Welcome to the System Builders guide once again, boys and girls. We’re well into 2013 and four months away from June. June is going to be all abut Computex and the new announcements hardware vendors are going to make and the new promises they’re going to hope to keep. For now, prices are dropping on a few items and making it a very good time to pick up that PC you were thinking about. Follow our advice after the jump!
UPDATE: With the arrival of PowerColor back in the country thanks to Wootware, I’ve had to adjust my recommendations a bit. Its just too good a deal to pass up!
Unfortunately, two things need to be addressed before the guide goes any further. Firstly, the low prices for DRAM are at an end. By the time the 28th rolls around RAM prices will be at least R30 to R100 higher for various kits, some pushing even more than that. Its something I predicted many months ago as I surmised that oversupply and an under-performing market would lead to stagnation and artificially raised prices in order to keep RAM manufacturers and OEMs above the red. Many companies have been gouging money for three years straight since the beginning of the RAM price fall in 2009 and this year it all stops. At least we know why they’re going up, as this will probably be handled in the same way that hard drive manufacturers inflated prices following the Japanese mega-tsunami and the Thailand floods that hit east-Asia in 2011.
Secondly, Intel’s Haswell will be hitting the ground this year and will put a lot of pressure on AMD’s APU family in the HTPC and low-end desktop space. Because Intel’s HD GPU doesn’t rely a whole lot on memory frequency, this is going to make it that much harder to find RAM for a good price running faster than DDR3-1866 (protip: Titan-Ice has what you need, mostly). Of course, you can overclock some DDR3-1600 modules but a lot of buyers would rather just get the RAM at the correct stock speed, apply the XMP profile in the BIOS and be done with it. In addition, Haswell’s GT3 graphics core is rumored to be the replacement for the HD4000 GPU. If it is twice as powerful as HD4000, there’s going to be less reason for consumers to choose AMD even if the Radeon GPUs are better suited to HTPC use and for 23.967 Hz support. AMD needs to up its game it if wants to remain relevant for 2013 after Computex.
R4000 Budget: (720p and medium-to-high settings with 2x AA, 1080p and low settings with no AA)
I had a really good AMD APU setup planned here but I stopped short of recommending it because of the (frankly unforgiveable) stock issues with FM2 products in SA. Its really not the consumer’s fault that FM1 stock didn’t sell out quick enough and a lot of suppliers are either unable, or in some cases unwilling, to move to something newer. That’s going to cause quite a few issues in the future and this is an emerging market AMD needs to pay attention to. That aside, today’s budget rig provides great value.
As suggested, you’ll be spending the most time gaming at 720p. Even though the HD6670 is equipped with DDR5 RAM, its not that powerful, at least if you’re hoping for 1080p and medium settings. I’ve also spotted some nice low-latency DDR3-1333 RAM from ADATA. Though we’re pairing it with a rather budget board, there’s a chance that you may be able to tighten up some of those RAM timings even further. Overclocking will be limited to RAM and GPU tweaks, as is the case with cheaper Intel builds. If I could stick a quad-core APU in here, I would happily do so.
On another note, a while ago I mused if Gigabyte’s PoweRock PSUs were at all reliable. It turns out that these are based on slightly older FSP designs of the same caliber that appeared in Antec’s Earthwatts Green series, although they’re a bit cheaper in design and composition. All considered, though, it should be just as reliable. Also back in the game is the Cooler Master Elite 344. I’ve seen a few other mATX chassis up for grabs elsewhere and none come close to the quality of the Elite series. There are the weird new mid-tower designs, like the Zalman T1 or the Cooler Master Elite 240, popping up, but these are far better suited to a water-cooling setup using a H100 Hydro or something equally monstrous. Lack of cable management of any kind puts me off these designs as well.
R6000 Budget: (720p on Ultra settings and 2x AA, 1080p and Medium settings with no AA)
I see you noticed I underspent my budget! This was actually unintended and I had planned to shove in a FX-6100 and a AM3+ motherboard in here. Having that many cores would be overkill but its pretty much the best value-for-money setup I’ve seen in a while. Unfortunately, most places are out of stock of the FX-6100 or the FX-6200, the latter which isn’t good value considering the new Piledriver-based FX-6300 replaces it with better performance and lower power consumption at the same retail price. But mostly, the lack of any good budget AMD boards aside from the 760GM and 970A-series offerings further complicates things. At this price point, Intel has the better boards on offer and that kills value for AMD buyers looking to save money.
As a side effect, underspending on the current rig was because there’s no single thing that can improve performance here. I can shove in a sound card but that may not be everyone’s priority. Putting in a better heatsink will do even less good because you’re not able to overclock the CPU, although some of you may appreciate the quieter operation and lower thermals. A single 128GB SSD? That’s entirely possible but I’m not sure its the right pick for this budget. Most new PC buyers are limited to around this amount of money and that means you’ll probably not have any spare hard drives lying around.
If you do like a sound card, though, ASUS’ Xonar DG should be your first pick. If you want a better fan setup, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo Turbo should be your first stop. As for the SSD, you’re mostly limited to Sandforce-driven drives here. There’s no cheap Agility 4 drives available and even Corsair’s LAMB-driven offerings start at R1800. This is a bad month to pick a SSD, honestly. If you’re still keen, though, you can scrap the 500GB drive for TEAM’s S3 120GB model. Alternatively, scrounge up some extra money, keep the HDD and use the ADATA SP900 64GB to boot Windows, hold all your applications and one or two frequently-played games, keeping the rest stored on your larger drive.
R8000 Budget: (1080p on High details and 4x AA, 2560 x 1440 with low to medium details and no AA)
Once again, we’re under budget but this is now thanks to AMD rather than anything else. The FX-6300 offers great value especially when you get to multi-threaded applications. Its also the only chip available with this much power in its price range. You can pick up Intel’s more expensive Core i5-3330, but that’s limited to 3GHz with turbo boost to 3.2GHz, not exactly great value for money all things considered. The amount of tweaking the AMD platform allows is something any buyer should consider.
There’s a few extra upgrades in this build as well, moving up to better RAM, a larger hard drive, a better power supply to keep everything happy and a larger chassis, backing things up to the ATX standard once again. The two graphics options are more or less evenly matched. AMD’s HD7850 has better overclocking options and, if you remember to ask before your purchase, also may come with a free copy of Far Cry 3 as part of AMD’s Never Settle bundle. Sadly, the GTX660 doesn’t offer anything to make the package more attractive and this is because Nvidia maintains that it doesn’t need to offer bundles to make Geforce cards the better buy. Way to support your fans, guys.
I suppose when it comes to alternatives, the only option is Intel’s Core i5-3330. Single-thread performance is still an important thing for a lot of people and excusing the fact that it can’t overclock and doesn’t boost very far, it does offer lower temperatures and power consumption. Pair it up with the MSI H77MA-G43 from the previous build and you’ll have a very potent machine. With that you’ll be pretty much maxing out your budget with little room to wiggle for price changes that may take place soon. You may also want to change the chassis to one that has internal USB 3.0 headers and that may take some extra digging into your pocket. Antec’s One S3 fits the bill in that case (haha, puns, gotta love ’em) and also comes with an adapter to change the front panel header into a USB 2.0 port.
As you can see, all the builds now have either lower prices or better value thanks to PowerColor’s cards and Wootware’s super-low pricing. Its only a matter of time before other retailers follow suit by offering the same brand, or lower their margins in order to remain competitive. Either way, this is great news for people like you, looking to buy a new PC but not ending too much out of pocket.
That’s all for this week folks! Join me next Tuesday for a look at the next rung up in the ladder, starting with a budget of R10,000 to R15,000.
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