Review Index:

Battlefield 3 (BF3) System Build Guide - What you need to succeed

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

The Basics


If you have been visiting PC Perspective at all over the last week there is no doubt you have seen a lot of discussion about the currently running Battlefield 3 beta.  We posted an article looking at performance of several different GPUs in the game and then followed it up with a look at older cards like the GeForce 9800 GT.  We did a live stream of some PC Perspective staff playing BF3 with readers and fans, showed off and tested the locked Caspian Border map and even looked at multi-GPU scaling performance.  It was a lot of testing and a lot of time, but now that we have completed it, we are ready to summarize our findings in a piece that many have been clamoring for - a Battlefield 3 system build guide.

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The purpose of this article is simple: gather our many hours or testing and research and present the results in a way that simply says "here is the hardware we recommend."  It is a the exact same philosophy that makes our PC Perspective Hardware Leaderboard so successful as it gives the reader all the information they need, all in one place.

Continue reading our guide for building a system for Battlefield 3!!


The Targets - Resolution and Quality

Rather than set pricing goals this time I decided to go the route of setting target quality goals.  After testing the game at different resolutions and image quality settings, as well as asking our readers about their experiences with the game, we came up with a set of three scenarios to target:

  • Medium
    • Resolution: 1680x1050
    • In-game Setting: Medium
  • High
    • Resolution: 1920x1080
    • In-game Setting: High
  • Ultra
    • Resolution: 2560x1600 (or 3x 1080p)
    • In-game Setting: Ultra

While this won't cover EVERYONE'S goals (maybe you want to do three displays but at High settings) I think it offers enough options that anyone should be able to make a judgment on what works.  Of course these three configurations will in fact have very different prices and we'll summarize those as we go as well.

Also, keep in mind that our goal was to hit the 60 FPS mark on average with the outdoor scenes in the beta.  While some users might be comfortable in the 40-50 range we prefer to have some extra padding on our frame rate in case of some unexpected slow down. 

The Basics - Processor, Motherboard, Memory

With all of our time spent on Battlefield 3 we can say quite definitively that GPU performance is what matters the most when making a decision on your system build.  The processor is utilized in an efficient manner and the Frostbite 2 engine is pretty heavily multi-threaded but even with a quad-core HyperThreaded Intel Nehalem processor we never saw CPU usage go over 45% and that includes using FRAPS to monitor performance and having the browser open in the background.  

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So, much of our base system will look pretty familiar from system to system though we did change the motherboard, memory and CPU from build to build once or twice.  But I wanted to note to you hear that even if you have a Core i5-2400 or an Athlon II X4 and we recommend a Core i7-2600K for something, you shouldn't feel as if you are missing the boat on performance. 

Also, keep in mind we are only selecting the base components of CPU, motherboard, memory and GPU in this guide.  The other components are up to you!

On to the selections!

October 3, 2011 | 01:16 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would buy Battlefield 3 if it wasn't for the horrible piece of crap software that is Origin.

October 3, 2011 | 06:06 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"Wake up"

October 3, 2011 | 08:12 PM - Posted by Corhen (not verified)

i feel the exact same way.

i will NOT get BF3 UNLESS its on steam, and i DONT have to install Origon

October 10, 2011 | 10:30 AM - Posted by biggles1000 (not verified)

Yeah, I completely agree. Steam is a pain, but Origin is AWFUL. Just like I want to get BC2's Vietnam, but would have to go through Origin to get it (as I bought the physical copy of BFBC2). I've currently been having a blast of a time (heavy sarcasm) with Origin, having the 'pleasure' of trying to download the beta :/

January 2, 2012 | 04:21 AM - Posted by crunzaty (not verified)

Just relax, they are trying to fix it. And they have got the Origin "stable" for now^^

October 3, 2011 | 02:11 PM - Posted by JR

Thank you sir. This cuts a lot of my homework out of the way.

October 3, 2011 | 03:03 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Glad to help!

