System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: $600 Gaming PC

Results: Battlefield 3 And The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Battlefield 3

We already know that the frame rates in Battlefield 3's single-player campaign are almost entirely limited by graphics hardware, and not by today's processors. We're testing that theory here, since we had the additional budget to buy a notably faster CPU, but are still using the same Radeon HD 7850-class graphics card.

There are more taxing areas in this game than our 90-second Fraps test. So, I shoot for an average of about 45 frames per second as a minimum target.

Higher frame rates with anti-aliasing disabled suggest that our Core i5 addresses any platform bottlenecks that might have plagued last quarter's machine. In fact, once we overclock it, the $600 PC bumps up against this game's 200 FPS cap. That's a first for any of our budget-oriented gaming rigs.

The victory means little, though. Even the dual-core Pentium running at 2.9 GHz managed to achieve almost 140 FPS once we overclocked the graphics card complementing it.

Using Ultra detail settings and 4x MSAA, we're able to measure anywhere from three to 10 additional frames per second in Battlefield 3 compared to the Pentium-based box.

Graphics card overclocking still makes way more difference though, catapulting last quarter's $500 machine far ahead of our current setup at its stock settings. Clearly, our extra budget doesn't benefit the single-player campaign's main bottleneck: graphics.

The Elders Scroll V: Skyrim

At these CPU-limited settings, it’s no surprise that stepping up from a Pentium to a Core i5 yields additional performance. With that said, both configurations blow through Skyrim's High quality preset.

The quickest way to spot a platform bottleneck is comparing our two 16:9 resolutions. Intel's Pentium G850 limits average frame rates to about 60 at both 1280x720 and 1920x1080. Tighter memory timings and graphics overclocking add a couple of frames per second, on average.

However, the current machine’s Core i5 is fast enough to register 18 FPS difference between both resolutions using a stock Radeon HD 7850. Using Ultra detail settings 8x MSAA, and 1920x1080, we realize that this card, unconstrained, can only just barely exceed 60 FPS. It turns out that the Pentium G850 wasn't hampering our stock performance by all that much, after all.

The same cannot be said once we apply overclocking, which shifts balance back over to the CPUs. To recap, we overclocked the Core i5 by 400 MHz, managed to eke out more memory bandwidth, and left the graphics card's memory at its stock setting. Despite all of those factors that'd seemingly differentiate the machines, almost all separation between resolutions is erased once we tap the potential of Pitcairn with an almost-42% core overclock.

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  • arich5i question the longevity of a 400w psu in a build like this though

    ~54%(216W) capacity when under CPU + GPU load. There shouldn't be any concern with the PSU failing under these loads.
    20
  • Proximon said:
    Sounds about right. Not quite the sweet spot for a budget rig, but then we don't get too many requests for $600 firm. A higher clocked i3 would have been the way to go.


    That 3350P is a pretty nice CPU though. It performs at near FX-8320 levels while consuming 1/2 the power. I'd definitely use it in a low budget rig over anything else.
    13
  • arich5i question the longevity of a 400w psu in a build like this though

    Have no fear there. Our power measurements are what is pulled from the wall. Factoring the efficeincy (loss) of the PSU, this 400W unit was outputting under 190W at peak load. It was in fact overkill, as built, and could handle a bump in graphics if your willing to use a Molex power adaptor. I'd feel comfortable running the far more power hungry Tahiti LE based 7870 on this PSU, especially paired with a Core i3.
    11
  • Other Comments
  • Sounds about right. Not quite the sweet spot for a budget rig, but then we don't get too many requests for $600 firm. A higher clocked i3 would have been the way to go.
    5
  • I think you can fit the 7870 LE in there if you choose a cheaper mobo and went with an i3 or an AMD build.
    6
  • As usual, love the system builder article.

    This $600 build seems nice. Personally, I would drop the optical drive, replace the Z75 board with a cheaper H77 motherboard, get a cheap 8GB (2x4GB) memory kit and a 2GB version of the Radeon HD7850. I think it's possible that it'll be between $600-610.

    That's just what I would change. This build is still nice to be honest. :)
    6
  • Why isn't noise a benchmark? Every build you showcase you ignore acoustics. A very noisy build should affect it's overall performance negatively, while a quiet one should affect it positively. Noise is a very important factor in Case Reviews so why isn't it a factor here?
    7
  • noise isnt a factor in a gaming rig...thats for htcp stuff
    -8
  • Proximon said:
    Sounds about right. Not quite the sweet spot for a budget rig, but then we don't get too many requests for $600 firm. A higher clocked i3 would have been the way to go.


