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Written by David Ramsey   
Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Fast Enough Computer

Why you shouldn't always buy the fastest, most expensive parts; even if you can afford them.

While I have not yet (and may never) recover from my addiction to having the Biggest Fastest Most Expensive computer parts I can afford, the experience I've gained writing for this website over the past year or so has hammered home the lesson that most of the time, I'm just wasting my money. And you probably are, too.

What do you need a fast computer for?

Unless you're a professional who needs the power of a high-end workstation, the meanest, cheapest no-name box you can buy is likely more than sufficient for everything you do...except gaming. That's the metric I'm going to use here: frame rates in games, at a decent resolution with good visual effects. Looking at the Steam hardware survey, we can see that the most common gaming resolution is 1680x1050 pixels, so that's what I'll use. The goal is to build a system that will play most modern games at 30fps or better at 1680x1050 with good visual quality (i.e. without having to turn off anti-aliasing or other visual effects) and decent expansion capability for the least amount of money.

Benchmarks don't matter

Most of us will look to benchmark results to determine a computer's performance. It's like taking your car to the local drag strip and seeing how fast it'll do the 1/4 mile run. But much of the time, a benchmark score has about as much relevance to your computer as your car's 1/4 miles time has to its day-to-day driving experience. This is especially true for synthetic benchmarks: while tuning your system to deliver the bestest fastest results in AIDA64 or PassMark can be fun, all that really matters at the end of the day is how many FPS you can spit out in Crysis, Metro 2033, Bad Company, or whatever your favorite game is.

Sure, having a monster system that delivers triple-digit frame rates on a 30" monitor with the latest DX11 games with all the eye candy turned on confers certain bragging rights...and if bragging rights is what you're after, well, go get those three NVIDIA GTX580 cards and start overclocking them. But don't expect it to make any difference in your gaming experience unless you're running a PhysX-heavy game in 3D Vision on a triple monitor system. What, that's not what you're running? Well, then...

Consider this: first, if your system can maintain 30 frames per second or more on a given game, that's Fast Enough. Very few people can discern the visual difference between 30fps and anything faster. I certainly can't. But even if you can, the absolute limit is 60fps, because that's the refresh frequency of your monitor. It physically can't display more than that, and when you do, you get horizontal "tearing" artifacts, which is why most games these days have an option to sync the frame redraws to the monitor's vertical refresh, effectively capping your frame rate at 60fps. Given this, who cares if your system can generate more frames per second? You're not going to see them.

Second, game developers want to produce games that run well on mid-range systems, because people with Intel 980X systems running dual NVIDIA GTX580 cards don't really make up a large part of the market. Sure, Crysis brought even high-end systems to their knees when it was introduced, but do you want to spend hundreds of dollars to run a single game?

So, what do you need to play current modern games at 1680x1050 with good frame rates and decent visual quality? As it turns out, all you need is a computer that's Fast Enough. Here's what I'd suggest...

Building the Fast Enough Computer

Let's recap what we're looking for in a Fast Enough computer:

  • Can play most modern games at 1680x1050 pixels at an average of 30fps or better
  • Has good expansion capability
  • Total cost of under $800 (an arbitrary amount, but there you go)

The "expansion capability" part is important: you want room to grow the system a bit at a time as more demanding games appear (and more money becomes available). Of course, everyone's needs and wants will vary, but here's what I'd start with:

Any computer case. This is the least important part of your system, so the cheaper the better. Still, "inexpensive" doesn't have to mean "cheap": the NZXT M59 case provides both interesting looks and excellent quality for under $50.

An AMD 790FX or 890FX motherboard. I prefer AMD here simply because these chipsets support 42 PCIe lanes, which means you can run a tri-CrossFireX system and still have plenty of lanes left over for USB 3.0, SATA 6G, and a couple of PCIe cards. The downside is that you won't be able to run NVIDIA SLI, and that's a drawback (especially if you like PhysX), but the only ways to get a decent number of PCIe lanes in the Intel world are to buy an X58 system, or a P55 or P67 motherboard with an expensive NVIDIA NF200 bridge chip.

If you don't need USB 3.0 (easily added with a PCIe card later) or SATA 6G, a 790FX motherboard will save you $30-$50 over an 890FX motherboard.

An AMD Phenom II X2 560 Black Edition processor. Stick with the Phenom II series CPUs: they're faster and typically overclock better than Phenom or Athlon CPUs. The 560 is inexpensive ($100 at Newegg), and this unlocked-multiplier dual-core CPU can easily be overclocked past 4Ghz.

4GB of DDR3 memory. Stick with a major brand for warranty reasons, but as our tests have shown, paying extra for fast timings, low latency, and fancy heat sinks will yield very little in the way of better frame rates, so I'd go for DDR3-1333. With such memory currently selling for about $10/gigabyte, you can easily add another 4GB later if you need to.

A Radeon 6850 video card. These are available for about $180 and will handle most modern games at 1680x1050 without having to turn off anti-aliasing or other image processing features, although you won't be able to crank the visual effects up all the way on games like Crysis or Metro 2033. If you need more horsepower, a pair of these cards in CrossFireX will almost double your performance and play any current game at well over 30fps even at 1920x1200. One caveat: the 6850 is limited to two-card CrossFireX; for three-card setups, you'll need to move up to the Radeon 6950, which costs $90-$100 more.

A Samsung SpinPoint 500GB or 1T drive. The real-world performance of these drives is excellent (close to WD's much more expensive VelociRaptor drives), and they're only $65 for the 500GB version. Any generic DVD writer will do; I use Sony Optiarc OEM drives, available for less than $20, or $25 for a Lightscribe version.

A decent power supply. The one place you shouldn't skimp is the power supply. You want it to be reliable and able to support your system as it grows. The Radeon 6850 requires only a single 6-pin power connector, so a Seasonic SS-560KM would work well for up to two of them, but you might want a power supply that has 4 PCI power connectors if you want to be able to expand to more powerful cards (with dual power connectors) in the future.

