Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Part 2: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Part 2: Building A Balanced Gaming PC
By

1) Building A Balanced PC: Part 1
2) Building A Balanced PC: Part 2

Are you disappointed? Are you frustrated? Are you wondering why your PC won’t game? Before you make a rash decision, resulting in a wrongful upgrade or a new system purchase, you need to know exactly what it means to build a balanced gaming platform. We want to welcome you back to one of our most ambitious projects ever (if you missed Part 1, check it out right here), as we continue today with Part 2 of this multi-part series aimed at educating PC users on what it means to seek balance in their configuration.

Balance is what is often lacking in standard off-the-shelf PCs. Even the configurations flaunting fast processors, lots of memory, and ample storage space typically still don’t have sufficient graphics muscle to get things done in today’s demanding 3D games. It (balance) is also what’s lacking when gamers buy the hottest new graphics card, only to discover that their aging system and slow CPU prevent it from delivering the expected level of performance you often see in our own graphics evaluations.

Of course, we realize that the Tom's Hardware audience is far from your average PC user. Perhaps you’re an enthusiast who already knows his or her stuff. After all, you’ve done your research. You thrive on the latest hardware reviews and have long been building your own machines, allotting the proper portions of budget to the components that will best suit the system's intended purpose.

Well, we encourage you to read on and form your own conclusions, as there will be plenty of data to scour, tested and presented in a way you likely have never seen before.


In this series, we combine various levels of graphics cards and processors to determine which offers the best balance in a number of different games. Rather than turn down graphic settings to reach playability, we keep them cranked as high as possible in order to determine exactly how much hardware muscle you need to enjoy these games as the developers intended them to be seen. Keeping the same level of eye candy, we’ll also test various resolutions, simulating the experience of several different monitor sizes, too (right up to 30").

As you might imagine, testing numerous graphic cards paired with numerous processors in numerous games very quickly turns into a massive data set. In order to cover the broadest range of hardware and still keep the project manageable, we chose a handful of CPUs from Intel and AMD, and several graphics cards from both ATI and Nvidia. Too large a project to be wrapped into a single story, it will be split up into a multi-part series, and potentially even an ongoing saga covering newly released hardware, drivers, and games.

There are three main goals for this series:

First, we want to simply present the raw data, gleaned by pairing various CPUs and GPUs. Typical graphics card reviews try to eliminate system-oriented limitations by using a high-end CPU. We've heard many of you complain about this, and are addressing it here. Typical CPU reviews often use a high-end graphics processor and/or lowered detail levels to eliminate GPU-oriented bottlenecks. Reasons for that should be obvious, but here in this series, we’ll have the opportunity to see how the hardware you own today performs versus faster or slower setups. Second, we aim to recommend a minimum level of hardware for each game and at each resolution. This is where theory turns into pragmatism and the story becomes a buyer's guide. Third, we'll show you exactly where the best balance between your CPU and GPU truly resides, with as little “bottlenecking” as possible. 

In Part 1, we took a look at how six different graphics cards perform when paired with four Intel CPUs, two dual-core models and two quad-core chips. Here in Part 2 we continue the series with a look at these same graphics cards paired with three AMD Phenom II processors. Again, we concentrate on stock performance in this edition, but will later turn our attention toward overclocking. Additionally, we'll dedicate two stories to exploring the benefits and scaling of graphics horsepower with ATI CrossFire and Nvidia's SLI technology. Along the way we'll try to add new products to the mix, taking into account the recent ATI Radeon HD 5800-series and Intel Core i5 launches.  

Before we move onto today’s data, we’ll again take a peek at the hardware we use in this series.

Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the UK Article comments forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

Display all 5 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 1 Hide
    Silvune , 5 December 2009 02:20
    I'd definitely be interested to see how the new Radeon cards would fit into these charts.
  • 0 Hide
    redkachina , 5 December 2009 14:37
    Looks like its still relevant for me to keep my Phenom 720, not much of a difference compared to 955..better spend more money on graphics..
  • 0 Hide
    bagpussroxx , 5 December 2009 20:09
    Confirms what i already knew about my Phenom II 550 and 4850 rig....

    My Cpu has ALOT more to give if i just upgraded the 4850, and thats just in dual core mode, my CPU will unlock to a Triple or Quad core, but the benefits of doing so with a 4850 are limited in most games.

    Think i'll wait and upgrade my 4850 before running my 550 as a quad.....may as well take the savings on heat and running costs whilst im so GPU limited.
  • 0 Hide
    Lewis57 , 8 December 2009 17:54
    It would be interesting to see how the 5870 does compared. I'd be interested it building a Phenom II with a 5850 or 5870 if the funds are there.
  • 0 Hide
    bamj6 , 18 December 2009 08:15
    I have a Q9550S but all the cards on there are better than my 9600 GT

    Thing is I want it to stay as a single slot as my mobo is my recently built matx.