The legacy left by the original Crysis is one of worldwide renown: Shipping at just around the same time as nVidia's 8800-series GPUs—which were ground-breaking in their own right—the game promised to push PC gaming to new heights. It delivered. Well, graphically, at least; Crytek's CryEngine has famously pushed multi-FPU (floating-point-unit) support to better accommodate multi-core chips, and that trend continues with CryEngine 3.
Crysis 3's new host engine natively employs up to eight simultaneous threads, though most games (Crysis 3 included) will stick with a three-thread foundation with the possibility of spawning additional concurrent threads when necessary. By default, the engine runs a thread for game logic, one for rendering, and one for computation-intensive software-side physics solutions; this means that, unlike most other sub-optimized games (read: console-inhibited), Crysis 3 should theoretically occupy the CPU cores with relative equilibrium and a more optimized load-distribution methodology than ported games.
Obviously gameplay is an entirely different matter, but speaking entirely to the technical and graphical capacity of the game, we find Crysis 3 to be incredibly promising for hardware benchmarking and for the scenery the engine is capable of rendering. Besides, it's the very same engine that Star Citizen is being built on, so if there's any endorsement of potential - that's it.
This high-end gaming PC build for Crysis 3 takes DIY to the next level, offering overclocking options and potential for running the game on high settings with a smooth framerate. Let's hit the specs before we dive into the build list:
Official Crysis 3 Recommended Specs
- Windows 7, Vista, or Win8
- Dx11 GPU with 1GB VRAM
- Quad-Core CPU
- 4GB RAM
- Example configuration: GTX 560, Core i3-530; 5870, Phenom II X2 565
Official Crysis 3 High Performance Reference System (ultra graphics)
- Windows 7, Vista, or Win8
- GTX 680 or HD7970
- i7-2600k or AMD FX-4150
- 8GB RAM
$1126 Crysis 3 Custom Gaming PC - DIY Build
OS & Extras
We did reference some beta-phase benchmarks for the spec'ing and assembly of this rig, but it's important to note that several of the high-grade tweaking options won't be available until the launch iteration of Crysis 3. An official Crytek dev posted this guide for advanced tweaking (volumetric particle effects and collisions, motion blur, tessellation options, etc.), making for a promising features subset when the game launches tomorrow. Hopefully most of these will be accessible through the finalized interface, regardless, most of the options we've seen will rely most heavily upon the GPU and its memory capacity / bandwidth.
Because of the game's high-resolution textures and complex dynamic lighting (occlusion settings, volumetric cloud shadows), one of the most important aspects of the video card will be its memory capacity. More on-board memory means fewer hits to the system memory for visual elements, in turn resulting in fewer storage hits and diminished risk of caching out on mid-range systems. We've opted for AMD's 7950 GPU for its 3GB of VRAM and ability to efficiently output higher-quality high-screen-resolution and multimonitor experiences. This particular XFX card currently includes a copy of Crysis 3 and Bioshock Infinite, hopefully reducing the wincing experienced by its $290 price-tag.
Using MSI's Afterburner utility (compatible with almost all video cards, including this one), you'll be able to fairly easily amp-up the core clock or shader clocks to bolster the card's performance. We've written a primer on the basics of GPU and CPU overclocking over here, so check that out if you need an overview of the concepts.
This (old) tech reel for CryEngine 3 should give you a solid idea of what sort of graphics settings might be found in Crysis 3:
We've seen reports of the 7950 performing at an average of 50FPS with the game configured to "very high" settings, 16x AA, FXAA, and "very high" tessellation, but if you're after maxing out Crysis 3 smoothly, post below and we can help you with card selection. It's a tough task to do cheaply.
Not every build needs a 3570k - just like not every build needed a 2500k before it, but for this, we really do believe it is an excellent choice. The relatively open overclocking options found on the ASRock motherboard we've included will mesh fluidly with Intel's K-SKU chips, and as this is an upper-range build, there's no point in throttling on hardware that isn't tweak-able. We're advocates of systems that can grow with their builders as the builders become more confident in their abilities; overclocking is a natural progression after assembly, and can seriously increase overall performance when under heavy load.
We're running a 3570k and Thermaltake Frio cooler on our official test bench, and with only an hour of manual tweaking and two iterations of overnight torture-tests, we were able to set the cores to 4.4GHz at a low, stable voltage. It's pretty easy to push the cores past our current overclock, but that was out of the scope of our bench; if you do hope to encroach on 5GHz territory, though, we'd strongly encourage this in-depth 3570k OC guide and that you invest in a liquid solution, like this H100i.
In terms of Crysis 3, the 3570k's architecture is heavily favored in floating-point-intensive environments, as is the case with nearly all modern games. AMD's INT-packed CPUs perform excellently for INT-intensive crunching, but we want FPUs and a relevant backing architecture for Crysis 3 and other games of its caliber.