You can build this system for about $750, less if you find a 790FX motherboard, or go with a smaller hard drive or Radeon 5770 instead of a 6850. And it gives you several upgrade paths: AMD has been dropping the prices on their 4- and 6-core processors, and you can add one or two more video cards as your needs grow.

Intel Alternatives

It's not as easy to build an inexpensive Fast Enough system with Intel: their processors are much more expensive than AMD's, and the Sandy Bridge P67 chipset suffers from the same dearth of PCIe lanes as did the previous-generation P55 chipset. X58 motherboards will give you the PCIe lanes you need, and there are a number available now in the sub-$200 range, but Socket 1366 CPUs are still quite expensive, at $300 for the current Core i7-950.

If you can live with the lack of PCIe lanes, Intel's Sandy Bridge CPUs offer excellent performance, and a good P67 motherboard can be had for less than many 890FX motherboards. But you'll pay a lot more for even the cheapest Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor, and you'll be locked out of any overclocking unless you get a "K"-series CPU (the cheapest of which is the Core i5-2500K at $225). Also, be aware that not all P67 motherboards support SLI, so if you want this option, make sure to check that your P67 motherboard is SLI-certified.

Would you build a Fast Enough computer? Leave your comment below, or start a discussion in our Forum.


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Comments 

 
# hardware junkyferalshad0w 2011-01-26 20:17
I agree on everything here except the graphics choice. The GTX 460 is about $30 cheaper and has better performance. This would give you more room for a better case like an Antec that gives you dust filters and maintains excellent airflow. The antec 300 has has plenty of expandability and the cable hideaway so you can go cheap and still hold some style. even spend an extra $20 on a overclocked gtx 460.

All and all improving performance and cooling by a lot for the same money.
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# GTX 460 is about $30 cheaper and has better performance?ToeringsNthongz 2011-01-27 00:44
Your on glus or something,so me and everyone else where the 460 beats even the 5870 ! yah didnt think so ! so please stop misleading people and lay off the crack pipe please !its cheaper yes ,but didnt your mommy teach you yet that over 90 percent of the time you get what you pay for? Quess not !
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# RE: GTX 460 is about $30 cheaper and has better performance?Succellus 2011-01-27 02:18
If paying more is better why are you staying on low life AMD ?
Ain t that your moto?
So stop using psychodelic delusional drugs and get intel and drop that ATI on the process...
You ll have 2 460 GTX...for better price and performance.

As for 6 core what the hell ? 99% of the market don t even use 4, this is pure waste of money.
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# RE: RE: GTX 460 is about $30 cheaper and has better performance?Shakey 2011-01-27 02:28
Somebody obviously didn't read the article...
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# RE: GTX 460 is about $30 cheaper and has better performance?feralshad0w 2011-02-08 22:07
dude, you are crazy pants. The 1gb gtx 460 its going to tie for beat the 6850, especialy a warrantied factory overclocked one like I mentioned above. I am not misleading people. The 58xx series has been ahead of the 68xx series from most of what I have seen, so I didnt make that comparison. Stop putting words into my mouth.

Anyway, if you want bang for your bug, the 1gb gtx 460 is where its at, and the gtx 560 just dropped the 460's price a bit to boot.
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# READ THE ARTICLEjlei8a 2011-01-29 15:05
Did you read the article? What you say here is misleading pleople man, i own 2 systems, a really expensive(intel,nvid ia) and inexpensive one (amd) and from what I've seen and what i currently play I can only say this, omg why did i spend so much money on my first system i coulve bought a car or maybe 2-3 other pcs..other than physx i cannot tell the difference on performance on most games i play. And yes i also agree on the author i cant not tell 30fps from 60+fps why did i waste my money?
Maybe i was misleaded back then
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerDavid Ramsey 2011-01-26 21:13
I agree re the GTX 460, but you'd be stuck with that card, whereas with the 6850 you can add another card for CrossFireX. Gets back to the whole "can't run SLI on modern AMD chipsets" thing.
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerSadButTrue 2011-01-26 23:48
Here's something else to consider. If you bought a 'just fast enough' computer two years ago (at a cost then closer to $1,000 -my costs have come down!) it's probably dropped below the line of barely acceptable performance now. And its resale value is barely above scrap metal. OTOH if you had judiciously spent $1,200 two years ago on a higher end product it will probably stay above that (purely subjective) line for another year or so. So the latter system's cost over time is $400 instead of $500 per year. Purely theoretical and speculative of course, but the second system also gives you a better system for at least two years.

I do agree with your main point though David. In fact I would say that even considering games like Crysis or Metro puts the line quite a bit higher than it would be for most people. Neither of those games are in the top 20, so an analysis based on more common (and much less demanding on hardware) games like Starcraft II or Civ V might extend the life of your fast enough system even further.

I bet you can tell I'm one of those people who tries to consider both sides of any argument.
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# That is why I like AMD.LWATCDR 2011-03-30 06:56
AMD does not change sockets as often. If you had gotten an AM2+ motherboard you could upgrade your CPU to a pretty modern one today. Add in a new GPU and you would have a still good enough system with a small investment in updates.
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# Second Opinion of SortsRagingShadow07 2011-01-27 00:06
I agree with a lot of this article, and I've got respect for the author because I don't see someone often come out and tell people (in an actual hardware article no less, haha) they don't need $300 CPU and GPU combinations with 8GB RAM and $400 motherboards, but I'll admit the parts choices surprised me (not in a bad way or anything, just kind of 'different' from what I would have thought of).

For example, it seems like the board is set on future-proofing a lot more than the CPU. How about a 790X or 890GX chipset for around the $100-140 mark to save $40+ on the board and use that to upgrade to a Phenom II 955? The bandwidth shouldn't be an issue for dual 6850 in Crossfire, and a quad-core is a guarantee. It seems to me like even a single 6850 would be bottlenecked by a Phenom dual-core (assuming you don't try your luck to unlock it).

I'll admit though that's just my take on it since I've been on a cheap 790X DDR2 board that's hit 4GHz on a Phenom II X6 for a while, but I'll also admit I'm not concerned about SATA6 and USB3 as much as other people.

