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Benchmark Results: Battlefield 3 And DiRT 3

System Builder Marathon, June 2012: $500 Gaming PC
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Battlefield 3

Having explored the synthetic capabilities of our current system, we’re going to jump right in and take on Battlefield 3’s single-player campaign, the most graphically demanding test in our current gaming suite. There are more stressing areas encountered within the game than our 90-second Fraps test, so I shoot for an average of 45 frames per second as a minimum target.

Our $500 PC shows evidence of a CPU limitation at lower resolutions, though it still benefits slightly from reduced memory timings and graphics overclocking. But both builds are plenty capable at the Medium quality preset.

Since the rig was designed specifically to tackle Battlefields 3’s Ultra quality preset, we put in a bit of extra effort into optimizing for these settings. Passing final judgment on our budget gaming builds required extra play time on both configurations.

The current $500 system has a slight lead at all resolutions, especially if we focus on the test set including graphics overclocking.

Although the 2-3 FPS lead in both average and minimum frame rates might seem insignificant, playing through a couple of missions made it clear to us that today's $500 PC offers a better experience at 1920x1080 than last quarter's $650 PC. In fact, in my opinion, this new build feels smoother than December's Core i5-2400/Radeon HD 6870 combination at 1680x1050.

To be fair, though, performance at 1920x1080 must be called marginal. There were a few brief dips below 30 FPS and periods of sustained performance in the mid-30 FPS range. I could live with that in the single-player campaign, though not happily. Unsure of whether the entry-level processor or mid-range graphics card was to blame, I spent more time playing at 1280x720. Dropping the resolution while maintaining the same aspect ratio helps determine which component is the limiting factor. Frame rates rarely dipped below 40 FPS and sustained performance jumped to the mid-40s. Surprisingly, our little Celeron G530 was not the culprit; we needed more graphics horsepower.

We conclude, then, that Nvidia has a slight advantage in Battlefield 3 (at least in the single-player campaign). But more aggressive overclocking could have made a difference for the Radeon HD 6950- and GeForce GTX 560 Ti-powered systems.

DiRT 3

Minimal scaling is seen on both systems using DiRT 3's High graphics preset, as the comparably beefy video cards are held back by their complementary dual-core CPUs. This huge frame rate deficit will handicap the current system when it come the overall gaming evaluation, but the rig still offers playable performance, delivering minimum frame rates in the low 40s at all resolutions.

Ultra detail settings with 8x AA shifts our bottleneck over to the $650 PC's graphics card. But this quarter's machine's CPU continues to limit performance (at least at the lower resolutions). At our 1920x1080 target, the stock $500 build maintains at least 39 FPS at all times. That minimum jumped an additional 2 FPS through overclocking.

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