Part 1: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Benchmark Results: Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV

The amount of available memory for each graphics core determines the detail levels Grand Theft Auto (GTA) IV allows to be used. Rather than bypassing this constraint, we basically cranked settings for the 896MB per GPU available on the GeForce GTX 260 and GTX 295. Note that, here, if you were using cards with 1GB per graphics processor, you could further raise Shadows to Very High and set view distance to 30%.

Even at the lowest resolution, the Radeon HD 4850, with only 512MB of memory, needed to be omitted from GTA IV testing.

I was totally new to the GTA series when I started work on this project. But having heard the voices of readers wanting to see this game added to the benchmark suite, I obliged. The first order of business was to play the game on various configurations and get accustomed to the expected performance and hardware requirements. We again use the game’s built-in benchmark and shoot for a target of 40 FPS. Some time spent playing on our tested platforms indicated that systems capable of reaching this target were at least playable, providing 30+ FPS during intensive game play, with just the occasional dip into the mid 20s. Whether in-game or running the benchmark, GTA IV doesn’t seem push graphics cards all that hard.

A quick glimpse at this chart is all that it takes to see GTA IV is the most CPU-limited game we have visited thus far. It’s also obvious that the game takes advantage of more than two processer cores. A closer look reveals the two dual-GPU cards actually trail behind at this low resolution. 

The stock 2.8 GHz Pentium E6300 doesn’t have a shot at competing here. While the GeForce GTX 260 and Core 2 Duo E8400 are the cheapest pair to hit the target, we also see it takes a pairing with one of the quad-core chips before we call a GeForce GTX 260-based platform balanced.

The CPU bottleneck continues, and despite slightly lower results for the GeForce GTX 260, our recommendations remain the same.

Other cards start feeling some pressure and the GeForce GTX 295 eventually climbs to the top. But overall, for a third straight resolution, our hardware recommendations remain the same. Note how CPU-limited we still are at 1920x1200; the y-axis scale still doesn’t even need adjusting.

At 2560x1600, the GeForce GTX 260 can no longer reach the target frame rate, while its bigger GeForce brothers easily take the top honors and deserve attention. The Radeon HD 4870 X2 doesn’t look as impressive here as in other games, but the Radeon HD 4890/E8400 combo manages to be the cheapest and most balanced minimum solution we can recommend at this resolution.

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
  • mi1ez
    Time to post our balanced PCs?

    Q6600 @3.2GHz
    4GB ram @approx 920MHz
    4870 @790MHz 1GHz

    I reckon this is relatively balanced. Only thing stopping me from hitting full detail on games at 1680 is the graphics card. High details with AA will do for now. 5870 next?
  • blibba
    The settings here are too ambitious - I imagine it's perfectley possible to build a balanced gaming PC around an e6300.
  • Redsnake77
    E6850 @ 3.5Ghz
    2GB OCZ SLI @ 1066Mhz
    BFG 680i SLI (hot NB!!)
    2 x BFG 8800GTX OC2 in SLI
    850w Enermax Galaxy psu
  • burn-e86
    well this dashes my hopes of getting a 4850. Have to move a few steps higher
  • plasmastorm
    Q6600 @ 3.6Ghz
    8gb Geil DDR800
    150gb WD Raptor
    2x 1TB Samsung
    2x Radeon 5850 crossfire
    850W Enermax
  • OverK1lL
    Athlon II X4 620 (stock)
    2gb DDR2 800MHZ Hynix
    160GB Samsung SATA2
    PowerColor HD4890 (stock)
    Coolermaster 500W Extreme Power

    Works brilliantly, taking into account though that my monitor is a 17" LCD @1280x1024 :/
  • Fox Montage
    On the whole, very nice article. It's something that I haven't come across before and it should help people to save a few bob (the whole point of a balanced system) and get the best bang for buck when upgrading (everyone that reads these reviews main concern :).

    burn-e86well this dashes my hopes of getting a 4850. Have to move a few steps higher

    Keep in mind that these tests were done at 4X AA, (pretty much) max settings through out. The HD 4850 is still a good card with good price/ performance. Perhaps it's just a case of AA killing this card?

    I appreciated this article, because it's a first step towards presenting data that gives expected performance in games. Virtually all performance reviews of hardware is done on a comparison basis, to tell people which of the cards tested performs the best at a given set of tests.

    I don't think this point is stressed enough in the online hardware review community. It's very easy to look at a bar graph and see 35 fps and think to one's self "POS card", without stopping to check what the whole test setup was, or what the review is actually looking to highlight.
  • ukcal
    Aha, nice article, though the highlight has to be the picture on the first page. Not only would I love all those graphics cards, imagine having all those games AND LEGALLY! :D
  • Fueled
    Very pertinent article! It's quite helpful in getting a general overview for today's gaming requirements. Thanks for gathering all this data.