Great article as usual. I'm a big fan of the Op-Eds BmR does.
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# RE: Second Opinion of SortsDavid Ramsey 2011-01-27 08:47
I did mention a 790FX-based motherboard as one lower-cost option. I would recommend against an 890GX board because it only has 22 PCIe lanes (you can tell that these are important to me).
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# Great ArticleCom-Tek Chris 2011-01-27 00:57
I build Gaming PC's for a living along with business PC's. I have a gaming budget rig that I sell for $790, with a 6 Core AMD, 4gig system memory DDR3/1333, WD Blue Series 500gig HDD, ASUS DVD Burner, Nvidia's 460 GTX, Computer Case-Case, Rosewill 700watt PSU, MSI 870-G45 AM3 AMD 770 ATX Motherboard with all solid state capacitors. This rig has proven to be a champ and I can sell it to my customers knowing that for every 100 units I sell I may have to warranty 3-5 for hardware issues. I have recently found a hack for using 2x Nvidia 460 GTX's and just successfully SLI'd 2x 560 GTX's on this platform, I used the BFG 1000watt PSU though, it is $101.99 on NewEgg, be aware though, BFG is out of business, but I have had these PSU's in the field on over 70+ builds over 2-3 years and none have gone out. If you ever have any questions contact me, I have several new builds I do every week. AMD vs Intel? Intel is better but more money. AMD is fantastic for its Price/Performance ratio.
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# RE: Great ArticleDavid Ramsey 2011-01-27 08:49
I'd be hesitant to recommend any of the hacks for using SLI on modern AMD boards. Like the hacks that enable PhysX on computers with Radeons as the primary video card, they're fun hacky things, but support could vanish tomorrow. Then again, I run a Hackintosh as my main computer, so what do I know?
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# RE: RE: Great Articleroadkill 2011-02-12 19:55
Not as much as someone doing 2 builds a week methinks.
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# Not the pointZack 2011-01-27 03:34
Having a "good enough" computer isn't the point. Why do people customize their cars? Why do they build them from ground up? Why do people make knives, fishing rods, pool cues, pens, etc. when they could easily just buy them from the store? They want customizability and to enjoy the result of their efforts to the utmost.

You know what my "minimum" is for my future system? An average of 120 FPS on a 5040x1050 resolution. Not only is that three times as wide as a 1680x1050 monitor, but that's four times the target FPS. I can tell the difference between 30, 60, and 120 FPS. I don't know many first-person shooter gamers that can't. I want to have an exceptional system, not an acceptable one.
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# RE: Not the pointOlin Coles 2011-01-27 08:43
You had better contact someone at Guinness records, because the human eye cannot differentiate frame speeds past about 35 FPS. You also fail to recognize the point of this article, which it seems you didn't read.
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# RE: RE: Not the pointCom-Tek Chris 2011-01-27 23:21
I would say the average blind person cannot differentiate frame speeds past about 35 FPS. I notice the difference between 30-60 FPS. My game is more fluid and has a sharper image. I have Gamer Like Lightning Reflexes, lol, so I tell my wife but then she says they only last for a good 3 minutes, lol.
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# RE: Not the pointDavid Ramsey 2011-01-27 08:52
Having a "good enough" computer is indeed the point if that's all your finances will stretch to afford. Building super high end systems is fun, but not everyone has thousands of dollars to pump into what's basically a big toy. Also, unless you're running a 3D Vision system, I'd also be interested to know how you can tell the difference between 60 and 120fps, considering that your monitor's physically incapable of displaying anything faster than 60fps...
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# LolHank 2011-01-28 10:34
I was thinking that same thing. Really? You can tell the difference between 60FPS and 120FPS? I suppose most people can when they get tearlines across their screen. Other than that, though, it's really impossible, since even at 120FPS, your monitor is displaying only 60FPS.
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# Elaboration on FPSLiquid Nitrogen Overclocking 2011-01-27 04:12
There is a reason why there is a need to be able to handle higher FPS than the eye can discern. At some point, the rendering engines will bog down with too many data points needing computation or re-calculation, and their "usual" 120 FPS will dip sharply. If you are right on the threshold of what the human eye can detect, any such dip WILL actually impact your gaming experience. If the dip is a function of a CPU-bound bottleneck, I recommend the 5.2 GHz Gulftown sold by Liquid Nitrogen Overclocking (the Trinity Lightning II comes with 2 separate GTX 580 video cards). This is the fastest overclocked 6-core system in the world right now that is 24x7 stable. I have one, and I love it.
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# RE: Elaboration on FPSDavid Ramsey 2011-01-27 08:55
Quite true-- even if your rig averages 40fps in a game, there may be places where the frame rate dips low enough to look jerky. This is when you add another 6850 or faster processor. Again, the point of the article is a computer that's "fast enough", and your recommended 5Ghz dual-580 rig isn't really the competition I had in mind!
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerComputer Ed 2011-01-27 04:17
Every time I see an article like this on the net I get all wamr and fuzzy knowing another person has joined the church I have been preaching out for 11 years! Welcome brother.

Your build is not bad at all but I will disagree on the case. DIY people tend to build more often (ie buy new systems) than others. With this in mind a good case is something that can last through many builds. I personally would up the budget a bit on the case to get better quality for that reason.

While the CPU of choice is a great chip I would however suggest getting an a Phenom II 840 instead. While this is essentially an Athlon II it is still plenty fast for gaming and the 2 extra cores come in handy as more games add multithreading. Sure there is a chance to unlock the 2 extra cores but why risk it when you get them for sure for the same money?
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# RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerHank 2011-01-28 10:38
I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestion for the Phenom-II X4-840 (or should I say Athlon-II X4-650).