October 4, 2011 | 12:01 PM - Posted by Dan (not verified)

Hey Ryan,

How does this run on your Alienware m17x? I have one with a 580m and would like to know what the performance is going to be like.

October 5, 2011 | 04:56 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

It ran great on our at 1080p resolution, though we are using a Radeon HD 6990m.

October 3, 2011 | 02:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Does the higher latency on the RAM not really make much of a performance difference?

October 3, 2011 | 02:30 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Not for gaming, nope.

October 3, 2011 | 02:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Alright. Saves me a few dollars then. Thanks for the quick reply Ryan!

October 3, 2011 | 02:51 PM - Posted by Berger (not verified)

Hey what is the difference between high and ultra? Other than AA being turned on. I have heard rumors that dice did not include the actual ultra settings in the beta.

Also quick question HBAO vs SSAO? I know HBAO is more intensive, but I can't tell the difference.

Thanks for the article Ryan. I guess I will have to get a second 570 :-\

October 3, 2011 | 03:02 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Check out my previous BF3 articles for some IQ comparisons.

October 3, 2011 | 02:54 PM - Posted by Tim (not verified)

I've been thinking about going for a 6870 Trifire setup. Using the 6870 X2 ( and single 6870 ( the cost would be around $600. Any thoughts as to how this would perform in BF3 and Rage?

October 3, 2011 | 03:01 PM - Posted by AndrewM56 (not verified)

I would think 2 6970s would be better for that kind of money, VRAM doesnt scale as in 2 1gig cards does not equal your pc having 2gigs usable vram (so Ive been told)

BF3 is said to use about 1.3gigs of vram ps

October 3, 2011 | 03:03 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

If Andrew's cost comment is right, I think that is a better choice. Two GPUs will scale better (in terms of cost/FPS) than three GPUs will.

October 3, 2011 | 03:17 PM - Posted by AndrewM56 (not verified)

I wanted to be sure so I looked into it and found an article on Toms Hardware:

Do SLI or CrossFire double the memory ?
No.Adding another card with more memory doesn't double the overall memory of your cards.

October 3, 2011 | 08:04 PM - Posted by ThorAxe

Agreed, 2 GPUs will almost always have a better FPS per dollar ratio than 3. However, I used to run a 4870x2 + 4870 setup and was surprised at just now well tri-fire scaled.

October 3, 2011 | 03:32 PM - Posted by MrBlack2 (not verified)

Will we be seeing BF3 included free with any new cards?
(for us cheap thrifty bastards)

October 3, 2011 | 03:38 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Doesn't look like. It appears the new Batman is the pack in of choice for the fall.

October 4, 2011 | 12:18 PM - Posted by DmanA (not verified)

The 6950 Dirt 3 comes with Dirt 3 and Deus Ex:Human Revolution which most AMD cards come with still. That was the GPU route i went last month, I plan on running two of those eventually so i can get more than the 30fps i'm getting now in Caspian Border on Ultra lol.

October 3, 2011 | 05:34 PM - Posted by malcolmz3o (not verified)

Thanks for the article! I'm running an older Asus 4870x2 with an i7 2600K, Maximus IV Extreme-Z, Vertex 3, and 16GB of Vengeance DDR3-1600. I upgraded recently except for the GPU b/c waiting for the upcoming 28nm GPU's. Any idea when to expect them? Is this a good idea in your opinion? I'm not dissatisfied with the 4870x2 on the demo - it's running in "high" mode. But really looking forward to seeing how a 28nm multi GPU card will do.

October 3, 2011 | 05:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i ran beta with 6770 5770 xfire phenom x4 965 8 gig of crucial 1333 ram at 2048X1154 on whatever settings they recommend (not the highest but must categories were up all the way)and i got 60 fps on fraps, note: it does drop in the 40s at some points but others its up in the 90s.

October 3, 2011 | 06:09 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This game rocks

October 3, 2011 | 07:16 PM - Posted by Sharpe (not verified)

How is the game's memory usage using 3 1920x1200 monitors? ARMA2 absolutely eats VRAM and 1.5GB isn't enough. Is BF3 much less demanding even with ultra settings?

