. Granted, I'm not using an ultra-high resolution, but I do up the graphic settings to high/max. I play modern games, some of which are on these charts, and they all play just fine.

    By setting an arbitrary number of frame rates.. some at 40, and some at 45, as "acceptable" can be somewhat misleading. I think that if your gaming using the two of the lower resolutions represented in this article, then I think you'll be happy with one of the lower tiered CPUs and GPUs paired together. Those combination's will get you very played frame rates at the lower resolutions.

    If your going for the higher resolutions, then of course you would have to up the power of the system.. but, I contend that at the lower resolutions, the cheaper hardware will do just fine, and any more money spent is for benchmark numbers alone.
    2
  • Clearly the Phenom IIX3 720 is the Core 2 Duo annihilator because the advantage of its extra core...
    4
  • I'm returning my cards just bought on black friday pny gtx 260 core 216 and pny gtx 275 and exchange them for radeons 4890 and 5850. I'm definitely not going to pay for a new ring around i7-920 to get real benefits.
    4
  • Interesting article, I'm still shock about nvidia video card limitations, I can't understand why green cards are so CPU dependable. Are those expensive GPU not suppose to offload graphic tasks from CPU's? Why we have to spend more on GPU than a CPU?. I'm building a new ring only to play crysis and farcry2 and will not be spending more than $300 for CPU/motherboard/memory. Now 4890 It's on my list as first choice($179 on sale now), will avoid gtx285 even if they sell it for $200.
    5
  • look at the 5700 series really close really impressive cards starting to get some in stock paired with the 720 you really cant beat the price/performance combo. and the 5750 will nearly match a 4890 overclocked. under 300 with either card.
    -6
  • I'm in agreement with KT_Wasp here. I've got a friend running a Core 2 Quad, one of the lower versions, not sure which but I think it's around 2.3 Ghz, and they've got a 4850, and they run all their games with the exception of Crysis at all high with no problems. I'm not sure what resolution they play at, but they've got a 1920x1080 screen, so it's definitely not 1024x768. But anyway, completely playable on games like Shattered Horizon and Dragon Age. I don't know what the actual framerates are, but it doesn't stutter at all with no dips and plays very smoothly.
    1
  • I wish you did the 4870, cause the 4890 is expensive (Well, more than I want to pay). And I already knew the 4850 wasn't good enough for what I want to run/do.
    1