You underestimate the Athlon CPUs if you think the L3 cache is going to provide any type of Gaming performance increase. Even the triple core Athlon-II X3-445 outperforms the Phenom-II X2-560 in games. I know, I reviewed them both.
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# RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerDavid Ramsey 2011-01-28 16:11
Hank, do you still have either of these processors? I thought I had checked to see if we'd previously tested a 560.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerOlin Coles 2011-01-28 16:14
I've just confirmed a test sample for you. Now it's time to clear your plate of other projects so we can make 'The Fast Enough Computer' come to life.
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerMugsy 2011-01-27 07:42
Slight "correction". My 6850 has TWO 6-pin connectors. Whether I could get by with only one, I couldn't say, but wouldn't want to find out.
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# RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerDavid Ramsey 2011-01-27 07:55
Which 6850 do you have? None of the ones we've reviewed, even the factory-overclocked version, have two power connectors...
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# My Intel/Nvidia Fast Enough SystemMighty Warrior 2011-01-27 08:17
I built this system 2 years ago. The box cost $800.00 to build. It has and still does serve me well. The upgrades cost $150.00 last November. (Windows 7 and a Hitachi 1Tb Drive) It's my 1st build. Ran XP, now Windows 7. It rocks for the money :D The CPU idles at 38c and loads at 55c with the stock cooler.

Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 @ 2.8Gz
XFX 750i SLi motherboard
OCZ Reaper 2 sticks of 2Gb PC6400 DDR2
640Mb Western Digital Caviar Black Hard Drive
BFG GTX280 OC
SoundBlaster XFi Xtreme Gamer sound card
650w Silverstone Zues power supply
NZXT Tempest gaming case
Logitech G11 keyboard
CoolerMaster Storm Sentinel Advance Gaming Mouse
Samsung 22" 1680 x 1050 monitor
13035 marks 3DMark06

Crysis Bench runs averaged with dx10 effects enabled through config. files
Max settings = avg 31fps , min 13 fps , max 44 fps

FarCry2 Ranch medium loop Max settings= avg 47fps , min 29 fps , max 89 fps

Battlefield Bad Company 2 Max. Settings = in the 50's

Edit November 2010 Added 1Tb Hitachi hard drive with Windows 7 64-bit Now a dual boot system.
Overclocked to 3.0Gz 13250 marks 3DMark Vantage in Windows 7

Intel/Nvidia Fanboy
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# RE: My Intel/Nvidia Fast Enough SystemDavid Ramsey 2011-01-27 08:57
Ah, someone who gets the point! Sounds like a nice Intel version of the Fast Enough system, although your cost seems a bit low...surely GTX280 cards cost several hundred dollars two years ago...?
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# RE: RE: My Intel/Nvidia Fast Enough SystemMighty Warrior 2011-01-27 10:53
Actually I picked it up from Fry's after the GTXx285 debutted at clearance for about $200.00. I know it was a steal, they only had 2 on the shelf.
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerSadButTrue 2011-01-27 11:27
All in all a great article. The advice not to scrimp on a PSU is very sound. I would differ in approach particularly if one is going for a two card solution, even eventually.

The nVidia cards are currently a LOT better than their AMD/ATI counterparts, and if you save $30 or more buying one GTX460 instead of a Radeon 6850, you'd save $60 on a pair. So going an Intel route that supports SLI looks a lot better.

Intel parts typically overclock by about 20% just using stock cooling, AMD only about 10%*. That plus the current SLI advantage can change the equation.

(* see: ##xbitlabs.com/articles/cpu/display/power-consumption-overclocking.html )

How about an article on the costs and benefits of overclocking? An aggressively overclocked system will draw more power, requiring a bigger PSU, a 3rd party cooler, a more expensive case and maybe some extra case fans. That can totally eat up any value added by the speed boost, especially when considered in the light of your 'fast enough' hypothesis.
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# RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerDavid Ramsey 2011-01-27 15:14
An Intel/NVIDIA system (depending on configuration) can certainly outperform the system I've described here...but it will cost significantly more.
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerWW_Dagger 2011-01-27 11:58
Minimum FPS needs to be 60FPS not 30FPS. I can see the difference and if you can't, you are lying or blind. This gives you room for frame spikes on demanding scenery, and gives at least a little future proofing. 9 months from now you won't be able to play new games if 30 fps is your goal today.

Also, the article says other stupid stuff, like the heat sink not increasing FPS. DUH? But if your taking your i-930 from 2.8GHz to 4.2GHz with some voltage tweaks at 100% stability like I am, you're going to need that 3rd party heat sink. Ta-Da! Nice heatsink = more FPS! Pretty good performance increase for $50 hugh?

Chassis Cooler Master HAF-X (RC-942-KKN1) Full Tower Case
CPU Intel Core i7-930
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-D14 Premium cooler
TIM MASSCOOL G751 Shin-Etsu Thermal Interface Material
Motherboard Asus Rampage III Extreme
PowerSupply CORSAIR HX CMPSU-1000HX 1000W
Memory Mushkin Enhanced Redline 6GB (3 x 2GB) (6-8-6-24 & 1T)
GPU ZOTAC AMP! ZT-40102-10P GeForce GTX 480
Sound Card Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD 24-bit 96KHz USB
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OEM
HD 1 (BOOT) Crucial RealSSD C300 6Gbps SATA SSD 256GB With ATA-TRIM
HD 2 Seagate ST95005620AS Momentus XT 500GB Solid State Hybrid
HD 3 Seagate ST95005620AS Momentus XT 500GB Solid State
SATA Drive 7200 RPM 32MB Cache 2.5IN (HD 2&3 in RAID 0)
HD 4 Samsung EcoGreen F2 HD103SI 1TB 5400 RPM 32MB Cache SATA
HD 5 Seagate Barracuda LP ST32000542AS 2TB 5900 RPM 32MB Cache
DVD Burner LITE-ON Black
Cable Modem MOTOROLA SB6120 160Mbps in DOCSIS mode and 195Mbps in
Keyboard Logitech G15 Gaming Keyboard
Headset Logitech G930 USB Connector Circumaural Wireless Gaming
Display Samsung Syncmaster P2770H 27" Widescreen 2ms Mini-HDMI
Mouse Logitech G5 Gaming Laser Mouse
Backup Cyber Power Smart App Sinewave PP1500SWT2 1500VA /
1000Watts Pure Sinewave, Full AVR buck/boost
USB Hub Rosewill RHB-320R 7 Ports USB 2.0 Hub with Power Adapter
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# RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerOlin Coles 2011-01-27 12:16
You THINK that overclocking your processor is giving you a higher video FPS, but it's barely enough to measure. Try it, like I have numerous times, and see for yourself. 1GHz CPU OC = 1 FPS average gain.
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# RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerWW_Dagger 2011-01-27 12:52
That may be the case if your lower end graphics card (or something else) is your bottleneck. It also depends on the game or application, weather or not it utilizes the CPU or GPU more heavily. Like MS Flight Simulator uses the CPU quite heavily for it's graphics.

