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Choosing From Similar PC Configurations

Budget PCs in tests.

May 1, 2009

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Non-professional tests


  Athlon X2 6000 Phenom X3 8450 E5300 + G31 E5300 + GF7100
7-Zip 00:02:52 00:03:06 00:02:48 00:03:07
WinRAR 00:01:42 00:01:44 00:01:34 00:01:44
Ultimate ZIP 00:02:11 00:02:46 00:02:02 00:02:02

The archiving test is quite predictable -- it favors large cache, fast memory, and high frequencies. So the winners rank by these parameters.


  Athlon X2 6000 Phenom X3 8450 E5300 + G31 E5300 + GF7100
FLAC 00:01:01 00:01:26 00:01:05 00:01:05
LAME 00:01:52 00:02:27 00:01:47 00:01:46
Musepack 00:01:51 00:02:43 00:01:56 00:01:56
Vorbis 00:04:21 00:05:19 00:03:21 00:03:20
CanopusProCoder 00:05:38 00:06:19 00:05:41 00:05:52
DivX 00:01:41 00:01:44 00:01:19 00:01:21
x264 00:04:51 00:04:21 00:04:37 00:04:36
XviD 00:09:36 00:11:19 00:06:57 00:06:58

It's a natural situation: both systems with Pentium DC E5300 take the lead, Athlon X2 outperforms Phenom X3 owing to its clock rate.


Here is another addition: we supplemented our game section with tests in low resolutions (800x600) and mid/low graphics settings. There are six games in this group of tests: Call of Duty 2, DOOM 3, Far Cry (the first part), Serious Sam 2, and the newest game -- S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but also in 800x600 with DX7 lighting. Why do we need these tests? The answer is to test performance of the integrated graphics solutions. If you take a look at results of the tested platforms in the usual game section of our test method, you will get it at once: they are not informative. What's the difference between 5 and 7 fps? It's too small -- you cannot play games in both cases! Besides, no one plays Crysis or CoD 4 with Intel G31 or AMD 740G -- they are not designed for it. However, why not test such platforms with games, which you can play? We decided to give it a try. It's up to you to say whether our decision is correct or not.

  Athlon X2 6000 Phenom X3 8450 E5300 + G31 E5300 + GF7100
Call of Duty 4 11 11 - 11
Company ofHeroes 7 7 5 6
Crysis 1.96 2.01 - 1.80
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 3 3 - 3
UnrealTournament 3 6 7 - 3
Call of Duty 2 29 35 43 32
DOOM 3 48 50 14 32
Far Cry 38 37 37 32
Serious Sam 2 61 63 - 26
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. / DX7 25 25 21 36
Unreal Tournament 2004 32 31 30 36

The unfortunate couple of Pentium DC E5300 + Intel G31 is unlucky again in game tests: it failed four tests from the old part of our test procedure and even one test from the new part, specifically crafted for systems with integrated graphics. The graphics core G31 puts up especially interesting performance in the old S.T.A.L.K.E.R. test and in new Serious Sam 2 test. Logs of test results show stunning data: 120 fps, 160 fps! A miracle? Alas, no: having run the tests once again, we saw that while incredible fps values were registered in logs, but the test showed an absolutely black screen instead of a dynamic 3D scene. The other tests had a different reaction. For example, that's what Call of Duty 4 demonstrates.

We do not preclude that having played with options, we could have made the games run with G31. However, we decided that the game was not worth the candle. When we selected test options for both game parts, we used logic and common sense in the first place. Logic and common sense seemed like a more imposing foundation for a test procedure than specifics of the Intel G31/G33 graphics core. Especially considering that neither AMD 740G nor NVIDIA GeForce 7100 had any problems with completing all graphics tests (you may remember that AMD 740G suffers from serious performance drops sometimes, but it can complete any test and show a correct screen).

