|The Fast-Enough Budget Computer: Built and Tested|
|Articles - Featured Guides|
|Written by David Ramsey|
|Thursday, 24 March 2011|
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The Fast Enough Computer: Built and Tested
Recently, I wrote an op-ed piece here titled "The Fast Enough Computer". I argued that for gamers, low- to mid-range components provided the most bang for the buck and could readily play most modern games. The metric I used was "30 frames per second at 1680x1050". In this follow-up, I build a system based on the components I thought would be adequate and test the result with several modern games.
I noted that frame rates in excess of 30fps were generally imperceptible, and that frame rates in excess of 60fps were wasted because most monitors don't refresh the screen any faster.
Well, those assertions were not left unchallenged! If you read the comments on that article, you'll see that while some agreed with me, there were also those who claimed that my hardware suggestions were far too modest for serious gaming, and that they could indeed discern a visual difference between 60 and 120fps.
It's folks like those who keep companies producing things like Radeon 6990 video cards. And they should feel completely free to keep on buying them, because my recommendations aren't for everyone: they're for those who either have a limited budget (not everyone can afford an NVIDIA GTX580) or just want to get the most bang for their buck.
Well, that first article was all theoretical; this article is all about empericism. Let's see how my Fast Enough Computer actually performs with real games.
Just to be clear: I'm not trying to build the ultimate gaming box; rather, my goal is to build a gaming system that will play most modern games at an average frame rate of 30fps or higher at a resolution of 1680x1050 pixels for the least amount of money. A secondary goal is that the system should be easily upgradeable to increase its performance so that it can last at least a few years without requiring major expenditures.
This is actually a less-than-optimal time to design such a system: Intel may have some lower-end Sandy Bridge parts coming out, and AMD's forthcoming "Bulldozer" processors may change everything. But I can only build with what you can actually buy right now. I'm going with AMD despite their CPU horsepower disadvantage relative to Intel for three main reasons:
So here are the main components of the system:
AMD's Black Edition Phenom II X2 processors are both inexpensive and highly overclockable; in fact, when the 560 Black Edition was introduced, AMD touted its relevance to "extreme overclockers" (i.e. the liquid-nitrogen guys) who could push things as far as they wanted and only risk smoking a relatively inexpensive processor! The Radeon 6850 is a solid mid-range video card that offers performance that equals or exceeds the NVIDIA GTX460 cards in most games at a slightly lower price, and also offers the option of triple-monitor Eyefinity gaming.
Benchmark Reviews has done enough tests to prove that expensive, high-speed and low-latency memory has a minimal (if any) effect on your gaming experience, so I used generic DDR3-1333, and the optical and hard drives were whatever I had laying around. The motherboard was an ASUS Crosshair III Formula, but any 790FX or 890FX motherboard would work. GX-series motherboard would provide the same base performance but have only 22 PCI-E lanes, which severely limits your upgrade potential since they're unsuitable for multiple video card setups.
The Fast Enough Computer runs Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, with AMD's Catalyst Software Suite 11.2 and the latest game profiles available as of the time of this test. So let's get to it...