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Build Advice Parge's Battlefield 3 Budget Build advice

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by Parge, 26 Aug 2011.

  1. Parge

    Parge the worst Super Moderator

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    Battlefield 3 is now 2 months away from launch. Speaking to some of the guys from various hardware builders, they are seeing a huge amount of people coming in buying systems, and hugely powerful systems at that, citing BF3 as the primary reason for doing this.

    However, many people, including myself, can’t all drop a grand on SLI GTX 580’s and a 2600k, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play BF3 with all the bells and whistles. Some of you might remember I built the £100 gaming PC a few months ago with the specific aim of it being able to play BC2, so I’ve done a bit of research on Frostbite that might be useful to a few of you.

    Frostbite 2.0 is a remarkable beast, and the first truly ‘next gen’ game I’ve seen in a while. It features full support for DX11, support for 64-bit processors and of course Destruction 3.0. However, that doesn’t mean that any lessons learnt from Frostbite 1.5 are irrelevant as the new engine is as much an evolution as a revolution – so, what do we know about this?

    The CPU

    Like many first person shooters, good performance in BFBC2 is highly reliant on a good GPU. However, unlike other shooters, in BFBC2 the CPU plays an equally important part. Thanks to hardware restrictions on the consoles, in many games, you can get away with a reasonably fast dual core CPU, and mid range GPU to achieve 30 - 60 fps. A E8400 would probably suffice. However, more recently even the latest COD has begun to take advantage of more than 2 cores, and for BC2 it is nothing less than essential.

    To examine this in detail we need to look at two processors with similar clockspeed and architecture, but varying amounts of cores. (Here if graph not appearing)

    [​IMG]

    The best example of this is the 23fps difference in clockspeed between the Athlon X4 635 and the Athlon X2 550 - even though the latter runs 200mhz faster.

    Interestingly, the 2.66Ghz i7 920 and i5 750 come in almost equal, so we can assume that hyperthreading, which is enabled on the 920 but disabled on the 750 is not used by Frostbite 1.5.

    So what about CPU speed? As you would expect, its simply a case of the faster the better... to a point.

    [​IMG]

    At common resolutions around 1200p, using a i7 920, we see very little performance gains between 2.2Ghz and 3Ghz. However, once past 3Ghz, we can see very good gains of performance up to 3.7Ghz (and maybe beyond). This effect is equally pronounced at lower resolutions.

    However, at 1440p and up, there is almost no perceptible gains in framerate, as the game becomes GPU bound - even with X-fired 5870s. Its possible that super high end GPUs may alleviate this, but since this guide is aimed for budget users, I won't go into it.

    So what are we looking for when it comes to choosing a CPU for a game based on frostbite 1.5?

    • 4 cores
    • Ability to OC 3.7Ghz or more

    This leaves us with several options. Since you are on a budget, you should be buying second hand, especially in regards to CPUs - which are unlikely to go wrong.

    From Intel:
    i5-750 - 4 cores, no hyperthreading - OC headroom usually about ~4Ghz (though milage will vary) - Cost should be £70-£90
    i7-920 - 4 cores - hyperthreading - OC headroom, depends on stepping, but for 'D0' - 4.2Ghz+ - Cost should be between £80 and £100.
    Q6600 - 4 cores - no hyperthreading - OC headroom ~3.4Ghz - 3.6Ghz - Cost £50 - older Core 2 architecture will see you lose between 10 and 20 fps clock for clock @ stock speed against a 920.

    From AMD
    Athlon 6xx series - 4 cores - multiplier locked - OC headroom ~3.7Ghz, - Cost between £45 and £60
    Phenom II 9xx series - 4 Cores - Multiplier locked - OC headroom ~3.8Ghz - Cost between £55- £70
    Phenom II 9xx Black Edition Series - 4 cores - Multiplier unlocked - OC headroom ~4Ghz - Cost between £60 - £80

    The above graph is also relevant for the kind of performance you can expect from each of these CPUs at stock.

    One thing worth noting though, is that Frostbite 2.0 and BF3 could offer improved support for Hyperthreading, so we might see the i7-920 pull ahead. We'll know more when the beta arrives. Not only that but if BF3 supports up 6 or even 8 threads, we might see the Phenom 1090T (6 threads) which can be had for between £90 and £120 become a viable option.

    Motherboards

    In terms of motherboards, I'd highly recommend leaning towards the lower end of the market. A lot of high end boards offer nothing but extra features. I just picked up a X58m - original RRP £129 (I paid £50) and a MSI BigBang XPower - original RRP £220 (marketplace price was £110), and both will clock the 920 up to 4Ghz with ease. For Anandtechs review of the X58m see here

    Motherboard manufactures you can rely on for a quality board:
    • Gigabyte
    • MSI
    • Asus

    The GPU

    Ok moving onto the other most important part of your system, the GPU.

