System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: $600 Gaming PC

Results: F1 2012 And Far Cry 3

F1 2012

Last round, we replaced DiRT 3 with F1 2012, another one of Codemasters’ racing titles based on its own Ego Engine 2.0. We immediately noticed lower average frame rates compared to the performance we were used to from DiRT 3.

Although it still yields playable performance, the $500 PC's potential using a High quality preset is cut in half by the dual-core Pentium CPU.

Stepping up to Ultra details and 8x AA knocks our Pentium-based rig down to an average of 45 FPS, with minimum frame rates reportedly as low as 35 at each resolution. We certainly can't call the $500 box unplayable. However, it's a little unnerving to see such a capable graphics card held back to such an extent by a $70 processor.

On the other hand, our $600 machine's minimum frame rates scale more appropriately based on resolution, indicating a GPU bottleneck. At 1920x1080, performance doesn't drop under 62 FPS, jumping up as high as 78 FPS after our overclocking efforts.

Far Cry 3

This quarter, we are adding Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3 to the gaming suite, a DirectX 11 title based on the Dunia Engine 2. In this case, we have both machines equipped with the same Catalyst 13.1 driver package, plus the 12.11 CAP 2 update.

High quality detail settings without anti-aliasing are heavily CPU-limited on the $500 PC. Overclocking that system's graphics card does absolutely nothing to help. Once we swap in a Core i5 and faster memory, the situation reverses, turning into a GPU bottleneck.

We learn a few things once we crank up the detail preset to Ultra, apply 4x MSAA, HDAO, and Enhanced Alpha To Coverage. First, a stock Radeon HD 7850 is only good up to 1280x720, after which it benefits quite a bit from overclocking. Not even an overclocked Radeon HD 7850 is fast enough to handle 1920x1080, though. The Pentium G850 is also hit particularly hard using Ultra quality settings. It's incapable of averaging more than 31 FPS, regardless of the resolution we test.

Our official Far Cry 3 testing stops there. But I feel these charts fail to capture the full picture, so I'm going to spend a little more time talking about the game (after all, I was fortunate enough to spend more than 12 hours playing before shipping off last quarter’s machine to the lucky winner). I know first-hand how Far Cry 3 runs on that rig, and I must stress that it did phenomenally well, despite the Pentium G850 processor. This somewhat contradicts Don Woligrowski’s findings in Gaming Shoot-Out: 18 CPUs And APUs Under $200, Benchmarked, although his test configuration varied greatly from my own.

Frame rates in this title were consistent, with fewer than 10 FPS separating the minimum from maximum. I tend to be sensitive to any lack of smoothness, and yet I found the stock $500 PC easily playable where Fraps was telling me I was seeing just 32 FPS in our demanding test.

I split my time evenly between stock and overclocked settings. Plus, I logged a couple hours of play time on the $600 machine in order to form a subjective opinion of how the experience compares. In the chart below, you can see how the comparison changes once we dial in settings appropriate to our Radeon HD 7850.

This quarter's machine fares the same at stock settings, gaining a few frames per second, on average, once we overclock it. Playing through Far Cry 3, it was hard to tell the difference between both boxes, except during gun fights. The Core i5 maintained its performance, whereas the Pentium occasionally sagged.

Intel's Pentium G850 can deliver a pleasant Far Cry 3 experience. Of course, I'd still prefer to use the overclocked $600 config, which was still playable at 1920x1080 using Ultra settings. Dropping to 2x MSAA made this even better, returning an average of 8 FPS.

  • Proximon
    Sounds about right. Not quite the sweet spot for a budget rig, but then we don't get too many requests for $600 firm. A higher clocked i3 would have been the way to go.
  • esrever
    I think you can fit the 7870 LE in there if you choose a cheaper mobo and went with an i3 or an AMD build.
  • EzioAs
    As usual, love the system builder article.

    This $600 build seems nice. Personally, I would drop the optical drive, replace the Z75 board with a cheaper H77 motherboard, get a cheap 8GB (2x4GB) memory kit and a 2GB version of the Radeon HD7850. I think it's possible that it'll be between $600-610.

    That's just what I would change. This build is still nice to be honest. :)
  • itzsnypah
    Why isn't noise a benchmark? Every build you showcase you ignore acoustics. A very noisy build should affect it's overall performance negatively, while a quiet one should affect it positively. Noise is a very important factor in Case Reviews so why isn't it a factor here?
  • ARICH5
    noise isnt a factor in a gaming rig...thats for htcp stuff
  • g-unit1111
    10450191 said:
    Sounds about right. Not quite the sweet spot for a budget rig, but then we don't get too many requests for $600 firm. A higher clocked i3 would have been the way to go.

    That 3350P is a pretty nice CPU though. It performs at near FX-8320 levels while consuming 1/2 the power. I'd definitely use it in a low budget rig over anything else.
  • ARICH5
    i question the longevity of a 400w psu in a build like this though
  • slomo4sho
    The CPU budget is higher than the GPU budget for this gaming machine? I understand the desire for a 4 core processor but you could definitely have a better gaming rig by investing more in the GPU and trimming the CPU budget.
  • slomo4sho
    arich5i question the longevity of a 400w psu in a build like this though~54%(216W) capacity when under CPU + GPU load. There shouldn't be any concern with the PSU failing under these loads.
  • lunyone
    It would have been interesting with a 7870 GPU, like below:

    / /

    CPU: ($123.79 @ Amazon)
    Motherboard: ($76.99 @ Amazon)
    Memory: ($29.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: ($49.99 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: ($209.99 @ Newegg)
    Case: ($25.98 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: ($29.99 @ Newegg)
    Optical Drive: ($17.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $564.71
    (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)(Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-02-26 02:52 EST-0500)
    But the 3350P makes things interesting when an app can benefit from more cores! I had to get a better PSU to fit the 7870 into the budget. There is also $50 in MIR's equated into the final price, so the actual price paid would be $614 out the door. I'm not sure the i3 would have been a better overall CPU, but it would have made things interesting in the gaming department :)