Run your test again, but this time, lower your resolution really low and turn off AA.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerOlin Coles 2011-01-27 12:55
"Run your test again, but this time, lower your resolution really low and turn off AA."

Lowest graphics quality, 640x480 resolution, and no effects... Because that's how people are playing their games, right?

benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=475&Itemid=63&limit=1&limitstart=7
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerWW_Dagger 2011-01-27 13:03
With your graphics card, I wouldn't doubt it.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerOlin Coles 2011-01-27 13:06
What's that supposed to mean? I tested with a 5970 for that article, but have confirmed this is still the case with several newer mid-level cards ($200-300).
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerRagingShadow07 2011-01-27 13:13
"With your graphics card, I wouldn't doubt it."

You're implying that people who buy a 980X are going to be pairing it up with 5570 or something low-end? Pretty sure all the people that are throwing in $1,000 CPUs will be getting damn near four digits worth of graphics cards to add on to that as well.

I've never understood why benchmarkers (I appreciate that BmR does CPU reviews at 1680x1050+, how people who spend $300+ on CPUs probably plan to play it) review CPUs by downing the res to the lowest it will go. Won't you get a similar performance indicator by running AIDA64 or 3DMark for a loop or two? I know very few people who game on or below 1280x1024, and those people are using rigs that play things natively at that resolution (4350s and AMD Athlon K8 dual-cores), not on six-cores and SLI setups.
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# RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerDavid Ramsey 2011-01-27 15:13
If you'd read the article more carefully, you'd have seen the "heat sink not increasing FPS" I was talking about was the heat sink on the memory, not the processor.
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# RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerComputer Ed 2011-01-28 06:13
First just because you THINK you see the difference does not mean everyone else has an issue. I have conducted a TON of subjective testing on this matter over the years and I can tell you that I have only had one person accurately ever see frame rate differences after about 35 to 40.

Now that being said I do partially agree with you. To many review sites in my opinion worry about the wrong number when measuring frame rates and even the major benchmarks post it wrong. I could care less what the max or average frame rate, what I want is the minimum frame rate.

Having 30 as the high end would just be bad becuase as you said spike will drive it lower. Having 30 as the average would still have th potential for spikes to drive it lower and cause stutter, but 30 at the minimum is perfect and would give butter smooth play rates.

As for overclocking being a big help, NOT! Overclocking might give you and extra 10% or so in typcial game performance but that is it. Now if you are right at the limit say hitting 28 at the bottom then overclocking will help to possibly lift the system to the minimum but it will not be a magic cure-all for performance.

As for the 9 months from now statement NOT true. You see gamers tned to get caught up in FPS games as the be all of gaming but thr truth is other genres, specifically MMOs are passing it hard and fast andd the mainstream of gaming. For these people a systems hould give them 3 to 4 years of GREAT gaming even at a minimal cost becuase MMOs by there nature run on lower system specs and do not upgrade the engine every new revision like other games.
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# RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerWW_Dagger 2011-01-28 11:30
"As for the 9 months from now statement NOT true. You see gamers tned to get caught up in FPS games as the be all of gaming but thr truth is other genres, specifically MMOs are passing it hard and fast andd the mainstream of gaming. For these people a systems hould give them 3 to 4 years of GREAT gaming even at a minimal cost becuase MMOs by there nature run on lower system specs and do not upgrade the engine every new revision like other games."

Go to the World of Warcraft forums and check out the 1,000 page long thread of people whining that this last expansion pack (Cataclysm) is too hard on their systems to run at good frame rates. Your logic is from 10 years ago.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerComputer Ed 2011-01-28 13:12
Your use of logic is comical. The reason why is that people are complain now after they have been running WoW like 5 years +. In other words supporting my premise. Plus your idea of my logic being old does not fit either because 10 years ago the logic was you needed to upgrade every year or so.

Before you question the logic of someone else check your own. The concept of having a PC last for 3 to 4 years is a fairly new trend in gaming.
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# 3 way crossfire?ET3D 2011-01-27 14:32
I found it strange that you care about 3 way crossfire on a "fast enough" system. Really, you can stick to a single PCIe slot and have a fast enough system. Need a better graphics card in a year or two? Replace the one you have. Even if you do feel the need for crossfire or SLI, two slots are the most you'll ever need for this kind of system, and sharing 16 PCIe lanes between them would provide enough performance.

Regarding the case, from my experience "any case" makes it hard to upgrade. Get something tool-less with a disk cage and enough depth to fit large graphics cards.
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# RE: 3 way crossfire?David Ramsey 2011-01-27 15:12
You don't need 3 way CrossFireX for a "fast enough" system. But the system that's fast enough right now may not be fast enough in 6 or 12 months, and it's nice to have an upgrade path.
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerChris 2011-01-27 17:23
It's the name of the game - consumer electronics depreciate very rapidly. To be on top always, you've got to pay up. If you're filthy rich, I guess you don't really care. A luxury car costs like $30k more than a normal car - that's like 6 enthusiast computer systems.

But for most people (myself included), we're not filthy rich. We're middle class (although these days, I wonder if the middle class is a dying breed). I am a university student working as an accountant currently on co-op (or as Americans call it, an internship). We aim for price to performance. Even so, building a say, $3000-$4000 a year rig is probably an achievable goal for the upper middle class citizen that I will likely become.

