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Game-Off: Seven Sub-$150 Processors Compared

Testing Methodology

If you've been paying attention to our CPU-gaming articles recently, you may be curious how the Core i3-530 was able to achieve game performance parity with the Core i7-870 (Is Intel's Core i3-530 Fast Enough For Performance Gaming?). Yet, we demonstrated that the Athlon II X3 440 can show some fairly large performance differences compared to a Core i7-920 (Gamers: Do You Need More Than An Athlon II X3?). What's the explanation here? Is the Core i3-530 that much better at gaming than the Athlon II X3 440?

The fact of the matter is that these two articles were benchmarked very differently. In the Core i3-530 gaming comparison, all of the CPUs were paired with a Radeon HD 5850 for benchmarking, where the Athlon II X3 article upped the ante with Radeon HD 5870 and a Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire setup. In addition, the Core i3-530 article focused on average frame rates, while the Athlon II X3 article spoke to the importance of minimum frame rates. Finally, the Core i3-530 article provided raw results for the highest settings, even if the resulting frame rates were sometimes too low to be comfortably playable, while the Athlon II X3 article settings were all about keeping average frames rates high.

This time around, we'll continue to keep that focus on high minimum and high average frame rates that will deliver a really smooth gaming experience. We're looking to maintain average frame rates as close to 60 as possible, so we'll be tweaking in-game detail levels as needed to reproduce some usable numbers. We also hope to see ample minimum frame rates, ideally staying above 30 frames per second (FPS).

As far as the graphics subsystem is concerned, we're going to stay away from an expensive CrossFire/SLI solution. However, we want to employ some real graphics horsepower so that we're not limiting game performance by the graphics card. This is a CPU test after all. In order to minimize bottlenecks, we'll use one of the fastest cards available, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 480.