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Our testing methods
Our test systems were configured to create as equal a playing field as possible for the CPUs. They all shared the same software, graphics cards, storage, and memory types. Here's a look at one of the test rigs, mounted in a swanky open-air case.


The system configurations we used were:

Processor
Phenom II X4 850
Phenom II X4 980
Phenom II X6 1100T
AMD FX-4170
AMD FX-6200
AMD FX-8150
Core i5-2400
Core i5-2500K
Core i7-2600K
Core i5-3470
Core i5-3570K
Core i7-3770K
Core i7-3960X
Core i7-3820
AMD A8-3850 Core i5-655K
Core i5-760
Core i7-875K
Motherboard Asus Crosshair V Formula MSI Z77A-GD65 Intel DX79SI Gigabyte A75M-UD2H  Asus
P7P55D-E Pro
North bridge 990FX Z77 Express X79 Express A75 FCH P55 PCH
South bridge SB950
Memory size 8 GB (2 DIMMs) 8 GB (2 DIMMs) 16 GB (4 DIMMs) 8 GB (2 DIMMs) 8 GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type AMD Entertainment
Edition
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
Vengeance
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
Vengeance
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
Vengeance
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
Vengeance
DDR3 SDRAM
Memory speed 1600 MT/s 1600 MT/s 1600 MT/s 1600 MT/s 1333 MT/s
Memory timings 9-9-9-24 1T 9-9-9-24 1T 9-9-9-24 1T 9-9-9-24 1T 8-8-8-20 1T
Chipset
drivers
AMD chipset 12.3  INF update 9.3.0.1020
iRST 11.1.0.1006
INF update 9.2.3.1022
RSTe 3.0.0.3020
AMD chipset 12.3 INF update 9.3.0.1020
iRST 11.1.0.1006
Audio Integrated
SB950/ALC889 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6602 drivers
Integrated
Z77/ALC898 with 
Realtek 6.0.1.6602 drivers
Integrated
X79/ALC892 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6602 drivers
Integrated
A75/ALC889 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6602 drivers
Integrated
P55/VIA VT1828S with
Microsoft drivers

 They all shared the following common elements:

Hard drive Kingston HyperX SH100S3B 120GB SSD
Discrete graphics XFX Radeon HD 7950 Double Dissipation 3GB with Catalyst 12.3 drivers
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition Service Pack 1
(AMD systems only: KB2646060, KB2645594 hotfixes)
Power supply Corsair AX650

Thanks to Corsair, XFX, Kingston, MSI, Asus, Gigabyte, Intel, and AMD for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. Thanks to Intel and AMD for providing most of the processors, as well, of course.

We used the following test applications:

Some further notes on our testing methods:

  • We used the Fraps utility to record frame rates while playing either a 60- or 90-second sequence from the game. Although capturing frame rates while playing isn't precisely repeatable, we tried to make each run as similar as possible to all of the others. We tested each Fraps sequence five times per processor in order to counteract any variability. We've included frame-by-frame results from Fraps for each game, and in those plots, you're seeing the results from a single, representative pass through the test sequence.
  • The test systems' Windows desktops were set at 1920x1080 in 32-bit color. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled in the graphics driver control panel.
  • After consulting with our readers, we've decided to enable Windows' "Balanced" power profile for the bulk of our desktop processor tests, which means power-saving features like SpeedStep and Cool'n'Quiet are operating. (In the past, we only enabled these features for power consumption testing.) Our spot checks demonstrated to us that, typically, there's no performance penalty for enabling these features on today's CPUs. If there is a real-world penalty to enabling these features, well, we think that's worthy of inclusion in our measurements, since the vast majority of desktop processors these days will spend their lives with these features enabled.

The tests and methods we employ are usually publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.