Today I investigate options for System Builders looking for a brand spanking new rig. I’ll take a look today at options for those who have about R8500 to R10,500 to spend, with the option of at least R500 extra if they’re over budget. I’ll be squeezing the budget as best I can and will try to extract the maximum performance out of each rig.

At this price point,  rule over which is the best-value processor switches over to Intel, and looks set to stay that way in the near future. AMD’s cheaper quad-cores in the Phenom II series last year made quite a stir and gave buyers compelling performance given the lower prices. Many gamers who previously had Core 2 Duo chips switched over to Phenom II once the bugs were quickly ironed out, but this year all attention is on Intel and its Ivy Bridge architecture.

Users who tend more towards productivity instead of gaming will find that both these setups provide better performance all-round and at the least should provide comfortably playable framerates in all the latest games at 1080p resolutions. As for graphics cards, here Nvidia is so far tied with AMD in a few places. Once the GTX670, 660 and 650 land on our shores, it’ll be up to brand loyalty as both Kepler and GCN are architecturally similar and similarly capable.

For AMD fans, I have provided options next to the Intel parts, though it bears mentioning that the FX-8120 isn’t faster in games or many applications than the Core i5 2500K.You need to overclock the Bulldozer-based chip to 4Ghz at least before you see any gain over a stock-clocked 2500K. Its up to AMD’s Piledriver to fix things up and bring them back into the competition. Onto the builds!

R8500:

Intel Core i5-2500K @ R2086 (AMD FX-8120 @ R2036)

MSI Z68A-G43 @ R1137 (ASUS M5A97 @ R1053)

Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1600 4GB x2 @ R502 (Kingston Hyper-X DDR3-1866 4GB x2 @ R690)

Gigabyte HD7850 2GB DDR5 @ R2668 (No Nvidia equivalent)

Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB @ R980

LITE-ON iHAS524 @ R167

Antec HCG 520w @ R701

Cooler Master Elite 372 @ R345

Cooler Master Hyper TX3 Evo @ R212

Total: R8626

So here, I overshot the budget a little, but not by much. Gamers who have about R8500 to spend will be well pleased at what they can grab for themselves. The Core i5 2500K is so good it practically sells itself just like the Core 2 Quad Q6600 and the unlocked multiplier will bring a lot of good value to gamers and overclockers. Tweaking the system settings on the Z68-based MSI motherboard should yield performance up there in the Core i7 990X range. Because overclocking the system to get more performance is going to be the main aim, I added in a third-party CPU cooler to keep things from getting too hot.

Moving down the list, I included faster RAM to help facilitate higher clocks without too much mucking around with the multiplier ratios for memory. I also added in a Radeon HD7850 which many will agree is miles and away from what most other cards can keep up with. Add in the 2GB framebuffer and suddenly Crysis 2 in DX11 with the High Texture pack won’t be knocking your system over if you try to apply AA or AF in the settings menu. Overclock it and you’ll get Radeon HD7870 performance – no unlocking needed like the HD6950. Its really a no-brainer.

The rest of the rig is mostly the same as the lower-end rigs, with the exception of the power supply which is a better version of the Antec VP550P I had in the R6000 build. Bear in mind that the system probably pushes up anything to 280watts under load, so you can only add in another HD6950 so long as you keep clocks at stock speeds. Once you bang that 2500k to 4Ghz with Crossfire, you’re going to need to consider a PSU upgrade to at least 650w to keep things stable.

R10,500:

Intel Core i5-2500K @ R2086 (AMD FX-8120 @ R2036)

GIGABYTE Z77-D3H @ R1405 (GIGABYTE 990FXA-D3 @ R1538)

Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 4GB x2 @ R544 (Kingston Hyper-X DDR3-1866 4GB x2 @ R690)

Gigabyte HD7850 2GB DDR5 @ R2668 (No Nvidia equivalent)

OCZ Agility 3 60GB @ R905

Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB @ R980

LITE-ON iHAS524 @ R167

Corsair H60 Hydro @ R718

Corsair Carbide Series 400R @ R817

Corsair TX550M @ R980

Total: R10569

Now here’s the thing. You guys, the system builders, use your systems in many, many ways. Sometimes the vast multitude of things that you readers do on your PC dictates some very different hardware that’s required and for that I can’t always account for. Sometimes you’ll use it mainly for playing games, others for Photo editing and video compilation, and another might do both while compiling code in the background. You know, its hard to recommend something to someone without stepping on a few toes or feelings.

So for the R10,500 rig, I’ve had a dilemma. For about R2000 less you can get a gaming rig which pretty much performs so well on every game and benchmark you throw at it that there’s no need to recommend anything higher unless you’re pushing an Eyefinity setup or a single 30″ screen with multiple levels of AA. How do you improve on that? Do you add more RAM, a bigger case, another DVD writer? Where do you stop spending money just for the sake of upgrading to get to the maximum your budget can afford?

With that in mind, I’ve only slightly improved the R8500 build. I’ve used a better board, based on Intel’s Z77 chipset, better memory in the form of Corsair’s Vengeance 4GB module, a solid-state drive, water-cooling for the CPU and a better chassis and power supply. For those of you who need better hardware performance, you can switch to a Cooler Master Elite 372 chassis, drop the water cooler for the Hyper TX3 Evo and switch to a Core i7 2600K. You’d be knocking on the door of R11,000 but you will have an extra four threads to play with.

Whether you need that kind of performance is up to you. Most games, Battlefield 3 included, only use four physical cores for processing, leaving the extra four threads idle. Applications that use all cores and threads like Maya and AutoCAD and Photoshop have a different requirement, and if you’re serious about using those applications then you’d be better suited to a Xeon-based workstation rather than a gaming rig.