Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Conclusion

Core i5, Core i7, CrossFire, And SLI: Gaming Paradise, Redux?
By

Here’s the real deal: we can turn the settings down below 1680x1050 and show you 200+ frame per second results that make one processor look like a champ while another “languishes” along at 175 frames. But where’s the value in that?  Running at 1680x1050 represents a solid baseline for mainstream gamers, while 2560x1600 serves as today’s Holy Grail. Add or subtract anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering anywhere in there for the best balance between performance and quality.

In games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Far Cry 2, you see a lot of the same results, regardless of the platform on which you’re running. Those are the titles where frame rates drop perilously low—they’re limited by the GPU power plugged into their PCI Express slots. Ideally, when you add a second board and turn on CrossFire or SLI, that situation changes, performance jumps, and you get closer to approaching the CPU’s limit instead.

Other games, like Left 4 Dead and to a lesser extent Grand Theft Auto 4 (we’ve seen World in Conflict fall into this category, too), demonstrate more variance, even with one card installed. Frame rates are usually already playable, yielding less benefit when a second card is installed. These are the games that tend to be CPU-limited in some way—most playable, right up until a graphics bottleneck kicks in.

Thus, the conclusion here is pretty simple. When gaming is your top priority, buy “just enough” CPU and reallocate the rest of your budget toward graphics. In one test after another, we saw situations where a single ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 wasn’t powerful enough to show some sort of benefit to one host processor or another. Only after adding a second card in CrossFire or SLI do you start seeing some benefit to a quicker CPU. And those are $400 graphics cards. Unless you’re planning on spending twice that on an upgrade, the point at which you’ll see GPU performance limit frame rates will come even sooner—long before integrated PCI Express or x8 links play any sort of role.

How does that apply to Intel’s new CPUs? Gamers planning on a single-card graphics subsystem will get plenty of mileage out of the $199 Core i5-750 and a $100 motherboard. Because this falls below where the Core 2 Quad Q9550 or Phenom II X4 965 BE are currently priced, we’ll have to see how Intel and AMD adjust post-launch. However, a 2.66 GHz quad-core chip capable of scaling up to 3.2 GHz in single-threaded applications is good for more than just gaming, and as a result, it looks a heckuva lot better than the two architectures it undercuts today.

One more thing: SLI versus CrossFire. Oy. In certain games, ATI simply kicks butt. Its performance with one Radeon HD 4870 X2 simply walks Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 285, despite the fact that the two models we used are priced similarly. But add a second, and in some cases SLI gets close to doubling performance, while ATI not only fails to scale well, but outright loses its lead. Left 4 Dead, Grand Theft Auto, and Crysis are three examples. ATI still wins out in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but SLI buys more performance for Nvidia. ATI simply dominates Far Cry 2, no matter which way you cut it. Even still, we'd like to see ATI match the scaling Nvidia is getting from SLI. At least then our point that gamers are better off with a second graphics card versus a pricey CPU would be easier to drive home.

Display all 78 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2009 5:37 PM
    Pei-Chen: This article shobuld make it painfully obvious that AMD can and DOES compete on performance in games. AMD has brought plenty of innovation, even if they don't always finish first, but only for the CPU-based video rendering enthusiast does it make no sense to purchase AMD, the other 99.9% of us couldn't tell the difference in a taste test.

    PS: If you want a 3rd and 4th player, you should go discuss x86 licensing with your beloved Intel...
  • 12 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2009 12:45 PM
    Let's be glad AMD is still around to provide competition to Intel. Gaming is obviously fine on either CPU, but some people say: "OMG, I must have the Core i7 because it can do the Monte Carlo simulation faster!!!". The performance difference between Core i7/Phenom II is marginal right now, but if AMD were to exit stage left, then these round ups would be VIA vs. Intel, and I don't know about you, but VIA's offerings really AREN'T fast enough for me... Consider a Phenom II, I love mine...
  • 11 Hide
    cangelini , September 8, 2009 6:26 AM
    The 955 does cost less. The 965 is more expensive than Core i5.
Other Comments
  • 1 Hide
    lashton , September 8, 2009 6:11 AM
    so we can assume for gaming the 965BE (or 955 oc) and ATi cards are just as fast as Core i7 and i5 but at a fraction of the price
  • 11 Hide
    cangelini , September 8, 2009 6:26 AM
    The 955 does cost less. The 965 is more expensive than Core i5.
  • 8 Hide
    Dekasav , September 8, 2009 6:28 AM
    Only thing I don't like is how you knock Crossfire with 2 HD 4870X2's, since when is it even feasible that 4-way CF would scale as well as 2-way SLI?

