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System Builder Marathon, Q1 2014: The $750 Gaming PC

Results: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim And Far Cry 3

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

When we pack in high-end graphics muscle, Skyrim is mainly CPU-bound. The performance drop at 4800x900 is a result of the wider aspect ratio, and not just the demands of pushing more pixels.

The AMD-based PC trails, but still fares well enough. Best of all, even at stock clocks, neither machine with an Intel CPU drops below 60 FPS all the way through 4800x900.

Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 is the most graphically-demanding game in our System Builder Marathon suite, and one of those rare titles able to justify high-end graphics for medium-resolution play. It also happens to be the only one of our former titles remaining in the line-up moving forward.

At high-quality settings without anti aliasing, we see evidence through 1920x1080 that both overclocked PCs with GeForce cards in them are held back by their respective CPUs. In my opinion, though, even the stock $650 PC remained playable though 4800x900. This title doesn’t necessitate high frame rates for a smooth experience, and minimums never dropped below 34 FPS.

If you insist on higher sustained performance, you might prefer the 47 to 52 FPS floors established by the two costlier configurations.

At Ultra quality with 4x MSAA, a GeForce GTX 760 is as low as I'd go to play at 1920x1080. The $650 PC averaged less than 37 FPS, but never dropped below 32 in our test sequence (which is about as demanding as this game gets). The overclocked GeForce GTX 760 and factory-overclocked Radeon R9 280X are capable of staying above 40 FPS. But the newest machine wins, sporting the highest average and minimum frame rates, stock and overclocked.

None of my budget-oriented PCs survive through 4800x900 at these cranked-up settings. However, spending time in-game determined that simply disabling MSAA made the $800 machine playable. And today's configuration fares even better. In fact, after putting in hours testing for stability, I was able to turn on 2x MSAA and keep things smooth.

  • blackmagnum
    This is the everyday Joe sort of gaming PC... cheap and workable. Why not Core i5 quad-core?
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  • hmp_goose
    "The games we just added are unquestionably less processor-bound." This sounds like a major oversight, I fear …
    Reply
  • ingtar33
    nice build, and a good example of how even modern multi-threaded games are STILL at their heart primarily single or dual threaded games. We see this in BF4 most clearly, as the advantage of MOAR CORZ vanishes once you pass the 3rd core on the cpu... meaning a dual cored and hyperthreaded intel is still a viable gaming option; and though you can get an fx8320 for the same price as that i3, almost nothing truely makes use of 8 cores yet. I say yet, because the next gen game consoles will force games to become truly multithreaded in the future. Purhaps down the road the old piledriver chips will start to look like a great gaming value, but the situation today is still largely the same problem facing AMD 3 years ago... which is games simply don't really need MOAR CORZ. Not really anyway. I'm sure some people will have issues with using an i3, but really i think it was a fantastic read; and quite informative. Its important we keep things in perspective... and as things stand now you really don't need much more cpu power then a dual cored pentium or i3... or i guess quad core phenomII or piledriver fx.it all comes down to what you can afford to build around it.
    Reply
  • lostgamer_03
    The i3 was a bad choice, why not get an i5-3330 which is about the same in price and it offers 2 more fully enabled cores, which really would help in applications and the 'newer' games.The MOBO would also be cheaper as it is last gen.
    Reply
  • de5_Roy
    the psu was a smart choice for the case, imo. modular cabling prevented the usual clutter seen in cases like these. the resulted unusually clean look of the inside. 80+ gold efficiency is also welcome. i don't think clean cable management can be measured in charts, but it's an added bonus.
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  • pauldh
    That's what I thought too de5_Roy. Modular and 80 PLUS Gold was well worth spending an extra $15.
    Reply
  • bemused_fred
    The i3 was a bad choice, why not get an i5-3330 which is about the same in price and it offers 2 more fully enabled cores, which really would help in applications and the 'newer' games.The MOBO would also be cheaper as it is last gen.

    When I first saw the parts list for this build, I expected myself to be in full agreement with you. I mean, can you imagine someone suggesting paring a GTX 680 with an I3? Ludicrous. They'd be laughed out the forums. However, looking at the benchmarks for the highest settings in 1920x1080 and 4800x900, I found there were 2 types of results

    1. Those where the I3 and the GTX 770 build beat, or were within a few FPS of the I5 and R9-280X build:
    Battlefield 3
    Battlefield 4
    Arma 3
    Far Cry 3
    2. Those where the I5 and R9-280X beat the I3 and GTX 770 build by a significant margin, but where all frame rates were well above 60FPS:
    F1 2012
    Grid 2
    Skyrim

    So, while overall performance percentage charts might put the I3 and GTX 770 behind the I5 and R9-280X behind in certain games, in a real-life setting, it seems that the I3 and GTX 770 is an equally good build. Which is really not what I was expecting.
    nalmost nothing truely makes use of 8 cores yet. I say yet, because the next gen game consoles will force games to become truly multithreaded in the future.

    Citations desperately needed. The XBOX 360 had 3 hyper-threaded CPUs and the PS3 had a 7-core cell CPU, but this didn't push PC games during this period beyond dual cores. Indeed, as late as January 2012, Tom's hardware was finding it impossible to recommend any Quad-core AMD processors over intel Dual-core processors and as late as December 2012, dual-core Intel pentiums were taking the low-end recommendations, as they were still better at gaming at this point than 4-core AMD processors. Indeed, it wasn't until February 2013 that they reversed this recommendation, so any assumption that consoles having more cores will result in P.C. games using more cores doesn't really stand up to scrutiny, I'm afraid.
    Reply
  • pauldh
    The i3 was a bad choice, why not get an i5-3330 which is about the same in price and it offers 2 more fully enabled cores, which really would help in applications and the 'newer' games.The MOBO would also be cheaper as it is last gen.
    As explained on page 1, the whole idea here with this build was to spend less on the platform, more-than covering the premiums on graphics, RAM, and ODD vs. our last purchase.

    Sure we'd go i5 if priced the same. But the -3330 is $60 more @ $190, just like the -3470 used last quarter. The -3350P saves $10 off that. H61 doesn't save much, starting $5-10 below H81, and then we'd give up capitalizing on the i5's limited overclocking.
    Reply
  • pauldh
    @bemused_fred - Yes, exactly! Good post.

    I was surprised to see i3 didn't yield any meaningful drop in minimum fps, at all! In fact, minimums often appeared GPU-bound, and the new GTX 770 rig won out, especially OC'ed. System bound at 70+ fps and up full-time in Skyrim or F1 2012 is hardly a loss, but an extra 3-8 fps consistently down low in ARMA III and Far Cry 3 could come in handy.
    Reply
  • redgarl
    CPU choice is really overated with a single graphic card. The conclusion proves it. I would even stretch to go AMD to cut some money to fetch up two 750ti-760 GTX or 2 R7 graphic card.CF or SLI of two low tier graphic cards provide really good performances for a budget.
    Reply