    That 3350P is a pretty nice CPU though. It performs at near FX-8320 levels while consuming 1/2 the power. I'd definitely use it in a low budget rig over anything else.
    13
  • i question the longevity of a 400w psu in a build like this though
    -16
  • The CPU budget is higher than the GPU budget for this gaming machine? I understand the desire for a 4 core processor but you could definitely have a better gaming rig by investing more in the GPU and trimming the CPU budget.
    4
  • arich5i question the longevity of a 400w psu in a build like this though

    ~54%(216W) capacity when under CPU + GPU load. There shouldn't be any concern with the PSU failing under these loads.
    20
  • It would have been interesting with a 7870 GPU, like below:

    / /

    CPU: ($123.79 @ Amazon)
    Motherboard: ($76.99 @ Amazon)
    Memory: ($29.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: ($49.99 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: ($209.99 @ Newegg)
    Case: ($25.98 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: ($29.99 @ Newegg)
    Optical Drive: ($17.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $564.71
    (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
    (Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-02-26 02:52 EST-0500)

    But the 3350P makes things interesting when an app can benefit from more cores! I had to get a better PSU to fit the 7870 into the budget. There is also $50 in MIR's equated into the final price, so the actual price paid would be $614 out the door. I'm not sure the i3 would have been a better overall CPU, but it would have made things interesting in the gaming department :)
    0
  • Links didn't work above, so I'll put out the Plain Text version, so you can see the parts details.

    PCPartPicker part list: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/G55N
    Price breakdown by merchant: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/G55N/by_merchant/
    Benchmarks: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/G55N/benchmarks/

    CPU: Intel Core i3-3220 3.3GHz Dual-Core Processor ($123.79 @ Amazon)
    Motherboard: ASRock Z75 Pro3 ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($76.99 @ Amazon)
    Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($29.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Toshiba 500GB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($49.99 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: HIS Radeon HD 7870 2GB Video Card ($209.99 @ Newegg)
    Case: Zalman Z5 ATX Mid Tower Case ($25.98 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: Corsair Builder 500W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V Power Supply ($29.99 @ Newegg)
    Optical Drive: Samsung SH-224BB DVD/CD Writer ($17.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $564.71
    (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
    (Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-02-26 02:56 EST-0500)
    1
  • Nice. :)
    going with a core i3 and 7870xt woulda allowed for better gpu-bound gaming experience, but imo a core i5 will likely offer better online multiplayer gaming experience than dual cores and amd counterparts.
    core i5's overclocked power consumption looks impressive, nearly same as sb pentium's with prime 95... i guess.
    6
  • It seems to me that the GPU was more of a bottleneck than the CPU in this build. I'd go with a cheaper H77 mobo, an i3, and a 7870 LE. I think you would have got more impressive numbers in games.
    -2
  • Why is Canada not included in the draw? I want my rights you hear me! QQ

    AFAIK there are no restrictions to contest stuff in Canada
    1
  • arich5i question the longevity of a 400w psu in a build like this though

    Do not question. Falcon northwest (a reliable company) builds the Tiki PC with a 450w psu.
    Uses an OC i7 3770k with the new GTX Titan.
    5
  • No really surprise here, an i5 beats a Pentium, all other parts the same, an extra $100. I'd say keep the optical drive, if anything replace it with a Blu-Ray burner. If anything do a series of cpu/mobo/ram only, these are the true "system" upgrades, and show the true difference in AMD/Intel builds. Just as the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and OS are excluded (even though they are essential, the same OS & apps are used in each one) the case, psu, and hard drives either would be reused or be similar enough to be irrelevent or simply cover up the real differences. A $200, $400, $600 cpu/mobo/ram would be perfect.
    3
  • Proximon said:
    Sounds about right. Not quite the sweet spot for a budget rig, but then we don't get too many requests for $600 firm. A higher clocked i3 would have been the way to go.


    Yeah it didn't make sense to me that they jumped from a Pentium to an i5 and kept the same graphics card. I would've gone with an i3 and got at least a 7850 (maybe I'm biased because that's what I have in my PC)
    -2
  • I would've done something like this for a gaming PC.
    If it *must* strictly be <=$600, then at least a 2gb 7850 or a GTX660.

    PCPartPicker part list: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/G6db
    Price breakdown by merchant: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/G6db/by_merchant/
    Benchmarks: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/G6db/benchmarks/

    CPU: Intel Core i3-3220 3.3GHz Dual-Core Processor ($122.98 @ SuperBiiz)
    Motherboard: ASRock H77M Micro ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($69.99 @ Newegg)
    Memory: Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($47.98 @ Amazon)
    Storage: Seagate Barracuda 500GB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($59.73 @ Compuvest)
    Video Card: HIS Radeon HD 7870 2GB Video Card ($219.99 @ Amazon)
    Case: NZXT Source 210 (White) ATX Mid Tower Case ($29.99 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: Antec 450W ATX12V Power Supply ($38.24 @ Amazon)
    Optical Drive: Lite-On iHAS124-04 DVD/CD Writer ($18.98 @ Outlet PC)
    Total: $607.88
    (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
    (Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-02-26 07:17 EST-0500)
    -1
  • nice work again guys!
    6
  • While not really groundbreaking in any way, this was a good build. It should make a nice baseline; as a general purpose / family PC, it's what a LOT of people "ought to build," perhaps with minor tweaks.

    Btw, it is my understanding that these builds are sponsored by Newegg. This makes any pricing from any other store, no matter how nice, irrelevant in discussion of the build. Alternate vendors may be great suggestions in the forums, but not here.
    2