Part 4: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Memory, Hard Drive, Power Supply, Coolers

The following components are outside the scope of comparison here, but still very important to the results we're generating. We don’t want to limit our system with too little memory, a slow hard drive, a flaky power supply, or high temperatures. So, we’ve gathered an assortment of complementary hardware to help address our needs throughout this series.

Special thanks to Corsair, Western Digital, and Xigmatek for arranging the hardware needed to make this entire series possible.

Memory

Corsair Dominator TR3X6G1600C8D

This 6 GB triple-channel kit of Corsair Dominator memory is rated for DDR3-1600 and CL 8-8-8-24 timings at 1.65 V. Corsair backs these modules with a lifetime warranty and uses DHX (Dual-path Heat Xchange) technology to keep them cool.

We’ll be utilizing either two or three sticks of this high-performance memory in each DDR3 platform tested, depending on whether the setup in question employs a dual- or triple-channel controller.

Corsair Dominator TWIN2X4096-8500C5DF

For our DDR2 platforms, we’ll use a 4 GB dual-channel kit of Corsair Dominator, rated at DDR2-1066 and CL 5-5-5-15 2T timings at 2.1 V. This kit is also cooled by DHX technology and backed by Corsair’s lifetime warranty.

Hard Drive

Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS

The Western Digital Caviar Black 640 GB hard drive offers gamers a good blend of capacity, performance, and affordability.

This 7,200 RPM, SATA 3Gb/s drive has dual processors, 32 MB cache, and is backed by a five year warranty.

Bear in mind that using an SSD instead of a mechanical drive like this one will almost certainly improve level load times, but it's less likely to affect your actual in-game performance.

Power Supply

Corsair CMPSU-850HX 850 W

The right combination of motherboard, processor, memory, and graphics cards means little without a quality power supply unit capable of providing reliable, clean voltage to our components.

Considering the overclocking desires and multi-GPU configurations that you'll see later in the series, we chose an 850 W unit from Corsair. The modular Corsair CMPSU-850HX has a single 70 A, +12 V rail, six 6+2 pin PCIe power connectors, a seven year warranty, 80 PLUS efficiency certification, and a 140 mm temperature-controlled fan.

Coolers

Xigmatek HDT-S1283 & Dark Knight-S1283V

We're utilizing Xigmatek’s HDT-S1283 to cool our Socket AM3 and 775 processors, and the LGA 1366-compatible Dark Knight-S1283V to keep the Core i7-920 running cool.

On both heatsinks, Xigmatek uses its HDT (Heatpipe Direct Touch) system for thermal transfer and a PWM-controlled 120 mm fan, with rubber mounts, for quiet operation.

Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus

We didn’t have a LGA 1156-compatible bracket kit on-hand for the Dark Knight, so we switched over to the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus for testing the Intel Core i5-750.

The Hyper 212 Plus features a similar design as the Xigmatek coolers above, featuring four direct-contact copper heat pipes, aluminum fins, and a 120 mm PWM controlled fan.

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43 comments
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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
    3
  • 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... ;-)
    8
  • 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.
    4
  • Darkerson
    I love the in-depth articles like these. Keep 'em coming!
    2
  • 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.
    7
  • 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.
    2
  • 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
    -1
  • 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 :)
    -1
  • Tamz_msc
    Please test some newer games, which is essential for an article like this.
    4
  • 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
    1
  • 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...
    -1
  • 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.
    1
  • 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!! :)
    1
  • lemieuxxx
    what about the i3 540. Is it horrable i see its not on here.
    -4
  • 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.
    -2
  • 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...
    2
  • Onus
    Felang: they wanted it possible for readers to compare the results with previous articles in the series.
    1
  • 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.
    -1
  • 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.
    0
  • 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 !
    1