How To Build A Kick-Ass Battlefield 3 PC

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Introduction

How to Build a Battlefield 3 PC

October 24, 2011
By Andrew Burnes

The long-awaited Battlefield 3 is finally going on sale across the world this week, and many PC gamers are looking into upgrades or completely new rigs to ensure all of the game’s fantastic eye-candy can be enabled. In this article we’ll show you three PC builds that are designed to run Battlefield 3 flawlessly on High and Ultra quality presets, and examine the performance of the completed game using our range of graphics cards. To discover which graphics card you currently have, and whether it’s suitable for Battlefield 3, use our GPU Analyzer.

Performance

 

Having extensively benchmarked and tested the Operation Metro multiplayer level in the super-popular beta, we returned to Battlefield 3 with a new set of performance-enhancing drivers and the optimizations embedded into the game’s day-one update. This time, however, we benchmarked the more demanding Caspian Border multiplayer map and the introduction to the single-player campaign.

Single Player Intro, 1920x1080, High Presets

 

Testbed: Intel Core i7-2600K, P67 Motherboard, 8GB DDR3 RAM, Windows 7 64-Bit

 

 

The campaign’s introduction tallies closely with the performance we received in the beta on the less-demanding Operation Metro map. As with that round of testing, we used the High quality presets and designated forty frames per second and up as the ‘sweet spot,’ the level of performance where any temporary frame rate dips shouldn’t send you below thirty frames per second, which would negatively impact the gameplay experience. As you can see, the GeForce GTX 285 was the first card to enter the sweet spot, and the GTX 560, the developer’s recommended graphics card for the High quality preset, sits comfortably within it also, having achieved a result of fifty-two frames per second.

 

Caspian Border, 1920x1080, High Presets

 

Testbed: Intel Core i7-2600K, P67 Motherboard, 8GB DDR3 RAM, Windows 7 64-Bit

 

 

On the more demanding sixty-four player Caspian Border multiplayer map, where there are large draw distances and masses of effects and detail, the story was somewhat different. Here, the GTX 560 sits within the ‘sweet spot’ once more, recording forty-one frames per second, whilst the GTX 285 drops to just thirty-one frames per second, backing-up the developer’s assertion that the GTX 560 is the game’s recommended graphics card for all of Battlefield 3’s graphical scenarios, something many gamers called into question when the information was first announced. Furthermore, future optimizations from both NVIDIA and developer DICE will raise the frame rate even higher.

 

Based on this data we’ve put together some preliminary Optimal Playable Settings, highlighting the resolutions and quality presets that we recommend using in Battlefield 3.

Preliminary OPS

 

Testbed: Intel Core i7-2600K, P67 Motherboard, 8GB DDR3 RAM, Windows 7 64-Bit

 

 

In addition to the results produced by our testing lab, shown above, we’ve been conducting our own tests on a near-identical GeForce GTX 580 machine using the Ultra presets, and have come to the conclusion that for the most part the frame rate will remain in the aforementioned ‘sweet spot,’ but when the action is at its most frantic the frame rate can drop dangerously close to thirty. Depending on your computer configuration it could in fact drop below thirty, and as such we’re cautioning users that some of the Ultra presets may have to be lowered to High to boost overall FPS. This is in line with DICE’s pre-launch information that stated gamers would require dual GTX 580s in SLI to ensure frame rates remain silky smooth with all Ultra settings enabled.

 

That Battlefield 3 can run on High on a GTX 560 at over forty frames per second, at 1920x1080, is testament to the incredible optimization of the game’s engine. Consider the fact that no other game bar Metro 2033 looks as good when Battlefield 3 is running on High, and that Metro 2033 requires a top-end GTX 580 SLI PC to achieve that feat, and you begin to understand the incredible work achieved by DICE’s engineers.

Head on over to the next page and we’ll examine our first system, designed for use with the High Preset.

Battlefield 3 High Quality Preset PC

If you are intending to upgrade for Battlefield 3 you don’t want to see your newly-purchased kit superseded in a matter of months, so we’ve put together three systems that offer a high degree of future-proofing, and as such can be upgraded without chucking out the kitchen sink and starting from scratch.