Non-professional photo processing

  Athlon X2 6000 Phenom X3 8450 E5300 + G31 E5300 + GF7100
ACDSee 00:10:46 00:13:39 00:09:21 00:09:22
IrfanView 00:17:49 00:27:06 00:16:48 00:16:54
Paint.NET 53395 48407 45699 47198
xat.com ImageOptimizer 00:37:52 00:48:46 00:37:19 00:37:40
XnView 00:21:56 00:30:10 00:19:40 00:19:40

Phenom has never been very good at photo processing in non-professional applications, so we were not surprised by results of the X3 8450. Athlon X2 6000 performs well here, considering the age of this architecture. That's another group of tests absolutely indifferent to the fact that the NVIDIA chipset has only one channel.

Total non-professional score

  Athlon X2 6000 Phenom X3 8450 E5300 + G31 E5300 + GF7100
USD per point 1.46 1.71 - 1.47

AMD expectedly shoots forward in the non-professional group of tests: unlike professional 3D applications, games run very well on AMD 740G. The combination of Pentium DC E5300 and Intel G31 again lacks the total score, because it failed several tests due to problems with the graphics system. However, results of the G31 in games are mostly far from impressive, even when it copes with the load. Thus, even though the combination of Pentium DC E5300 + GeForce 7100 is the champion in absolute performance here, it cannot be a champion in price/performance (it's the most expensive system of all we tested here). However, the most interesting fact lies ahead: it's not Phenom that wins in the AMD platform! The best solution in absolute performance and a price/performance ratio is actually Athlon X2 6000 + AMD 740G! We should do justice to Phenom, it's a fast processor for games. But in other respects (archiving, media encoding, photo processing), the overhauled Athlon X2 6000 is much faster, even though it has only two cores versus three.


  Athlon X2 6000 Phenom X3 8450 E5300 + G31 E5300 + GF7100
USD per point 1.28 1.34 - 1.15

The platform from Intel is an apparent winner: the difference between 1.28 and 1.15 USD per point is about 11%. On the other hand, we can remove results in 'heavy' professional applications and leave only the non-professional group of tests. In this case the AMD platform will be victorious (by less than 1%). So, it was very interesting to perform these tests, we got curious results. There were several surprises: before our tests we thought that the winner would be Intel Pentium DC E5300 + Intel G31, because it's the cheapest solution, and it's equipped with a dual-channel memory controller, unlike the single-channel NVIDIA GeForce 7100 chipset. We were even ready (if it's a winner) to criticize it for the lack of DVI support, which is a good feature for a home multimedia system. But it turns out that two channels prove their worth only in a limited number of applications, and Intel G31 has many problems with its integrated graphics system even without DVI -- frankly speaking, we cannot remember any other cases, when a platform simply failed so many tests. Competition between similarly-priced Phenom X3 and Athlon X2 processors in the class of inexpensive multimedia systems is no less captivating. But to tell the truth, we expected the outcome in this case.

What concerns recommendations, they are quite traditional: the more interesting our test results are, the more difficult to formulate them. Our favorites are obvious: Athlon X2 6000 + AMD 740G and Pentium DC E5300 + GeForce 7100 (we even risked an assumption that the other combinations -- Athlon X2 + AMD 740G and Pentium DC + GeForce 7100 -- could be no less interesting). There is no universal answer as to which combination to choose: it all depends on personal software preferences. That is, if you work much with photos, you will certainly appreciate the speed of Intel's platform. If you play lots of games -- you should pay your attention to AMD's platform (in this very case even Phenom X3 will be a good choice). All platforms have some drawbacks: inadequate OpenGL drivers in AMD, generic problems with graphics and no DVI in Intel (mauvais ton for a modern integrated chipset), single-channel memory controller in NVIDIA, which restrictions will become more pronounced with a powerful processor. But it would have been naive to expect a Low-End chipset to have no drawbacks at all -- it's the wrong price range.

P.S. In the process of running tests and writing this article we found an interesting newer AMD 780V-based motherboard in the same price range. We were tempted to add it to the article, of course, but then decided against it: what if another motherboard gets cheaper after additional tests -- for example, models with Intel G41 or GeForce 9300? One could rewrite this article forever. This situation reminded us once again that price comparisons have several drawbacks that cannot be avoided.

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