    As most of you already know, there are many components that go into making a good/bad GPU, but the three most important tend to be

    • Number of stream processers/CUDA cores
    • Core speed
    • amount of vRAM

    Frostbite 1.5 will eat up almost any GPU, its a very powerful engine, and at its best, can look absolutely magnificent. To maximise your bang for buck, again, barring special offers, second hand is the way to go.

    Because of differences in GPU architecture between NVidia and ATI you can't compare number of cores directly. As a rough guide, we can say that for every 1 Nvidia CUDA core, ATI have 4 for approximately the same performance.

    In DX10 @ 1080p and max details (but no AA) we can see here the GTX 480 with 480 CUDA cores gets 69fps on average. The ATI 5870 with 1600 shaders comes in at 60fps. Both great results, but in reality we could live with slightly less, and the GTX 460 with 336 shaders and the 5850 with 1440 shaders still produce reasonable performance.

    Core speed is interesting. For this, it might be useful to compared the GTX 470 (448 CUDA cores) and GTX 480 (480 CUDA cores) - this is a difference of 3% of the total shaders. However, they are also separated by a 130Mhz clockspeed - an 18% difference. Both have significant levels of vRAM and as such at 1080p this should have no bearing on performance.

    Looking below, at this graph we can see a 16% difference in performance in Frostbite 1.5
    [​IMG]

    While there are many factors at play here, if we look at the benefits of overclocking the GTX 470 to 774Mhz (admittedly higher than even the 480), we can see that performance gap closing to within 3fps.

    If we look at the graph below, we can see the importance of vRAM.
    [​IMG]
    The difference between the 4770 and the 4870 at 1280 x 1024 is a meagre 7fps. However,as we approach higher resolutions, where vRAM becomes a limiting factor, and the card has to use the HDD as a swap file, we can see a huge 17fps difference. This has been discussed on this thread, and the general consensus seems to be that 1GB should be the minimum you are aiming for.

    So overall, we want a GPU that:

    • Has an Nvidia CUDA core count of as close to 400+ as possible or
    • A ATI Core count of as close to 1500+ as possible
    • As fast a core speed as possible
    • A minimum of 1GB of vRAM

    No real surprises there then.

    Based on this there are a few cards to recommend.

    Nvidia
    • GTX 480- 480 CUDA Cores, 732Mhz core clockspeed, 1.5GB vRAM - priced between £140 and £150 - beware though, if you buy this card you are going for out and out bang for buck, as it runs very very hot, and can be loud under load.
    • GTX 470 - 448 CUDA Cores, 606Mhz core clockspeed, 1.2GB vRAM - Priced between £110 and £130 - if you are buying this card, make sure you get a custom cooler version, such as the Twin Frozr - it, like its big brother runs hot, and a CC will allow you to overclock the core speed - the cards biggest weakness.
    • GTX 460 - 336 CUDA cores- 675Mhz, 1GB of vRAM. - Priced between £80 - £90. Still ok for Frostbite 1.5 but may struggle for 2.0. Refined version of the other 4xx series, runs cool, quiet and is very overclockable.
    • 560ti - 384 CUDA cores - 820Mhz - 1GB of vRAM - priced £140 -£160 - A very fast core clock makes up for relatively low CUDA count. Runs cooler and quiet, and is very popular.

    ATI
    • Radeon 5870 - 1600 shaders - 850Mhz Core clock - 1GB of vRAM - £130 - £140 - great card, still competitive with the 6950
    • Radeon 5850 - 1440 shaders - 725Mhz core clock - 1GB of vRAM - £90 - £120 - direct competitor to GTX 470 and will beat it at stock settings.
    • Radeon 6870 - 1120 shaders - 820Mhz core clock - 1GB of vRAM - £100 - £120 - slightly different architecture to the 5xxx series means reduced core count, at equivalent performance. Still a good card, but may show its age with Frostbite 2.0

    A word on crossfire and SLI:

    Lots and lots of debate about this, scaling is now nearing 100% on some games (you'll get nearly double the performance with 2 GPUs), but issues like Microstutter (discussed here) and waiting for the driver teams to release compatible drivers, mean at the moment, personally I'd rather buy a single fast card that two average ones.

    RAM (Memory)

    RAM wise, 4GB or 6GB should be more than enough. Go for DDR3 1333Mhz or 1600Mhz, its cheap at the moment, so its a great time to buy. I picked up 6GB Corsair XMS3 1600Mhz brand new from ebay for £30. If 4Gb isn't enough when the beta turns up, buy more, its easy to add more RAM.

    HDD/SSD

    SSDs - Providing you've got a good CPU/GPU in games you usually won't see any direct fps advantages from having one, though because you are going to be launching BF3 from a web browser, it could be one game where it is very beneficial. As you are on a budget, and this isn't essential then you could steer clear, but if not aim for a 64GB:

    This is what I wrote on them the other day..

