Part 1: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Benchmark Results: Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV

The amount of available memory for each graphics core determines the detail levels Grand Theft Auto (GTA) IV allows to be used. Rather than bypassing this constraint, we basically cranked settings for the 896MB per GPU available on the GeForce GTX 260 and GTX 295. Note that, here, if you were using cards with 1GB per graphics processor, you could further raise Shadows to Very High and set view distance to 30%.

Even at the lowest resolution, the Radeon HD 4850, with only 512MB of memory, needed to be omitted from GTA IV testing.

I was totally new to the GTA series when I started work on this project. But having heard the voices of readers wanting to see this game added to the benchmark suite, I obliged. The first order of business was to play the game on various configurations and get accustomed to the expected performance and hardware requirements. We again use the game’s built-in benchmark and shoot for a target of 40 FPS. Some time spent playing on our tested platforms indicated that systems capable of reaching this target were at least playable, providing 30+ FPS during intensive game play, with just the occasional dip into the mid 20s. Whether in-game or running the benchmark, GTA IV doesn’t seem push graphics cards all that hard.

A quick glimpse at this chart is all that it takes to see GTA IV is the most CPU-limited game we have visited thus far. It’s also obvious that the game takes advantage of more than two processer cores. A closer look reveals the two dual-GPU cards actually trail behind at this low resolution. 

The stock 2.8 GHz Pentium E6300 doesn’t have a shot at competing here. While the GeForce GTX 260 and Core 2 Duo E8400 are the cheapest pair to hit the target, we also see it takes a pairing with one of the quad-core chips before we call a GeForce GTX 260-based platform balanced.

The CPU bottleneck continues, and despite slightly lower results for the GeForce GTX 260, our recommendations remain the same.

Other cards start feeling some pressure and the GeForce GTX 295 eventually climbs to the top. But overall, for a third straight resolution, our hardware recommendations remain the same. Note how CPU-limited we still are at 1920x1200; the y-axis scale still doesn’t even need adjusting.

At 2560x1600, the GeForce GTX 260 can no longer reach the target frame rate, while its bigger GeForce brothers easily take the top honors and deserve attention. The Radeon HD 4870 X2 doesn’t look as impressive here as in other games, but the Radeon HD 4890/E8400 combo manages to be the cheapest and most balanced minimum solution we can recommend at this resolution.

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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