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System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: $350 Bonus Entry-Level PC

Results: F1 2012 And The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Last quarter’s $400 PC wasn’t built to be a workhorse. It was built to game, and to take up very little physical space. Outfitted with a dual-core processor, it had no chance to compete with a quad-core Trinity-based APU in threaded workloads. But now we are stepping into a different arena, one where the Pentium processor is far more comfortable. Here, all the Pentium needs to do is keep up with its low-profile Radeon HD 7750 graphics card.

On the other hand, the $350 PC was built for general use on a tight budget. While that scope includes far more casual gaming demands, we don't hold out much hope for the APU in our grueling SBM suite. The on-die Radeon HD 7660D has nowhere near the graphics muscle as the discrete Radeon HD 7750. A word of warning: this gets ugly, so we're starting with our two least-demanding titles.

F1 2012

This is at least a respectable start for our APU. The $350 PC is fully capable of handling F1 2012’s High graphics preset at lower resolutions (though gamers who want to run at a native 1920x1080 on larger panels will likely need to drop detail levels a bit). Last quarter's $400 PC was CPU-bound to around 60 FPS, but still able to maintain a minimum 40+ frames per second at all resolutions.

Subjected to the increased graphical demands of the Ultra quality preset, our APU’s on-die graphics chip has no chance of delivering smooth frame rates at any resolution. In contrast, last quarter’s discrete GPU survives all resolutions without cutting back on anti-aliasing. It did require overclocking to run smoothly at 1920x1080, though.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

As long as we stick to 1280x720 and disable anti-aliasing, AMD’s A10-5800K APU can handle The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim at the High detail preset. With a little GPU and memory tweaking, you may even be able to raise the resolution a bit. However, the $400 machine is far more capable. Even in stock form, the Pentium-based system delivers a minimum of 45 frames per second through the highest resolution tested.

At Ultra quality, our slim $400 PC came up a bit short last quarter, requiring a lowered 4x MSAA setting to maintain smoother framerates. Once again, AMD’s Trinity APU just isn’t equipped with enough graphics horsepower for maximum details.