Part 1: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Benchmark Results: Crysis


First up…Crysis. Although this first-person shooter was released in November of 2007, it still arguably represents one of the most graphically-demanding games out there. We needed to settle for less-than-maximum eye candy just to achieve any level of playability, so our compromise was to test at Very High detail levels and no AA, rather than drop to high details and enable AA.

Utilizing our normal benchmark tool provides a good combination of graphical eye candy and physics effects. Our typical target has been 40 FPS, but we put that foregone conclusion to the test in preparation for this series, playing and FRAPS benchmarking numerous configurations in three of the most demanding levels of the game.

The 40 FPS target remains our recommendation. Although Crysis is still quite playable at less than 40 FPS, there will be areas in levels like “Paradise Lost” and “Assault” where framerates will drop into the mid 20s. We feel the 40 FPS recommendation is a safe bet for acceptable performance, although the possibility still exists that stuttering during the game’s closing battle in “Reckoning” could require settings to be tuned down just a bit.  

The relatively flat lines for the Radeon HD 4850 and GeForce GTX 260 show that, even at our lowest resolution, two of the graphics cards fall well below our target FPS. While GeForce GTX 260 owners may find the performance acceptable at stock clocks throughout most of the game, we found frame rates in the most demanding levels were, at times, sitting in the teens--a little too low for our liking

Contrast these two flat GPU-limited lines to the steep slope seen for the GeForce GTX 295, which is extremely CPU-limited, and isn’t able to claim its place at the top until we pair it up with the fastest CPU. Whether through some driver or hardware architecture advantage, it’s hard not to notice that ATI's Radeons have an edge here when matched up to dual-core CPUs.  

The Pentium E6300 failed to reach our target with any of the graphics cards, but given enough CPU power, four of our graphics cards delivered playable performance. The Radeon HD 4890/E8400 combination broke 40 FPS, and stepping up to a quad-core processor doesn’t seem to provide any additional performance. So, in this case, the cheapest solution to reach the target is also the one representing the best balance.

Talk about a graphically-intensive game. By simply turning up the resolution to 1680x1050, all of the single-GPU solutions now fall well below the target line. While the GeForce GTX 295 eventually provides the highest performance, it’s held back from reaching our target with the dual-core CPUs. Here it’s the Radeon HD 4870 X2 reaching our target with the three top CPUs representing the cheapest and best balance at this resolution.

Once we raise the resolution to 1920x1200, only the most expensive platform manages to exceed 40 FPS. The mighty GeForce GTX 295 stands alone, but once again needs a quad-core CPU to shine. Complementing the powerful card from Nvidia with a Core 2 Quad Q9550 delivers 39.8 FPS. That number increases to 41.6 FPS with the Core i7-920. Interestingly, ATI's lineup actually loses performance as we shift to the Core i7-based platform.

These six relatively-flat horizontal lines show that it’s going to take a lot more GPU muscle if 30” LCD owners hope to play Crysis at a native resolution without lowering their detail levels. Oddly, for the third straight 16:10 resolution, the Radeon HD 4870 X2 lost a little performance on Intel's Core i7 platform.

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