Results: Battlefield 3 And The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
We already know that the frame rates in Battlefield 3's single-player campaign are almost entirely limited by graphics hardware, and not by today's processors. We're testing that theory here, since we had the additional budget to buy a notably faster CPU, but are still using the same Radeon HD 7850-class graphics card.
There are more taxing areas in this game than our 90-second Fraps test. So, I shoot for an average of about 45 frames per second as a minimum target.
Higher frame rates with anti-aliasing disabled suggest that our Core i5 addresses any platform bottlenecks that might have plagued last quarter's machine. In fact, once we overclock it, the $600 PC bumps up against this game's 200 FPS cap. That's a first for any of our budget-oriented gaming rigs.
The victory means little, though. Even the dual-core Pentium running at 2.9 GHz managed to achieve almost 140 FPS once we overclocked the graphics card complementing it.
Using Ultra detail settings and 4x MSAA, we're able to measure anywhere from three to 10 additional frames per second in Battlefield 3 compared to the Pentium-based box.
Graphics card overclocking still makes way more difference though, catapulting last quarter's $500 machine far ahead of our current setup at its stock settings. Clearly, our extra budget doesn't benefit the single-player campaign's main bottleneck: graphics.
The Elders Scroll V: Skyrim
At these CPU-limited settings, it’s no surprise that stepping up from a Pentium to a Core i5 yields additional performance. With that said, both configurations blow through Skyrim's High quality preset.
The quickest way to spot a platform bottleneck is comparing our two 16:9 resolutions. Intel's Pentium G850 limits average frame rates to about 60 at both 1280x720 and 1920x1080. Tighter memory timings and graphics overclocking add a couple of frames per second, on average.
However, the current machine’s Core i5 is fast enough to register 18 FPS difference between both resolutions using a stock Radeon HD 7850. Using Ultra detail settings 8x MSAA, and 1920x1080, we realize that this card, unconstrained, can only just barely exceed 60 FPS. It turns out that the Pentium G850 wasn't hampering our stock performance by all that much, after all.
The same cannot be said once we apply overclocking, which shifts balance back over to the CPUs. To recap, we overclocked the Core i5 by 400 MHz, managed to eke out more memory bandwidth, and left the graphics card's memory at its stock setting. Despite all of those factors that'd seemingly differentiate the machines, almost all separation between resolutions is erased once we tap the potential of Pitcairn with an almost-42% core overclock.