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System Builder Marathon, Q2 2013: The $400 Spirit Of Mini-ITX

Results: Battlefield 3 And The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Today’s $400 PC wasn’t built to be a workhorse, and we’re even glad that it performed respectably through our application testing. But now it’s time to see if the compact enclosure and low-profile graphics card possess the fortitude for gaming. I ran both of our current configurations through five matching resolutions.

Battlefield 3

Frame rates in our Battlefield 3 single-player campaign sequence are almost entirely limited by graphics hardware, and not by processing resources. The multiplayer game is entirely different. But I’ve played through the entire single-player campaign on a dual-core Pentium and already know these CPUs are all capable of doing it.

The Medium quality preset appears perfectly tuned for our Radeon HD 7750 graphics card. The cheap build survives through 1920x1080, yielding the 45 FPS average I set as a minimum requirement.

Sporting beefier graphics, the other two machines beg for higher-quality settings.

The Ultra quality preset enables maximum details and 4x MSAA, limiting the overclocked $400 PC to our lowest tested 1280x720 resolution. In stock form, however, it necessitates a drop to 2x MSAA where, interestingly, it delivers the same exact average and minimum frame rates as the overclocked configuration does with 4x MSAA.

Meanwhile, the two more potent rigs survive this game all the way through 1920x1080, although we’d prefer the $500 machine’s Radeon HD 7850 be overclocked.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, only the cheapest configuration appears graphics-bound at High quality settings. However, even in stock form, it delivers a minimum of 45 frames per second through the highest tested resolution.

Our two pricier PCs remain playable at all resolutions, yielding mostly processor-limited frame rates though Ultra quality details with 8x MSAA. Even the stock $500 PC never drops below 45 FPS at 1920x1080.

The slim $400 build comes up a bit short, requiring lowered anti-aliasing settings to maintain smooth framerates. But, on my couch in front of our 40” 1080p TV, I’d certainly be happier with this overclocked $400 PC at Ultra details, 4x MSAA, and 16x AF than a current-gen console.

  • ingtar33
    great article. this type of look at how a low end "budget" build handles modern titles was perfect. Loved it. I think you got about the most you could hope for out of a $400 budget. Frankly i can't find a way to make something better at that price point. spot on really. nicely done.

    I do like how most of those games were "playable" on high settings at 1080p with that tiny rig... very cool.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    Nice build, makes me wonder how it would stack up to my old 4.0 GHz overclocked Core 2 Duo office PC. Which gets gamed on occasionally using its HD 6850 graphics card.
    Reply
  • envy14tpe
    Enjoy the $400 build. Kinda hoped for an A10-5800k build to compare to.
    Reply
  • rmpumper
    250 bucks makes HUGE difference. Unlike 2500 vs 1300 systems.
    Reply
  • allanitomwesh
    FINALLY! I agree this whole system builder was almost a fail.
    Also, I can't believe you had a SG05 and didn't build with it,it has an awesome power supply. Again,if you weren't getting a disk drive the V3+ was the smaller, higher quality case than CM 120 ( though they're finished on newegg)
    The obsession with ginormous cards in tiny places made your cases not tiny.Clearly,a more sensible build,like with a 670,would fit in a much smaller footprint.
    The lack of the FT03 Mini is a fail. It's a Mac killing case,and should've been the go to case for the $2500 build, because at that price,my case better look it.
    Otherwise I like that you were at least up to the challenge, and I applaud this last build.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    11047601 said:
    FINALLY! I agree this whole system builder was almost a fail.
    Also, I can't believe you had a SG05 and didn't build with it,it has an awesome power supply. Again,if you weren't getting a disk drive the V3+ was the smaller, higher quality case than CM 120 ( though they're finished on newegg)
    The obsession with ginormous cards in tiny places made your cases not tiny.Clearly,a more sensible build,like with a 670,would fit in a much smaller footprint.
    The lack of the FT03 Mini is a fail. It's a Mac killing case,and should've been the go to case for the $2500 build, because at that price,my case better look it.
    Otherwise I like that you were at least up to the challenge, and I applaud this last build.
    The FT03 Mini would have probably caused the $2500 PC's graphics card to overheat, or caused the graphics card to overheat the CPU. And a 670 might have worked, but then it wouldn't have been a $2500 PC. But please don't let the facts get in the way of your opinion.

    You could say that nobody should even bother spending $2500 on an ITX-based system, or that a system with ITX limitations should never be expected to provide top performance. At least those opinions would make more sense than the stuff you said above.

    Reply
  • brucek2
    My favorite of the builds. Feels congruent to me in that budget, form factor and system capabilities all align to each other and to my personal sensibilities. I could see making a system like this for a bedroom or den.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    11047721 said:
    My favorite of the builds. Feels congruent to me in that budget, form factor and system capabilities all align to each other and to my personal sensibilities. I could see making a system like this for a bedroom or den.
    Or even an office! Really. I might not build one of these for a performance competition, but it looks like a solid alternative to my retired-gaming office PC.

    Reply
  • CommentariesAnd More
    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks
    CPU: Intel Pentium G860 3.0GHz Dual-Core Processor ($69.99 @ Newegg)
    Motherboard: Foxconn H61S Mini ITX LGA1155 Motherboard ($49.99 @ Amazon)
    Memory: Corsair 4GB (1 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 Memory ($29.99 @ NCIX US)
    Storage: Samsung Spinpoint M8 500GB 2.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive ($54.99 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: Sapphire Radeon HD 7750 1GB Video Card ($99.99 @ Newegg)
    Wireless Network Adapter: Rosewill RNX-N180UB 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0 Wi-Fi Adapter ($9.99 @ Newegg)
    Case: Rosewill RS-MI-01 BK Mini ITX Tower Case w/250W Power Supply ($49.99 @ Amazon)
    Optical Drive: LG GH24NS95 DVD/CD Writer ($17.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $371.92
    (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)(Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-06-27 03:06 EDT-0400)

    Some improvements I would like to suggest , Maybe I am crazy , but felt I should do this.
    Reply
  • silverblue
    Even this diminutive little machine would significantly outpace my old Phenom II X3 710, XFX HD 4830 and 4x1GB DDR2-800 (4-4-4-12) for a pretty decent price.
    Reply