Dave and Olin, I think that most people who read Benchmark Reviews know that their computers will handle the majority of games that can be thrown at it. Even I on a student's budget can afford something like the ATI 6800 series. Right now, I run an overclocked q6600, which has been "good enough" when I built the system (early 2008), although I'm waiting for the AMD Fusion and Intel enthusiast parts to come out. I will probably buy AMD. Then, after I finish my Master's Degree (which will be in fall of 2013) and get a full-time job, I will upgrade. I'm planning on upgrading to when the Nvidia 600s or the ATI 7000s come out.

But we keep on doing this, because we WANT to do it. We want the fastest performance possible, we want to be at the bleeding edge, and for many people, they are willing to pay up. We are geeks. We are early adopters of the latest and greatest. And we are your readers.
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerRobert17 2011-01-28 04:54
Interesting article David.

You've covered the topic well. Let me add that you are certainly discussing a one-system build that is a pleasure to game upon at an affordable price for Joe Average Budget. But the math also works in a family scenario: I had to try maintaining a mid-to-higher end "big boy toy" for my main rig while also maintaining some decent rigs in-house for the kids, each who had a decent system networked through the house.

So the budget absolutely had to leave some room to put beans on the table, etc. I take this as the core of your article. For folks that have unlimited funds, or massive credit card debt, sure, go on and get a thoroughly beastly rig every 4 months. For the rest of the budget minded, your article is spot on.

As the kids move on, the budget loosens up a bit. And believe me, the technology has changed beyond what your dream was last year anyway.
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# RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerDavid Ramsey 2011-01-28 07:54
I've watched the technology change since i started playing with a Southwest Technical Products 6800 system in 1977 and bought my Apple ][ in 1978! But you did get my point: the Fast Enough system is designed to provide Fast Enough performance in most modern games; it's not supposed to provide buttery-smooth frame rates under every circumstance...although overclocking the CPU and adding another 6850 should handle almost anything at 1680x1050. Hopefully I'll be able to actually test such a system in the near future.
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# Consider where the consoles areLuke 2011-01-28 10:48
i built my high end rig at the beginning of 2009 and am still able to run the lates games at the highest settings. I do feel that part of the reason for this is that the consoles people were playing on back then are still current and most of the games I play, such as mw2 and black ops, are console ports and therefore dont tend to push current pc's to their limits given the older hardware in the consoles.

I would imagine this will change when the next gen consoles come out and is therefore something I think all system builders should consider when building a gaming rig, particularly if the relative proportion of pc gamers continues to drop.
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerWW_Dagger 2011-01-28 11:25
Perhaps this article's title needs to be changed to the following:
"The Fast Enough Computer For Me, Myself and I, As (Fast Enough) Is For Sure An Opinion And Arguing For Different OPINIONS Is Just A Waste Of Time"

At 1920x1080 (My NATIVE Resolution), running at 60Hz with V-Sync on, All graphics details set to maximum, I can run Crysis at 52FPS for 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time, frame rates spike down to 30FPS at their lowest and spike up to 60FPS (face up against a wall)at their highest. These spikes in frame rate are quite noticeable. Not necessarily game breaking or even inhibiting but definitely noticeable. Who are you to tell me they aren't? Why don't you tell me how I feel about politics and religion while your at it?

Overclocking my CPU by 50% provides a meager 5-10FPS increase *depending on the game* with my setup. Everyone here is like "overclocking helps very minimally, 5-10 FPS ain't nothin!" If 30FPS is your goal, that's a %17 and 33% increase in frame rate, nearly %20 max in my case at 52FPS avg. Funny thing, math...

What kind of dinosaur systems are people running that want to make 30FPS their goal? Even my old Athalon with an 8800GTX can handle Starcraft2 at 30FPS. My gaming rig nails 200FPS when I turn off V-Sync on the large majority of my games. I didn't know they still sold hardware that makes 30FPS a significant number for most games.

But if I were to summarize what I see here it would simply be:
"Whaaa! My drop out ass can't get a job that pays well enough to get what I really want so I will pretend what I can afford is "Fast Enough".
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# RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerOlin Coles 2011-01-28 11:28
^ You should take a nap.
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# RE: RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerComputer Ed 2011-01-28 13:25
Olin, as someone that has been preaching this mantra for over 10 years, you know I have, I can tell you these kinds of trolls are normal. My advice is ignore him and his ignorance and move one.

As for the comments about jobs we will see how you feel Dagger once you quit living with Mom and Dad and have a few kids to put through college, a morgage, car payment, various insurances and so on to pay for yourself, in otherwords real life.
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# RE: RE: The Fast Enough ComputerRobert17 2011-01-28 17:58
Right enough Olin and CompEd.
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# RE: The Fast Enough Computerjoe 2011-01-28 12:55
great article. most games are gpu limited so an average quad core is good enough.
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# SadButTrue(UH NO)jdwii 2011-01-29 18:58
ha ha ha ha NO WAY IS THIS TRUE WHAT HE SAID (Intel parts typically overclock by about 20% just using stock cooling, AMD only about 10%*. That plus the current SLI advantage can change the equation.)

so wrong my athlon x4 620 OC by 25% easy cool and the Radeon 6850 is a little faster then the 1GB GTX460
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# Core i7s necessary for tomorrow's technologyJoe 2011-02-12 09:02
Sure you could save money on a cheap AMD-based rig, but those types of PCs will likely become obsolete after about 2-3 years. If you want to make your PC virtually future-proof, you cannot go wrong with investing over $1200 on a rig with an Intel Core i7 CPU, NVIDIA GTX 580 graphics card, and at least 12 GB RAM. Such a PC should carry you over for the next 8-10 years or so.
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# RE: Core i7s necessary for tomorrow's technologyDavid Ramsey 2011-02-12 09:16
Are you serious? In 2001, the top Intel processor was the 1.8gHz Pentium IV. NVIDIA's top card was the GeForce 3 (in an AGP slot), with all of 64 megabytes of video memory. Just a couple of years after that, in the 2003-2004 time frame, PCI Express slots were already becoming common, requiring a new motherboard (and processor, and memory, and video card).

