Part 4: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

What does it mean to build a truly-balanced PC? How great would it be to piece together a machine bottlenecked by neither CPU or GPU? We set forth to measure the perfect balance in seven different games and four resolutions in this third of many parts.

  1. Building A Balanced Gaming PC: Part 1
  2. Building A Balanced Gaming PC: Part 2
  3. Building A Balanced Gaming PC: Part 3
  4. Building A Balanced Gaming PC: Part 4

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, as we continue today with Part 4 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 potions 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. Part 2 covered these same graphics cards paired with three AMD Phenom II processors.

These first two parts concentrated on stock performance. But in Part 3, we turned attention towards overclocking. We also migrated to Windows 7 x64, introduced ATI Radeon HD 5000-series graphics, and set up an additional Intel Core i5 LGA 1156-based platform. Today, we return to our Socket AM3 platform, pairing the same seven graphics cards with four overclocked AMD processors. Because triple-core Phenom II CPUs were no longer on AMD's pricing roadmap, we replaced the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition with a similarly-priced Athlon II X4 640. Also, Part 4 incorporates AMD’s affordable six-core Phenom II X6 1055T. Graphics overclocks and driver versions were kept the same so that these results would be directly comparable to the data generated in Part 3.

Still to come, we’ll dedicate two stories to the benefits and scaling of graphics horsepower with ATI CrossFire and Nvidia's SLI technology. We'll try to add new products to the mix, such as NVidia’s GeForce GTX 400-series and revamp the benchmark suite with some new DirectX 11 titles.

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

Create a new thread in the UK Article comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • darksai
    no x3 or 5770.. Its the defacto budget choice combo at 1080p, especially for amd fans. Its a gaping hole to not have the processor thats been butchering the competition up to nearly double its price for months on end, in terms of gaming value.
  • goozaymunanos
    fkkn SPAMMERS!

    admin please delete these obvious spam messages they are not helping anyone..
  • goozaymunanos
    aaah thank you!
  • Mousemonkey
    Anonymous said:
    aaah thank you!

    Just keep reporting them please mate, I can do something about them now! [:mousemonkey:3]
  • goozaymunanos
  • CPfreak
    I'd really like to see how the 555 BE compares to the II X3 445, as they seem to co be a really good match, i also find it scandalous that the card wich has been busting away the competition to the point of being better than cards wich have the double price, so next time i'd really like it if you included that one too.
  • CPfreak
    And i almost forgot to mention: the core i3 530, wich seems to be a good bang for the buck option from intel.