Welcome to this week’s edition of the System Builders guide boys and girls. Today we’re into the mainstream segment where most people are buying and saving up for and this is the sweet spot. At this level you’re getting some bang for your buck and there’s even some overclocking to sweeten the deal. We can also afford to shove in niceties like USB 3.0 ports, SSD drives and monster graphics cards. Unfortunately for this week, a higher exchange rate with the US Dollar does result in a few price upsets. Prices don’t change that much in South Africa on a daily basis, but the new Haswell CPU family definitely is affected by it. As such, recommending Intel’s latest and greatest chips necessitates some compromises on other parts of the system. If you’re buying your rig this week or this month, hit the jump to see what you’d be able to afford.
R10,000 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with Medium to High details and 2x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Low to Medium details and no AA)
Some pricing considerations had to be made here. Although the price for the AMD FX-8320 has gone up, ASUS’ M5A99X EVO has dropped low enough in price to be seriously considered. DDR3 RAM is also at an all-time high this month and that makes decent, fast kits very hard to find. G.Skill’s ARES RAM replaces my recommendation for Corsair Vengeance kits, if only because it’s cheaper and almost certainly guaranteed to work at DDR3-1866 frequencies with no voltage adjustment.
Price increases for DDR3 RAM have also affected graphics cards. If you didn’t know before, GDDR5 memory is based on DDR3 silicon and as the price for one increases, the other goes up as well. I previously included a Radeon HD7930 in here but its price bumped up too much to make it a good inclusion. Dropping down to the slightly slower Tahiti-based HD7870LE enables us to stay close to our budget while keeping mostly the same performance level. The only alternative in terms of price, if not performance, is a Geforce GTX660.
Some concessions had to be made on the chassis and hard drive as well. Although I was eager to move this system to a 128GB SSD to start off with, it’s just not possible. If that’s an important bit, though, consider using the R8500 system from last week’s episode of the guide and stick a 128GB SSD in there.
Is there an Intel system equivalent to this one? You could substitute the board and chip for MSI’s Z77A-G43 motherboard and Intel’s Core i5-3570K. Would it be the better choice? As an all-round solution, both systems are mostly equal. In hyper-threaded situations and games that scale performance with more cores, the FX-8320 will be the bettter bet.
R13,000 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with High to Ultra details and 2x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Medium to High details and 2 AA)
Well well, what do you know! The cookiue-cutter Intel build survives, even with Haswell invading and a ton of price bumps and expensive stuff added to the build. We’re kicking it off with the Core i5-4570K and a Z87 motherboard from Gigabyte. Although Haswell is only around 5-10% faster than Ivy Bridge at most things, it is much more efficient at idle and controls heat and voltage quite well. Overclocking headroom drops to around 4.5GHz if you’re lucky, but enthusiasts should have no problem tweaking the boost speeds to get over 4.0GHz when you need that horsepower.
We’re also pitting the Radeon HD7950 against the Geforce GTX660 Ti once again. Now that some price drops on the Geforce family are happening with the launch of the Geforce 700 series, I expect even better prices in a week or so’s time once the GTX760 breaks out onto the playground. For now, these two card offer equal performance and both are very closely matched in price. The games bundle with the Radeon is tempting, but Nvidia is also offering Geforce buyers a free copy of Metro: Last Light with select cards.
I was surprised to discover that SanDisk SSDs have dropped very low in price and are now generally available from TAKEALOT. SanDisk uses Sandforce controllers in its slightly older products and the Extreme 120GB drive we have here also uses 24nm Toggle-NAND memory made by SanDisk itself. Very good value for money, and with free shipping. We’re keeping the 1TB drive for storage purposes.
If it’s an AMD build you want, swap out the processor, motherboard and power supply for the AMD FX-8350, the ASUS M5A99X EVO, Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 Evo Turbo and the Corsair GS700. Everything else stays the same, but you can aim for an overclocked system with the extra thermal headroom. Most users do buy a K-series processor with an aftermarket CPU cooler, but a lot stick to the stock unit to save money for something better in the build.
R15,500 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with Ultra details and 4x AA, 5760 x 1080p with High details and 2x AA)
I thought long and hard about this one and between this and a LGA2011 build, there wasn’t much difference. Both the Core i7-4770 and the i7-3820 are multiplier-locked and have no tweaking facilities to facilitate easy overclocks. In addition, Haswell motherboards are coming out with a ton of kit and features that makes choosing an LGA2011 board at the same price really difficult. Besides, there’s enough PCI-E 3.0 slots to make the trade-off worth it.
Squeezing in the HD7970 was good news because the platform was cheaper as a whole without the extra cost of an air cooler. We still have GTX670 cards at great prices too, so choosing the Nvidia route doesn’t involve a drop in performance either. For high-end users, this is good news because our exchange rate changes every day and affects the prices we’ll get for the Geforce 700 series. Geforce 600 series stock is still well-priced and open for price drops.
If you want an AMD alternative, there aren’t a lot of options out there. But I’d recommend swapping in the AMD FX-8350, ASRock’s 990FX Extreme9, a Samsung 840 250GB SSD and the Cooler Master Seidon 120M. That gives us a cheaper but equivalent motherboard, a larger SSD and a decent water-cooling unit. You’d be a bit over budget, but it’s a better deal all-round.
That’s it for this week boys and girls. Next time we’re on to the high-end segment and finishing off the month with an Intel-dominated guide. Tune in next Tuesday for that!