Finding the Right CPU
We narrowed down our GPU choices slowly and carefully. In our newest Graphics Card Charts for 2014, we set AMD's reference-class Radeon R9 290 as the 100-percent mark for 1080p, identifying that as a good entry point into the gaming space.
From there, we used the same benchmarks with less and less powerful graphics cards until the processor stopped affecting the results. The card that emerged as our winner was somewhat surprising, since it enables plenty of 3D performance.
First, let's take a look at the process:
How Far Can We Take Our System?
The benchmark results demonstrate that a Radeon R7 260X performs almost identically on an Athlon X4 750K, Core i3-3220, or even an overclocked Core i7-4930K.
This means two things. First, if a Radeon R7 260X is all you can afford, there's no point to spending more than $80 on your CPU. A faster processor won't make a difference (at least in terms of gaming). Also, if you want to stick with an $80 CPU, you can see exactly how far a platform like that takes you, and at what point buying more graphics muscle stops paying off.
Naturally, the R7 260X makes the most sense if we're going for a well-balanced configuration. A Radeon R9 270 is another option if you plan to switch on anti-aliasing and other more taxing graphics details. Beyond that point, you're probably sinking more money into graphics than you need to.
If you read our Best Graphics Cards For The Money column, then you know that the Radeon R7 260X currently has Don's recommendation at the $120 price point. Nvidia's GeForce GTX 750 Ti is another option, and frankly, it's a lower-power and more elegant solution. But the cheapest 750 Tis are currently selling for $150. Given the budget levels we're working with, that $30 difference is a lot, even if the GM107-powered card is also quicker than its AMD-branded competition.
Let’s get started on our pricing table, which we'll add to as the story progresses.
|Components||Baseline Build||Price||Stepping Up (Red Devil)||Price|
|Graphics Card||AMD Radeon R7 260X||$120||AMD Radeon R9 270|
Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti