Building a Battlefield 3 PC: A Console Gamer's Story

Join Mark on his quest for eye candy as he delves into the world of PC building.

Not so long ago, I sat down to play Battlefield 3 for the first time. I was nervous. After all the hype, the anticipation, the promise that this was to be one of the most ambitious and beautiful shooters of all time, it couldn't possibly live up to the hype. I was right. As the game opened up before me, the truth became clear. The teaser trailers I had once coveted were a lie--at least for me, a humble console gamer. As stunning as trailers like the one below were, they all featured footage from the PC version of the game. The Xbox 360 version in front of me was a poor imitation, rendered with all the elegance of a ham-fisted crayon sketch. I knew what I had to do. Something that I had said to myself I would never do again: build a kick-ass gaming PC.

The Xbox 360 version in front of me was a poor imitation, rendered with all the elegance of a ham-fisted crayon sketch.
It has been a long time since I built my own rig. I stopped after my Counter Strike addiction was getting out of hand--that and I'd just started university, where money wasn't exactly easy to come by. Though I did dabble a little last year when I worked on the Greatest Gaming Rig, it--while awesome--was an exercise in excess, not practicality. This thing had to be practical, and above all, it would have to run Battlefield 3 on at least high settings, maybe even ultra. Anything else, and I might as well just go back to my crayon sketch. Time to delve into the murky world of processors.

The last time I built a rig for myself, AMD's Athlon 64 was the David to Intel's Pentium 4 Goliath, offering better performance with less power consumption, less cash, and the knowledge that you were helping out the little guy. My, how things have changed. Intel's latest Sandy Bridge chips perform consistently better than AMD's Phenom range. Hell, they best even the latest 8-core AMD Bulldozer chips in all but the most multi-threaded of applications. With longevity in mind, I didn't want to chump out on the chip, so I settled on Intel's brand-new Core i7 2700K. It's quad core, it features hyper-threading (allowing each of those cores to execute two threads at once, effectively turning it into a pseudo 8-core chip), and it runs at a speedy 3.5GHz. It's also multiplier unlocked, which means it's built for overclocking--great for letting me eke out a few extra frames per second from Battlefield.

With the processor in hand, it was time to give it a home--a simple task, you might think. Unfortunately, choosing a motherboard is about as fun as being beaten with a brick at Celine Dion concert, and just as confusing. As I soon discovered, there are hundreds upon hundreds of motherboards on the market, all with meaningless product names like GA-Z68XP-UD3-iSSD and Z68MA-ED55-B3, with little to no explanation about what the product does. There are multiple chipsets to choose from too: H61, H67, P67, Q67, Z68. The difference? A mystery. At least until I underwent a research mission the likes of which NASA would have proud of. It turned out that Z68 is the current king of chipets. It's the latest from Intel that's designed for high performance computers. It has a long list of incomprehensible features, but one in particular caught my eye: Lucid Logix, which switches between the integrated Intel GPU and whatever discrete GPU is installed, depending on the task--a power-saving measure that appealed to me.

Not a pleasant shopping experience.

Choosing a motherboard is about as fun as being beaten with a brick at Celine Dion concert, and just as confusing.
But even as I settled upon a chipset, the motherboard market kept trying to make my life as difficult as possible. At first I thought about going with one of Gigabyte's well-reviewed Z68 boards, but then I saw the above. There are no fewer than 22 different types to choose from on Gigabyte's website, with no easy way of telling what on earth the difference is between them. Clearly, they weren't interested in selling to the average Joe. While no motherboard company I came across offered clear, simple explanations of its products, ASRock came close. They too have several motherboards on offer, but the model names aren't completely absurd, and there's some explanation as to the differences between each model. I settled on the Extreme 4 Gen3. It has all the features of the Z68 chipset (some boards do not), SATA 3, USB 3, and Firewire, and it even supports Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge processors and PCI Express 3, meaning that if I fancy an upgrade next year, I can just drop a new chip in. There are also enough PCI Express slots to run a dual, or triple, SLI setup should I ever have way too much money to burn. It even looks damn sexy with its all-black PCB and gold plated capacitors.

Is it wrong to find a motherboard sexy?

