For this month I had an extra look into the kinds of systems one could build with an AMD processor and motherboard. In my previous features (the first and second guides) we saw that for the most part, the AMD and Intel builds line up quite nicely when it comes to graphical performance and there’s not much of a difference choosing one platform over the other. However, once you get into the high-end hardware leagues, things change a little bit and the bottleneck begins to shift over to the processor rather than the discrete graphical hardware.

That’s partly why I choose Intel chips whenever someone asks me which computer to go for. Not only do Intel’s products not bottleneck the graphics solutions they’re paired to, but very often the cheaper chips provide the same performance as well. That’s why you can, for examply, pick out a Core i3-2120 and shove in a Radeon HD7850 in there and you’ll match any other rig that uses the same GPU in any game or benchmark where the processor isn’t the limiting factor. Hell, even  I’m considering using a Core i3 for my next PC purely because it performs the way I’d need it to. Or maybe I’ll get a quad-core, I’m not so sure about that.

What I do know is that AMD’s Bulldozer chips are the limiting factor. Once you’ve reached the octo-core family there’s no further scaling in performance and only through overclocking can extra performance be obtained. Since the FX-8120 performs similarly to the Core i5-2500 it follows that you’d be better off picking a Core i7 and continuing from there on. Granted, the cheaper price of the FX series means I can cram in more hardware with a better budget, so lets see how that pans out today.

Note that I’ll be deviating away from Rebeltech for a few components here and there. It turns out that they’re a little slow to adopt new pricing and there are other online retailers offering better prices for the same or better hardware. Watch out for that as I may change my recommendation for an online vendor pretty soon. They are still the one retailer that offers the most choice, but times are changing and so do our buying habits.

R13,000 Budget

AMD FX-8120 @ R1964

ASUS M5A99X EVO @ R1736

Kingston Hyper-X Blu 8GB DDR3-1866 @ R692

Sapphire HD7950 3GB DDR5 @ R3953

OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1117

Western Digital Caviar Green 750GB @ R 649

LG GH24NS90 @ R162

Cooler Master GX750w @ R1086

Antec Eleven Hundred @ R1113

Antec KÜHLER 620 @ R651

Total: R13,123

Now here we have something really worth while. Comparing this rig to the Intel build at the same price point in June, you’ll see that it draws up rather nicely next to what that rig offers in terms of sheer gaming performance. Sure, you’re not getting a cutting-edge X79 board and you’re not fonding a GTX670 but you’re getting practically the next best thing – a eight-core processor that can be overclocked and the Radeon HD7950 3GB, which doesn’t trail by much, if at all.

Given the option, however, I’d change things around if one didn’t need the super-speed offered by the 128GB solid state drive. In fact I’d toss that and the HD7950 out to make room for a bigger behemoth – the Inno3D GTX680 2GB for R5000. It still fits in perfectly and allows the build to easily match even the R18,000 Intel rig. Other improvements to the build is the much more interesting Ante Eleven Hundred, now my favourite over the Corsair Carbide 500R and the water-cooling unit from Antec, offering a better price and better performance than even Cooler Master’s entry-level units. You’ll notice that the Hydro units are also out of stock on many retailers – that’s because there’s a product refresh on the way, a redesigned unit to help control the thermal aspects of Ivy Bridge processors.

R18,000 Budget

AMD FX-8120 @ R1964

ASUS M5A99X EVO @ R1736

Kingston Hyper-X Blu 8GB DDR3-1866 @ R692

KFA² Geforce GTX670 2GB DDR5 in SLI @ R8552 (Sapphire HD7950 3GB DDR5 in Xfire @ R7906)

OCZ Agility 4 256GB @ R2265

LG GH24NS90 @ R162

Cooler Master GX750w @ R1086

Antec Eleven Hundred @ R1113

Antec KÜHLER 620 @ R651

Total: R18,221

Now the cheaper costs of the AMD platform pay off, offering us much more powerful graphical muscle in the form of Crossfired HD7950 3GB or SLI GTX670 2GB cards. Both solutions would easily drive any game at the highest settings at any resolution and both would be better than a single GTX690 in terms of performance. In particular, the extra 1GB RAM on each of the HD7950 cards would allow higher resolutions with more levels of AA, so that means that if you’re an Eyefinity user things will run very smoothly. That’s not to say that Nvidia Surround won’t be as smooth on the Nvidia duo and in fact both solutions would also drive 3D nicely at the same time.

If you’re going to go for something like this, the processor needs to be clocked very high to minimise the bottlenecks you’d encounter along the way, hence the inclusion of the water cooler again. I also went with a single SSD for the OS and your games, figuring that most buyers in this segment have at least one hard drive lying around that they can re-use for media. The Agility 4 is powered by OCZ’s in-house Indilinx controller and doesn’t differentiate too much between compressible and incompressible data, keeping read and write speeds mostly the same for both if the drive is properly aligned.

Now this is not to say that running dual graphics is the best solution for everyone. One could easily settle on Gigabyte’s GTX680 2GB with the Windforce cooler and beef up things elsewhere. Hell, you could even RAID two of the Agility 4 drives by dropping to the GTX680, giving you extreme gaming and graphical performance with a drive array that is near unparalleled by conventional hard drives. Sure, I’d never recommend a RAID 0 array for most gamers and users in the end that something bad happens to your information, but for some it is an option since there’s actually little chance that something can go wrong these days. Plus, 512GB drives are hugely expensive and sometimes not worth the money you spend on them anyway.

When I began on the AMD guide, I saw in the beginning that there’s no real reason to choose the red team over the blue, especially since they line up so closely at the low-end segment in terms or price and performance. Perhaps as the pricing of hard drives drops I’ll be able to fit in more powerful hardware for both platforms in my future recommendations. I doubt whether most users will choose AMD at the rate that they’re going, without anything similar to Intel’s RST to offer or the native USB 3.0 front-panel ports found on many cheaper B75 chipset motherboards and the rather generous six USB 3.0 ports found on Gigabyte’s Z77X-UD3H. Without knowing what Trinity and socket FM2 will bring to the table, its rather hard to tell AMD fans to hold on and wait with patience these days.

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System Builders Guide: June R13,000 to R18,000 (Intel builds)