    SSD wise, you have three main contenders, Crucial, with their M4 series, Intel, and 'everyone else' with variations of the 'Sandforce' series (sandforce is the controller chip inside the SSD). At the moment, very generally, Crucial tend to to be slightly cheaper, whereas Sandforce tend to be slightly faster (having said this, the real world differences will be almost unnoticeable) and Intel slightly more reliable. A 60GB install should be enough for windows, and BF3, and price wise you should be aiming for something a little over £1 per gb

    If you were going to go for a 60GB drive I'd suggest you buy a Sandforce, as these are the fastest drives in this price range, as the Crucial get slower, the smaller capacity you go (read up on this if you like) - A OCZ Vertex 2E would be a good choice

    If you were going to get a 128GB drive I'd suggest a Crucial M4 as its super quick, and is amongst the cheapest drives at this speed (also, if you have Sata 3 6GBps then thats a bonus) -

    There are faster drives, the OCZ Vertex 3 (newest version of Sandforce) retails at £104 for a 60GB and given the real world performance difference you'd see, I can't say I think its worth the extra £45.


    -----------------

    I hope some people find the above useful, its certainly something I've been thinking about for the past few weeks, and I've been buying pieces for a new budget rig, in case anyone is interested I've bought

    i7 920 D0 - £80 (was bought for £170 with MSI BigBang Xpower - which is easily worth £110)
    MSI X58M - £50
    6GB XMS3 DDR3 - £30
    Antec P180 Mini - £45

    - all parts second hand (except RAM). For a GPU I'm using a GTX 570 - but that is outside of what I'd consider budget price parts since it still goes for £175 - £210 second hand.

    -------------


    I know there may be mistakes in here, so feel free to point out anything! As we get to know more about BF3 during the beta, I'll update this thread with whats relevant. We may find that hyperthreading really comes into its own, that 1GB vRAM is no longer enough, that having an SSD is essential for launching the game at speed from a web browser, and alt tabbing all the time to find a new server may require more than 4GB of RAM. At this stage though, while we can make a lot of educated guesses based on Frostbite 1.5, we just don't know anything for certain

    -------------
    Roll on September.

    Parge :D
     
    Last edited: 26 Aug 2011
    komm, Fingers66, shigllgetcha and 7 others like this.
  2. wyx087

    wyx087 Homeworld 3 is happening!!

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    nice guide, will sure prove useful for most BF3 players.

    a tiny suggestion: may be add different text style? bold, large font to create title?


    oh, and shameless plug: Bit-tech should have a BF3 server running after official release :D
     
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  3. Elton

    Elton Officially a Whisky Nerd

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    I'd caution against the X58 series of processors if only because it's pretty damn expensive for folks over in the states.

    On the other hand great guide, although I do wish you did include some SandyBridge results for a bit of comparison. Even if it's out of budget. Oh and also remember that using SLI/Crossfire may not be a good idea due to microstuttering and (basing off the FB1.5 engine) FB2 may have the same odd lagginess that it's predecessor has.
     
  4. Nealieboyee

    Nealieboyee Packaging Master!

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    Nice article Tom. Well done. What do you think a Q6600 would be capable of in BF3? Good? Bad?
     
  5. Parge

    Parge the worst Super Moderator

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    Good point, I'm going to add that in now, its totally relevant and should be in there.

    Edit, added with link.
     
    Last edited: 26 Aug 2011
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  6. Parge

    Parge the worst Super Moderator

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    There is actually a bit about SLI/X-fire at the bottom there :thumb: but agree with your SB comment. I'll research it a bit and add it in!
     
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  7. Sketchee

    Sketchee Suddenly, looters! Hundreds of 'em!

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    Very nice guide +rep

    Guess I best finally get round to OC'ing my 930. Still got space on my SSD for BF3 though! The 460's gonna have to be punished to within an inch of its life n' all until the next gen of cards come along
     
  8. Jaybles

    Jaybles What's a Dremel?

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    Wow. Nice Definitely +rep. But yeah was also surprised about the lack of SB info. 2500k and 2600k are the 2 you should be looking at.
     
  9. Parge

    Parge the worst Super Moderator

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    I do understand from a context perspective this is relevant, but remember this a budget guide! SB chips are few and far between second hand and cost £160 new - then you have to buy the board.
     
  10. WildThing

    WildThing Minimodder

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    Have some rep Parge, nice guide!

    I shall be upgrading to SB and 8GB RAM, but keeping my 6950 for the time being. I'm pretty sure I'll be fine for BF3.
     
  11. Bede

    Bede Minimodder

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    i3-2100 and i3-2400 are far more relevant as this is a *budget* build.
     
  12. Parge

    Parge the worst Super Moderator

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    I'd say that £140 for the CPU & £80+ for board puts the 2400 out of scope, no? The 2100 is only a dual core.