Finding a graphics card was a far less painful process. First decision: ATI or Nvidia? While ATI's Radeon cards hold up well against Nvidia's GeForce range, they're not quite as fast. There's little difference in price either. Plus, maybe I'll decide that I need some searing pain in my eyeballs and decide to play a game in 3D. Compared to ATI's halfhearted efforts, Nvidia's 3D Vision setup is definitely the lesser of two evils. Choosing a specific card was also easy: the higher the model number, the more detail you'll see as you sadistically impale Lara Croft's legs with pointy sticks. With price and power consumption at front of mind, I went with the PNY 1.25GB GTX 570. Sitting at the upper mid-range of Nvidia's lineup, it doesn't cost an absolute fortune or use as much power as the 580 or the dual-GPU 590, while still offering great performance that bests ATI's more expensive Radon 6970. Two 560s in SLI were an option too, but if I decide to go SLI with an extra 570 later, the performance will be better.

Is it wrong to think hard drives are sexy too? I might have a problem.

With the major component decisions out of the way, the rest was easy. For RAM I went with Crucial and 16GB of its Ballistix RAM, which powered the Greatest Gaming Rig to great effect last year. For storage, power, cooling, and a case I turned to Corsair. I was highly impressed with the quality of its components when I used them in the Greatest Gaming Rig, so I was eager to use again. I went with Corsair's latest 60GB Force SSD for storage, which sports insane 555MB/s read and 495MB/s write speeds, plus a rather fetching red colour. For power, I didn't want to go too mad--again I had power consumption and electricity bills on the brain. 850 watts seemed like the ideal choice, so I went with Corsair's HX 850 for its 80 percent efficiency rating and modular cabling, which would hopefully make for a clean build.

This was not a PC that was going to light up like a Christmas tree when I turned it on.
Cooling came in the form of Corsair's H100; an all-in-one liquid cooler that sports a dual 240mm radiator and dual 120mm fans. I considered a bespoke water-cooling setup, but the thought of routine refills and worrying about leaks frightened the slob in me. Finally, the case. I wanted something that was practical, with plenty of place for storage, great cooling options, and easy cable management. Above all I wanted something understated--this was not a PC that was going to light up like a Christmas tree when I turned it on. Corsair's Obsidian 650D fit the bill perfectly. It's completely black--even down the interior--with a monolith-like stature that to me is eminently more appealing than something as horrific as this. Plus, tool-free access to internals, multiple rubber grommets for hiding cables, and plenty of space for fans would in theory make my life easier when it came to the build.

Happy days.

With everything in hand, I was finally ready to start the build. The 650D was a roomy case to work in, and it came with pre-mounted motherboard standoffs, so the board went in without a hitch. The PSU was also similarly easy to install, with a tool-free mounting system that just required fiddling with a couple of thumb screws for a rock-solid mount. The plastic drive rails--while a little cheap feeling--meant there weren't any screws required at all for getting the hard drives mounted. Routing cables through the rubber grommets meant it was simple to keep the case cable-clutter free, with all the nastiness hidden behind the rear door. It was a tight squeeze, but there was just enough room to get all the cables to fit.

On the whole, the build was incredibly easy, save for one small thing. The H100 liquid cooler I was using came with two 120mm fans. However, I wanted to use four in a push-pull configuration. Getting the fans and radiator mounted to the top of the case was trouble-free, but the bottom fans were another story. There was very little clearance between the board and the bottom of the radiator, meaning there was little space to manoeuvre and screw the fans into place. One of the fans just clears a heat sink on the board.

A tight squeeze.

But just how does the PC perform? After a Windows 7 install, and a quick stable overclock of the processor to 4.5GHz, I set about installing some games. I was nervous, but hopeful that this entire endeavour would let me see some epic eye candy, and at a fraction of the price of a similarly specced pre-built system. It worked, and then some. Most games I tried on the highest settings ran at a smooth 60fps. That included Crysis 2, COD: Black Ops, and Batman: Arkham Asylum. Nothing was fazing it until I ran Battlefield 3. With all settings on ultra, the system struggled to hit 60fps, but did still manage a respectable 45fps average. And yes, it looked beautiful.

It is done!

With all settings on ultra, the system struggled to hit 60fps, but did still manage a respectable 45fps average. And yes, it looked beautiful.
So after a month of planning, and a day of building, was it all worth it? Mostly yes. If you're building your own PC, there's a hell of a lot of legwork involved to find out what components to buy. And sure, Battlefield 3 plays exactly the same on console (with the exception of the rather epic 64-player online mode), but boy does it look beautiful on a PC. And while I never really considered myself what's colloquially known as a "graphics whore," the whole experience has made me realise how far behind consoles are compared to PCs--at least in terms of visuals. Rumour has it that announcements for the next Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will happen next year. Will the visuals will look anything like the mind-blowing demo from Epic below that ran across three GTX 580s?

Doubtful.

