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Test System And Benchmarks

AMD FX Vs. Intel Core i3: Exploring Game Performance With Cheap GPUs

One of the challenges we face every time we analyze game performance is that most titles offer a large number of customizable graphics settings. Typically, we apply the same settings to every contender. The result is often that low-end GPUs hold performance back when they try to push the same options as the high-end models. Those results end up being unrealistically-low. Nobody plays a game on a Radeon HD 5570 at 12 FPS using the same settings as a Radeon HD 7970.

In order to keep our scores in tune with reality, we're going to try using different settings for each graphics card. How do we choose the right options? Some folks find that, in some games, 30 FPS is perfectly playable, while others won’t take any less than 60 FPS across all of the titles they enjoy. There’s no objective way to choose settings, so we test each game twice, each time using a different performance target.

Our first performance target is a 30 FPS minimum. The video game industry traditionally considers this to be the goal for smooth game play. So, we choose settings that keep the game's minimum frame rate around 30 FPS, but at the highest detail and resolution possible. If you value resolution and visual fidelity over all else, this is the kind of performance target you’re probably shooting for.

The second target is for gamers who want a more fluid experience. In this case, we’re looking for about 60 FPS average, and we don’t want to dip below 40 FPS. This imparts a much smoother feel than 30 FPS minimum, even though we’ll probably have to drop visual settings and resolution to achieve it with lower-end hardware. Gamers who enjoy first-person shooters often favor responsiveness over visual fidelity, especially in competitive environments.

Our FX-4100 is actually an FX-8120 with two of its Bulldozer modules turned off. We've run exhaustive testing against an actual FX-4100 to confirm that the performance is similar. The only complication is a lack of granularity in setting its Turbo Core multiplier. So, the CPU itself runs at 3.8 GHz (rather than ranging between 3.6 and 3.8 GHz). With that established, a 100 or 200 MHz difference isn't going to impact our results noticeably.

Finally, we want to point out that the $125 Core i3-2100 is only $3 less than the Core i3-2120, a CPU that is 200 MHz faster. Although the -2120 would be our recommended buy, we're using the -2100 because that's what we have on-hand.

Socket AM3+
LGA 1155

AMD FX-4100 (Zambezi), 3.6 GHz Base, 3.8 GHz Turbo Core

Intel Core i3-2100 (Sandy Bridge), 3.1 GHz, Hyper-Threading enabled

Biostar TA990FXE
Socket AM3+, Chipset: AMD 990FX

Asus P8P67 Pro
LGA 1155, Chipset: Intel P67 Express
On-Board Gigabit LAN controller

Corsair Vengeance LP PC3-16000, 2 x 4 GB, 1600 MT/s, CL 8-8-8-24-2T


AMD Radeon HD 5570
650 MHz GPU, 1 GB DDR3 at 900 MHz

AMD Radeon HD 6770

850 MHz GPU, 1 GB GDDR5 at 1200 MHz

AMD Radeon HD 6850

775 MHz GPU, 1 GB GDDR5 at 1000 MHz

AMD Radeon HD 6950
800 MHz GPU, 1 GB GDDR5 at 1250 MHz

Hard Drive

Western Digital Caviar Black 750 GB
7200 RPM, 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s


ePower EP-1200E10-T2 1200 W

Software and Drivers
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7 x6, Service Pack 1, KB2645594 and KB2646060 installed
DirectX 11
Graphics Drivers

AMD Catalyst 12.1

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Metro 2033
Version, Built-In Benchmark
Battlefield 3
Version, Operation Swordbreaker, FRAPS runs
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Version, FRAPS runs
DiRT 3
Version, Built-In Benchmark
Just Cause 2
Version, Concrete Jungle Benchmark
StarCraft 2
Version:, Tom's Hardware Guide Benchmark
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