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System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: $350 Bonus Entry-Level PC

Results: Tuning Games For An APU

In this series, we need to run each System Builder Marathon PC through our entire test suite to generate data we can compare to our other builds. But the reality is that our game settings are tuned assuming discrete graphics are being used. Our three main builds are expected to compete at higher budgets, so up until now, APUs weren't even a consideration. 

We take some liberties to explore other options in our bonus builds, though. And rather than say APUs fail at our cranked-up details, we want to test more realistic settings that are appropriate for our budget constraints. Most folks gaming on an APU would probably play more casual titles, and they'd be thrilled to see playable performance in any AAA game. If you're expecting more, then you don't want an APU.

We know the performance of on-die graphics is tied directly to memory data rates. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford the additional expense of a high-end memory kit for this cheap build. Luckily, however, our budget DDR3-1600 kit was fully stable though 2133 MT/s at reduced timings. I'm only concerned that I had no way of knowing what voltage MSI's motherboard was pushing to keep the RAM stable.

So, we’ll take a look at our stock and overclocked on-die GPU clocks married to three different stable memory configurations to figure out which variable nets the greatest performance gain.

Thankfully, Battlefield 3 is playable at 1280x720 on the lowest quality preset, though you may need some overclocking or high-speed memory to help smooth out the most demanding levels. Medium details are still a stretch, even if we run our memory full-bore.

Memory frequency plays a big role in how well an APU handles F1 2012 (far more so than bolstered GPU clocks). Even at relaxed timings, running DDR3-2133 allows 2 FPS more than our previously-tested overclock. Fully tweaked, we should be able to play this title at 1920x1080 at the High detail preset.

If you don't overclock, or if you simply have more stringent frame rate demands), the Medium quality preset might be more realistic. Ultra details are still a no-go. Even with MSAA disabled, the best we can average falls under 33 FPS.

Skyrim isn’t as limited by memory as F1 2012, and we were only able to pick up about 3 FPS from overclocking our RAM on its own. The stock $350 PC is comfortable at 1280x720 using the High detail preset. Overclocked, we could easily choose Medium details at 1920x1080. Either way, the key is to disable anti-aliasing.

The stock $350 PC had absolutely no problem handling Far Cry 3 at 1280x720, so long as we dropped to the Low quality preset. Once we tweaked it properly, the system even delivered an enjoyable experience at the game's Medium preset without dropping below 30 FPS.

  • slomo4sho
    Nice choice in parts (unlike their mid/high end counterparts, the low end MSI boards continue to disappoint. Maybe consider Biostar, ECS, or ASRock in future low end builds) . However, those wanting to cheat can pickup a 750K with 7770 within $20-30 of the price of the APU for overall improved gaming performance. It is interesting what $40-50 can accomplish in these low budget builds :)
    Reply
  • internetlad
    Have to admit, I like where this went. This is a little higher than a similarly priced build I was looking at for my brother in law about a year ago
    Reply
  • rolli59
    Well throw in a HD7750 (can be had for $50 after MIR) and it will keep up with the $400 system in gaming. Since MIR do not count reduce the ram to 2x2GB (Q2 $400build) to offset the cost.
    Reply
  • pauldh
    The promo is now back, so the A10-5800K was (for us) and is once again $110 from Newegg no rebates. We can't match that price too easy with HD7750/7770. Although as rolli said $50 after $30 mail-in rebate + a Pentium gets close (AR).


    EDIT: My mistake! Actually this is a different promo. A $20 gift card. When we chose this part, the savings instantly removed $20 from the shopping cart total.
    Reply
  • sicom
    So a $350 PC has better performance than an Xbox 360, and a $400 PC blows it clear out of the water. Cost of operating system not withstanding. I realize this console generation is nearly ancient history by now, but I still find that interesting, and perhaps because it's not ancient history yet.

    Note of reference: BF3 plays at 720p @ 30 FPS at about medium'ish settings on 360/PS3.
    Reply
  • pauldh
    11609414 said:
    Nice choice in parts. However, those wanting to cheat can pickup a 750K with 7770 within $20-30 of the price of the APU for overall improved gaming performance. It is interesting what $40-50 can accomplish in these low budget builds :)

    That must be a pretty big cheat. ;) But that pairing sure stymies the 6800K's appeal doesn't it.

    You are so right, $40-50 more does wonders. We could make a fun poor man's marathon out of exploring that alone.$400/450/500 gaming faceoff? :D
    Reply
  • aggroboy
    11609551 said:
    So a $350 PC has better performance than an Xbox 360, and a $400 PC blows it clear out of the water. Cost of operating system not withstanding. I realize this console generation is nearly ancient history by now, but I still find that interesting, and perhaps because it's not ancient history yet.

    Note of reference: BF3 plays at 720p @ 30 FPS at about medium'ish settings on 360/PS3.
    You're using 2012-2013 components to compare against a 2005 console.
    Reply
  • itzsnypah
    750K HD7750 4GB RAM and you have much better computer (overall and gaming) for the same price.

    750K vs A10-5800K (CPU wise)
    The same (except 750K no graphics to cool)

    7750 vs 7660D
    512 vs 384 shaders
    GDDR5 vs DDR3
    800Mhz vs 800Mhz

    Did you even consider this or did you go into this budget with your heart set on an APU?
    Reply
  • pauldh
    11609701 said:
    750K HD7750 4GB RAM and you have much better computer (overall and gaming) for the same price.

    750K vs A10-5800K (CPU wise)
    The same (except 750K no graphics to cool)

    7750 vs 7660D
    512 vs 384 shaders
    GDDR5 vs DDR3
    800Mhz vs 800Mhz

    Did you even consider this or did you go into this budget with your heart set on an APU?

    That's an easy answer. The math simply didn't (and still doesn't) add up.

    The cheapest 7750 was $85, the 750K was also $85. That's $170 when the 5800K was $110 with a promo code anyone buying one would have used to save instantly before checking out. The goal was $325 factoring that promotional instant savings.

    And as mentioned in the text on page one, a 4GB mem kit saved only $10, meaning 750K+7750 was still $50 over, which is huge on a $325 budget.

    Although, I knew before order time playing by the rules we'd call this a $350 PC. Hope that all makes sense.
    Reply
  • Memnarchon
    The current APU costs $130. And the memory costs $50. Total: $180.
    Now if you place an Athlon X4 750K 3,4Ghz for $80 or an Ivybridge Pentium G2120 3,1Ghz $70, using a HD 7770 for $90 and for memory 4GB (2 x 2GB) for $35 it will be total: Intel: $195 ($15 more) and AMD:$205 ($25 more).

    Now for $15/$25 you can have double or more performance on games. Why to go with an APU???

    edit: I actually read the article and didn't read all the comments.
    But even if you choose not to go with 7750, according to Tom's hierrarchy chart the 6670 (even the DDR3 version) is still two tiers faster. And I can't remember even prvious month the 6670DDR3 to cost more than $60 (maybe less with some AR) So a 750K or a G2120 (or a bit lower) will still offer better performance at almost same price (the pentium will be the same price) with 4GB RAM.
    Reply