Are you inspired to build your own gaming rig for Battlefield 3? We've teamed up with PNY to get you off to a good start by giving you the chance to win a brand-new GTX 560 Ti OC. The card is equipped with 1GB of GDDR5 memory, two DVI ports, and a mini-HDMI port, and it comes pre-overclocked to 850MHz--a nice boost over the standard 822MHz clock speed.

Win me!

All you have to do to win is tell us what the average fps was that Battlefield reached on Mark's rig.

THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED.

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Discussion

442 comments
RVanner_
RVanner_

This is crazy, hell Im a pc gamer and this still started to put me off PC gaming for when i upgrade. I run a phenom II x4 at 2.8ghz, 8 gigram, bog standard motherboard and a Sapphire 6950 2gb and get 45-60fps on ultra at 1920 x 1080. The setup is 2 years old as well and all Ive er done is upgrade the graphics card from a 5770 to the 6950 - £150 spent for 2 years upgrading and to be honest the 5770 could have kept me happy playing games on medium for a couple if years. The setup now will last me 3+ years at top levels. When it comes to upgrading just buy one of overclockers uk gaming bundles that comes with motherboard, processor and ram all installed. Slot in your graphics card psu etc and it done. No research needed. Console gamers don't be scared off by this article.

ipackheat
ipackheat

I think the point everyone is missing is that he wanted to build from ground up. As much as i agree with every1 here that this thing is overkill for BF3, he built it with the mindset of being able to have perfomance for a couple years.

Microsteve
Microsteve

@Rocker6 You're thinking about this way to much dude lol and if you think license agreements are 'destroying gaming' then you really haven't been around that long because they have always been rather draconian just like everything else that involves greedy men in suits

Daemoroth
Daemoroth

@ZoTrAcK, funny you should say that, when all I can see is MW3 (Background, ads, banners). You must have drawn the BF3 card. :) @lukmen_96, well big-spender, your console is running on 6-year old technology, can't expect to compete with PCs today. Your hardware just cannot support the graphics/maps and all the dynamic events around having more players in the field.

lukmen_96
lukmen_96

it pisses me of that battlefield for pc has better graphics, bigger maps and more player capaciti in each map.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

@choki5 Some have said the email is wrong, but most likely reason is it is only open to UK people.

DavidJHarrison
DavidJHarrison

560 GTX, custom liquid cooling, I7 2600k, p67 motherboard, 8gb of ram,850 watt power supply,1 SSD 500GB hard drive, and 1 1TB hard drive, another words kick ass gaming setup

Magician679
Magician679

someone should teach this guy how to build a pc

jurassic1024
jurassic1024

i still cant believe the dude bought a 2700K then a ~$100 H100 to overclock it to 4.5GHz :| someone forgot to tell him about the 2600K... omg he bought 16GB RAM for a gaming PC using a Sandy Bridge CPU?!?!?! this guy should be fired.

kraken2109
kraken2109

@yossi1007 That isn't 3-4 years old... It has a GTX 470 and DDR3. The only 3-4 year old part is the cpu.

Yossi1007
Yossi1007

lol i run bf3 on ultra with my 3-4 years old rig with super smooth fps(around 60) q6600 470 gtx 4gb ddr3

marvelx3
marvelx3

This is totally stupid. why on earth would you spend all that for a game which you gave a 8.5 score review. I have been using gts250 for awhile and I upgraded to GTX570 thanks to some cool advice from gamers here and that to me didn't come cheap either. Not everyone is gets allowance from daddy or mummy or gamespot, most of us actually work hard to get what we wish for and this article is totally not for people who actually live and work on this earth. I run a corei5 @ 2.8ghz, 4gig ram, gtx570.

TonnFool23
TonnFool23

lol you don't need to spend that much on ONE GAME...I only needed to upgrade the graphics card to geforce 570 and I used to have a Geforce 8800 GTX which was running for 3-4 years now. Don't believe this article this is totally HORSECRAP..

ZoTrAcK
ZoTrAcK

Who is paying for that BF3 garbage all over gamespot?It's so abusive! I wonder if its part of the 100 000 000$ for the marketing of this game?

dillonpeterliam
dillonpeterliam

I really enjoyed this article, good timing too as I'm looking into upgrading my PC in the next few months.

buckwild73
buckwild73

until i buy a new gaming pc i'm back on the consoles. it's like going from dominoes finest pizza every night to skanky budget cheese & tomatoe. these type of articles just make me jealous & hate console gaming even more. i'll be back to beloved pc gaming soon though, it's the only way to game imo.

calanorn
calanorn

now that you built a decent rig put it to use on something better than a run and gun shooter try ARMA 2 nothing better than flying the attach helicopters on ultra graphics with full view distance across the islands.

