This build wasn't our original plan but it answered a lot of questions that people had asked us and seemed like a good 'Plan B'. How good is an $89 CPU and what sort of performance can you get on a budget?
The original plan was to build a second mini ITX system in the versatile Fractal Design Core 500 ITX case but unfortunately we couldn't get our hands on the motherboard in time for the September RESPAWN. We have since received a Z170 ITX board and CPU so there is some Skylake ITX goodness and a Core 500 review coming up shortly. As we considered our options for an alternate demonstration rig, we looked through the components available and someone suggested 'Bang for Buck' and what's better bang for buck than an $89 CPU with serious overclocking potential? Enter the Intel Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition. The concept seemed too easy so another voice piped up with, "...and quiet too - let's make it really subtle".
Our selected case was an oldie but still a goodie - the Fractal Design Node 605 HTPC chassis. It's a very subtle case, built for keeping a low visual and acoustic profile but also brought some challenges of its own to the build. One of our reviewers, Billy Ho, actually has his gaming rig in one of these cases. Kingston chipped in with some White Fury DDR3 and a 240GB Fury SSD to keep things snappy. Western Digital provided the stealthy WD Blue SSHD 1TB hard drive for the bulk storage - see the review here, it's a ripper. For GPU, we had to go with our trusty MSI GTX 760 HAWK due to space constraints but it was in-line with the budget theme of the build. Just to make the build a bit more fun, Deepcool didn't want to be left out and provided a pair of 80mm fans to assist us with an airflow challenge as well as an RBG LED kit for good measure.
To show our support for the Aussie game developers, we also loaded the demo rig up with the cyberpunk spiritual successor to Syndicate, "Satellite Reign" thanks to 5 Lives Studios and the adventure/exploration title from Uppercut Games "Submerged". Support the Aussie developers and head over to Steam to check out these titles.
Click here for Satellite Reign Click here to check out Submerged
Like the Fragabyte build, component selection was very deliberate. We wanted a cost effective, quiet build with enough performance to run games at 1920x1080 at high settings. The Fractal Design Node 605 does have some height limitations and water cooling was going to be tricky so Noctua's 92mm coolers were a very attractive option. GPU selection was also compromised a little due to the front I/O design of the case limiting the length of the graphics cards we could use. In the end, the MSI GTX 760 HAWK was the only card we had available that would fit (sadly, we didn't have the AMD Radeon R9 Nano at the time - but it would have been perfect). In the interests of unrestricted airflow, we also decided to try an alternative mounting method for our hard drive and SSD.
The Node 605 is an older case and even though there was generally plenty of space inside the chassis, there were a few challenges that popped up. One of the things we liked about the Node 605 was the sleek HTPC appearance and the large open chamber to work with inside. Also note the sound proof material in the top panel as shown in the photos below.
To start things off, we stripped the case almost bare and tried to plan out cable routing and drive mounting. The first thing to go were the hard drive hangers/mounts - although effective, it was overkill for 2 x 2.5" drives and took up more space than we were comfortable with. We also took the central strut out for the build but re-fitted it at the end to give the centre of the case more support. The standard screws from the back of the case that held the PCIE bracket and top panel in place had to go as well and were swapped out for black thumb screws.
I found the little bag of brackets to mount a slot loading optical drive and decided to get a little creative with a very small section of carbon fiber wrap that I had left over from a previous build. Using an ADATA 3.5 - 2.5" conversion bracket, we quickly dry fitted it and decided that this could work. Once assembled, we fitted the WD Blue 1TB SSHD into place and ran some cables before things got any busier in that section of the case.
The power supply was next and we used the Fractal Design Integra M. It's a modular 750W PSU that is only 140mm long so it doesn't take up a lot of room and we'd only need to plug in the cables that were essential. Rated at 750W, I'd calculated that we'd only need about half of that power to run the rig which meant that the fan could canter along without making any audible noise - even under load. The PSU also gave us a prominent place to mount our 240GB Kingston HyperX Fury SSD. This puppy has specs of 500MB/s read and 500MB/s write which makes for some really sweet boot times and even better game load times.
Cable management was also a little hampered by the motherboard selection. Having chosen the Z87 Gryphon with armour kit, this involves a plate that sits under the motherboard itself. The plate is awesome and helps to make sure we don't damage the board when moving it from rig to rig but it also means that you can't run any cables under the board (even taped down). All cables would have to go around the board. Prior to installing the motherboard, the rear IO shield was fitted into place and the Noctua SecuFirm2 mounting system attached. The board went in without a hitch and so it should have - the case is made to fit a full sized ATX sized motherboard and we were using a smaller micro-ATX board instead.
Installing the memory and CPU cooler took no time at all and straight away, just looking at the layout, we knew that the little Noctua cooler was likely to struggle with the default airflow. Just the same, we wanted to see how bad it could be. If we weren't overclocking, it might have been alright but we had the CPU at 4.2GHz up from, 3.2 at 1.27v and it didn't take a genius to know that we were seriously pushing our luck. You can have the best cooler on the planet but unless you can feed it fresh air, it will only be so effective. Whilst it isn't reflected in the gallery below, we later acquired and installed some 80mm fans from Deep Cool and flipped the right 120mm exhaust to be an intake. With all fans hooked up to the ASUS FanXpert software and using the Thermal Radar utility, we re-tuned the system for a whisper quiet result.
Installing the graphics card turned out to be a lot harder than I'd expected. Card length is important as the circuit board and housing for the front I/O ports intrudes into the case just high enough to block the MSI R9 380 Gaming card. The Gigabyte Winforce 3x series cards had no chance at all of fitting so we went back to the cupboard and pulled out the old faithful MSI GTX 760 HAWK. This is a super quiet gaming card that can handle a decent overclock. Despite being last generation, with 2GB of video memory it can handle today's games at 1920x1080 with most of the eye candy cranked up - see the review here.
The Z87 Gryphon motherboard is a tough looking unit and whilst we've used black RAM in the past, this time we went with a set of 2x4GB Kingston HyperX Fury DDR3 with white heat spreaders for some contrast. The profiling on these modules looked great but it wasn't until a little later on when we installed the last minute RGB LED strips from Deepcool that we saw the greater impact as the white took on the lighting colour. Such a shame that the case doesn't have a window!
It's funny that the 'dark horse' of the build was the RGB lighting kit. Deepcool came through very late in the piece with a lighting kit that included 2 RGB strips and a remote control. The LED strips had a 3M adhesive backing strip that proved to be very effective and the infra-red remote worked from outside the case through the left fan grill - even when the fan was spinning. The lighting transformer and remote receiver were fixed to the hard drive mounting bracket next to the WD Blue 2.5" drive.
Cable management was a real pain throughout the whole build and although many of the cables were concealed behind the hard drive mounting plate and routed along the inner edge we were left feeling that we could have done better. If we'd had more time, we probably would have started again and modded some cables. Thankfully all the cables were black and with enough zip ties, we managed to keep it neat enough. Most importantly, airflow was unimpeded.
Software installation was a breeze and the Fury 240GB SSD hammered along giving us really quick boot and load times. It was obvious that the Pentium is lacking in threads when we were installing games and software. When doing a single task, it's fast enough but when loaded up with multiple simultaneous jobs, the utilisation caps out and the processor starts to struggle. That said, our gaming experience didn't suffer too much in this regard.
Once everything was up and running, we locked in our overclock and started some load/thermal testing. As mentioned earlier, it became apparent very early on that the first airflow choice wasn't going to work - we'd hoped that having 2 fans would be enough to move air in through the left side of the case and out through the right. The graphics card effectively cuts the case in half and preheats the air that is needed to cool the overclocked CPU. This configuration meant that the fans had to work harder/louder to try and cool the system in what was a rookie mistake on our part. This issue was easily solved by flipping the right hand fan to be an intake - making both side fans 'intake' sources of fresh air. The Node 605 has dual mounts for a pair of 80mm fans at the rear, above the I/O shield. We simply installed a pair of Deep Cool standard black 3-pin fans here connected via a Y-splitter to the motherboard chassis fan header and let the ASUS Thermal Radar software take care of the rest, rendering these fans virtually silent. Our Noctua NH-D9L was able to get the fresh cooler air from the right intake fan, pass it over the fins and heatpipes of the CPU heatsinks and then send it straight out the back without needing to run at full tilt.
Compared to the Node 202 and the Core 500, the Node 605 looks huge but it will take a full sized board and blends in well with a home theatre setup. Check out the gallery below to see it in use and with the final thermal solution installed.
Getting our game on!
