Its a little overdue because things are piling up on me now (a write-up about the GTX Titan Black, a mouse review and a few other planned columns) but here it is, the final episode of the System Builder’s Guide for February. We’re looking at the high-end market again and it’s getting into eye-watering levels now. Unfortunately, it looks like the weaker Rand has affected things even more in the higher-end markets and everything this month sees a big price hike. Some of the price hikes are scary while other components don’t see a lot of change. Ultimately, it means that you’ll have to spend more time debating on which hardware you need and which you’ll actually use and compromise on things a lot more in order to stay under budget.
R19,500 Budget: (1440p with ultra details and 4x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Ultra details and 4x AA, UltraHD 4K with medium details and 2x AA)
Our starting point into the high-end market looks somewhat similar to our previous R16.5k build from last week’s episode of the guide. Instead of the Core i7-4770K which was here in December’s build, I’ve opted to drop down to the Xeon E3-1230 V3 because it didn’t see any price adjustments from last week and it’s a full grand cheaper to boot. This also means that we can still accommodate some other things in the build easily without going too far over our new budget (which was hiked up by R500 already). The water-cooling solution switches up to the much more capable and quiet Corsair H75 and the motherboard sees a bump to the beautiful ASRock Z87 Extreme 6. Sticking to the grey-and-black theme, I’ve switched to different-colour Corsair Vengeance Pro RAM and 8GB will be enough for now.
Moving to the GPU, we’re lucky enough to find that the cheapest Radeon R9 290 on the market, PowerColor’s PCS+ version, is still in stock and there’s nothing else in the same price range that can effectively compete with it. The nearest Geforce GTX780 is only going to be on par with the R9 290′s performance and requires a much higher budget. That said, if Physx, Shadowplay and the Twitch streaming experience is what you really need, this Gigabyte GTX770 4GB is a good alternative, although it won’t be producing anything near the raw performance of Hawaii, especially once you reach into multi-monitor or UltraHD4K territory.
Elsewhere in the build, the storage setup stays the same with a smaller 120GB SSD and a larger 2TB mechanical hard drive to serve as storage for your media, documents and less frequently-played games. Pricing still hasn’t dropped low enough to switch this to a 240GB SSD and a 1TB drive, but this will change as prices for flash memory chips decreases and eventually stabilises. Its weird to see Samsung dominating in the price wars across local retailers as well, I honestly expected Seagate to be in the same place by now.
I’ve also bumped up to a better power supply in the form of the Thermaltake Toughpower 650W and I’ve stuck with the CM690 III that I had in last week’s builds. Both are rock-solid choices for any high-performance rig and the Toughpower in particular is one of the most reliable PSUs on the market that didn’t have it’s roots in a Seasonic design. Unfortunately, there’s not enough juice inside the Toughpower to comfortably advertise the possibility of running Crossfired Hawaii cards, but single-card overclocking is well catered-for here.
R24,000 Budget: (5760 x 1080p with high details and 8x AA, Ultra HD 4K with medium details and 2x AA)
For the middle option in the high-end market, I had to raise the budget by R1000 to fit in everything reasonably. That doesn’t sound like a lot when you’re messing around with enough money to buy a semi-decent Nissan Sabre, but the squeeze is very tight. Nontheless, we’re now able to fit in a Core i7-4770K along with a seriously beefy 240mm all-in-one watercooling setup along with the Z87 Extreme 6 motherboard and that same snazzy Vengeance Pro memory. All in all, it’s a really decent setup.
GPU-wise, in the words of our beloved President and comrade Jacob Zuma, “we have a good story to tell.” The budget’s high enough to allow us to extend to a fully unlocked Radeon R9 290X and for the first time in a long time writing this guide, I’m not putting the alternative GPU in brackets. Because honestly, both perform so close to each other that there’s little to really tell them apart unless you have some benchmarks at the ready. Both cards are well-equipped for gaming at super-high settings and resolutions and it would take a lot to bring either behemoth down. Although the Hawaii-based Radeon has longer legs at higher resolutions, both are well-suited to gaming at 120Hz 1080p which is where a lot of enthusiast attention is being centered.
However, the Radeon is the better card out of the two if you want to go balls-crazy with a triple-monitor 120Hz setup. For Geforce cards, getting that right with a single card is a little tricky.
The rest of the build sees a bump to a 250GB version of the Samsung 840 Evo as well as a much better chassis in the form of the full-tower NZXT Phantom 530. For just over R24k, this is not a bad build at all.
R30,500 Budget: (5760 x 1080p with ultra details and 4x AA, Ultra HD 4K with medium details and 2x AA)
Topping out our selection of parts for this month (yes, selection, because a tear welled up in my eye when someone asked if I actually tested any of this hardware) we’ve moved to a rig that’s not so crazy that it’s nonsensical, but is rather extreme. We’ve moved up to a Core i7-4820K on the LGA 2011 platform, coupled with a decent water-cooler kit, MSI’s revised edition of the X79A-GD45 and 16GB of RAM in 4GB modules each to max out the available memory bandwidth.
Choosing the 4820K was easy for several reasons – one, our available budget had considerably shrunk thanks to price hikes and two, for the moment it doesn’t look like any game needs more than eight real or virtual cores to run smoothly. With Mantle on the way along with better-optimised OpenGL and DirectX 11.2 titles, having at least four or more logical cores will be necessary for playing games at their highest settings, but more than 8 risks having much of that hardware sitting idle. Its making less sense these days to buy a hefty CPU when most of the attention is being focused on moving easily parallelised jobs to the GPU instead.
Picking out the GTX780 Ti was also an easy decision because there aren’t many cards out there that can convincingly beat one of these monsters. Crossfiring two Radeon R9 290 cards would have been an interesting idea but those are now selling for an average of R6400 which means that it won’t fit into the same budget as a single GTX780 Ti any more (it used to, though!). Thankfully, this isn’t the ludicrously expensive Black edition either, which is basically an overclocked, unlocked GTX Titan but costs nearly twice as much. For the price of a single GTX Titan Black, you could have bought three R9 290 cards and a beefcake power supply with enough juice to feed them all.
Elsewhere there are improvements to storage over the December build with the faster Samsung 840 Evo SSD as well as an upgrade to a 3TB hard drive. At some point, prices for 4TB drives will drop enough to make them viable, but 3TB is all that many gamers would need anyway if they’re installing their entire Steam library locally. Backing up all that data must be insane, guys?
Finally, the build is rounded off with the NZXT Phantom 530 being used once again and it’s one of the cheapest, best-looking full tower chassis around. We’re pairing it up with a Corsair RM750 which is 80Plus Gold certified and fully modular. It’ll easily have enough juice for two GTX780 Tis in SLI which would be the natural upgrade progression for this rig. Thanks to CUDAMiner, it’s even possible to mine Litecoins and Dogecoins with this rig when you’re not using it.
That’s all for this month folks! Tune in during the month of April as we celebrate higher taxes for games and revisit the builds in this guide to see how things have changed.
Discuss this in the forums: Linky