Jeriko20
Jeriko20

@vegeta2002 Your obviously very bad at FPS's if you think they are all about point and click. Maybe you should upgrade that PC of yours and play something other than Wolfenstein 3D.

choki5
choki5

I can`t send the E-mail, it rejects it, any1 know why ?

wildcard12011
wildcard12011

My specs are extremely modest AMD Phenom11 4 core 2.8ghz stock clocks Sapphire hd6870 stock clocks 6gb ram nothing special 1tb hard drive Yet Battlefield 3 on ultra settings flies with never a hiccup @1080p as with all games. Total overkill for a bland game{hatemail incoming for that remark}

ducati101
ducati101

@Toysoldier34 Certainly have thought about it, just haven't got round to it yet. If possible I would like to get that 'wrap around' screen from Nvidia, instead of getting another 2 monitors. P.S. Would really have liked to have fit a Xonar soundcard into my system, but no slots available :(

ducati101
ducati101

@ MEDzZ3RO Fair enough mate. Just out of interest have you seen the GTA IV graphic mods? Some of the latest Crysis mods? Or soon to come out Crysis 2 mods? They really are mind blowing, trust the modders to go where developers are scared to go ;)

ducati101
ducati101

@strothers101 If the cons outweigh pro's for you, then by all means stick to what makes you happy. No one can tell you your doing it wrong. If your building a PC from scratch, then yes the intial outlay will be more than buying a single console or 2. On the other side if you have a PC, turning it into a gaming machine would only cost you the same as buying a console. TBH, this year there hasn't been many MMO's or RTS's released. Personally don't like MMO's, RTS's are fine especially the Total War series. Shogun 2 being one of my favourites this year, pure epic!

vegeta2002
vegeta2002

When you're done looking at how pretty the graphics are, you're going to realize that you're just playing another uninspired FPS. I don't care if my computer can't run BF3 because my brain can't process how people can find the same point and shoot gameplay even remotely interesting in 2011. What's going to happens when game graphics become truly photo realistic? Is the gaming industry going to have to die again before someone tries something new?

boyd62
boyd62

this is a horrible guide for a new PC build. It overspends on water cooling, CPU & ram, while wasting money on a SSD drive that is to small to be useful. On top of that it buys a mid-high range GPU from a crappy manufacturer PNY, which is clearly the bottleneck on the system. While the ram is understandable given the price of ram these days, wasting an extra 170$ on a I7 is a joke, and an OC of 4.5 with water is a waste of water cooling. An i5 will reach nearly the same OC on air, with a 50$ aftermarket heatsink & fan combo.To top it all off the 60GB SSD is useless, since it will hold a grand total of one to two games(hello rage), along with the OS.

robathy
robathy

I can't enter the competition. It sent my e-mail back as a failure!

warhawk-geeby
warhawk-geeby

I love coming on PC related articles from time to time just to laugh at all the bizarre and wonderful conversations within the gaming community.. "...hosting, game bench marks, man intel i7 960, thermal take level 10gt with bit modding vut here and cut there, rampage extreme or giggabye guarilla motherboard, reddeon hd 6990 2 or gtx 580 with sli cross fire 2 grapchics cards running parrelel..." :| Whaaaa??!

Rafass
Rafass

I'm really sorry, but eventhough this is a good pc for gamers, you could have built a much better one with what you spent, this looks like a freking intel/NVIDIA advertisement, lol.

shawnanthony
shawnanthony

if he turned off the OC he would still get the same FPS, his GPU is the bottleneck for this game.

archiasif
archiasif

You will need an expensive motherboard only if you are willing to overclock, otherwise a budget motherboard should be enough.

archiasif
archiasif

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

williebazerka
williebazerka

@oscarsephiroth - My almost 2 year old gaming laptop broke and I haven't been able to fix it.With Skyrim coming out soon (I really want to play) I don't want to miss out.I would buy a used ps3/x box360 just to play Skyrim.My laptop was probably slightly better than a console if at all.

margevich
margevich

i love my ps2 it make me happy alltime ehehehe

CrusaderX7
CrusaderX7

Completely obvious and blatant advertising for Corsair -_- And ffs can people stop recommending 560 Ti's? They are a fair amount less powerful than a 6950 1GB and they cost about the same amount. And if your only using one graphics card you don't need a motherboard with 2 PCI Express slots. My Asrock Z68 Pro3 works fine.

