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Graphics Card + CPU, Part 6

Gaming combo.

April 6, 2009



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Let's analyze results of each test.

3DMark Vantage

3DMark benchmarkly responds to any effective (in terms of performance in games) upgrade in hardware, so both a faster processor and an upgraded graphics card increase the rating.

In case of the cheaper graphics card, an upgrade of the weakest processor to the fastest one yields only 1.3-fold gain. The same upgrade with Radeon HD4830 yields 1.6-fold gain already. The top card will enjoy a twofold gain in this situation. However, ratings in this test do not answer which processor is an optimal choice for each graphics card (games will tell us that). However, judging by the absolute value and taking forced AA and AF into account, we can say that scores above 3000 correspond to requirements of popular games, and even Radeon HD4670 with an average processor earns this score. The other cards score above 4000 even with Athlon X2 4800.

So, we can draw conclusions only by exception: even a dual-core Sempron (which is a better choice than Celerons in its class) is too weak for games, even if it's combined with Radeon HD4670, to say nothing of more powerful cards. Small wonder. But it was still worth it to test the bottom, as even weak Pentium E2160 and Athlon X2 4000 worked well with far from the weakest graphics cards. That's probably the effect of growing GPU performance, as not long ago it would have been strange to talk about choosing a proper processor for a graphics card within $80-100. We just wrote that such cards were not designed for gamers.

What concerns the graphics cards from NVIDIA we have added to the review, they have expectedly fit the target segment: the 9600GT goes in between Radeon HD4670 and HD4830, and the 9800 GTX+ is more powerful than HD 4850, however, it cannot compete with the HD4870.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Although we still use the first version of the game, 1680x1050 resolution, full dynamic lights, and forced anisotropic filtering and antialiasing should generate enough load even for a modern graphics card.

However, as we can see, it's a perfect match for all cards. And we can speak of overcapacity starting from Radeon HD4830. However, this game, at least our demo, helps evaluate a minimal frame rate -- unfortunately, minimal instant fps measured in most tests is of no help, resettability of results is very low. Results of configurations with processors from the beginning of the list are practically completely limited by a processor, no matter how fast a graphics card is. It can only accelerate the average frame rate.

But in configurations with powerful processors, minimal fps grows proportionally to the average fps. For example, in case of the HD 4830, it grows from 20 (Athlon X2 6000) to 24 (Phenom X4 9850) and from 29 to 35 for the HD4870. In other words, neither a processor nor a graphics card are sole limiting factors. You can expect performance gains after you upgrade any of these components. It's apparently up to a user to decide upon the golden mean proceeding from his/her budget and performance in other games.

Call of Juarez

This game does not have any surprises in store. As we found out in our previous articles, compromises in game settings are necessary even in not very high resolutions. As we used forced antialiasing and filtering, only Radeon HD 4870 managed to provide a sufficient frame rate to play this game. In other cases you will have to reduce graphics quality and even use a lower resolution for cheaper cards. Unfortunately, CrossFire does not work in this game either. Both cards from NVIDIA put up poor performance here.

What concerns processors, only our Sempron is not fast enough for the game. The majority of other processors have to wait for the graphics card to do its part most of the time.

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts

The second part of the game heavily loads a graphics card, but processors do not run idle either. Only top processors are not loaded completely: the three fastest graphics cards in any combinations with three processors provide similar results, while weaker processors demonstrate their potential. When we take a look at a minimal frame rate, we can see a distinct bondage of this parameter with video memory size, even though the measurement error is big here. Radeon HD4850 with 1GB of memory and Radeon HD4870 in combination with three top processors demonstrate the identical result (about 24 fps). This parameter varies significantly: even the overclocked HD4850 slows down to 10 fps, performance of weaker cards drops to 5-7 fps. So an apparent conclusion here is that minimal fps slumps down during active data exchange with memory, and 512MB is not enough. This game apparently favors GPUs from NVIDIA, so the 9800 GTX+ performs almost on a par with HD 4870 as far as the average frame rate in concerned. However, 512MB of video memory also drops the minimal level below 20 fps.

Crysis

We did not expect to see anything new in this game, because this test is limited by GPU performance in the first place. And as we found out, even Radeon HD4870 is not fast enough to play this game with high graphics quality settings in this resolution. To say nothing of antialiasing and filtering, which can slump any card's performance. However, it did not happen, at least the three best cards lose only several fps to forced antialiasing and filtering. What concerns the comparison of processors, this game seems to favor multi-core CPUs, especially in combination with powerful cards. CrossFire works in this game, but it's not efficient enough to make a couple of Radeon HD 4830 cards outperform a single-GPU HD 4870 card.

World in Conflict

Just like in the previous game, the three most powerful graphics cards do not differ much here, if we take absolute values. But there is some performance gain percentagewise. Despite a serious graphics load, strategies have traditionally high CPU requirements -- we can clearly see this here. So it's easy to determine which processors are better. By the way, the triple-core Phenom demonstrates very good results not only in this game, and it's a very inexpensive processor. CrossFire technology works fine here. The tandem of two Radeon HD 4830 cards is apparently faster than the HD 4870. The game runs smooth in both cases, there are no artifacts or freezing.

