In most of the System Buyer’s guides I’ve seen online since I started writing my own ones, I’ve come to realise that some of the ways in which people approach writing these guides varies according to how they view the requirements of modern-day software. Tom’s Hardware concentrates on gaming and productivity, Techspot tries to balance builds out with AMD rigs and for myself, it varies according to the budget at hand. Got R5000 to spend? Concentrate more on graphics horsepower because you won’t likely be playing at high resolutions but you will enable higher quality settings. Sitting all the way at the top? Go all-out with both the CPU and GPU and make no compromises. What about when you’re sitting in the middle? That’s what we’ll find out today.

I haven’t written a preface in a while, but I though that this episode to the three-year-long-running guide deserved one. One of the considerations I have to make is how to treat all hardware camps and manufacturers. Many of my guides have used Asrock for the Intel builds and while it may seem that I don’t pay enough lip service to AMD, I do recommend them when they fit into the user’s requirements. Fact is, both these builds would be equally as well served by the FX-4100 with some overclocking.

But until Piledriver hits the FX family, there’ll be no reason to publish AMD builds up here. They may perform well but this is a guide designed to help you make the best purchase for you, your in-app performance and most importantly, your wallet.

There are factors to consider beyond the purchase price of hardware – running costs, maintenance and future upgrades need to be taken into account. Sometimes you may feel that you’re getting a bargain or buying the best you can afford, but later on something pops up that seems to be missing from your rig – extra cores for the Battlefield 3 Multiplayer, a larger SSD or more RAM. In the long-term, any of my builds will last at least three years and remain relevant for that period until application and game performance necessitates a major upgrade. In the interim, none of my rigs should need to be upgraded, saving you money a year or two down the line. Its a commonly taught thing in college that when you’re working with an IT budget in a business you always account for spending more than you need to for a hardware or software rollout – rather spend more money for the better or more capable hardware than have to upgrade later down the line, necessitating further complexity or confusion.

That’s why from here on, the lineup will include at least one SSD with 128GB or more drive space. If there’s money in the budget, an extra hard drive will be added for storage, but now’s really the time to make the storage medium a mainstream thing. In fact, I’ll be adding in a SSD as the OS drive in every build from here on out – sometimes it’ll be a 32 or 64GB drive for the low-end builds to be used as a cache. The computers I recommend are meant to be used for gaming or productivity and if you want the best performance, sacrificing the mechanical hard drive for better performance is a good way to go. For this reason, I’m increasing the budget for the R8,500 segment to R9000 to accommodate for the extra expense of the SSD.

R8500 Budget: (1080p with High or Ultra details with 4x AA, 2560 x 1440 with medium details and 2x AA)

Intel Core i5 3570K @ R2335

ASRock Z77 PRO4-M @ R1143

TEAM Elite DDR3-1600 8Gb @ R394

Sapphire HD7850 2GB DDR5 @ R2632 (MSI GTX660 Ti 2GB DDR5 @ R2779)

OCZ Vertex 4 128GB @ R1192

LG GH24NS90 DVD-RW @ R169

Cooler Master GX Lite 600W @ R691

Antec One S3 USB 3.0 @ R464

Total: R9020

With the extra budget, OCZ’s Vertex 4 squeezes in as the SSD of choice for budget buyers, featuring its capable Indllinx controller and 128GB of unformatted space available. The rest of the rig remains mostly unchanged because no other alternaves have come knocking on the door of the HD7850 yet. Technically the GTX660 Ti is a more capable card, but I’m bargaining that the wider 256-bit bus will keep it in the running for longer. Nevertheless, it is a consideration and an especially capable one if you play a lot of games that use Physx or applications that take advantage of CUDA.

One thing that annoys me is the lack of power supply options on most online sites at the R600 price point. I had to step up to the GX Lite 600W because Silverstone’s Strider is currently unavailable in most online stores, forcing me to eschew the 80 Plus rating and better rail design for that could be, comparitively, a poorer performer. But at least its better than a Thermaltake Litepower 700W, which I’ll only recommend to desperate souls. Esteemed NAG readers, you aren’t desperate souls, so I’ll never put you through that.

R11,000 Budget: (1080p with High or Ultra details with 4x AA, 2560 x 1440 with high details and 2x AA)

Intel Core i5 3570K @ R2335

GIGABYTE GA-Z77X-UD3H @ R1976

G.Skill RipJawzX DDR3-1600 8GB @ R503 (Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 8GB @ R518)

GIGABYTE HD7870 OC 2GB DDR5 w/ Sleeping Dogs @ R3191 (PNY GTX660 Ti 2GB DDR5 @ R3214)

OCZ Vertex 4 128GB @ R1192

LG GH24NS90 DVD-RW @ R169

Antec HCG Modular 620W @ R915

Antec Three Hundred Two USB 3.0 @ R678

Total: R10,959

Now there’s a complete turnaround here. In my previous episode of the guide in August I included a Core i7 3770 processor here, fitting it in thanks to the use of a 500GB hard drive. This time I’m recommending the Core i5 3570K along with the best budget overclocking motherboard yet, Gigabyte’s Z77X-UD3H. I had a bit of a dilemma with choosing RAM for this build because I decided to move up to some more expensive kit. Either kit from G.Skill or Corsair will run well in here, so pick your poison and move on. The choice of the GPU was easy though – with a bundled copy of Sleeping Dogs and the option of upgrading the card to a GHz edition with better performance, the HD7870 2Gb was a no-brainer. If you’re still a Nvidia fan, the GTX660 Ti is on hand to crunch through any game you throw at it.

Sure, some of you may point out that these two builds are too close for comfort – that’s true, and one of the reasons why I’m going to mention the alternative route: drop the Gigabyte board for the Asrock Pro 4-M, move down to the TEAM RAM again and swap out the GPU for either a HD7950 3GB or a GTX 670 2GB card. What you’re sacrificing in overclockability you’re landing in rendering power, giving your games a bit of a boost if overclocking’s not your thing. You could go even higher by chucking out the SSD for a 320GB hard drive and using the extra money for a better board or PSU and that’s your prerogative, really. I just feel that such a high-end system would be out of place in today’s world running off traditional storage. Even though Windows 8 makes boot and load times much shorter and quicker on mechanical drives, SSDs are still the way to go for gamers and enthusiasts.

But again, the lack of options in the hardware market made my chassis and PSU choices a bit difficult. I moved up to a modular version of Antec’s popular HCG 620W PSU, even though it isn’t completely modular. The chassis was an easy pick though – with most enthusiasts there’s a worry about how many hard drives a chassis can take, as most people add a drive or three over time. The Three Hundred Two accommodates for this very nicely, with space for up to six hard drives and some clever cable routing, its definitely an enthusiast’s chassis, despite the low price tag.

That’s all for this week guys! If you’re and AMD fan, be sure to check the System Builder’s Thread on the forums for my recommendations.

Discuss this in the forums: Linky

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