How To Build A Kick-Ass Battlefield 3 PC

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Introduction

How to Build a Battlefield 3 PC

October 28, 2011

The much hyped Battlefield 3 hits European shores this week, and many PC gamers are looking to either upgrade their GPU or build completely new rigs to ensure all of the game’s fantastic eye-candy can be enabled. In this article we’ll show you three different PC builds that will run Battlefield 3 flawlessly on both High and Ultra quality settings, and examine the performance of the completed game using our range of graphics cards. To find out if your current graphics card is man enough to run Battlefield 3, you can use our GPU Analyzer.

Performance

We have extensively benchmarked and tested the Operation Metro multiplayer level in the massively popular beta, we returned to Battlefield 3 with a new set of performance-enhancing drivers and the optimisations embedded into the game’s day-one patch. However, this time it was the turn of the more demanding Caspian Border multiplayer map to be benchmarked 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 introduction to campaign performance is very similar to the performance we recorded on the beta’s less-demanding Operation Metro map. We used the same settings as we did with that round of testing, running the High quality pre-sets and designated forty frames per second or higher 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, DICE’s recommended graphics card for the High quality pre-set, 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

We next fired up the more demanding sixty-four player Caspian Border multiplayer map, here there are much larger draw distances with masses of effects and detail, it was apparent the story would be 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, which further highlights the resolutions and quality pre-sets 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 pre-sets, 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 pre-sets may have to be lowered too 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 3can run on High on a GTX 560 at over forty frames per second, at 1920x1080, is testament to the incredible optimisation 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.

Product Price Inc. VAT
GPU MSI N560GTX-M2D1GD5 GeForce GTX 560 1GB £143.47
CPU Intel Core i5-2300 2.8GHz £142.98
Motherboard MSI P67A-G45 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel P67 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX UEFI BIOS £83.60
PSU Cooler Master Elite eXtreme Power Plus RS-500-PCAR-A3-US 500 Watt £47.40
RAM PNY XLR8 4GB (2x2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1600 SDRAM Model MD4096KD3-1600-X8 £24.48
HDD Western Digital Caviar Black WD5002AALX 500GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s £88.80
Optical Drive LG DVD Burner Black Model GH24NS70 £16.76
CPU Cooler Stock, Included With CPU $0.00
Thermal Compound Stock, Included With CPU $0.00
Case Antec One Hundred Black ATX Mid Tower Chassis £39.52
Total Price *£587.01

Having now established through our benchmarking 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 that can be tweaked to deliver a little more fire power. We found the answer in the form of the N560GTX from MSI, a competitively priced GTX 560 that's not overclocked at the factory like other, more expensive models, but is built with an exquisite mix 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 high-priced GTX 560 Ti, helping you maintain a silky smooth frame rate at all times.

In symphony with the GTX 560, DICE recommends the use of a Quad Core CPU, for that part of our build we turned to Intel and their mighty range of 'Sandy Bridge' CPUs. 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. 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 just doesn't do the job in two years' time, when more demanding games are on sale, the MSI motherboard is not only compatible with all current Sandy Bridge CPUs, but it will go on to support the next wave and should be compatible with the next-gen 'Ivy Bridge' processors as well, currently slated for a March 2012 launch. Furthermore, the MSI motherboard features an additional PCI-Express slot, allowing you to install a second 1GB GTX 560 for some killer SLI action. When ran in SLI two GTX 560s would give a single 580 a run for its money, though we would recommend a PSU upgrade at this point to something with a higher Wattage (900-1000 Watts).

Whilst on the subject of PSU, we've picked a Corsair 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). Whilst cheaper PSUs can be purchased, this really is an area where you don't try and save pennies on such an important component, cheaper PSUs tend to have a habit of failing, and all too often when they do they will take out other components with them, which will not be covered by their respective warranties.

DDR3 RAM prices have almost halved over the last 6 months, but to keep costs down we've stuck to DICE's recommended amount, 4GB. Our recommended 8GB set which we have used in our other systems, would have cost £84.99.99 in May can now be bought for just £40.99 from Scan. At only £10 more than the 4GB set, we strongly urge you to take advantage of  these artificially low prices before memory rises once again.

Due to the freak weather and continued flooding in Thailand the manufacturing of hard drives at Western Digital has been hugely affected. As a result we have seen  many e-etailers raise their prices on all models, regardless of manufacturer, off-setting some of the savings from the RAM. At the moment the Western Digital Caviar Black WD5002AALX offers industry-leading performance and 500GB of space at a reasonable price. However by the time you purchase this may not be the case so search around any old stock that has not been re-priced or check out a different HDD brand with similar specs.

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.

At around £579, 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.

