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Gamers: Do You Need More Than An Athlon II X3?

Conclusion

There are some people who might get the impression that we're being unfairly hard on the Athlon II X3 440 by pitting it against the Core i7-920. In fact, the opposite is true. We have tremendous confidence in the gaming abilities of AMD's Athlon II X3 440, and that's why we think it's up to this kind of challenge.

It's all too easy to look at benchmark graphs and get caught up in the trends, but let me point something out to you: in every single game we benchmarked at 1920x1080, the Athlon II X3 440 was capable of a playable average frame rate in excess of 40 FPS. All of the games we tested were benchmarked at attractive and demanding visual settings, and all of them have a reputation for higher-end hardware requirements.

But to those suggesting that there is never a need for a better gaming CPU than the Athlon II X3 440, the facts show that this is simply not true. It is very clear that the Core i7-920 sports notable gaming advantages in a number of scenarios.

Breaking It Down

The first scenario is minimum frame rates. As we've discussed, minimum frame rates are far more important than average frame rates, and any advantage here is noticeable. When we tested World in Conflict, one of the more CPU-dependent games we've tested, it became apparent that the Athlon II X3 440 does not have the same capabilities as the Core i7-920. The Core i7-920 doubles the Athlon II X3 440's minimum of 10 FPS in this title. Granted, the Athlon II X3 440 also achieves a better minimum frame rate in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, but the Core i7-920 manages to double 10 FPS in that title, too. In general, the Athlon II X3 440 might not be the best choice for CPU-intensive games like World in Conflict and perhaps even CPU-intensive, real-time strategy games in general.

The second scenario in which the Athlon II X3 440 might not be ideal is when multiple graphics cards are employed. When we use two Radeon HD 5870 cards in CrossFire, the Core i7-920 system stretches its legs, while the Athlon II-based system doesn't seem to gain much additional performance at all. In fact, when we compare the Athlon II X3 440 results in CrossFire mode with the single-card Core i7-920 results, we are surprised to see that the Core i7-920 manages to beat the Athlon-based system more often than not (at least up to 1920x1080). At 2560x1600, the graphics subsystem is always the bottleneck. But realistically, who pairs an extremely expensive 30" monitor with one of the cheapest CPUs available?

To summarize, the Athlon II X3 440 is an excellent budget gaming processor for single graphics card applications, and probably represents the best price/performance value we've seen to date. But for folks with more cash who are looking for greater performance out of their gaming system (particularly when using multi-card graphics configurations or CPU-intensive game titles) ,higher-end CPUs are definitely a viable option. Remember that the name of the game here is balance. As you scale up graphics muscle, adding the processing horsepower to match will yield an optimal balance between the two subsystems.

For more detail, check out Paul Henningsen's excellent series on Building A Balanced Gaming PC.

  • welshmousepk
    good read, though unsurprising. certainly justifies these lower end processors in gaming rigs.

    the whole thing seems to slightly contradict the 'balanced PC' articles though. why put such a cheap CPU in a system with such a powerful GPU? is the budget really going to be THAT tight?
    Reply
  • sohei
    good point in this article....if you have money ....you have 1 solution for every application you run on your pc....(high end cpu) folks with money dont have to think...is simple ...but if you have less money to spend ...an AMD cpu is your (my) choice
    Reply
  • Verkil
    Still no GTA4? I'm still having thoughts getting an Athlon II X3 because I'll be playing GTA4 and all your Athlon II X3 gaming benchmark does not include GTA4.
    Reply
  • slinkoguy
    Looks like you guys got a Deneb core. Unlock that thing and let us see those results! :D
    Reply
  • haplo602
    hmm ... I see an interesting pattern here. the latest Intel architecture is 3x as expensive yet an AMD cpu on a generation older architecture can still keep up reasonable.

    except very high end gaming, I realy do not see a reason to go after the i7.

    what I am missing from the article is the X3 vs Intel cpus in the same price range. maybe a followup would do some good :-)
    Reply
  • tacoslave
    should have overclocked the 440 because thats what most will be doing when they use this processor for gaming
    Reply
  • Jarmo
    tacoslaveshould have overclocked the 440 because thats what most will be doing when they use this processor for gaming
    I'd guess at least 90% of users never overclock anything.
    To be fair though, probably 90% of Tom's readers do.
    Reply
  • Stardude82
    Do it again with a 5750 or a GTS 250..or lower with a 5650 and a GT 240. You know something modern, but not in excess of the cost of the motherboard and CPU. This is my same problem with the G6950/720 article.. I don't think I've ever seen a good article showing differences with difference CPU's in the middle end. With more of a GPU is bottle neck, the CPU should matter even less.
    Reply
  • retrac1324
    I like how Opera web browser was mistyped: Oprah
    Reply
  • HalfHuman
    nice comparison. seems that the triple core is quite strong enough for gaming. i believe that xfire is crazy technology though and only an almost negligible number of gamers use it. i also do not see the point of using such a strong(expensive) video card with a budget cpu. a money conscious gamer would get a 57xx or something in that zone.

    my thought is that for single card users (not necessarily 58xx type not because it's not good but is for sure not budget friendly) and normal monitors (1680x1050) a triple or even dual core amd is enough.
    Reply