Balanced Platform Series Introduction
1) Building A Balanced Gaming PC: Part 1
2) Building A Balanced Gaming PC: Part 2
Are you disappointed? Are you frustrated? Are you wondering why your PC won’t game? Before you make a rash decision, resulting in a wrongful upgrade or a new system purchase, you need to know exactly what it means to build a balanced gaming platform. We want to welcome you back to one of our most ambitious projects ever (if you missed Part 1, check it out right here), as we continue today with Part 2 of this multi-part series aimed at educating PC users on what it means to seek balance in their configuration.
Balance is what is often lacking in standard off-the-shelf PCs. Even the configurations flaunting fast processors, lots of memory, and ample storage space typically still don’t have sufficient graphics muscle to get things done in today’s demanding 3D games. It (balance) is also what’s lacking when gamers buy the hottest new graphics card, only to discover that their aging system and slow CPU prevent it from delivering the expected level of performance you often see in our own graphics evaluations.
Of course, we realize that the Tom's Hardware audience is far from your average PC user. Perhaps you’re an enthusiast who already knows his or her stuff. After all, you’ve done your research. You thrive on the latest hardware reviews and have long been building your own machines, allotting the proper portions of budget to the components that will best suit the system's intended purpose.
Well, we encourage you to read on and form your own conclusions, as there will be plenty of data to scour, tested and presented in a way you likely have never seen before.
In this series, we combine various levels of graphics cards and processors to determine which offers the best balance in a number of different games. Rather than turn down graphic settings to reach playability, we keep them cranked as high as possible in order to determine exactly how much hardware muscle you need to enjoy these games as the developers intended them to be seen. Keeping the same level of eye candy, we’ll also test various resolutions, simulating the experience of several different monitor sizes, too (right up to 30").
As you might imagine, testing numerous graphic cards paired with numerous processors in numerous games very quickly turns into a massive data set. In order to cover the broadest range of hardware and still keep the project manageable, we chose a handful of CPUs from Intel and AMD, and several graphics cards from both ATI and Nvidia. Too large a project to be wrapped into a single story, it will be split up into a multi-part series, and potentially even an ongoing saga covering newly released hardware, drivers, and games.
There are three main goals for this series:
First, we want to simply present the raw data, gleaned by pairing various CPUs and GPUs. Typical graphics card reviews try to eliminate system-oriented limitations by using a high-end CPU. We've heard many of you complain about this, and are addressing it here. Typical CPU reviews often use a high-end graphics processor and/or lowered detail levels to eliminate GPU-oriented bottlenecks. Reasons for that should be obvious, but here in this series, we’ll have the opportunity to see how the hardware you own today performs versus faster or slower setups. Second, we aim to recommend a minimum level of hardware for each game and at each resolution. This is where theory turns into pragmatism and the story becomes a buyer's guide. Third, we'll show you exactly where the best balance between your CPU and GPU truly resides, with as little “bottlenecking” as possible.
In Part 1, we took a look at how six different graphics cards perform when paired with four Intel CPUs, two dual-core models and two quad-core chips. Here in Part 2 we continue the series with a look at these same graphics cards paired with three AMD Phenom II processors. Again, we concentrate on stock performance in this edition, but will later turn our attention toward overclocking. Additionally, we'll dedicate two stories to exploring the benefits and scaling of graphics horsepower with ATI CrossFire and Nvidia's SLI technology. Along the way we'll try to add new products to the mix, taking into account the recent ATI Radeon HD 5800-series and Intel Core i5 launches.
Before we move onto today’s data, we’ll again take a peek at the hardware we use in this series.
Stay on the Cutting Edge
Join the experts who read Tom's Hardware for the inside track on enthusiast PC tech news — and have for over 25 years. We'll send breaking news and in-depth reviews of CPUs, GPUs, AI, maker hardware and more straight to your inbox.
What effect does having a motherboard that unlocks the 4th core on the X2 and X3 have? In power consumption and overall performance? I'm not asking a redo of all the data, just asking for speculation by someone more knowledgeable, if I can get it.Reply
Readers, don't use this as your only source of info before buying a PC. The writer left out the Intel i5-750 (which has a price range around $189-209, and outperforms all of those CPUs EXCEPT the i7.) Not only that, but LGA1156 motherboards are typically cheaper than the LGA1336 mother boards. Sure, the i7 has hyper threading, and triple channel memory support, but you're gaming here, not running high end video and 3D programs that would actually make great use of hyper threading. The only benefit I can see, is if you have the extra cash to throw around and you plan on running the applications. I guess a second benefit would be expandability, since you won't be able to upgrade the 1156 chips to Intel's next line of processors, the i9. The i5 can really over clock like a beast with the right motherboard, too.Reply
The writer also left out a great GPU: the Radeon 4870 1GB. Single GPU card, almost perfect for anybody considering running today's games at 22" 1650x1080. Of course, you'd want the 4890 for bigger than that, but still, most of these cards (especially the nVidia ones) are not quite price matched with the performance. A good 4870 can run you $170, and a great 4890 can run you $199. The nVidia "equivalents" (GTX 275, 285, and 260) all run about $260+.
