How To Build A Kick-Ass Crysis 2 PC For Under $600
When the original Crysis launched in 2007 it was proclaimed by all as the best-looking PC game yet. However, these groundbreaking visuals came with a downside - Crytek was aiming to develop a "hardware future-proof" PC game, but many enthusiasts complained that their gaming rigs could not keep up with its steep hardware requirements. When the affordable and critically-praised GeForce 8800/9800 GT graphics cards released, it subsequently allowed Crytek to create what they referred to as the sub $700 Crysis Warhead PC, an affordable gaming rig which they marketed alongside the release of the game's 2008 expansion, Crysis Warhead. The German developer did this to prove that using the right hardware, you didn't need a super computer to run the graphically-intensive games.
Fast forward to today and Crytek is gearing up for the release of Crysis 2. Like its predecessor, the sequel aims to raise the graphical bar yet again; already, gamers are talking about how they're going to have to sell their kidneys to afford a gaming rig that can effectively run Crysis 2. However, with the recent release of the affordable GeForce GTX 550 Ti, priced at $149.99 MSRP, we will show you that with the right hardware, you can run Crysis 2 extremely well for under $600. If you haven't already noticed, this is actually $100 cheaper than the original Crysis Warhead PC; we just thought you wouldn't mind saving some money. Afterall, you will need $60 to buy the game.
So how well does this $600 PC run Crysis 2? Read on to find out.
Below we have specified where and how much we got our components from. All of our prices include applicable rebates. It is important to note that PC hardware prices and availability always fluctuate. The prices listed are accurate of this article's publish date
GPU: GeForce GTX 550 Ti (MSRP: $149.99)
The first component on our list is the GeForce GTX 550 Ti. The GTX 550 Ti comes with 192 CUDA cores and 1GB of memory. Its $150 price tag makes it an ideal GPU to build a budget-friendly gaming PC around.
CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 925 2.8GHz ($119.99 on amazon.com)
For our CPU, we debated between going with our AMD Phenom II solution and Intel's slightly more expensive i3-550 processor (+$10). While both are good performers, when we were making our purchasing decisions, the i3s were extremely short on availability and we heard rumblings that they may be phased out due to Intel's forthcoming, more expensive i3 Sandy Bridge solution. Because we wanted people to be able to recreate our rig by the time this story went up, we went with AMD's CPU. Fortunately, at the time of publication, people can still buy Intel's i3 on Newegg.com for $129.99. An affordable well-received motherboard that can go along with that is the ASRock H55M-LE LGA 1156 Intel H55 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard, which retails for $64.99 on Newegg.com. Regardless, our AMD Phenom II CPU received five stars on both Newegg.com and Amazon.
In choosing our motherboard, we went with an affordable solution that complimented our CPU. Having a four-star rating from over 35 Newegg.com members gave us the impression that it was well liked. The motherboard we purchased just went out of stock. A similar motherboard readers can use is another GIGABYTE solution. It's compatible with our CPU and is currently on sale for $45.99, $4.00 cheaper than our board.
RAM: CORSAIR 4GB (2 X 2 GB) 1333Mhz Dual Channel 240-pin DDR3 ($42.99 on amazon.com)
Because most modern games make use of four gigabytes of RAM, we wanted no less for our rig. We decided to go with Corsair because it's a brand we trust. Featuring a four-star rating on Newegg.com and on sale at amazon.com for a very reasonable price, it just made sense to go with 4GB of Corsair XMS3 ram.
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 500 GB ($39.00 on ctistore.com)
For our hard drive, we went with a 500GB Seagate Barracuda. The hard drive features a four-star rating on Newegg.com from over 980 reviews. While it's not the biggest hard drive out there, it's more than enough for us to play Crysis 2 and to install other applications. In addition, more space could always be added later.
Power Supply: COOLER MASTER eXtreme Power Plus ($29.99 after mail in rebate on newegg.com)
With Cooler Master being one of the most respected hardware brands out there, its affordable 500 wattage power supply immediately got our attention. With its four-star rating from over 175 people on Newegg.com, it isn't likely that the power supply unit will fry out on us anytime soon, unlike cheaper solutions.
Case: Antec Three Hundred Tower ($54.99 on microcenter.com)
For our case, we decided to go with Antec's three hundred model. The mid-tower case is light, but sturdy. While it is a mid-tower case, there's room for nine drive bays and owners have praised its spaciousness and airflow room. In addition, it's black, sleek, and sexy.
DVD Drive: ASUS DVD-E818A7T/BLK/B/GEN ($16.99 on Newegg.com)
At a really affordable $16.99, the ASUS black 18x DVD rom got our attention right away. Furthermore, from 10 reviews on Newegg.com, it received a positive 4-star rating. Did we mention its black finish goes well with our case?
Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit ($99.99 on amazon.com)
For our operating system, we decided to go with the popular Windows 7 Home (64 bit edition). We went with the 64-bit version because the 32-bit version only supports up to three gigabytes of RAM and as previously mentioned, most modern games will take full support of four gigs.
Analysis: As you can see, by shopping around intelligently, our total came right under $600. Furthermore, all of the hardware we purchased received above average to top-notch review scores, ensuring we got the best bang for our buck.