    But excellent review, overall, I'm actually surprised at how the 965BE did, I thought it'd be behind, where it was actually right in the pack.
  • -1 Hide
    dirtmountain , September 8, 2009 6:47 AM
    I would have liked to see a 780a or a 980a SLI motherboard used to check the SLI numbers on the P2 965BE. I'm also surprised there's no overclocking numbers in the comparison, is that article still to come out?
  • 9 Hide
    cangelini , September 8, 2009 6:51 AM
    It's upcoming dirt; Patrick is the one working on it (and our Italian team sent word of its i5 and i7s in excess of 4.2 GHz)
  • 5 Hide
    sudeshc , September 8, 2009 7:01 AM
    Nice game collection you got there.......:) 

    Great review.
  • 6 Hide
    anonymous x , September 8, 2009 7:04 AM
    Quote:
    Let us know what you think about this in the comments section, but it was pretty clear that Vista was never a favorite, so we're hoping Windows 7 is a more popular environment in which to test

    I like vista, rock solid and stable since I got it years ago. Don't listen to the bashers who never have tried the product.
  • 2 Hide
    lashton , September 8, 2009 8:50 AM
    You giotta remember vista is design for spoecific hardware and powerfull hardware that can run it, so people with P4 3GHz and vista complain about its speed, vista is OK, i dont like it cause my computer doesm't like it thats fine i get over it and chnage my OS
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , September 8, 2009 9:24 AM
    Thanks for weighing in, guys!
  • -8 Hide
    crash27 , September 8, 2009 10:32 AM
    So there's no benafit from adding a second 285 to a q9550s or an x4 965 be ??

    I get a good performance boost from my second gtx280 with my q9650 @ 4 gz
  • 4 Hide
    cangelini , September 8, 2009 10:40 AM
    crash--
    As mentioned in the story, these were tested on 790GX and X48 platforms, which don't do SLI. While there are Nvidia-based SLI platforms available for both configurations, I felt that they were quite a bit more rare and applicable to a much smaller contingent of readers than the CrossFire-capable platforms. The beauty of X58 and P55 is that they'll do both!
    Regards,
    Chris
  • 5 Hide
    jj463rd , September 8, 2009 11:04 AM
    Kudos for adding the Flight Simulator X as a benchmark.
  • 11 Hide
    San Pedro , September 8, 2009 12:27 PM
    Why so many tests today with 2 4870x2s?

    I'd rather have seen 4890 and then 4890CF. That way you see single card performance compared to crossfire instead of dual corssfire compared to quad crossfire.

    I do understand why the card is compared to the GTX 285 based on price though.
  • 12 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2009 12:45 PM
    Let's be glad AMD is still around to provide competition to Intel. Gaming is obviously fine on either CPU, but some people say: "OMG, I must have the Core i7 because it can do the Monte Carlo simulation faster!!!". The performance difference between Core i7/Phenom II is marginal right now, but if AMD were to exit stage left, then these round ups would be VIA vs. Intel, and I don't know about you, but VIA's offerings really AREN'T fast enough for me... Consider a Phenom II, I love mine...
  • 7 Hide
    Pei-chen , September 8, 2009 3:20 PM
    competition_fanblokeLet's be glad AMD is still around to provide competition to Intel. Gaming is obviously fine on either CPU, but some people say: "OMG, I must have the Core i7 because it can do the Monte Carlo simulation faster!!!". The performance difference between Core i7/Phenom II is marginal right now, but if AMD were to exit stage left, then these round ups would be VIA vs. Intel, and I don't know about you, but VIA's offerings really AREN'T fast enough for me... Consider a Phenom II, I love mine...

    I wish there is a third and fourth player in the market so AMD won't sit on its butt and do nothing. AMD has this idea that “we don’t have to compete on performance, just make our product cheap enough and people will buy it”. That’s what doomed GM and Chrysler.

    I wish Nvidia and NEC join/rejoin the CPU market.
  • 2 Hide
    Scotteq , September 8, 2009 3:27 PM
    Thank you, Toms, for the detailed Graphics comparison. Yet regarding the comments section, I have to shake my head that we're again continuing the AMD versus Intel wars.

    I thought people should have learned by now that GPU~intensive tests say little about CPUs, except whether they're 'Good Enough', or not.
  • -8 Hide
    Sardaukarz , September 8, 2009 5:26 PM
    I wonder if u will ever include WOW in ur benchmark suite. Its just a MMORPG but it happens to be the most played game on the planet, thus making it interesting for a lot of us out there who are looking on information when deciding to buy one video card vs another or one processor vs another. Thnkz.
  • 13 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2009 5:37 PM
    Pei-Chen: This article shobuld make it painfully obvious that AMD can and DOES compete on performance in games. AMD has brought plenty of innovation, even if they don't always finish first, but only for the CPU-based video rendering enthusiast does it make no sense to purchase AMD, the other 99.9% of us couldn't tell the difference in a taste test.

    PS: If you want a 3rd and 4th player, you should go discuss x86 licensing with your beloved Intel...
  • 3 Hide
    Acclaim , September 8, 2009 7:04 PM
    The only question that remains for me is how things will turn once the DirectX 11 cards are announced.

    Then, I can see x8 PCIe2.0 links hurting the P55 chipset and the X58 showing its true potential.

    This will definitely affect SLI/Crossfire setups but I am not sure how it will affect single card solutions.
  • 4 Hide
    Shadow703793 , September 8, 2009 8:04 PM
    anonymous xI like vista, rock solid and stable since I got it years ago. Don't listen to the bashers who never have tried the product.

    Agreed. Vista was pretty good after all the manufactures released the drivers. I still think Win 7 is better than XP and Vista.
Display more comments