There is no way to build any sort of gaming system that will carry you "8-10 years" unless your idea of a game is Solitaire. You'd be lucky if you could use the same case and power supply.
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# RE: Core i7s necessary for tomorrow's technologyferalshad0w 2011-02-13 18:27
Yeah you are completely crazy. In the past 10 years we have gone from a single core to 6 core processers not including hyperthreading. Ram is likely to gain even more channels, processes will become smaller. Graphics will follow suite and become more efficient, smaller, and faster.
When this is happening gaming companies will aways be struggling to be a step ahead to increasing the approach to realism and awe inspiring graphics to give the gamer more indepth experiences. We are seeing just the beginning of acceptable 3d and surround sound systems now and larger displays are becoming more frequent. Some people play pc on a 65" lcd tv like a console and HD tv's are becoming more common replacements of desktop monitors.

The performance gains of the system you just listed above the "good enough computer" are conditional at best. And the computer you would built would really only last about as long as the "good enough computer" because newer technology would simply replace existing.

I think 4 years is the goal of any computer whether it be gaming or just watching videos. And plan for your final year of a computer to be a low end performer for what is new.

My GTX 285 still plays games on my 24" monitor fantastically, but It doesnt support DX10+ games, is now equal to the stock lowest end gtx card. Next year it will be 3 years old and will no longer be able to play everything at full settings. the forth year I plan on upgrading or be forced to reduce resolution and other settings to keep my frame rates up. But my $900 system will last 4 years of excellent gaming experience.

CPU: Phenom II x4 940 OC: 3.6 Ghz
MB: m3n78 Pro
RAM: 4gb ddr2 1066 OC: 1166
Graphics: evga gtx 285 sc
HHD: barracuda 7200.11 500gb
Case: antec 300 with full 5x fans
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# RE: The Fast Enough Computerroadkill 2011-02-13 16:14
Grr. I was posting a reply and the screen refreshed. Lost it all.

Historically I have found it best to buy the biggest ram modules. They tend to be populated with the latest chips and are easier to recycle on subsequent work horse builds.

I agree with others, The difference between 8x lanes and 16 x is tiny in graphics anyway. Even 4x is v close.

##techpowerup.com/reviews/AMD/HD_5870_PCI-Express_Scaling/25.html

Although, usb3 does sound exciting and I guess that uses a lane or two.

No mention of hybrid drives. On paper they sound great.

If i were a gamer, I would be tempted by eyefinity. 3 x20" = 60" for $300 - woo, but it would make your graphics card grunt, given the resolution you need.

It now works with crossfire, but last I heard it doesnt allow portrait mode (sounds attractive to me). May be fixed by now tho. Just sounds like drivers to me.


I am guessing, but I doubt a 6970 (? the single gpu one) is anything like double a 5870, so maybe 2x5870 is a poor mans crossfire rig, esp if you already have one.

The other wonderful thing about amd is they dont change sockets at the drop of a hat like intel. A cpu upgrade invariably means a new mobo with intel.
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# There will always be trolls...aussiebear 2011-02-15 04:16
...Who try to defend the expensive purchases they made. Mainly because no one wants to be told they wasted their money! This article tells them that! This is why they post comments like they do!

All you have to do is read this article.
=> #en.hardspell.com/doc/enshowcont.asp?id=7523

Pentium XE 955 (3.46Ghz from 2005/06. P4 era.)
VS
Core i3 530 (2.93Ghz).

The more important factor is architecture: P4 "Presler" vs Core i3 "Clarkdale".

Comparing prices of these two products reminds one of why you shouldn't bother with overpriced "Extreme Edition" versions.
ie:
Pentium XE 955 => approx AUD$1,500 back in Feb 2006.
Core i3 530 => approx AUD$150, Feb 2010.
(AUD = Australian Dollar)

...The Core i3 wins every single benchmark, and it does so by a considerable amount!

And if you're environmentally conscious; you also save 60W (idle) to 80W (load) in power consumption, if you dump the XE for a Core i3!

This clearly highlights one should stick to a good performing affordable-mainstream product. It costs you less in the overall scheme of things.
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# I totally agree with this article.AvroArrow 2011-03-12 21:01
I did my build about 2 years ago. It still has yet to encounter a game that it cannot play perfectly. I've done 2 upgrades to it in the time I've had it (that I paid for) and got an upgraded PSU for free when my first one failed. My CPU is a Phenom II X4 940, my motherboard is an MSI K9A2 Platinum (790FX), I have 8GB of DDR2-800 and I'm running 2 XFX Radeon HD 4870 1GB in CrossfireX with 2 extra PCI-e v2.0 x8 full-sized slots available if I ever become daft and want to add more. I have yet to overclock ANYTHING and I have never felt a need to do so. This machine, despite its age, games like a monster and I'm completely happy with it. All the people who "need" a Radeon HD 5xxx or 6xxx series card need to give their heads a shake because my 2 4870s meet or exceed the performance of a 5870 despite not having DX10.1 instead of DX11 (which probably won't be the standard for at least 3-5 more years) and having PCI-e v2.0 instead of 2.1 (I've yet to see a 2.1 mobo). Today and for the near forseeable future, DX9 and DX10 horsepower are what will make the biggest difference in gaming between the different cards and we just don't need all the shiny new expensive parts for that.
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# I somewhat disagreeMighty Warrior 2011-03-14 04:33
Quote: Today and for the near forseeable future, DX9 and DX10 horsepower are what will make the biggest difference in gaming between the different cards and we just don't need all the shiny new expensive parts for that.