I'm not sure why these two great products were left out (i5 and 4870,) but if there is a good reason, disregard what I said, but honestly, I don't see the good this article is doing without at least including them.
YAAAAAAAAAAAY part 2!Reply
The secret to building a balanced gaming by pc, by WarpedSystems.Reply
First, i have been building overclocked only gaming pc's since 2003 with zero failures and 3 year cpu warranty.
#1 cheap cpu - 3.0c northwood - research that far back! CPU = 920 or 750 clocked to 3.8ghz or up too 4.2ghz
#1.5 cpu cooling: in 2004 we used thermalright xp-90, while we still use the thermal right true, we perfer the noctua - research and use the best coolers.
rule 1 of air cooling: dual fans! seal the fans - see photos!
#2 raid, we run dual raid with short stroking - we have been short storking since 2004. Your hard drive arm should move as little as possible a 4 x 1000TB set is 1000GB of raid0 for the c drive. the remaing 3TB is raid 10.
ssd: we run raid5 on hard drive and single ssd as the c drive, the raid 5 is data drive/game drive. This could be a raid0 or raid10.
Video card, you put all your money in the video card! A $2000 computer can have a GTX 295 use the i5 750. A $3000 air cooled system will have 2 video cards.
Power supply = .6 x true max power. this is usually 500 watts to 600 watts of max power. A 750, 850 or 1000 is best. NEVER GO LESS THEN 40% OF AVERAGE! 60% rule allows for a video card upgrade.
Case ...fans, fans and more fans. Anetec 1200 can not be beat for air cooling. All cases are copies of the antec 900. There are many good cases but you want 1 120mm in, 120mm out rear and 1 120 mm blowing on the video card. or 2 80's or bigger
antec 1200 has 2 rear 120mm and 2 front - we pull one section on both the 900 and 1200 and hide wires in the lower cubbie. That means we move the bottom cage up 1 slot, we remove 1 3 slot cage.
check THG links: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&rlz=1T4GGIH_enUS236US236&um=1&q=warpedsystems+thg&sa=N&start=0&ndsp=18
finally bios tuning - memory and bus speed are critical, too high is bad!!! Too high is bad! fsb 1600 or 400x4 has been the sweet spot for years. Whether your running a G0 6600 at 3.6GHz 1600fsb or QX9600 at 1l multiplier at 4.4ghz 1600fsb works! Above that you run into many many issues. At fsb 1600 ram timmigs are ddr2 = 2.0-2.1v 4-3-4-10, 4-4-4-12, etc with core 2 ddr3 at 1.91v you have 7-7-7 with the i7/i5 you run 1.64v at 8-8-8-20 or 8-7-8-20. you find true 100% stablity with the correct timings and fsb and you do not get odd phase bus speeds.
yes, you can tweek the system to 1800mhz but do the tests and you find in most cases you spent more money to get little performance gains and lost stability -- 97-100% stablity. 100% = zero crashes - never!
temps, video card temps are key. Manually set fan speeds to stay under 75c with 70c the best. Stock temps and high cards run 80-85c even with good systems. You can use really good cooling to reduce that with antec 1200 etc. A 120mm fan does not fit an i7 mobo - we use 92mm fans in the door and hot glue it.
Conclusion, overclock your cpu, remember the difference between an i7 920 and 975 may only be factory setting and both run the same speed! Buy the best video card, use the best cooling case and cpu cooler. If your not using a SSD ....RAID RAID RAID! RUN RAID! IT IS EASY!
good luck, you find you get alienware level performance just as i did in 2003 after a few weeks of bios tuning!
Please, if you want to criticise something make sure you've understood it (read in this case) thoroughly. Otherwise you'll look like an idiot.
Anyway, this series is made out of win!
This article truly is revolutionary. I have been waiting for an article like this since I began building my own PCs ten years ago. This article coupled with your CPU and GPU hierarchy chart will go a long way towards eliminating CPU/GPU bottlenecks. This article truly is the first of its kind and I hope to see it at least twice a year if not four times a year. Thank you.Reply
Great article, it's educational, looking forward to ATI’s 5000’ series comparisons.Reply
In your conclusion, you state that a $100 CPU does a far better job than a $100 GPU when it comes to maxing out a low resolution like 1280x1024. Can you elaborate?Reply
Hooray! Now this is a good reference on the forums when people ask for bottlenecksReply
How can this take weeks to plan? Perhaps if one works 15mins a day.Reply
Good to see vanilla HD4890 puts up a serious fight for GTX 285. Not that it gets any credit for that.
You should stop using Vista. It's dead already.