Results: F1 2012 And Far Cry 3
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.