    Its a case choosing between an i7 920 @ 4Ghz + X58 board for £130 or i3 - 2400 @ 3.1Ghz + P67 board for £220. I do like the latters upgrade path, but you'd get less performance for nearly £100 more, and when doing a budget build that would be hard to recommend.
     
  13. Bede

    Bede Minimodder

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    True, and I suppose if your only concern is a machine that can play BF3 right now (without heed to electricity costs and upgrade paths) then you should definitely get the 920 - it's a great CPU.
     
  14. [PUNK] crompers

    [PUNK] crompers Dremedial

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    Great thread that will be helpul to a lot of people I would imagine, interesting results with CPU's, I may well turn off HT and try for a higher clockspeed

    Sent from my BlackBerry 9780 using Tapatalk
     
  15. Dwarfer

    Dwarfer What's a Dremel?

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    Nice article!!!

    Adding a Phenom 6 Core Benchmark won't go a miss considering we're on about a budget build, surely the AMD route would be more supported?
     
    Last edited: 26 Aug 2011
  16. Parge

    Parge the worst Super Moderator

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    Ha ha, you saw the section on the 1090t?

    A fair point, its definitely worth considering, especially for Frostbite 2.0 which may scale very well across 4+ cores, but right now it runs slower than a 920 in most games (no BC2 benchmarks that I can find that directly compare it against a quad core), whilst costing between £10 and £30 more. Its something of a gamble right now, but it'll be interesting to see how it pans out.
     
    Last edited: 26 Aug 2011
  17. Dwarfer

    Dwarfer What's a Dremel?

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    As Frostbite 1.5 (BC2) is heavily optimised to use more than 4 cores and FB 2.0 will be the same surely a slower clock based 1090t for example would run BC2/BF3 quicker than the Intel equivalent.

    I've seen plenty of reviews that praise the AMD Six Cores on games that are optimised for more than 4 cores. It's not fair comparing AMD & Intel on games/applications which don't user or see anything more than 2/3 cores.

    Here's a couple I've read...

    http://www.guru3d.com/article/phenom-ii-x6-1055t-1090t-review/18

    http://benchmarkreviews.com/index.p...sk=view&id=508&Itemid=63&limit=1&limitstart=6
     
  18. Parge

    Parge the worst Super Moderator

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    What you've shown there is that a 1090t @ 4.3Ghz is slower than a i7 920 @ 2.66Ghz

    [​IMG]

    "Proving the clock speed precedes the number of CPU cores, the Intel Core i7-980X delivers 74.6 FPS and the AMD Phenom-II X6-1090T produces 72.3; both of which are lower frame rates than the 3.4GHz X4-965."
     
  19. Elton

    Elton Officially a Whisky Nerd

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    Couldn't you just use a an X4 965 and overclock it? Surely that would be a bit less power consuming than an LGA1366 build.
     
  20. PaulC2K

    PaulC2K PC Master Race

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    I was in the Alpha earlier in the month, and was very pleasently surprised by how good the game looks considering i'd say my hardware is getting on a fair bit now.

    Q6600 @ 3ghz
    P35 mobo (budget end)
    5770 @ Stock
    8gb ram ddr2 (nowt special)

    Running at 2048x1152, so beyond 1080 which i guess is what people will be looking for.
    I was hitting 45-50fps with the settings that it selected for me, you could tweak a few things but not much from what I recall.
    I think i put it on high and was getting 35fps, which is on the low side, but i could live with 35-40 if thats what i was getting. Personally, i'd have absolutely no issue leaving it on its selected settings and getting near on 50fps.
    Considering thats a >4yo £150 cpu, and 2yr £140 gpu, running at a rather ambitious resolution to be pumping out (i run dual monitor too but only game on 1, and have a TON of stuff going on in the background too) it holds up very well, a lot better than i was expecting it to do.

    I'd most definitely advise anyone who's unsure right now to hang on, wait for the beta which is about 2-3wks away, take a look for yourself on what you've got now, and then come to a more informed decision about what you need to do.
    They seem to have done a really good job of creating visually stunning locations, i think the added vegetation helps, its not so flat and spotted object here n there, it just looks fuller and yeah it could look sharper and less jaggy if you throw in a £200+ card, but you dont need a £200+ powerhouse card/system to see its a beautiful game.

    I've been holding onto some money for the AMD 7000s, a successor to the 6870 ideally, but im thinking it'll be out of my price range if it comes in at (more likely above) the £200 mark the 6870 was around launch, so will probably go 6870 and maybe one day try this crossfire malarky.

    If you've got the money, then this IMO is as good a game as any to justify spending big, but it isnt essential, and everyone will get the chance to see that for themselves a month before the games release, so plenty of time to assess and source the right upgrades, dont be fooled into thinking you have to spend big.
     

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