More Business Than Play
(photos: Dean Ang)
In the Philippines, you don’t see a lot of OEM gaming desktops. Most Filipinos would simply go to a computer shop and ask the person at the shop to build a system that would play StarCraft II or Diablo III or even FarmVille. The last gaming desktop that was sold in the local market was the Acer Predator and was only sold in limited numbers. It sold for close to PhP100,000 and at the time was a screamer.
Asus must have taken notice because they decided to sell their own gaming desktop starting with the CG8250. At first glance, it is totally underwhelming as compared to the Predator but looking at it more, you see the subtle design of the case such as the leaning face and the power button at the top of the CG8250. The optical drive and front ports are hidden by drop doors. The back of the case is as it is. No fuss with the design with the power supply at the top and the motherboard ports is placed in its familiar spot.
The back panel provides a shared PS2 port for a wired keyboard or mouse, 4x USB 2.0 ports, SPDIF out, HDMI, VGA, DVI ports, 2x USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and 5.1 audio jacks. The GT 545 card includes a DVI, VGA, and HDMI ports.
Getting inside the CG8250, it’s not surprising that the motherboard is Asus branded. The motherboard is a P8-H67-M-Pro Intel H76 chipset-based board to handle the Intel Core i7-2600. Asus chose the motherboard more for its mature platform and its features. The board has USB 3.0 ports as well as SATA 6GB/s compatibility which means that the CG8250 is future proof. The board also supports EFI-BIOS so it is much easier to configure the system. Unfortunately, the CPU is not the i7-2600k which limits the overclocking possibilities of the CG8250.
The motherboard is also a microATX motherboard so you are limited to just two graphics cards.
The CG8250 comes with an Intel Core i7-2600 that runs at 3.4GHz. With Intel’s Turbo Boost, the CPU will ramp up to 3.8GHz if it needs the speed boost. It also comes with 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a 1TB HDD.
While the motherboard supports ATI’s CrossFireX, the motherboard itself just has two PCI-E slots. It also doesn’t support Nvidia’s SLI technology; so it’s useless to put in two Nvidia graphics card into the CG8250 unless you are using multiple monitors or using the other graphics card as a PhysX card for supported games.
It is surprising to see an Nvidia GeForce GT 545 graphics card in the system; and it’s a tiny card to boot. It’s surprising in a sense that as something touted as a gaming machine, we’d have expected to see a more beefier graphics card. Then again, maybe Asus is showing us something that we didn’t know about the card.
This means that it’s benchmarking time. It’s a strange combination of a high-end CPU mated with an OEM GPU, it’s not about how high the frame rate can go, but if the desktop can achieve playable gameplay performance at good graphics quality.
For the benchmarks, we used actual games. We used Street Fighter IV, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dirt 2, and Mirror’s Edge.
Starting with Street Fighter IV, the game itself isn’t as demanding as the other games we tested. As such, we cranked the graphics settings to full including the anti-aliasing which was set to 16QAA. We got a score of 5847 with an average FPS of 57.37fps. Definitely playable at any rate, but our target for Street Fighter IV was an average of 60fps or more. To achieve this, we had to dumb down the AA to 8x as well as the Texture to 2x and the Soft Shadows to High from Very High. Our final score was 6288 which is just shy of a 1000 frames and an average FPS of 63.96fps. The overall graphics quality wasn’t as noticeable after the change.
For the rest of the games, our target average FPS was 30fps with little to no noticeable slowdowns. With Batman: Arkham Asylum, again we set the graphics to maximum while turning PhysX off. We got a playable Average FPS of 42fps. There were slowdowns at some points but not enough for the game to be unplayable. When we turned PhysX to Normal, we had to lower the AA to 8x but still kept the rest at maximum. The game was still playable at 37 average FPS but the slowdowns were much noticeable especially when fog and cloth effects were active.
With Dirt 2, at maximum graphics setting, we got just 2,381 frames with an average FPS of 28.3fps which then dipped to a minimum of 21.1fps. playable to some extent but not recommended. We had to lower the settings to Medium but still retained the High setting for those that did not have the Medium option. We also turned off the Cloth effect and Ambiant Occlusion. Our final average FPS was 55.7fps which dipped to as low as 36.3fps with 4,838 frames.
With Mirror’s Edge, we used Fraps to get our measurements and ran the training section of the game. We decided to get 3 benchmark settings with setting the maximum graphical setting with PhysX on as well as two playable settings with and without PhysX. We got an average FPS of 34fps. Keeping all the settings at maximum, we just had to lower the AA to 8X to get an average of 37fps which isn’t much of a bump but more playable without any noticeable graphics difference. We also noted that the frames significantly dropped to less than 20fps for both tests. With PhysX disabled, were with the max settings and averaged 40fps.
While testing, we also noticed that the fans ramped up to a noticeable whir but still low enough that it could be drowned out by the sounds of the games being played.
While we were skeptical about the choice of GPU for the CG8250 at first, we were pleasantly surprised that the GT 545 did its job and provided a good gaming experience. The Intel Core i7 2600 is a great CPU, capable of handling its own against the competition, even with the Ivy Bridge processors already out in the market.
Then again, Asus may have a point by just setting up the CG8250 the way it is. By giving the CG8250 one of the fastest CPUs (bar the Ivy Bridge set) and giving it an adequate GPU, the desktop is still considered a gaming machine while still giving the owner the option to add their preferred GPU. In addition, if the owner chooses another Nvidia GPU, he or she can use the GT 545 as a more than capable PhysX card. I know it’s a stretch but it does make sense. Even so, we still would have preferred at least a GTX 560 GPU out of the box.
Another thing to note is that the power supply has a maximum power of 400W. This will work well with mid-range GPUs such as an Nvidia GTX 560Ti or and ATI HD Radeon 7770, I would be a bit hesitant to plug in more power hungry GPUs.
Also included with the CG8250 is Asus’ own 23” LED VS239H monitor. The monitor is a Full HD 1920×1080 monitor that takes DVI, VGA, and HDMI. The LCD is an IPS display which means you get wide viewing angles and crisp colors. You also get a 5ms gray-to-gray refresh rate, which is ok, if not great.
Both the keyboard and mouse are wireless using RF rather than Bluetooth that reduces control lag especially with twitch-games such as FPS and driving games. While the mouse is good, the keyboard tends to flex more than we’d like but it did take the punishment of incessant button pressing from our testing.
At PhP62,995, it does seem a lot for a desktop, even if it is dubbed a gaming desktop. Then again, you get one of the fastest CPUs in the market, space for upgrading a good LED monitor, and a wireless keyboard and mouse set. I have to emphasize, it can game and game well. However, we expect a gaming desktop to not just game well, but to run every game, including the latest game at their maximum graphics settings or at least very close to it.
With its CPU and GPU combo, it is a very good consumer desktop that will take you quite a ways before it needs an upgrade. It is more than adequate for the home and more than capable at doing more CPU-intensive applications than GPU applications such as games.
Plus: Good gaming performance; Fast CPU; IPS LED LCD; USB 3.0 ports; CrossFireX support
Minus: Flexing keyboard; Wish it had a better GPU; No SLI support; Only 400W PSU
Bottomline: At PhP62,995, it might be a leap to justify the purchase. On the other hands, you also get a complete Intel-based machine that can do more than just games.