Part 1: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

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

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

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky represents the second game that is so graphically intensive, 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 both of our 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.

In the end, we still found the benchmark tool useful for this series, 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. 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.  For gamers with higher playability demands, we will also try to mention platforms capable of maintaining even higher/smoother frame rates in the Sun Shafts test. 

The dual-GPU cards lead the way, pulling 50+ FPS in the Sun Shafts test. But as long as we step above the Radeon HD 4850 on the graphics side, all of the platforms are capable of handling Ultra details at 1280x1024. Despite trading blows with the Radeon HD 4890, the GeForce GTX 285 provided 36.5-37 FPS in the Sun Shafts test; in each case, approximately 3 FPS higher than the Radeon HD 4980.  

At 1680x1050, the GeForce GTX 260 and Radeon HD 4890 both fall below the target line, leaving only the GeForce GTX 285 left standing with the two dual-GPU cards. CPU muscle has little effect on the Sun Shafts frame rates, and the GeForce GTX 285 reaches 30 FPS with each CPU, although it takes a pairing with the E8400 to reach our average target. While the Radeon HD 4870 X2 leads in overall score, it manages 42-43 FPS in the most demanding test, while the GeForce GTX 295 comes out on top with 45-47 FPS.  

Only the big boys remain playable at 1920x1200. Scoring roughly 37 FPS, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 295 leads by a couple of frames per second in the demanding Sun Shafts test, while the Radeon HD 4870 X2 again takes the other three tests, resulting in the highest overall average score. 

While not as bad as the beating taken in Crysis, none of the cards handles S.T.A.L.K.E.R. at this resolution. The Radeon HD 4870 X2 is reduced to 24 FPS in the Sun Shafts test, while the GeForce GTX 295 manages 26 FPS. 

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    Top Comments
  • winner4455
    I see a great series coming
    18
  • osse
    This is good, this must be the first time in computer history things are beeing done right. And this is sure the best way i ever seen a review done, in my 18 yrs as an entusiastic computer builder. Looking forward to all the updates to come.
    10
  • Other Comments
  • yoy0yo
    Wow, this is an amazingly in depth review! I kinda feel that its sponsered by Asus or Corsair, but I guess you kept with the same brand for the sake of controls etc.

    Thankyou!
    4
  • winner4455
    I see a great series coming
    18
  • inmytaxi
    Very helpful stuff.

    I'd like to see some discussion on the availability of sub $400 (at times as low as $280) 28" monitors. At this price range, does it make more sense to spend more on the LCD even if less is spent initially on graphics? I would think the benefit of 28" vs. 22" is so great that the extra money could be taken from, say, a 9550 + 4890 combo and getting a 8400/6300 + 4850 instead, with the right motherboard a second 4850 later will pass a 4890 anyway.
    2
  • frozenlead
    I like the balance charts. It's a good way to characterize the data. This article is well constructed and well thought-out.

    That being said - is there a way we can compile this data and compute an "optimized" system for the given hardware available? Finding the true, calculated sweet spot for performance/$ would be so nice to have on hand every quarter or twice a year. I'll have to think about this one for a while. There may be some concessions to make, and it might not even work out. But it would be so cool.
    6
  • ghost111
    Nice one.Now i want to see part two.
    1
  • Neggers
    I feel like the person that did this review got it finished alittle bit late. I can only assume he did all the testing some months back and has only just finished writing up his results. But its sad to not see the new P55/i5 Systems, AMD Athlon II Quad Cores, or the Radeon 5000 series.

    Good review, but hopefully it can be updated soon with some of the newer equipment thats out, to turn it into a fantastic guide for people.
    -11
  • brockh
    Great job, this is the information people need to be seeing; the way people provide benchmarks these days hardly tells the story to most of the readers. It's definitely important to point out the disparities in ones CPU choice, rather than just assuming everyone uses the i7 all the sites choose. ;)

    Looking forward to part 2.
    2
  • sinny1
    wow! Awesome works! Can't wait til you guys get to the ATI 5000 series. Keep it up! :)
    4
  • Onyx2291
    This will take up some of my time. Even though I know how, it's nice to get a refresher every now and then.
    0
  • mohsh86
    you are really kidding me by not considering the ATI 5000 series, although am a fan of nvidia , but this is not fair !
    -15
  • scook9
    amazing article....one of the best I have seen in a long time (from any site)

    you all deserve a raise :)
    1
  • anamaniac
    Very nice.

    The picture on the first page is better than any porno I've ever seen!
    1
  • evolve60
    Quote:
    Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 (Yorkfield) 2.66 GHz, LGA 775, FSB-1333, 12MB L2 cache
    I'm pretty sure that its the Q9450/9400 is the one that runs at 2.66 GHz The Q9550 runs at 2.83 GHz.
    2
  • liquidsnake718
    It took me roughly an hour and a half to read this article at work. Wow these are the types of tests and in depth articles that I’ve been waiting for. Its been about a month to two months since we’ve had such a deep study. The System Builder Marathon reviews and tests were great. The best GPU’s per price/performance are lacking and basic comparisons while this article shows us the true value and capabilities of certain GPU’s and CPU’s.

    Im however perplexed that the once good 4850 which is compared to my 9800GTX+ is deemed a weaker GPU now. I thought the Far Cry 2 tests shown in previous TOMs comparisons garnerd higher frame rates? I know that the systems were comparable.... Anyway keep up the good work and this is a Quality comparison/chart/review.
    1
  • Saiyanz
    This is a great review that people who are building pc's actual need to see.

    I was quite surprised by the power of the HD4890. It thumped the GTX285 and more powerful cards when using a dual core CPU. Even in Crysis which always seemed like it favoured Nvidia cards in past reviews. It is probably that the previous reviews all used overclocked quad cores and/or the ATI drivers have really improved.

    It also seems as though the Nvidia cards need a more powerful CPU in order to get equivalent performance to the ATI cards.
    1
  • Bloodblender
    It's just these kind of articles that make TH shine over the other sites. Well done!
    9
  • astrodudepsu
    Looking forward to the rest of the series. Well done.
    1
  • skora
    Thank you Paul and team for sacrificing many weeks on this project. Its great to have something to point at and say this is why you shouldn't do that. It will be great to be able do direct price/performance comparison for the same results of a less expensive OC'd system and stock system.

    Can't wait for the rest!!!!!

    Also, whats the chance of getting a how to run you're own benchmarks article so we can test our systems against yours using the same method?
    2
  • osse
    This is good, this must be the first time in computer history things are beeing done right. And this is sure the best way i ever seen a review done, in my 18 yrs as an entusiastic computer builder. Looking forward to all the updates to come.
    10
  • masterjaw
    My PC says 'bring in the part 2'. Is this would be a series also like the best GPU/CPU?
    1