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

Test Systems And Benchmarks

We wanted to keep the comparisons crystal clear, so we're going to make it simple. We're pitting AMD's Athlon II X3 440 against a Core i7-920. Yes, the Core i7-920 costs more than three times as much as the Athlon II X3 440, but remember that game performance will be bottlenecked to a large extent by the graphics subsystem.

As far as graphics cards go, we test two configurations: one with a single Radeon HD 5850 and the other with two Radeon HD 5870s in CrossFire. We test the games across 1280x1024, 1680x1050, 1920x1080, and 2560x1600 resolutions.

Because the Core i7-920 utilizes triple-channel memory, we use three 1GB sticks for a total of 3GB of RAM. The dual-channel AMD platform will use two 2GB sticks for a total of 4GB. From our experience, the single gigabyte of RAM difference should have no effect on gaming performance, but if we see any disparity, we will make note of memory usage. The RAM timings and speed are identical between both systems.

We're using the Gigabyte MA790XT-UD4P motherboard with an Athlon II X3 440 and the ASRock X58 SuperComputer with Intel's Core i7-920. Note that the 790X chipset on the Athlon board can't support full 16x PCI Express (PCIe) bandwidth for each graphics card. To keep things comparable, we put the second Radeon HD 5870 in a PCIe slot with 8x bandwidth when using CrossFire on the ASRock X58 board. 

AMD Test SystemIntel Test System
CPUAMD Athlon II X3 440 (Deneb) 3.0 GHz, FSB-200 MHzIntel Core i7-920 (Nehalem)2.67 GHz, QPI-4200, 8MB Shared L3 Cache
MotherboardGigabyte GA-MA790XT-UD4P  AMD790X, BIOS F7ASRock X58 SuperComputer Intel X58, BIOS P1.90
NetworkingOnboard Gigabit LAN controllerOnboard Gigabit LAN controller
MemoryMushkin PC3-10700 4GB Dual-Channel 2 x 2,048MB,DDR3-1340, CL 9-9-9-24-1TKingston PC3-10700 3GB Triple-Channel 3 x 1,024MB,DDR3-1066, CL 8-8-8-19-1T
GraphicsSapphire Radeon HD 5850725 MHz GPU, 1GB GDDR5 RAM at 1,000 MHz
Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar WD50 00AAJS-00YFA500GB, 7,200 RPM, 8MB cache, SATA 3.0 Gb/s
PowerThermaltake Toughpower 1,200W1,200W, ATX 12V 2.2, EPS 12v 2.91
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 64-bit
DirectX versionDirectX 11
Graphics DriversATI Catalyst 10.3
Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
CrysisPatch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 32-bit executable, benchmark tool, High Settings, No AA, No AF
Far Cry 2DirectX 10, in-game benchmark Ultra-High Settings, No AA, No AF
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of PripyatUltra High Preset, DirectX 11, EFDL, no MSAA, Sunshafts Benchmark
World In Conflict: Soviet AssaultDirectX 10, timedemo Very High Details, 4x AA/4x AF
  • 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?
  • sohei
    good point in this article....if you have money have 1 solution for every application you run on your pc....(high end cpu) folks with money dont have to simple ...but if you have less money to spend AMD cpu is your (my) choice
  • 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.
  • slinkoguy
    Looks like you guys got a Deneb core. Unlock that thing and let us see those results! :D
  • 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 :-)
  • tacoslave
    should have overclocked the 440 because thats what most will be doing when they use this processor for gaming
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • retrac1324
    I like how Opera web browser was mistyped: Oprah
  • 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.