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A Platform That Makes Sense
You’ll notice that we just ran that full suite of gaming tests on an Intel Core i7 965 Extreme-based machine, complete with X58 motherboard, 6 GB of pricey DDR3 RAM, and a 1,100W power supply—all to test a $109 graphics card.
We do this for a reason. When you test a platform that’s clearly overkill, you help minimize the number of potential bottlenecks that could inadvertently affect results. In a graphics card comparison, you want to reflect only the performance differences attributable to the card in question. But without a doubt, the configuration itself is unrealistic. So, we took what we hoped would be a sweet-spot setting, 1680x1050 without AA or AF enabled, and pit the powerful Core i7 965 Extreme against a significantly less-muscular processor being launched today, wondering if we’d see any performance variation.
The Athlon X2 7850 is a 65nm, 2.8 GHz chip based on the Kuma design. It sports two cores, twin 512 KB L2 caches, and a shared 2 MB L3 cache. With an expected price tag around $70, it’s a reasonable complement to the $109 graphics card. Ironically, you’d likely spend the most money on a motherboard in this little setup.
It’s generally thought that a majority of games are not optimized to take advantage of threading, but there is more than just a core discrepancy in play here. Clock speed, cache, micro-architecture are all different. But if these titles were purely graphics limited, none of that would matter and you’d still see similar performance numbers across the board.
A couple of apps are in fact decidedly limited by the muscle of our little Radeon HD 4770 here. Stalker and Crysis—two obvious contenders for such an honor—achieve low 30-ish frames per second on the $70 and $1,000 CPUs. The rest of the field does demonstrate bias toward the Core i7 965, though, subtly suggesting that we should probably recommend a quicker CPU for gamers. The Phenom II X3 720 does cost twice as much, but would likely make a prudent upgrade. Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, World in Conflict, and Grand Theft Auto 4 all stand to benefit from a quicker CPU.