Depending on how advanced you want to get (and your noise requirements), there's a huge selection of highly-efficient CPU coolers available right now -- both liquid and air. At the price, medium noise-level, and efficiency, NZXT's Respire T40 is an easy choice for keeping your overclock cool and stable. I'll let our benchmark charts do the talking, though:
The above chart contains only air coolers, and as is plainly evident, the T40 is cheap, efficient, and equipped with solid heat dissipation design. For those curious about it, we wrote an article about CPU cooler design and manufacturing somewhat recently that may help in your endeavors.
For more serious overclocks and those demanding more user-controllable cooling, Corsair's H100i and NZXT's Kraken X40 are all options that we are able to confidently recommend. Just make sure they'll fit natively in the case you ultimately decide on (post a comment below if you need help checking for compatibility).
Our focus on performance and enthusiast ventures -- namely overclocking -- is further exemplified in the build's memory selection: These two Kingston Beast memory modules are equipped with killer-looking heat spreaders and high OC tolerance, particularly important for the hot 1866MHz dies binned-out for these modules. This RAM will OC pretty effortlessly and with great stability, and at 8GB, you've got enough for most gaming needs. Unless you want to play four games at once -- but there's always the option of buying more memory.
We always encourage a strong foundation of core components for any new PC build -- the PSU, CPU, and motherboard should take top priority when selecting components; the rest is mostly modular (memory, drives, and VGAs are all very easy to swap-out). High-quality PSUs are probably the single, most important place to spend money, but motherboards take a close second. With better caps and power phasing design, a good motherboard separates itself from the pack by means of endurance, longevity (lower chance of premature cap leaks), and an expansive feature set.
Taking a zoomed-in look at ASRock's Extreme6 motherboard reveals some of the defining features of a quality board: A resilient passive heatsink design will duct heat away from key chips (MOSFETs, VRM, chipset, etc.) that get hot under high-voltage OCs, gold-plated electrolytic caps to better resist the toll that aging takes on cheaper variants (namely cap leaks, which decrease power efficiency and tolerance for power fluctuation), and a thick underlying PCB.
ASRock's UEFI BIOS interface makes intermediate overclocking fairly easy (guided, but not overbearing) and its on-board troubleshooting features should help determine the root-cause of any build issues experienced.
On the subject of favoring high-quality, reliable PSUs over nearly everything else, it made sense to us that a high-end machine should be equipped with a highly-efficient power source. Rosewill's Capstone series PSU has been proven to have stable voltage read-outs and is 80 Plus Gold certified and Active PFC enabled, making it one of the most clean sources of power at the price (read more about PSU specs in this guide).
At 650W, you'll have enough power to run your 3570k at OC'd TDP and the 7950 quite handily. For those intending to upgrade the GPU or accommodate CrossFire in the future, please post a comment below or on our forums to check if we recommend an alternative power supply.
I apologize if we're being boring by recommending the HyperX 3K SSD once again, but quite simply, it's a deserving drive. In real-world applications (non-synthetic tests), the SandForce controllers outperform nearly every other drive on the market in mixed read/write performance without 100% incompressible data (as found in synthetic benchmarks). They scale with greater stability toward the high-end of write transactions, yet maintain a commendable read rate when performing large sequential transactions.
SSDs are the easiest upgrade you can make to any system, so if you're already quite happy with your build but are looking for upgrade pathways, definitely investigate the feasibility of SSDs. Storage is the slowest link in the chain, so every hit to storage for that 4K texture could potentially cause a noticeable stutter in the gameplay experience. With most SSDs averaging 7x faster (and that's a reserved estimate) in 4K random transactions than the standard HDD, it's a good idea to add one to nearly any mid-range or high-end build.
We're under the assumption that most of you are consumers of large amounts of data, but if that assumption does not apply to your situation, you can certainly consider skipping out on this 1TB drive and re-using an old one instead (or surviving on the SSD for a while). Quite simply, we've selected a 7200RPM, 1TB HDD that'll access files smoothly enough for archival and gaming purposes. For your most-used applications, we definitely recommend installing those on the SSD.
Yeah, these are pretty boring. As our standard disclaimer, we always recommend that you save some cash by re-using an old SATA optical drive from previous machines. It's a quick $17 you don't spend, and they'll do almost the same thing. Regardless, this Samsung option is fast and does its job well (and burns things, but not in the fun, incendiary way).
And now we get to the identity of the build: the case! Corsair's Carbide Series 500R enclosure is currently on sale with an awesome $20 off promo code (instant - use "EMCXVWR24" at checkout) and with a $20 rebate, so it's really a pretty easy choice. The case ships stock with 2x120mm front intake fans and a 200mm side intake fan, with all exhaust slamming through the 120mm rear exhaust fan. It's not the massive full-tower you'll get out of the Phantom 630 we reviewed, but it's a reasonably-sized mid-tower that offers a solid stock cooling solution and basic cable management and tool-less features.
That's it for this build! As always, please feel free to comment below or post on our forums for in-depth support; that's why we're here, and we're happy to help you build your system and select components.
- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.
PS: For you regulars out there, we're working on a massive redesign of the site. Massive. Keep your eyes open for further announcements on that as the overhaul progresses.