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

Benchmark Results: F1 2012 And Far Cry 3

F1 2012

The Pentium G860’s clock rate advantage allows the tiny build to creep up past the $500 PC in the CPU-bound High graphics preset of F1 2012.

However, our most frugal platform’s bottleneck quickly shifts when we switch to the Ultra quality preset, and the Radeon HD 7750 requires overclocking to survive each resolution without us cutting back on anti-aliasing.

Far Cry 3

This joy ride screeches to a halt when Far Cry 3’s High quality preset puts a quick hurting on the Radeon HD 7750, limiting it to 1600x900 or less. Overclocked, I played the game for a little while at 1920x1080. It was a borderline-acceptable experience, with a few dips below 30 FPS. Fine-tuning the detail settings or stepping down to 1680x1050 is a safer bet for folks more sensitive to slow-down.

CPU-bound, the $500 PC remains playable through 1920x1080, while the $650 build’s Tahiti GPU delivers a solid 4800x900 experience.

I have so many hours into testing and playing Far Cry 3 on various platforms that I know exactly what CPU and GPU combinations it takes to make me happy. For starters, a 3.3 GHz Ivy Bridge-based Core i3 is plenty. Paired with a Radeon HD 7970, frame rates never drop below 40 at 1920x1080, matching the Core i5-3570K, even when reduced to 2x MSAA.

However, subjected to 4x MSAA, our $650 PC's Tahiti-based Radeon HD 7870 requires a mild overclock to maintain satisfactory performance, averaging 36 FPS and never dropping below 32. Had it needed more, there was still headroom available (if I was willing to sacrifice more heat and noise).

I also know that an overclocked Radeon HD 7850 can handle Ultra quality at 1920x1080, but only when I drop to 2x MSAA and use a capable quad-threaded processor. The older $500 PC, overclocked, necessitated dropping to Very High quality. Those settings also push the limits of a stock Radeon HD 7850, and stepping up from Pentium to last quarter's Core i5 does little to help until we overclock.

The point I’m getting at is that neither the Pentium G860 nor the Radeon HD 7750 is capable of Ultra quality settings, but the weakest link in this game is by far the graphics card. The $500 rig’s Pentium and Radeon HD 7850 are far more capable.

  • 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