*Please note all the resellers that supplied pricing in this article use "live, real time" pricing and as such prices are correct as of the 28th October but may fluctuate, please click the link for the most accurate prices.

Battlefield 3 Ultra Quality Preset PC

Product Price Inc. VAT
GPU Galaxy 58NLH5HS3PXZ 1536MB GeForce GTX 580 £399.99
CPU Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz £169.99
Motherboard MSI P67A-GD53 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel P67 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX UEFI BIOS £102.99
PSU Thermaltake Black Widow W0319RU 850 Watt £139.99
RAM G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Model F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL £49.99
HDD Samsung Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s £99.98
Optical Drive LG DVD Burner Black Model GH24NS70 £18.98
CPU Cooler Thermaltake Frio £42.98
Thermal Compound IC Diamond 24-Carat £14.98
Case Silverstone RV02B-EW Silent Full Tower £129.98
Total Price *£1169.85

As mentioned earlier, GeForce GTX 580s systems may or may not remain within the forty frames-per second 'sweet spot' when using the Ultra pre-sets. In an attempt to minimize the risks of this occurring we've picked out the most ludicrous piece of kit ever seen, the KFA2 Anarchy GTX580. A triple-fan, super-l monster, the KFA2 graphics card can be massively overclocked and sufficiently cooled, even if you live in the tropics.

Supporting this beast is an overclockable Intel Core i5-2500K Quad core CPU, a high-end Quad Core CPU that is a current favourite among many gamers. The higher-end i7-2600K also available but 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 £65 by using the cheaper i5-2500K

Our motherboard choice is now the slightly higher-priced 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 populated the board's RAM slots with 8GB of speedy G.Skill Ripjaw DDR3 RAM, and attached to the SATA port is a Spinpoint F1 1TB HDD from Samsung. Personally, we'd go for Western Digital drives every time, due to impact of the flooding mentioned on the previous page the prices have skyrocketed, pushing us towards the Samsung, which is still a fast drive, isn't as fast as its Western Digital Black counterpart.

Further savings can be had by using the standard CPU cooler and thermal paste that is shipped with the i5-2500K. Having tested it, we found it to be a perfectly adequate bit of kit, just not a great one. For those of you that crave super-cool temperatures, near silent performance 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). 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-powerful KFA2  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.

*Please note all the resellers that supplied pricing in this article use "live, real time" pricing and as such prices are correct as of the 28th October but may fluctuate, please click the link for the most accurate prices.

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 events in the UK such as Eurogamer and LITs and at GeForce LAN 6 in the US, each of our Battlefield 3 machines was spec’d out with dual 580s to ensure that the frame rate remained above sixty at all times, even on the largest of maps. With this in mind we decided it was only right to put one final build together for those of you who wish to enjoy the ultimate experience from the game, which in future will include 3D and multi-monitor support, which is already included in our latest optimised, performance drivers and should be implemented in an update from DICE shortly.

Product Price Inc. VAT
GPU 2x EVGA SuperClocked 015-P3-1582-AR 1536MB GeForce GTX 580 £798.98
CPU Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz £169.99
Motherboard MSI P67A-GD55 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel P67 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX UEFI BIOS £102.99
PSU Silverstone ST1200 1200 Watt £249.99
RAM G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Model F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL £49.99
HDD Samsung Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s £99.98
Optical Drive LG DVD Burner Black SATA Model GH24NS70 £18.98
CPU Cooler Thermaltake Frio £42.98
Thermal Compound IC Diamond 24-Carat £14.98
Case Xigmatek Elysium Black CCC-HSA0DS-U01 £129.98
Total Price *£1679

Our SLI system is very similar in spec 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 KFA2 Anarchy, was perfect for our single GPU system, so it made sense to introduce it to one of its brothers to build our SLI rig. Due to the nature of SLI a high-Wattage power supply was required, and to ensure maximum stability we chose the Corsair Pro Series 1200 Watt. Now I know this is not the cheapest 1200 Watt PSU around but with £800 worth of GPUs plugged into it, who cares, I would not take any risks with a rig of this spec, Corsair has a choke hold on the PSU market for a very good reason.

Holding everything together is the the ever-popular Slverstone Raven 2B, a totally bomb-proof, extremely well put to gether case.  The brand isn’t as well-known as the Antecs of this world to the masses, but to those in the know Silverstone cases are highly revered for their amazing build quality.

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

So there you have it, three killer 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 leave you to Gear Up and Game On, and hope to frag you on the Battlefield soon!

*Please note all the resellers that supplied pricing in this article use "live, real time" pricing and as such prices are correct as of the 28th October but may fluctuate, please click the link for the most accurate prices.