Introduction: A Little Background
We recently published a review of Cyberpower's Gamer Dragon, a Phenom II 955-based gaming PC equipped with DDR3 RAM and a pair of Radeon HD 4890s in CrossFire. The Cyberpower Gamer Dragon was delivered to us with a nice 3.6 GHz overclock, and when we considered what we should compare this system to, our first thought was our recent $1,300 System Builder Marathon (SBM) machine. With an Intel Core i7-920 and two GeForce GTX 260s in SLI, the cost of the components for the two builds was similar.
The comparison also addressed one of the primary complaints we received when we chose the i7 over the Phenom II for our SBM build: that the Phenom II would have been a better choice for a gaming rig, because its lower price tag would have enabled us to add better graphics cards with the budget available. Since the graphics subsystem is often the limiting factor for game performance, a cheaper AMD processor coupled with a higher-powered graphics card would have offered a better fit for gaming, according to the reader feedback.
On paper, two Radeon HD 4890s best a pair of GeForce GTX 260s, so I was satisfied that the scenario would make for a great comparison of Phenom II versus Core i7 gaming value. I merrily proceeded to take benchmarks, record the findings, and form conclusions based on the data. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to investigate the matter, and after all was said and done, my conclusion was that the Core i7-920 beat the Phenom II by a fairly substantial margin. When a budget allows for a powerful dual-graphics card setup, the Core i7 appeared to be the ideal choice, while the Phenom II was a better pick for machines in a lower price range, which the Core i7 can't touch.
Well, the Cyberpower Gamer Dragon article probably generated more forum feedback than any other piece I've written. Normally this would be a good thing, but this time my testing and subsequent conclusion left a lot of people upset. According to a number of folks, there were three main sins I committed in my review of the Phenom II machine:
1. Different Graphics Card Manufacturers
This ties in directly with concern number two below. As both of the test systems used different brands of graphics cards (one sporting Radeon GPUs and the other with GeForce GPUs), the results depended on games that demonstrated a performance preference for one of these architectures.
2. Selection of Game Benchmarks
We use four game benchmarks in our SBM series, which we selected using a number of factors, including popularity, significance, and variety. Those games are Crysis, Far Cry 2, World in Conflict, and Stalker: Clear Sky. Keep in mind, games are only a small part of the PC performance that we test in our SBMs, so up until this point we haven't noticed any problems with this selection of titles.
However, as mentioned, we pit Radeons against GeForces, opening ourselves up to any preference a specific game title might have for either architecture. It has also been suggested that our game selections are overly CPU-dependent, thus giving the Core i7 an edge.
3. The Cyberpower Gamer Dragon May Not Represent Ideal Phenom II Performance
It has also been suggested that our Cyberpower Gamer Dragon test sample wasn't working up to snuff. Concerns have been raised that the memory performance results as tested by the SiSoft Sandra benchmark were lower than they should have been. The Gamer Dragon also uses the Gigabyte GA-MA790XT-U4DP motherboard, which is equipped with AMD's 790X chipset limited to one x16 and one x8 PCI Express (PCIe) 2.0 slot. The AMD 790FX would better represent ideal Phenom II performance, as it has two full PCIe x16 slots--one for each of the graphics cards in CrossFire.
I do believe these three points cover most people's concerns with the Cyberpower article, and since these issues deserve to be investigated further, we came up with a more even-handed plan to use in this follow-up review. Instead of looking at the Cyberpower Gamer Dragon, we'll concentrate specifically on Intel Core i7 versus AMD Phenom II gaming value using our own builds.