October 3, 2011 | 09:21 PM - Posted by Nilbog

Great article, thanks for all the in-depth info.

October 3, 2011 | 10:36 PM - Posted by Rich (not verified)

I have a 5850 do you think if I add another for the small additional price I will be able to play BF3 on high settings 1080p? or am I still going to be held back by 1gb of VRAM on this game at that res?
I have 6gb RAM and an i7 920 also.

October 4, 2011 | 08:22 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

2x 5850 will be plenty if you arent playing eyefinity.

October 3, 2011 | 11:53 PM - Posted by Cr1ms0ngh0st

Guess my old Q6600,750i FTW and 570 may not cut it. lol though I do have a brand new P55 Mobo I won from EVGA almost 2 yrs ago. Don't know if I'd be better off with an i7 or i5. Been trying to build a new machine since I got the board, but damn life keeps getting in the way and sucking up extra funds :)

October 4, 2011 | 08:21 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

Depending on your OC on your Q6600 you might still be pretty good

October 4, 2011 | 10:11 PM - Posted by Cr1ms0ngh0st

It is currently clocked @ 3.08 Ghz; I can get it a tad higher particularly now that cooler weather is starting.

October 4, 2011 | 12:41 AM - Posted by Corey (not verified)

Hey guys,

Looking to build a PC for battlefield and are interested in some builds you can check out the builds at:

October 4, 2011 | 02:49 AM - Posted by player-x

Seriously question picking a 580 1.5GB over a 3GB cards in the high-end system.
As its proven that 2560x1600 and specially 5760x1200/1080 are limited by 1.5GB and need at least 2GB of video memory!
The ZOTAC AMP2!3GB is only 2x $25,-- more, what are even talking about!

In multimonitor setups like 5760x1200 memory size dose really mater.

I had my self 2x 5870 1GB and sold them for 2x 5870 2GB Matrix cards, my minimum fps literally skyrocketed, from unplayable to good fps.

Got self a water cooled rig whit a i7 970@4.7GHz 3x 5870 2GB cards 5760x1200, and playing BF3 Ultra@60 fps

October 4, 2011 | 02:58 AM - Posted by Irishgamer01

Is it me but sometimes I find my 30 inch monitor is too big for shooters.
I do most of my shooter gaming on my 24 inch system.
I also have an eyefinity setup too but just cannot get it smooth enough, and again I am a stagey fan so eyefinity doesn't work there either.

BTW: I have 10 PC's
Also 580 SLI is the dream video card ticket.

October 4, 2011 | 08:25 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

Yeah i used to play on a 26" and i thought that was too big (people sneaking up on me because i cant physically see them on the monitor). I switched to 3x24" and find myself happy with 1x24" for most games.

October 4, 2011 | 01:04 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Just an FYI you have "i7 2500k" listed under the first two, should be i5 2500k. Confused me at first.

October 5, 2011 | 04:58 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout


October 4, 2011 | 06:53 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Or just buy it on the 360. It will probably look nearly as good for no money spent. How bout da..........

October 4, 2011 | 08:19 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)


October 4, 2011 | 08:19 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

I personally don't agree with these builds.

On the first system i would have gone i3-2100/h55 motherboard and saved a ton of money, 1080p monitors are only $100, put the saved money to a new monitor.

Second system should have been an i5-2500k overclocked w/ a z68. I'd also rather have 2x 6950 1gbs than 1x GTX 580, and they sell for about the same.

October 7, 2011 | 06:18 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

will laptops be able to play this game?

October 8, 2011 | 06:10 PM - Posted by Peter (not verified)

I'm running a 5830 with a Phenom II x4 965. Runs fine in high. I've currently got 4 gigs of DDR2-800. Would it be worth getting another 2 or 4 gigs of system memory?

October 9, 2011 | 09:10 AM - Posted by deathbringer2689 (not verified)

i have an i5-2400,8gb 1333mhz ram,msi twin frozer III gtx 560ti hawk. My screen resolution is 1600X900.
Will i be able to play it in High or ultra settings?
will i be getting a steady 60fps assuming that the final build is more hardware friendly?