It is worth reiterating that hardware prices are always subject to change. By the time you read this, the prices you see listed may be more expensive or cheaper than what we've purchased them for. These components are also susceptible to go out of stock or to become phased out completely. Regardless, our itemized list can still be used as a general shopping guideline.
So without further ado, let's took a look inside our system:
No guts = no glory.
Now that we've established our build, let's see how Crysis 2 performs on it.
Unlike the first game, Crysis 2 doesn't have any graphical sliders or checkboxes to enable. Instead, there are three preset modes: Gamer, Advanced, and Hardcore. Gamer is the lowest setting, Advanced is in the medium setting, and Hardcore is the highest. However, there's nothing noticeably “low-res” about the Gamer setting, as Gamer in Crysis 2 looks drastically better than the original Crysis on Low or Medium. Furthermore, Crysis 2 applies a form of shader-based anti-aliasing on all three modes that smoothes out jagged lines far better than prior approaches.
As Crysis 2 is still in development, Electronic Arts and Crytek have asked that we hold off on posting comparative screenshots between the three detail levels, though generally speaking, on Gamer, you get a very clean looking image without strong High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting effects. On Advanced and Hardcore, HDR kicks into high-gear and you get wonderfully warm god rays and dynamic lights, and going from Advanced to Hardcore introduces shadows with soft, fading edges and a few other minor effects.
In general, enabling a higher detail level increases shader quality, water detail, motion blur, particle effects, particle effect density, lighting effects, and texture quality.
Using Fraps to benchmark the first level of the game, we tested Crysis 2 at 1680x1050 and 1920x1080 across all three settings. So how does our gaming rig do?
1680x1050: On gamer at this resolution, our rig was able to maintain a very high FPS average of 50.1. On Advanced, our PC ran Crysis 2 with an average FPS slightly above 40 (41.9). On Hardcore, performance fell below 30 FPS (28.4), making it not ideal to play on this setting.
1920x1080: On this higher resolution, performance across the board fell by 12.7%. Still, Gamer and Advanced settings were very playable. On Gamer, our rig maintained an average 44.2 FPS. On Advanced, performance was 36.2. While we know that it was not ideal to run Hardcore on the lower resolution, we benched the setting at 1920x1080 for education sake anyways and got a decreased average FPS of 24.6.
Optimal Playable Settings (OPS): We found the best optimal playable settings (OPS) at 1920x1080 on Advanced Settings. OPS represents the sweet spot between pushing visual fidelity to its limits while maintaining playable framerates. Here, the performance averaged 36.2 frames per second (FPS). While our rig was able to run the game more smoothly on Advanced at 1680x1050 (41.9 FPS average), performance was stable enough at 1920x1080 to safely recommend. As a matter of fact, we played Crysis 2 for several hours and ran through every single level of the game without any framerate hiccups worth mentioning.
Leveraging the abilities of the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, we wanted to overclock the GPU to see what performance gains we might receive.
Disclaimer: What we achieved below may not be indicative of what you might achieve at home. Every GPU is different. Please consult with your hardware manufacturer before deciding to overclock, as that may void your warranty. Failure to do so may result in a fried graphics card.
Using EVGA Precision, we slowly and incrementally overclocked our GeForce GTX 550 Ti until we started to see artifacting in Crysis 2. From there, we dialed the settings back down and ended up with a stable core clock of 1060 MHz. This is 160 MHz higher than the 550 Ti’s default 900 MHz core clock speed. This generally boosted performance by five frames per second overall.
By overclocking the core clock, we were able to play on Hardcore at 1680x1050 with an average framerate higher than 30 (32.4), but because that's still so close to the choppy threshold, we still found it optimal to run the game at 1920x1080 on Advanced. There, we enjoyed an additional 5.7 frames, which boosted the average FPS performance above 40 (41.9).
So the performance is pretty good, but how does the game look?
All of the following screens were captured on our $600 Crysis 2 PC running on our suggested OPS (Advanced settings at 1920x1080):
As you can see from the screenshots, Crysis 2 look gorgeous on our sub $600 rig.
Before the release of the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, we weren't sure we could build a sub $1,000 PC that could run Crysis 2 well. However, as we ran some numbers and looked at the performance of the affordable GPU, we realized we could build a capable gaming rig for far less.
Shortly after the original Crysis launched, the fastest GPU at the time was the $829 GeForce 8800 Ultra. Fast forward to today, the GeForce GTX 550 Ti is about twice as fast and comes at less than one fifth the price. That's a ten-fold improvement in price/performance. This affordable build would never have been possible without such dramatic GPU advances.
Crytek also deserves a lot of credit. Their new CryEngine 3 is genuinely more optimized than its predecessor. They have created a game that is not only visually stunning, but accessible to all PC gamers.
While it is true that you will get increased performance and be able to run Crysis 2 on Hardcore settings with higher-end GPUs like the GeForce GTX 560 Ti, 570, and 580, we have shown that you can build a PC for under $600 that can run Crysis 2 very well. Though many will enjoy ordering individual components and building from scratch, some gamers may prefer the convenience of pre-built systems. Using Intel parts, CyberPower and V3 Gaming PC are offering a very similar $600 Crysis 2 PCs based on the GeForce GTX 550 Ti. You can check them out here.
While we think our sub $600 Crysis 2 PC is pretty kick-ass, we would like to hear what you have to say. Give us your opinions in our ongoing thread.