ProductPricePrice Inc. Rebates
GPUMSI N560GTX-M2D1GD5 GeForce GTX 560 1GB$189.99$169.99
CPUIntel Core i5-2300 2.8GHz$179.99$179.99
MotherboardMSI P67A-G45 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel P67 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX UEFI BIOS$124.99$94.99
PSUCooler Master Elite eXtreme Power Plus RS-500-PCAR-A3-US 500 Watt$44.99$34.99
RAMPNY XLR8 4GB (2x2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1600 SDRAM Model MD4096KD3-1600-X8$33.99$33.99
HDDWestern Digital Caviar Black WD5002AALX 500GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s$59.99$59.99
Optical DriveLG DVD Burner Black Model GH24NS70$18.99$18.99
CPU CoolerStock, Included With CPU$0.00$0.00
Thermal CompoundStock, Included With CPU$0.00$0.00
CaseAntec One Hundred Black ATX Mid Tower Chassis$49.99$34.99
Total Price$702.92$627.92

 

Having established in our benchmarks that the GeForce GTX 560 is the first choice for High Quality Battlefield 3 gaming, but also that performance was at times just above the sweet spot, we looked around for something other than a generic GeForce GTX 560; something with a bit of extra oomph. The answer came in the form of the MSI N560GTX, a competitively priced GTX 560 that’s not factory-overclocked like other, more expensive models, but is comprised of custom components and a twin-fan cooler, allowing you to perform the overclocking yourself, quickly, easily, and safely through the use of EVGA Precision. Between the custom cooler and components, performance can be pushed towards the level of the pricier GTX 560 Ti, helping you maintain a silky smooth frame rate at all times.

In concert with the GTX 560, DICE recommended the use of a Quad Core CPU, and at present there are none better than Intel’s range of ‘Sandy Bridge’ processors. The one we chose was an Intel i5-2300, a speedy, affordable mid-range chip that’s plugged into a high-quality MSI P67A-G45 motherboard (if you want to save an additional $26, drive down to Micro Center and pick up an i5-2400, a slightly faster version of the CPU that’s sold in their stores for $149.99). And like the MSI GTX 560, the i5-2300 can be quickly and easily overclocked through the motherboard’s mouse-driven UEFI BIOS menus if an extra few megahertz are required.

If overclocking simply doesn’t cut it two years down the line, however, when more demanding games are on sale, the MSI motherboard is compatible with all current and future Sandy Bridge CPUs, and should be compatible with the next-generation ‘Ivy Bridge’ processors also, currently scheduled for a March 2012 launch. Furthermore, the MSI motherboard features an additional PCI-Express slot, allowing you to drop in a second 1GB GTX 560 for a bit of SLI action. Combined, the two 560s would give a single 580 a run for its money, though you would require a PSU with a higher Wattage (900-1000 Watts).

Regarding power supplies, we’ve plumped for a Cooler Master Elite eXtreme Power Plus RS-500-PCAR-A3-US 500 Watt unit that provides more than enough juice for the configuration listed above (if you’re adding multiple hard drives and other devices you will likely have to upgrade to a 550 or 600 Watt unit). There are cheaper PSUs, but you really don’t want to scrimp on such an important component, as cheaper PSUs have a habit of failing, and when they do they often damage your other components, which will not be covered by their respective warranties.

The price of DDR3 RAM has plummeted in recent months, but to keep costs down we’ve stuck to DICE’s recommended amount, 4GB. Our recommended 8GB set, used in our other systems, would set you back $94.99 in May, and now, just $49.99. At only $16 more than the 4GB set, we categorically recommend that you snap up such an incredible deal before prices rise once more.

Unfortunately, continued flooding in Thailand has impacted the manufacture of hard drives at Western Digital. As a result e-tailers have raised their prices on all models, regardless of manufacturer, off-setting some of the savings from the RAM. For the time being, the Western Digital Caviar Black WD5002AALX offers industry-leading performance and 500GB of space at a reasonable price. If, however, said price jumps by the time you purchase, shop around for better deals or look into a different brand of drive with similar specifications.