sasa_furian
sasa_furian

@toysoldier34 Man the PC stuff is quite expensive if u sit to think about it.I forgot how many times I've changed my motherboard and my CPU..and most important the video card.And not everyone has a budget for it..And i do like Xbox and PS3 but whenever i am playing a shooter or strategy game it just doesnt feel right with that controller in ur hand..u cant aim properly and accurate.and probably i got this thing since i was playing CS years ago cuz u know in that game it's all about headshots and fast aiming.Few days ago i ran into battlefield 3 and i saw that it only runs on Vista/WIn7.. and I am using XP Sp3 since forever..and personally i think its the best OS for gamers.For the console gamers is a bit expensive as well cuz they have to buy the original games..but no need for upgrades as in CPU or video.2 years ago i just bought a Dual Core Athlon 2.7 GH and 4gb ddr2 and later on a GF GT240 overclocked 1gb ddr5 ..and it became obsolete ! and in europe prices are higher for pc components than US ..For example i was playing COD Black ops at 1024x768 with low settings and I am having sometimes low frame rate...Now again i need to rise a budget and buy new stuff..and in 1 or 2 years again...and again . So think bout it

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

@RPG_Fan_I_Am @blasterchief I use my PS3 controller for all action games on PC that feel weird with a mouse and keyboard like Star Wars Force Unleashed 2. I could also use a 360 controller.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

@strothers101 This article is very poor is misleading for PC gaming. While people can spend thousands on a PC you can run any game at max with a PC that costs $600-$800. I know because I have built two for friends with those budgets and they run everything at max. If you spend around $300 on a console, and another $200-$400 on a low end PC you just spent enough to get a good gaming PC. It will look better than the console games, and it will make your PC experience much better also for no much price difference. Also a PS3 and 360 controller both work on PC so you get the most control options on PC. Just please don't think PC gaming is expensive because I promise you it isn't.

ALLoY1717
ALLoY1717

@malec_1 I don't doubt that booting and running the OS from an SSD is awesome, but I would trade an SSD for more frames on a gaming rig any day.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

@ducati101 I must say you have a system all PC gamers dream about. Though I must ask why only 1 monitor? I would understand if you don't have desk room for another, but at least a second one is nice. After having 2 I don't see how I can ever go back. With your system you could run Nvidia 3D surround.

blasterchief
blasterchief

@RPG_Fan_I_Am You're right. Personally I prefer my third-person games on console any day of the week, because during combat, combos and button-mashing and the like just aren't as fun or intuitive on a keyboard.

ribtor
ribtor

There is no reason to buy a i7 2700k over the 2600k when you are going to oc it. Zero. Take the money you could have saved with that and the extra 8GB of Ram you don't need and you could have put in a 120GB ssd. Why do people think they need 16GB for gaming? The same people who buy a mobo that has 3 16xpci-e and put in 1 gfx card I guess. BTW how much did Corsair pay you to write and publish this because it just seems like and Ad. No one with a brain would build a system like this. 850 watt 80+ silver PSU in this, what are you thinking? Oh that's what Corsair gave you... My bad.

Surfer2374
Surfer2374

I sorta chuckled at the 16gb of ram(8gb for a econ gaming PC max). No game I'm aware of even recommends anything over 4gb atm. Hell my current machine only has 2gb and it's lasted me for about 7 years and with the current state of the console industry I can't imagine PC gamers needing more than 8gb for even the next generation of console games. Also if you're trying to be economical just get a 2500k. I've been out of the PC building scene for awhile, but if you know where to look finding an ideal rig shouldn't take you more than a couple hours to research.

RPG_Fan_I_Am
RPG_Fan_I_Am

PC gaming is great for some games, while consoles are great for others. I would never play an Armored cored or Devil may Cry game on a PC, likewise I would never play an rts like command and conquer or starcraft on a console. They never work vice versa. The only thing that really seems to is either RPG's or FPS. Though personally I think FPS's are better on PC cause the mouse is a way better aiming device then a stick, Whereas I like RPG's more on consoles simply because you can sit back and relax on your sofa or bed and just chill out on the big screen TV. Granted you can buy a controller for a PC, I'm not really fond of any of them. Plus you don't need to upgrade your console every year.

the_mailman
the_mailman

you picked a way overpriced CPU, plus tests show that the game isnt bottlenecked by the CPU...so you really could have gone with an i3 or something more economical and got the same performance of the best you did buy.

dork351
dork351

I have been a PC gamer since the 80's. I did buy a console but ended up returning to PC. Its just a preference. Both platforms are great besides its just a game after all.

noble95x
noble95x

@rocker6, yeah but if you have a wireless mouse with it it can just be a portable desktop. they are a little overpriced but i stongly dislike razer.