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System Builder Marathon, Q2 2013: $650 Gaming PC

Results: Battlefield 3 And The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

For today’s gaming results, I'm also pulling in last quarter's beastly $800 PC, sporting the same graphics hardware paired with a more enthusiast-friendly Core i5-3570K. The complete test config can be found here, but it's most important to note that the CPU was running at 4.4 GHz, while the graphics core and memory clock rate was higher.

In transition, the current rig was tested at no less than six resolutions. We're dropping 1280x720, since the $800 PC wasn’t tested that low. On day four, today's $650 gaming box will go up against the more expensive machines at 1600x900, 1920x1080, and 4800x900.

Battlefield 3

Frame rates in our Battlefield 3 single-player campaign sequence are almost entirely limited by graphics hardware and not modern processors. Because there are more taxing areas encountered within the game than our 90-second Fraps test, I always shoot for an average of about 45 frames per second as a minimum target.

My $650 PC edges out last quarter’s $800 rig at stock settings, likely a small and insignificant boost stemming from updated Catalyst drivers. Overclocked, though, the $800 PC’s graphics solution puts it out in front. While the $600 machine trails, we can hardly say that it loses. Even at 1920x1080, its overclocked Radeon HD 7850 keeps frame rates in excess of 100 at all times (not surprising, since these Medium quality settings were tuned for last year’s $500 builds).

The two machines sporting Tahiti-based Radeon HD 7870s yield similar performance at Ultra details, differentiated a bit by their graphics overclocks. Though it trails again, even the stock $600 PC remains playable through 1920x1080.

At 4800x900, 4x MSAA is a bit too demanding for our overclocked $650 PC. But when we drop to 2x MSAA, our latest configuration averages 44.6 FPS.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim does little to challenge any of these configurations. The current rig is CPU-bound, and so understandably unable to match the frame rates of last quarter's Core i5-based setup, which also enjoys the benefit of limited overclocking.

However, the $650 PC is easily able to handle the demands of 4800x900 at the Ultra quality preset, averaging almost 58 FPS stock and breaking 60 once we overclock it.

  • Madn3ss795
    Just 1 question: Why not a 4gb ram stick instead? That board only has 2 RAM slots, so wouldn't it be better to use just one and save another for upgrading later?
    Reply
  • nokiddingboss
    a great starting build at a very reasonable cost. it was a good read mate. gotta <3 the 7870xt for gaming. best bang for the buck. if only the i5's are a little cheaper... next quarter perhaps?
    Reply
  • sbudbud
    10984766 said:
    Just 1 question: Why not a 4gb ram stick instead? That board only has 2 RAM slots, so wouldn't it be better to use just one and save another for upgrading later?
    I think this is for performance reasons, dual channel memory beats single channel in performance but more memory is better. I guess the reason is that 4gb is the sweet spot in terms of what is recommended and that going single channel 4gb for future upgrade to 8gb dual channel will has diminishing returns..
    Reply
  • thasan1
    ahh finally, i was wondering what happened to system builder marathon..
    Reply
  • thasan1
    but why mini ITX rigs?
    Reply
  • sarinaide
    $650 called budget, clearly my definition and the going opinion is far from budget, with it possible to build a ATX Intel or AMD system for a little extra but a lot more performance. I did see the Day5 $400 Ultimate Purist M-ATX, this I gotta see, my guess is another Intel build.
    Reply
  • jestersage
    Thank you for acceding to reader requests for an itx based SBM!

    I have similar preferences as the author when it comes to what I'd change here... a step down in graphics, a step up in CPU performance and bring up RAM to 8gb. I'm not very concerned about noise. I almost always put on a headset when I game.
    Reply
  • MuadDibTM
    Great job on the build and the article. Would have liked a noise comparison as well. Just so we'd know what we're talking about when going for a mini-ITX build.
    Reply
  • bigshootr8
    Yea I'm a bit confused why you wouldn't go down to a 7850 2 gigabyte model and then spend the extra money on 8 gigabytes of memory instead ><
    Reply
  • ARICH5
    jeez, it sounds like your face-palming yourself for getting the i3 through this whole article.
    Reply