Housing all our kit is the Antec One Hundred, which at present is available at a ridiculously low price. In addition to having a ton of internal space, the front panel has four USB 2.0 ports, audio jacks, and a handy tray for putting loose screws, cell phones, or keys in. And despite the low price, the quality of construction is high and it won’t rattle and vibrate like chassis from no-name manufacturers.

If you require an operating system pick up Windows 7 64-bit from Amazon for an unavoidable $99.99, although if you’re a student ask around campus as you can get deeply discounted versions through your school or university. Also, don't fret about Amazon's 'old version' warning - it simply means you need to download Service Pack 1 after install (the pre-patched version costs $77 more).

At around $630, this system offers fantastic value for money. Sure, you’re not playing the game on Ultra, but the difference between the two isn’t massive - on High you receive post-processing anti-aliasing, high levels of anisotropic filtering, HBAO ambient occlusion and crisp, razor-sharp textures. In combat, with the world exploding around you, we doubt you’ll notice the difference, but if you really do want to enable every single thing keep on reading to see the systems we’ve designed for the Ultra settings.

Battlefield 3 Ultra Quality Preset PC

ProductPricePrice Inc. Rebates
GPUGalaxy 58NLH5HS3PXZ 1536MB GeForce GTX 580$479.99$429.99
CPUIntel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz$219.99$219.99
MotherboardMSI P67A-GD53 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel P67 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX UEFI BIOS$129.99$99.99
PSUThermaltake Black Widow W0319RU 850 Watt$129.99$104.99
RAMG.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Model F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL$49.99$49.99
HDDSamsung Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s$69.99$69.99
Optical DriveLG DVD Burner Black Model GH24NS70$18.99$18.99
CPU CoolerThermaltake Frio$57.99$57.99
Thermal CompoundIC Diamond 24-Carat$18.99$18.99
CaseSilverstone RV02B-EW Silent Full Tower$179.99$154.99
Total Price$1355.90$1225.90

 

As we discussed earlier, GeForce GTX 580s systems may or may not remain within the forty frames-per second ‘sweet spot’ when using the Ultra presets. In an attempt to minimize the risks of this occurring we’ve picked out the most ludicrous piece of kit ever seen, the Galaxy 58NLH5HS3PXZ. A triple-fan, super-long, super-wide monstrosity, the Galaxy graphics card can be massively overclocked and sufficiently cooled, even if you live in the tropics.

Supporting the beast is an Intel Core i5-2500K, a high-end Quad Core CPU that too can be overclocked, if required. The higher-end i7-2600K also exists, though internal, preliminary benchmarks show very little difference in Battlefield 3’s frames per second when swapping between the two, a conclusion supported by renowned tech site, TechSpot. As such, we save $95 by using the cheaper i5-2500K (a further $40 can be saved by shopping at Micro Center).

Our motherboard is now the slightly more expensive MSI P67A-GD53. There’s very little difference between it and the board used in our GTX 560 system, so if you want to save a whopping $5 purchase the P67A-G45 instead.

We occupied the board’s RAM slots with 8GB of speedy G.SKILL DDR3 RAM, and attached to the SATA port is a Samsung 1TB hard drive. Personally, we go for Western Digital drives every time, but because of the flooding mentioned on the previous page the prices have skyrocketed, pushing us towards the Samsung, which while fast, isn’t as fast as its Western Digital Black counterpart.

Further savings can be had by using the CPU cooler and thermal paste bundled with the i5-2500K. Having tested it, it’s a perfectly adequate bit of kit, just not a great one. Those of you that care for super-cool temperatures, low levels of noise and the ability to overclock when required, follow our build by buying the Thermaltake Frio, an excellent CPU heatsink and fan combo (the more expensive Frio OCK has literally just been released – read a review here, and purchase here). Placed between it and the CPU is IC Diamond, a twenty-four carat, diamond-based, non-conductive thermal compound. Better than any other thermal compound we’ve tested, IC Diamond is expensive compared to its rivals, but when you’re building a top-end system you shouldn’t scrimp on such an important component (it may be gel, but without it your CPU would soon overheat and fail, making it as important as the heatsink and fan).