That depends on the games you play. Games up until the last year only threaded to 2 cores (Crysis). Some are now using 4 cores (BFBC2). It is said that Battlefield 3 will be threaded for 8 threads. I like DX11 and can tell the difference. I posted my rig earlier, up above. I have since upgraded to a GTX 570 (sold my GTX 280 on ebay for $100) and a Q9650 (sold my e7400 on ebay for $86.00) This cut my cost of upgrade. I can tell the difference in gaming, especially BFBC2. I chose to upgrade now while my old parts still have value to cut the cost of upgrade. I can play BFBC2 on max settings and max quality without stopping background processes in the 60's where before I was in the 20's (on line, multiplayer). More money spent does equal better performance no matter how you look at it. Watching the market and jumping the upgrade train at the proper time is also part of the FUN!
My E7400 cost me $110 2 years ago and sold on Ebay last night for $86.00. Suh-weet.
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# RE: I somewhat disagreeAvro Arrow 2011-03-30 12:18
I don't believe that Battlefield 3 will be made for 8 threads. They would be committing financial suicide because well over half of all computer users don't even have a Quad-Core and have no intention to buy one in the next 2 years, never mind an 8-core monster like the 890X or Bulldozer. They wouldn't be able to sell the game to the vast majority of people and would therefore suffer serious losses in profitability.
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# RE: RE: I somewhat disagreeCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-30 13:45
The AMD 8 Core will sit on a new AM3+ socket anyway and will not be backward compatible with past sockets. So even talking about a system to buy now and upgrade to an 8 core later is not possible.
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# I somewhat disagreeMighty Warrior 2011-03-31 04:21
Check right here, on this site, the reviews and benchmarks for recent video cards. Benchmark Reviews states in the preamble to the BFBC2 bench that BF3 will be coded for 2 to 8 threads. I guess you need to take your doubts up with them.
Quote: At the time Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was published, DICE was also working on the Frostbite-2.0 game engine. This upcoming engine will include native support for DirectX-10.1 and DirectX-11, as well as parallelized processing support for 2-8 parallel threads. This will improve performance for users with an Intel Core-i7 processor. Unfortunately, the Extreme Edition Intel Core i7-980X six-core CPU with twelve threads will not see full utilization.
Personally, I know my frames doubled in BFBC2 on line by moving from and E7400 @3.2ghz to a Q9650 @3.0ghz.
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# RE: I somewhat disagreeCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-31 07:50
"Personally, I know my frames doubled in BFBC2 on line by moving from and E7400 @3.2ghz to a Q9650 @3.0ghz."

Were your frames online about 25-31? I have a backup system for my kids with the same processor on a XFX 780 SLI Chipset coupled with a ATI 5850 and my proc seems like it needs a boost for BFBC2. Did you get you FPS to the mid 40's 50's area by chance? The thing I don't want to do is shell out $200-$300 for a 2 year old processor. Man Intel knows how to stick it to ya. Although I love my new i5 2500k on my new MSI P67A-GD65 motherbooard & 16gig of ram.
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# I somewhat disagreeMighty Warrior 2011-03-31 12:58
Here's the link to my clan with my system specs, upgrade path and benchmarks. ##isi#clan.net/ISI/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=10578&p=154960#p154960 CONNERdmc Real world and as honest as I know how. With the dual core I ran GameBooster to shut down back ground processes and found an improvement. With the Quad, there is no reason to do that anymore. Maybe I should try it for grins and giggles. I'm a benchmark junkie, I guess. LOL The short answer to your question is yes they were in the high 20's with the E7400 and GTX 280 (no AA, AF). Now in the 60's with Q9650 and GTX 570 (with AA, AF Max). I am very happy with my upgrade choice as I spend a LOT of time in BFBC2 and will in BF3. I'm a level 43 Colonel.
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerDavid Ramsey 2011-03-12 21:32
I'm testing the Fast Enough Computer now with a variety of game benchmarks and will have a follow-up article soon!
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# What we're missing...Avro Arrow 2011-03-30 12:14
What we're missing here is that average fps means little more than max fps. When I determine if a system will properly play a game, I look ONLY at the minimum frame rates. They make the real difference. An average framerate of 35 means little if the game is running at 15fps half the time and 55 for the other half. I'm of course exaggerating but it's just to prove my point. To me, a system with a minimum frame rate of under 25fps is not good enough for the game it has. It's the minimum frame rate that makes the "is it good enough or not" determination.
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# RE: What we're missing...Olin Coles 2011-03-30 12:30
How about what YOU'RE missing? If you've got a million frames displayed at 35 FPS and only ten of them drop to 10 FPS, how is reporting those ten frames going to help you? The average FPS is the most important statistic, with minimum FPS being relative to the number or percentage of the entire scene. Since there's no way to report how many frames were under X-FPS, how important do you consider the minimum FPS to be?
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# RE: RE: What we're missing...Avro Arrow 2011-03-30 15:47
It all depends on what you want. I want no stutter in my games, period. I want my games to run completely smooth on the highest graphic settings my monitor and card support. I put out the required money for it and not a penny more. Minimum fps show the worst it can get. If the worst it can get is smooth, then the rest is gravy as far as I'm concerned. If a game drops to the 13-15fps range, I do not considerate playable. It's just a matter of opinion of course but many review sites are starting to take this approach.
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# RE: RE: RE: What we're missing...Olin Coles 2011-03-30 16:09
You've missed my point. The minimum FPS only reports the lowest frame rate encountered for the entire scene, and not what you may or may not have detected. If a ten-second scene plays at 60 FPS except for one-tenth of a second where it drops to 10 FPS, you won't see it but the benchmark will. That's why this particular result is merely a number, and a misleading one at that. It's much more useful when used in a waveform chart where you can see how long it remained below a threshold.
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# RE: The Fast Enough ComputerAvro Arrow 2011-03-30 12:25
Also keep in mind that the 980X and Phenom II X6 are sexacores (sounds so much better than hexacore doesn't it?) and they wouldn't even be able to do it. No, games are becoming less and less CPU-limited and more and more GPU-limited. I think that whoever told you that crap was pulling your leg.

Just because it was said by some random weirdo from Australia named C0DEINE on some forum doesn't make it so, especially considering he shut his trap when someone asked him for a source.
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# himatthew 2011-09-17 08:47
why the nzxt M59? you can get a phantom for around 104 for the black one and 109 for the white or red one
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# RE: hiDavid Ramsey 2011-09-17 09:45
Which is still about twice the price of the M59. But you can of course buy whatever case you like.
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