Its August! We’re past the halfway mark for the end of the year, NAGlings. rAge is only two months away as well and things are really getting heated up towards the end fo this year. It might be the most exciting time for enthusiasts to be keeping an eye open for new hardware and bargains. For this month however, we’re entertaining budget buyers again with cheap set-ups that will play most games you throw at it. These machines typically offer incredible bang for your buck and the low entry cost here makes the decision between one of these rigs and a new console more difficult. Onwards past the break!
Part of the problem we’re going to have this month is that two things are stagnating – memory prices and new things from all the companies in the industry. DDR3 and SSD prices are going to stay at the same level they currently are for some time until memory manufacturers make back some of the money they’ve lost because they flooded the market with too many cheap chips. Not only will this affect RAM and SSDs, but graphics cards as well, because GDDR5 is based on the same technology and silicon as DDR3. You may have noticed a slight jump in prices of low-end graphics cards and I expect AMD and Nvidia to counter this by using up their stock of GDDR5 chips on cheaper, newer models as time goes by.
As for new products altogether, we will mainly have the Haswell-based Core i3 family along with its Pentium and Celeron brethren. But Haswell isnt’ significantly faster than Ivy Bridge – in fact, it’s just a little hotter instead and consumes slightly more power. For the interim, Ivy and even Sandy Bridge are better choices if all you’ll be doing is gaming. Finding the latter will be difficult though, but Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 processors do overclock better. AMD still has nothing new for the AM3+ socket and although socket FM2+ and Kaveri are coming out later this year, they have nothing new to offer to fans this month. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it makes for a dull month when there’s nothing really new.
R4500 Budget: (720p and medium-to-high settings with 2x AA, 1080p and low settings with no AA)
Price increases all-round make things more harder than before. Budget users are stuck between a rock and a hard place – pay the premiums for better hardware, or limit your choices and try make the best of lesser-performing parts. This makes being an AMD fan particularly difficult because economies of scale allow Intel to charge lower prices locally to beat out the competition. But this comes at a cost that Intel can’t yet account for – a Core i3 dual-core will perform similarly to the A10-5800K, but it won’t have enough graphics horsepower to make it a viable option for cash-strapped gamers.
Our budget rig starts off with an unlocked AMD A10-series processor and a socket FM2 motherboard. We’re shoving in some super-fast dual-channel DDR3-2133 memory to feed the built-in graphics properly. The rest of the rig is pretty standard with a 500GB hard drive, a run-of-the-mill DVD writer and a cheap chassis with a bundled PSU. Those are never spectacular, but for the job it’ll be doing it’ll work just fine. A front-panel USB 3.0 adapter rounds up the build so you won’t have to stretch all the way to the back for the USB 3.0 ports.
If one had to move to Intel, I’d recommend swapping out the motherboard and processor for the Intel Pentium G2030 and Gigabyte’s H61M-S1. Because there’s no front-panel USB 3.0 support on this board, we can drop the adapter and use the money saved to side in a Sapphire Radeon HD7730 1GB. In graphics-bound games this combination would be a little faster, but in multi-player matches and games like Skyrim which are CPU-bound and prefer more cores, the AMD solution will perform better. Keep the G.Skill memory and underclock it to the motherboard’s supported DDR3-1600 maximum frequency, using the extra headroom for tighter timings.
R6500 Budget: (720p on Ultra settings and 2x AA, 1080p and High settings with no AA)
Price increases once again force us to go over budget to preserve the performance we had in our previous Builder’s guide at this same price point. However, we have moved up to a six-core FX-6300, which should provide a nice boost in productivity apps and overall performance compared to the FX-4130 we had in here last time. Compared to the Core i3 Intel chips in the same price range, the performance on offer here is much higher than what a dual-core quad-threaded chip can achieve.
For the first time, we also have parity in the mid-range between the Geforce GTX650 Ti and the Radeon HD7790. Both cards perform similarly, consume similar amounts of power, have similar hardware capabilities and both are well-suited for gaming at 1080p. The only differences here are that the Geforce offers accelerated Physx and CUDA capability, whereas the Radeon promises better OpenCL performance for a wider range of applications and will fare better with options like TressFX enabled in Tomb Raider, as well as Global Illumination in most games. Pick your poison and move on.
The rest of the rig is still pretty basic. We’re still dealing with budget constraints here, so wherever there is space for stripping away things that aren’t necessary, its used. Hardware upgrades will be limited thanks to the power supply, but the rest of the build is solid. The Intel alternative would be to use a Intel Core i3-3240 and ASUS P8B75-M LE. That brings us under budget and also requires the Cooler Master USB 3.0 Adapter for front-panel USB 3.0 ports.
R8500 Budget: (1080p on High details and 4x AA, 2560 x 1440 with low to medium details and no AA)
In our last episode of the guide, I had a Haswell system here. It wasn’t a very good build because not only were Haswell chips themselves more expensive, I was also limited by the rather crappy (by comparison) H85 chipset. This time round, I switched back to Ivy Bridge. Not only do we have a better motherboard in the form of the Z77-based MSi Z77A-G43, we also have some overclocking ability with the Core i5-3470, something that Haswell doesn’t offer.
The rig is also complemented with the return of PowerColor, dropping prices heavily on the GHz Edition Radeon HD7870. Its more powerful than the similarly-priced Geforce GTX650 Ti Boost cards floating around and its even a better deal than most HD7850s as well. And lets not forget the other reason why AMD is popular with cash-strapped buyers right now – a free games bundle consisting of Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Crysis 3 and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. That’s value that Nvidia can’t match right now.
An AMD alternative would be to swap out the board and processor for the AMD FX-8320 and the ASUS M5A97 Evo R2.0. That’s a potent combination not just for gaming, but also for productivity, since there are an extra four threads available that the Core i5 won’t be able to address. That makes the FX-8320 ideal for multi-threaded work and use with virtual machines and video transcoding. Having more cores is also essential for making FRAPS recording more seamless, as more and more gamers are joining others broadcasting their gameplay on Twitch or Youtube.
That’s all for this month, everyone! Tune in next week for a look at the mid-range segment, where price hikes are hitting enthusiasts especially hard. Don’t miss it!
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