Part 4: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Benchmark Results: Need For Speed Shift

Need For Speed: Shift

The stock platforms in Parts 1 and 2 pretty much breezed through Fallout 3 and Race Driver GRID, so we looked into replacing those two games with potentially more demanding titles. We are still looking into a new RPG, but for Parts 3 and 4, we're using Need for Speed: Shift as our racing title of choice. 

In order to benchmark Shift, we use FRAPS to measure a 60 second lap around the Dakota GP track. We utilize the demanding cockpit view and start in the back of the pack, which should provide close to a worst-case scenario for performance. As with GRID, I notice when frame rates dip below 40 FPS, but we’ll shoot for an average of 40 FPS as our target.

Also, care was again taken to maintain race-to-race consistency, and an average of three races were recorded to further improve fairness and accuracy. We dropped 1280x1024 for this title, as the game does not have built-in full-screen support for 4:3 or 5:4 aspect ratios while running a 16:10 native desktop resolution.

The Radeon HD 5750 manages to average over 60 FPS, regardless of processor, even with 4x AA and 16x AF enabled. Once we step up our graphics muscle, CPU limitations become evident and there is no question the Core i7 architecture comes out on top. Among the AMD processors, cache and having more than two processing cores seem more important than clock rate.

Notice how different the GPU scaling is between the AMD and Intel Core i7 platforms. If we only look at the AMD platforms, the Radeon HD 4890 outperforms every GeForce card. This isn’t AMD-specific though, as the same Radeon-favoring results occurred on the LGA 775 platform in Part 3.

All graphics cards except the Radeon HD 5970 take a slight performance hit stepping up to 1920x1200. The GeForce GTX 285 and GTX 295 move up a bit in the standings, but only when they're matched up to a fast-enough processor. 

At 2560x1600 all single-GPU cards limit performance, and results vary little from processor to processor. Gameplay on the Radeon HD 5750 is now painful, at times making it difficult to hold a line and navigate through tight traffic. The GeForce GTX 260 teeters on the green line, and may have stayed completely above the target had it been overclocked to its maximum (rather than relying on BFG’s factory overclock). We’ll call this borderline. Although some chugging was evident down the opening straight-away, the overall experience was still acceptable.

The Radeon HD 4890 and GeForce GTX 285 both deliver solid performance with just a few brief drops below 40 FPS. While the GeForce GTX 295 and Radeon HD 5870 duke it out (depending on the processor), the stock Radeon HD 5970 surges ahead and manages to top the 100 FPS mark!

The Athlon II stills falls behind the three Phenom II processors, indicating that it isn’t the best complement in this game for either the GeForce GTX 295 or Radeon HD 5970. Sporting the highest Phenom II core speed, the X6 1055T allows these dual-GPU cards a slight performance edge at each tested resolution.

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  • wildeast
    "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
  • jsowoc
    "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... ;-)
  • theshonen8899
    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.
  • Darkerson
    I love the in-depth articles like these. Keep 'em coming!
  • L0tus
    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.
  • TheStealthyOne
    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.
  • garlik_bread
    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
  • plasmastorm
    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 :)
  • Tamz_msc
    Please test some newer games, which is essential for an article like this.
  • descendency
    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
  • jonpaul37
    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...
  • Onus
    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.
  • lunyone
    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!! :)
  • lemieuxxx
    what about the i3 540. Is it horrable i see its not on here.
  • wolfram23
    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.
  • felang
    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...
  • Onus
    Felang: they wanted it possible for readers to compare the results with previous articles in the series.
  • DXRick
    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.
  • nforce4max
    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.
  • tognetta
    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 !