October 9, 2011 | 11:08 AM - Posted by Yapa (not verified)

Guys can you please do some proper CPU benchmarks showing scaling with increase of Mhz and increase of cores?

I have a Q9550 @ 4ghz and on caspain 64 player map the CPU sits on 95% and my FPS is sometimes below 30 on High settings, cant even set Ultra.

My GPU's are 2x GTX275 SLI, which never go above 65%... so I believe the bottleneck is the CPU.

You say the CPU does not matter mcuh, have you really tested properly on caspian map with 64 players?

It makes a HUGE difference compared to Metro, my CPU is only at 65% average in Metro yet 85 to 95% in caspian.....

We need some proper CPU tests! I believe in conquest 64 players the CPU matters a lot more.

October 10, 2011 | 12:43 AM - Posted by concept1961

Thanks Ryan for this great review.

It really help put thing in perspectives!

I have a computer with an old Radeon GTX 9800 that is still delivering quite good for some games but I'm now on my way to buy a new system and I was thinking about 2 SLI evga GTX590 classified 3gig with the Asus P8Z68 Deluxe motherboard.

What is your opinion about this set-up and can I expect to be "up-to-date" for a few years on the video specs?

Thank you very much for your help and feedback.


October 17, 2011 | 04:46 PM - Posted by DuseX

I went to GeForce Lan 6 this weekend. My latest build I left Nvidia and went with a Sapphire 5870 love the card. But After this lan I think I will purchase 2x 550ti EVGA's and SLI them for BF3. Any thoughts?

October 19, 2011 | 03:56 PM - Posted by mtrush (not verified)

an alternative to the 580gtx would be the 480gtx sc, its only 5% slower with a Overclock. i've played ultra in the beta with 50- 75fps

October 21, 2011 | 01:25 PM - Posted by RockChalk (not verified)

Will you update this article when the release comes out?

October 22, 2011 | 11:47 PM - Posted by JReese (not verified)

Looking to upgrade graphics for BF3 from an EVGA GTX 260 SCC to a EVGA GTX 560 or 560 Ti. What will I benefit more from in BF3; 2GB of RAM on the card with slightly slower clock/mem speeds or 1GB of RAM on the card with faster clock/mem speeds. Rest of the system is a EVGA P55 mobo, Core i7 860 @ 2.8GHz and 8GB of DDR3 1600 RAM running Windows 7 Pro x64.

October 25, 2011 | 09:05 AM - Posted by Houlden (not verified)

Sorry, but this is absolute crap. I can max this game on an AMD 6850 and a Phenom II X4 955 with only 4GBs of DDR3 and still get good frames (40-60). saying you need to spend thousands to hit max is ludicrous, besides, hardly anyone will be playing at 3x 1080p resolutions.

October 25, 2011 | 12:34 PM - Posted by Mas3nk0 (not verified)

Can I reverse the question?

What settings in BF3 do you advise for a system with an i5/4GB/HD5850 to reach 60fps for MP?
Would 1680x1050 with high default settings suffice (possibly with turning of some of the AA/MSAA/HBA functions)?

October 26, 2011 | 05:17 AM - Posted by red1776 (not verified)

well as this is a tech site, You should really make an effort to be up to date on things such as GPU scaling. for instance:

"but the fact is that the GeForce cards have been proven to have better multi-GPU scaling."

No...the fact is that the Nvidia and AMD latest offering (particularly the 6970 and 580's multi GPU scaling are very close to each other overall. There as always some games that favor one or the other as always. Interestingly enough, BF3 multi GPU scaling is within 1% of each other.

October 30, 2011 | 05:47 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Could I get 60 fps @ 1650x1080, bare minimum settings with a GTS 450?

October 30, 2012 | 12:32 PM - Posted by Rex (not verified)

Erm~ Can you do a low quality, full specs with price? pls pls pls pls pls ~T.T~

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