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Benchmark Results: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

Part 4: Building A Balanced Gaming PC
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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky represents the second game so graphically intensive that we are unable to maximize the quality details and enable AA at the same time. The game is not known for being well-threaded, so any of our tested dual-core CPUs are capable of delivering playable performance. In essence, what’s going to determine playability in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is having enough GPU muscle for the resolution at which you hope to game at.

We typically use an average of the four scores given by the stand-alone benchmark to measure S.T.A.L.K.E.R. performance. But for this story, we spent some time playing the game on various hardware, and then came close to utilizing a FRAPS benchmark run instead. Unlike Crysis, you do not really need to get far into S.T.A.L.K.E.R. before the game shows your hardware just what it’s going to be up against. All that it takes is exiting a building for the first time while the morning sun rays shine into camp.

For Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we still found the benchmark tool useful, but we needed to set the minimum target at 45 FPS on average. In every scenario benchmarked, if the overall average was 45 FPS, the “Sun Shafts” test averaged about 30 FPS. Overclocking these CPUs has increased averages through higher framerates in the less GPU-demanding tests, meaning an adjustment of our target to 48 FPS needed to be made to maintain the desired 30 FPS Sun Shafts performance. Playing the game at these settings still results in areas where the frame rates drop to the mid 20s, but overall still seemed to represent what we could consider playable performance.

The overclocked Radeon HD 5750 averages around 45 FPS, managing just 24.9 FPS in the Sun Shafts test, regardless of CPU pairing. The GeForce GTX 260 and Radeon HD 4890 are more up to the task. Results are already quite GPU-limited, with some scaling by CPU core speed and architecture.

Bumping up the resolution, the GeForce GTX 260 now falls to between 25-27 FPS in the most GPU-demanding test. More acceptable performance can be found by using the Radeon HD 4890 or higher, again paired with any of these overclocked processors.

At 1920x1200, the factory overclocked GeForce GTX 285 now falters to 27 FPS in the Sun Shafts test. Stepping up to the Radeon HD 5870 provides at least a 14 FPS boost in performance, more importantly adding about 10 frames per second to the most GPU-intensive test.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. at 2560x1600 was one of the two game tests where none of our stock platforms were able to deliver playable performance in Parts 1 and 2. Of course, keep in mind this was prior to adding the Radeon HD 5970 to the mix.

Paired with Core i7-920, the overclocked GeForce GTX 295 delivers the 30 FPS we seek, while averaging almost 50 FPS overall. Matching it up to the AMD platform drops it just below our target, losing 1-2 FPS in the Sun Shafts test, and 3-6 FPS on average. While the GTX 295 is borderline-playable on this platform, the Radeon HD 5970 still delivers an additional 10 FPS. Any one of the CPUs is adequate, but it’s hard to argue against more processing muscle when you're dumping nearly $700 into graphics and over $1000 into a 2560x1600 display.

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  • 3 Hide
    wildeast , August 11, 2010 6:33 AM
    "such as NVidia’s GeForce GTX 400-series and revamp the benchmark suite with some new DirectX 11 titles."
    i'll be waiting for that, and maybe some i5 cpu to see what fit sli best
  • 8 Hide
    jsowoc , August 11, 2010 6:58 AM
    "We set forth to measure the perfect balance in seven different games and four resolutions in this third of many parts." (?)

    I think you copied this paragraph from part 3 and forgot to change it to 4... ;-)
  • 4 Hide
    theshonen8899 , August 11, 2010 7:05 AM
    With the amount of love you guys have for the Athlon x3 I was really hoping to see it on here :\
    I guess I can kind of predict where it'd fall though.
  • 2 Hide
    Darkerson , August 11, 2010 7:23 AM
    I love the in-depth articles like these. Keep 'em coming!
  • 7 Hide
    L0tus , August 11, 2010 7:40 AM
    Brilliant piece.

    I wish I had read this before building my system as I can see that I clearly spent too much on my CPU instead of GPU (i5-750 + HD5770) . Would have done much better with (X2 550 BE + HD5850) !

    ...ain't hind sight a b***h!

    Also interesting to see how GPUs really start to distinguish themselves at higher resolutions. Again, brilliant work.
  • 2 Hide
    TheStealthyOne , August 11, 2010 8:01 AM
    I built a computer for my brother using a Phenom ii 550 paired with a 5770, and it screams! Fantastic gaming chip! It just goes to show you can achieve fantastic performance by planning and balance.
  • -1 Hide
    garlik_bread , August 11, 2010 9:10 AM
    Personally, i'd be interested to see results from a card with less han 1GB RAM on the GPU.