Encompassing these powerful components is the Silverstone Raven RV02, a very large, very heavy, very good case. More than capable of holding the super-long Galaxy GPU, the Raven also offers plenty of expansion room and numerous drive bays to hold any extras that you buy in the future - in this price range there’s nothing better.

This build gives you the best chance possible of staying within the sweet spot at 1920x1080 with all Ultra options enabled, but for those of you who want a minimum of sixty frames per second at all times, keep on reading for our final system configuration.

Battlefield 3 Ultra Quality & Ultra Performance PC

When a gamer asked Daniel Matros, DICE’s Community Manager, whether he’d need one or two GTX 580s to run Battlefield 3 on Ultra, Daniel simply replied “two.” At trade events and at GeForce LAN 6, each of our Battlefield 3 machines was equipped with dual 580s to ensure that the frame rate remained above sixty at all times on the largest of maps, so we’ve put together one final build for those of you who wish to get the absolute most from the game, which in future will include 3D and multi-monitor support.

ProductPricePrice Inc. Rebates
GPU2x EVGA SuperClocked 015-P3-1582-AR 1536MB GeForce GTX 580$999.98$959.98
CPUIntel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz$219.99$219.99
MotherboardMSI P67A-GD55 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel P67 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX UEFI BIOS$134.99$104.99
PSUSilverstone ST1200 1200 Watt$214.99$204.99
RAMG.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Model F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL$49.99$49.99
HDDSamsung Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s$69.99$69.99
Optical DriveLG DVD Burner Black SATA Model GH24NS70$18.99$18.99
CPU CoolerThermaltake Frio$57.99$57.99
Thermal CompoundIC Diamond 24-Carat$18.99$18.99
CaseXigmatek Elysium Black CCC-HSA0DS-U01$219.99$219.99
Total Price$2005.89$1925.89

 

Our SLI system is very similar to our single-card system, as there’s no frame rate boost to be had in Battlefield 3 from using more expensive CPUs and motherboards, or ‘faster’ DDR3 RAM (all DDR3 RAM beyond the speed of our selected 8GB set is a gigantic waste of money that will net you one frame per second extra, if you’re lucky).

Our single-card GTX 580 GPU, the imposing Galaxy 58NLH5HS3PXZ, was unsuitable for SLI due to its sheer size. Having waded through ever-so-dull specification sheets we found no sensibly-priced motherboard that could physically fit a pair of these excellent cards alongside one another, so instead we’ve chosen a pair of SuperClocked EVGA GTX 580s that receive great reviews from gamers and are reasonably priced. As the name suggests, the cards are factory-overclocked to take them to their limits, not that it matters too much in a SLI 580 system, but hey, when you’re spending this much money you may as well go for broke!

Due to the nature of SLI a high-Wattage power supply was required, and to ensure maximum stability we chose the SLI-Certified Silverstone ST1200, which has been tested extensively by NVIDIA’s certification engineers.

Holding everything together is the Xigmatek Elysium, an aggressively-priced case that could in fact house a triple SLI setup, too. The brand isn’t as well-known as the Antecs of this world, but if they keep on making cases of this quality they surely will be soon.

For those interested, the capabilities of this system when running Battlefield 3 in 3D Vision, and on multiple monitors, will be examined at a later date, nearer to the release of official game patches that add support for the game-enhancing features.

Conclusion

There you have it, three systems in three price brackets, each supported by quantified data proving that they’re capable of playing Battlefield 3 at High or Ultra settings. However, please remember that prices fluctuate and that deals come and go. If a particular component is significantly more expensive than listed here, shop around and find a better deal, or pick a similar component. Many sites offer user reviews, and in addition to professional reviews you should be safe from picking a duffer. Oh, and if you’re purchasing a graphics card in the near future from an e-tailer, you may be eligible for a free copy of the fabulous Batman: Arkham City.

And with that we bid you adieu, and hope to frag you on the battlefield soon!

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