    I'm looking forward to the next installment, regarding AMD systems and the new 5000 series GPUs.
  • Anonymous
    I have an E6850 @ 3Ghz, 4GB ram, 1x DVD Rom, 1x HDD..
    I'm looking at getting either the HD4890 or the new 5850, BUT I only have a 400w power supply. I see the E8400+HD4890 combination draws a max consumption of about 250w. Will my 400w be ok? Really dont want to fork out for a new power supply...
  • Anonymous
    Wow, I'm really astonished by this article. I have an E8200 and a 1680*1050 panel, there are some surprising results for me. First off, the 4850 I was thinking of upgrading to would still leave my system entirely GPU limited. Thanks for the warning! Secondly a 4890 would actually perform significantly better in my system than a GTX 295 that costs over twice as much!
    Why is it that the GTX 295 responds so badly to a lack of CPU?
  • welshmousepk

    a dual GPU card requires alot more work from the processor jsut to get it rendering, so in a CPU limited rig they are often a bad choice.

    and @blitonguy: i would not recomend running a 4890 with a 400w PSU. when i have a 650w to power my 4890, and would say a 550 should really be the lowest you should go.
  • devilxc
    Good article. I can't believe how many times I have warned my friend about balance with his 3x Geforce 280 SLi. That being said, I am significantly GPU limited (Intel 920 O/C and Geforce 260). Although my computer is not solely a gaming rig.
  • Anonymous
    5850 people..THAT'S the GC to have ;)
  • chriscornell
    E6750 2,66Ghz @ 3,5Ghz aircooled on stockvoltage
    P5N-E SLI motherboard
    GTX 260 V.2 (stock speed)
    8Gb HyperX DDR2 PC8500 @ 4,4,4,12 timings, 1:1 with cpu
    Patriot Warp2 32Gb SSD system drive + Western Digital Caviar SE 500Gb
    Creative Xtreme Gaming Soundcard
    Samsung S.M. 23" 16:9 monitor running 1920x1080
    Chill Innovation 540W PSU

    Runs everything great atm. I'm a sucker for AA, AF and vertical sync. so I'll upgrade when I can't play new games with at least 4xAA and 8xAF.

    Next thing on my wishlist is a Q9550 and probably a XFX-motherboard.
  • Tonkyboy
    I have a C2D E6300 (stock 1.86 Ghz) - OC'd to 3.2 Ghz
    Sapphire Radeon HD4850 512 Mb OC'd approx 10 % GPU and memory
    2 Gb DDR2 800 OCZ Gold

    I run a 19 inch LG LCD Monitor, native res is 1280 x 1024. This setup provides me a really nice balance. I only use AA in older titles, but I run almost everything on at least High detail levels, and I can run everything I've ever asked my system to run, and do not have frame rate issues. I have no issues with Far Cry 2, GRID, Oblivion, Frontlines, HL2, Doom 3, COD 4 etc... Crysis is the one title I need to turn down.

    The issue here is of course balance. I'm not sure why Toms is using Ultra Quality settings on a review about balance. Surely quality settings have to come into the balance equation too. If you are on a budget, and can't afford the best of everything, then a slightly lower image quality would be a price you would be willing to pay.

    btw, I'm sure the Pentium E6300 is not the same as a C2D E6300, as the Pentium badged chip runs at 2.8, and mine at 1.86 stock ?? Is that right ?
  • Anonymous
    Here's my balanced rig :D
    Core i7 920 3.35GHz
    6gb DDR3 1600MHz
    2x500GB RAID 0
    GTX260 216sp
    All on Foxconn Renessaince board

    I think balance will depend on budget :D
  • Anonymous
    Ok some comments about PSU, if your going to buy expensive mobo, cpu, gfx cards and run it on anything around 400-500w make sure its very good quality one like Tagan, Thermaltake, OCZ, and others in above rigs, do not use a cheapo PSU no matter how much the wattage is, it will work but I guarantee it will go bang and take one of those expensive parts with it, thats if it dont catch the Qtec PSU do.
    I run this rig with a Tagan 480w 5-6 years old
    AMD x2 5600 @2.9GHz energy efficient
    HIS ATi 3870HD @800MHz
    4GB OCZ Reaper PC8500
    2x 750GB Samsung HD's
    Samsung 22in monitor
    It will play anything I throw at it with ease, you dont have to spend a fortune just to play a game, keep your buget reasonable and youll enjoy it so much more.
  • st0rmcr0w
    This is why I love Toms Hardware. You guys review the obvious things such as the new HD5870 like every other site. But the thing that makes you stand out is that you guys also make articles such as this one.

    I'm still having a dual core (E8400 @ 3.6GHz) with quite the demanding SLI setup (2x 8800GT) and have been wondering what the best upgrade will be for my computer. This gives me a lot of insight and I'm eagerly awaiting the follow up overclocking article.
  • demondrumer
    where are the amd provessers