With the free upgrade from 8.1, Windows 10 was a logical choice. The combination of a 240GB Kingston HyperX Fury SSD and 1TB of WD Blue SSHD goodness we had our library covered. The main titles we used for demonstration are listed below
- Satellite Reign
- Warhammer 40K Regicide
- Project Cars
- Crysis 3
- World of Warships
- Battlefield 4
- GTA V
- and a few others
Most titles played well at 1080p on this system thanks to the overclock. It was surprising to see how playable the games were on the Pentium and whilst I'd usually recommend a Quad Core i5 for even half serious gamers, an overclocked G3258 does a great job and certainly punches above its weight division. People seemed genuinely surprised that this demo rig had a dual core CPU and even a game like Crysis 3 provided an enjoyable playing experience at 1080p. We have identified 2 games that simply refuse to run on the Pentium and this appears to be the way they were developed. Far Cry 4 and Star Wars Battlefront don't work on a Pentium but if you search the forums, there are some hacks to get around it. Keep in mind that these 'hacks' may end up getting your account banned from online play because of the non-standard executable.
The gaming Experience
OK, so we've covered the specs and they are not exactly high end and we've said that modern games were 'playable' - "How playable?" you ask? The tables below show some indicative performance stats at 1920x1080 resolution. Note that the rig stayed pretty quiet throughout all game testing and there was no evidence of thermal throttling either.
First Person Shooters
MSAA needed to be set to 0 but this gave a solid 60FPS with everything else set to High.
BF4 set to High at 1920 x 1080 gave us between 85-95FPS at the Silk Road Map and Parcel Storm. We didn't notice any stuttering or other performance issues but the CPU remained basically fully loaded up while playing.
BF4 was entirely playable on the Pentium Fury build.
Sadly, this wouldn't run on Pentium Fury.... Booooooooooo!
ESO gives us highly variable frames rate in outside settings due to weather, lighting, reflections and action but we noted typical performance of around 40-66FPS with an average of 45FPS when running or fighting.
We tested in the Glenumbra township with settings at Very High.
It was a pleasant surprise to see that something as pretty to play as ESO was still very playable at 1080p on a dual core rig like this.
With everything set to maximum, the game ran beautifully. In combat, we saw an average frame rate of 85FPS and generally about 10-15 FPS higher in the 'less busy' periods of gameplay
The Dubai International track is our test track of choice and the settings were set to a generally high level. When using the camera inside the car, our performance averaged around the 60FPS mark and we saw 70FPS as an average when using the external camera for a 'behind the car' view.
Despite the turns seeming to take a little longer than when we run this on our quad core systems, the performance in general for Civ 5 was great. The average was recorded at 105FPS but we did see a few peaks of 200.
Another win for the overclocked Pentium Anniversary Edition.
||World of Warships is probably one of the best free games going around. Performance on the Pentium also means that you don't need to shell out heaps for the hardware to run it either. We saw ~55-70FPS in game play and the only areas where it seemed to lag was the menus and even then it wasn't noted all the time.|
General Performance here was 100+FPS but there was some stutter intermittently when the CPU appeared to be calculating the AI.
At the end of the day, the game ran but I wouldn't be happy to play it with the stutter that we saw.
LAN events are usually noisy and RESPAWN LAN is no exception, with all of the P.A announcements, general chatter, background music and 400+ gamers moving around there was a real buzz in the air. This was great for the event but it made it almost impossible to appreciate how quiet the Pentium Fury build really was. On the bench in the lab, I was unable to hear the system running from 1 metre away at idle, the noise under load kicked up a bit but still struggled to register above the ambient room noise on the decibel meter. Component selection, airflow mapping and case design were the keys to success here. All of the components were known to be quiet, obviously the SSD has no moving parts, the system power load meant that the power supply didn't break 50% load and the hard drive spins at 5400rpm. It wasn't hard to execute effective thermal tuning with 2x120mm intake fans that actually stop when the system is idle combined with a quiet heatsink and the MSI Twin Frozr IV graphics card cooler.
All up, this was a successful concept build and we learned a few new things getting it all together. This build was a really good example of how unimpeded airflow, careful component selection and a conservative budget can still result in a very stealthy, near silent gaming rig/HTPC in one. We couldn't have been more impressed with the G3258 Pentium 20th Anniversary Edition - it's one of the most impressive CPUs going around for the money.