Devil May Cry 4

We have chosen the average frame rate in the second scene with maximum load on a graphics card -- all options set to maximum and even MSAA x8 enabled in the game -- it apparently runs well even on inexpensive cards. And it appears that a processor is not too busy in this game, so game performance is determined by a graphics card practically in all PC configurations. Even a Sempron can maintain a comfortable frame rate. And if you install at least Athlon X2 4800, there will be no visual slow-downs in the minimal frame rate. You may think that such simple tests shouldn't be used to benchmark modern hardware, but this console game does a good job of representing hardware requirements of similar titles in this genre. In other words, modern popular games still run well on mediocre hardware. On the other hand, this game can take advantage of modern technologies to raise its performance, Radeon HD 4830 CrossFire is again victorious.

Unreal Tournament 3

We tested this game in two modes: flyby and botmatch. As we already mentioned, the game will load mostly a graphics card in the first case. In the second case, it's a CPU test. However, botmatch actually loads a graphics card as well, because it imitates combat operations accompanied with proper fireworks. What concerns flyby, it's hard to say why it favors fast processors, but it's a fact.

Even though we raised graphics quality settings and resolution, Radeon HD4830 and Athlon X2 6000 are still sufficient for comfortable gameplay. By the way, performance gains from hardware upgrades are proportional in flyby, but botmatch is less predictable. Along with a wide spread of results and a high measurement error in this mode, this game requires a balanced hardware configuration (a more powerful graphics card needs a more powerful processor and vice versa). For example, if the above-mentioned combo yields good results, the same processor with any HD4850 card instead of the HD4830 suffers from a performance drop, which cannot be possibly written off to a measurement error, because we've run several series of this test for each card. However, HD4850 + Phenom X3 8750 expectedly demonstrate a performance gain.

Conclusions

Radeon HD4830 is certainly a very good addition to the segment of inexpensive graphics cards. It copes with very difficult tests in combination with a Mid-End processor: 1680x1050, anisotropic filtering and full-screen antialiasing. But the HD4670 will evidently require lower resolutions. Even though our modification was a little overclocked at the factory, it's clearly a budget card designed for users, who play games only occasionally.

It was very interesting to compare the overclocked HD4850 with the same card operating at the nominal frequencies, but equipped with twice as much memory. Higher frequencies win in most classic games. On the other hand, the latest games often require more than just 512MB, especially when we choose a native resolution for modern LCD monitors. If we take a minimal frame rate into account, not just an average frame rate, the number of games that benefit from higher memory capacity grows. It's hard to draw a conclusion here. To be more exact, there are two contrary but true comments: all HD4850 cards are powerful enough to run modern games. You will have to find a reasonable balance of performance and graphics quality in hightech games for any modification, so there are no fundamental differences between them, just take prices into account.

A similar conclusion holds true for the newly added cards from NVIDIA. None of the vendors offers much higher performance at the same price level, all solutions are well balanced. Some of the games may favor cards from one manufacturer, but the others are sure to do the opposite. As prices for more powerful cards are generally higher, this competition looks more like covering all market segments. For example, the 9800 GTX+ fits well in between the HD 4850 and the 4870. It performs generally on a par with the overclocked HD 4850 cards, but it's significantly slower than the HD 4870, even though AMD cards get extra advantage in modern games with heavy shader load owning to higher arithmetic performance of their shader domain. So what card to choose is a matter of personal preferences, cooling systems, and availability in stores.

Speaking of cooling systems, a few words about two Radeon HD 4830 cards from HIS working in CrossFire mode. Owing to the cooling system from Arctic Cooling, the overall noise from coolers on both cards under load turns out to be on the level with a single reference card (outside games, coolers on all cards are barely audible and do not stand out against the background noise level). This tandem is quite robust at that. It sometimes outperforms even the HD 4870. But in those games, where CrossFire is not supported, these two cards will be just as fast as a single HD 4830, which may be insufficient for games with high graphics quality settings. However, the number of games that don't support CrossFire is waning, at least among games with complex graphics. There regularly appear optimizations in the drivers (those users, who are satisfied with a single card, sometimes even weaker than the 4830, just don't need CF, so it's stupid to demand CF/SLI support in all games without exception). Nevertheless, we'd recommended a CrossFire system with HD 4830 cards as a way to pay for your computer by installments. And if you can afford a more powerful card, it will make more sense to buy it and get generally more stable graphics performance. Even if the 2 x 4830 tandem is faster in a couple of games, the 4870 also provides a comfortable frame rate there, and it also demonstrates performance gains when CF is not efficient.


We express our gratitude to HIS and AMD
for the provided graphics cards and processors.

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Page 1: Introduction, testbeds, tests

Page 2: Analysis, conclusions



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