    On the lower end of the spectrum, with the lower resolutions, is the 1GB really necessary?

    Basically, i have a 512MB Asus 5770 and want to validate my purchase :D 
  • -1 Hide
    plasmastorm , August 11, 2010 10:22 AM
    Still running a Maximus formula 775 board with a Q6600, 8gb ram and a Radeon 5850 but this is certainly handy for future reference.
    Probably skipping the i5/i7 generation as I can still play anything at max settings on my 22" monitor while running a 2nd for a film tho :) 
  • 4 Hide
    Tamz_msc , August 11, 2010 11:22 AM
    Please test some newer games, which is essential for an article like this.
  • 1 Hide
    descendency , August 11, 2010 12:27 PM
    plasmastormStill running a Maximus formula 775 board with a Q6600, 8gb ram and a Radeon 5850 but this is certainly handy for future reference.Probably skipping the i5/i7 generation as I can still play anything at max settings on my 22" monitor while running a 2nd for a film tho


    i5/i7 isn't a generation. it's like 5 or so.

    It's the same thing as C2D and C2Q
  • -1 Hide
    jonpaul37 , August 11, 2010 12:35 PM
    plasmastormStill running a Maximus formula 775 board with a Q6600, 8gb ram and a Radeon 5850 but this is certainly handy for future reference.Probably skipping the i5/i7 generation as I can still play anything at max settings on my 22" monitor while running a 2nd for a film tho


    I hear ya man, i have a Q6600 @ 3.6 and a GTX 285 and i can rock anything i play with really nice settings at 1920 x 1080 so it looks like i will be holding out for another year or two...
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , August 11, 2010 1:14 PM
    Very nice. I really like this series.
    Suggestions: there's no need to draw curves; they should be point-to-point lines, as the data is discrete rather than continuous.
    For the RPG, I would suggest Dragon Age: Origins as being more demanding at higher settings, and/or Sacred 2 because of its use of PhysX. The latter runs the risk of becoming an ATi vs. nVidia comparison, but still may be useful.
    It would also be useful to have commentary on what bare minimum lowering of a setting or two is most likely to restore playability without sacrificing appearance too much.
  • 1 Hide
    lunyone , August 11, 2010 1:16 PM
    This totally makes my point, when I say a ~$100 CPU and a $200-$300 GPU are a the best budget gaming machines you can get. I usually make ~$100 CPU choices and ~$100-150 GPU choices when I'm building a budget gaming rig!! :) 
  • -4 Hide
    lemieuxxx , August 11, 2010 2:06 PM
    what about the i3 540. Is it horrable i see its not on here.
  • -2 Hide
    wolfram23 , August 11, 2010 2:46 PM
    Great article. Good to see how a faster CPU can really pull out better FPS, and it seems to make much more difference when having dual GPUs - I can only assume the trend would hold true on dual card (sli/cf) set ups, which makes me even happier to have an i5 750 @ 4ghz with my two 5850s.

    I hope Part 5 has i3, i5, i7, X955, X965, 1055T, 1090T and concentrates on DX11 performance (4xx vs 5xxx). I'd also LOVE to see a more in depth look at CF/SLI configs. There's not a lot of in depth looks at CF5770, CF5850, SLI470... there's some, but not a lot and none comparing these set ups to different CPUs.
  • 2 Hide
    felang , August 11, 2010 4:18 PM
    Catalyst 9.12 and only outdated games... is this January 2010 or what? you should at least test BFBC2, it uses as many cpu cores as you can throw at it...
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , August 11, 2010 4:32 PM
    Felang: they wanted it possible for readers to compare the results with previous articles in the series.
  • -1 Hide
    DXRick , August 11, 2010 5:04 PM
    Very nice article! I noticed that HD5970 and GTX295 benefited the most from the i7-920 CPU. This implies that Crossfire and SLI (multi-GPU setups) scale better with faster quads (and duals?). Thus, it would be nice to see how various CF and SLI setups depend on the CPUs in this test.

    Why did you use the older generation of Nvidia GPUs in this test? We are looking at the GTX460/470/480 now, with numerous test showing how well two 460's in SLI do.
  • 0 Hide
    nforce4max , August 11, 2010 5:04 PM
    Nice article, as for the L3 assessment I do agree that the lack of L3 cache does negatively impact performance but at least its not catastrophic as seen with the early days of the Celeron. Personally I use a meager 8250e that I nuked to 2.57ghz and it gets the job done plus it was dirt cheap. $16 after selling off some junked parts.
  • 1 Hide
    tognetta , August 11, 2010 5:19 PM
    I would like to see the great GTX460 here too ...

    Great job, i am thankful that i read it before building my next gaming machine !
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