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Can a GTX 670 ride this rig all the way to victory?
I was given the task of creating an AMD FM2 system, so my initial plan was to build a hybrid CrossFire AMD A10-5800K box, leveraging the integrated graphics to assist a discrete GPU in graphics chores. I planned to use the quad-core part coupled with a Radeon HD 6670 and overclock them both. That whole plan went out the window, though, when I learned that Tom and Gordon were going to use GPUs that were far faster than a hybrid CrossFire setup. I had to zig instead of zag, so I decided to go for broke on the graphics side, spending half my budget on the GPU. I had to rob Peter to pay Paul, so my quad-core A10-5800K was swapped out for a dual-core A6-5400K. This might seem foolish, but it was a calculated risk. Both of my competitors have CPU platforms with chip options far faster than FM2. The Piledriver cores in FM2 CPUs can’t really compete with six-core FX chips or any LGA1155 quad part, so I conceded the CPU tests. I figured that if I was going to lose in CPU benchmarks I may as well try to win all of the GPU benchmarks. I just hoped that the A6-5400K I selected wouldn’t hold back the video card’s performance too much.
After Gordon saw my build, he dubbed it the “Scud Missile,” as it had a bunch of low-end parts flanked by a kick-ass GPU.
This is a category where FM2 can be easily outclassed by the other two sockets. On the AM3+ build, Tom could scale all the way up to eight cores. And since both the FM2 and AM3+ parts use the same Piledriver cores on the latest CPUs, there’s just no way to beat the FX-6300 CPU in Tom’s rig. I knew if I wanted to win any of the benchmark rounds I would have to downgrade my CPU to a dual-core A6 5400K. I considered an overclock but settled on the stock cooler. The best part is it’s free and I saw no point in overclocking my wimpy dual-core—it still wouldn’t win any computing chores. The AMD 5400K comes with a stock clock of 3.6GHz and a Turbo Boost of 3.8GHz, which I thought would be more than enough for some of our GPU-heavy benchmarks.
|CPU||AMD 3.8GHz A6-5400K||www.amd.com||$75|
|RAM||Kingston Black 8GB/1600||www.kingston.com||$37|
Despite its budget persona, the FM2 platform actually offers some very nicely outfitted dual-GPU motherboards. My build, though, would have none of that. I wanted to save money for my other parts, which is why I picked a budget microATX board: MSI’s FM2-A55M-E33. The inexpensive mobo comes with four SATA ports, one x16 PCIe slot, and four USB 2.0 ports. Yup, no USB 3.0. The board has two DIMM slots but they support up to 16GB of DDR3/1866. It may be basic, but at least it’s only $49.
My FM2 box needed to make up ground wherever possible, so as a result, I went with a pair of Kingston Black 4GB DDR3/1600 modules for $37. I hoped that by having slightly faster RAM and more of it I would get a small edge in performance against Gordon and Tom, as they both chose lesser amounts of 1,333MHz RAM. Tom’s box is even running in single-channel mode, too.
After Tom and Gordon revealed their respective plans for the beefier Radeon HD 7870 and GeForce GTX 660 boards, I knew I had to get something that would trounce them in performance. I decided to go with a GeForce GTX 670 from MSI, which would easily outperform the GPUs they selected. With a strong GPU to counter-balance my low-end processor, my goal was to win out on the gaming benchmarks, as half of the benchmarks we chose to determine performance were GPU-based.
For my case, I wanted something that would give me tool-less drive bays, cable-routing accommodations, and a clean design, all for $50. As luck would have it, the Corsair 200R was on sale for that price. The 200R offers everything I was after, plus sports two fans along with front-panel USB 3.0 ports. Sadly, my mobo doesn’t support USB 3.0, but I could still make use of the ports using the USB 2.0–to–USB 3.0 adapter that came with the case.
My primary storage for this build was a HGST 7,200rpm 500GB mechanical hard drive. I decided to forgo an SSD because it would blow out my budget. I also figured an SSD wasn’t imperative with Windows 8, which is very quick and responsive even on mechanical hard drives.
Like Gordon, I gambled a little on my PSU choice. The GeForce GTX 670 needs dual 6-pin connectors to power up. As my Corsair CX430 V2 has only one 6-pin, I had to use a Molex-to-6-pin adapter to power my GPU, and I wasn’t 100 percent certain it would work. Luckily for me, it did, and I had no problems using the adapter.
Yes, I took a chance with the PSU, but not like Gordon who opted for a “free” PSU with a warranty period shorter than the expiration of a gallon of milk—30 days. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. My CX430 V2 does, though. It has a 3-year warranty and I’m pretty certain it’ll handle the 170-watt needs of the MSI GTX 670 card.
Despite my best efforts, my rig got the crap kicked out of it in the benchmarks. It was like a ragdoll being ripped to shreds by rabid pit bulls. Yeah, not pretty. And I’m not just talking about the two other builds in this competition, either. The A6-5400K couldn’t even hang in some CPU-bound tests with the Phenom II X4 965 from our Budget Blueprint. But hey, we’re talking a dual-core with shared resources versus a quad-core with four actual separate cores. What’s interesting is how much better the Piledriver cores are over the Phenom II in some encoding tests. The little A6-5400K actually beat the Phenom II X4 in ProShow Producer, which is optimized for four threads. (Encoding has long been a weakness in the old Phenom II.) I’m also surprised the A6 did as well against the Phenom II 965 in Stitch.Efx 2.0 and x264 encoding. The results may look ugly, but remember, it’s only a dual-core and it even shares resources, too.
In gaming, the GeForce GTX 670 easily made mincemeat pie out of the Radeon HD 7770 card in the Budget build, but that’s to be expected. Unfortunately, that card didn’t give me the advantage I was counting on against Tom and Gordon’s builds.
|Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)||1,813||2,665 (-32%)|
|ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)||3,127||2,973|
|x264 HD 5.0 (fps)||8||3.5 (-56%)|
|STALKER: CoP (fps)||29.9||58.1
|Hitman: Absolution (fps)||14||19.1|
|3DMark 11 Performance||3,983||4,096|
Our current Budget build uses a Phenom II X4 965 BE, a Gigabyte GA-970A-UD3, 4GB of DDR3/1333, an Asus Radeon HD 7770, a 120GB Samsung 840, and WD Caviar Blue 1TB HDD. All tests were run on Windows 8.