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It’s the mid-range System Builders Guide for this week and we’re now seeing something rather strange, namely hiked-up GPU prices on the AMD Radeon camp. That presents a few problems with the smaller budgets and it’s a real headache when it comes to the high-end GPUs. Is something on the way? Is it Tonga? Is AMD preparing price drops? Who knows. All that I know is the price movements have forced another readjustment on my R11,000 build (which never stays in one piece) and on the higher budget which needs to stretch your wallet a bit. Hop in and see what your money could get you this week.

R11,000 Budget – Almost Hitting The Spot

1920 x 1080 with Ultra details and 4x AA, 2560 x 1440 with Medium details and 2x AA
Processor Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5-3.9GHz Unlocked LGA1150 R2845
CPU Cooler Zalman CNPS10X Optima R327
Motherboard ASRock Z97M OC Formula LGA 1150 R1899
Memory Kingston HyperX Fury Black 8GB DDR3-1866 R1266
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon R9 270 Windforce2x 2GB GDDR5 R2448
Power supply Antec Neo Eco 620W 80Plus Bronze R835
Chassis Cooler Master Silencio 352 R720
Optical drive
Hard drive Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM R708
Solid state drive
Total (Rands): R11,048

We begin the mid-month guide with something that’s very close to the Sweet Spot build, but not quite hitting the same notes. We’re moving up to the Core i5-4690K which is a Devil’s Canyon part, carrying new improvements to how Intel’s K-series chips overclock and introducing more hardware geared for stability. Zalman’s CNPS10X Optima still does a decent job of cooling for mild overclocks, so it stays for now.

One big change for this month is the switching out of the ASRock Z97 Pro 4 for the Z97M OC Formula. There are a couple of reasons for this but the chief one is that it switches out the traditional power phases for what some manufacturers call “Digi VRM.” What this really equates to is cleaner and more stable power deliver for overclocked processors and we’re also getting a bump here to a 6+2 phase layout as well. This means that overclocks on Devil’s Canyon parts should be a lot better and you’ll be able to squeeze more out of them.

Across the board, there are also price hikes which forced a drop in performance from the GPU side of things. A 8GB kit of DDR3-1866 sticks now costs more, as does the power supply and Radeon R9 270X graphics cards in the market at the moment. I had to duck down to the standard R9 270 from Gigabyte along with Antec’s Neo ECO 620W. We’re also sticking to the Silencio 352 from last week’s build because there’s still nothing wrong with it at this point.

There’s nothing from Nvidia which can compete in the same price range for now (not even highly strung GTX750 Ti cards look appealing right now) and there’s not a lot of interesting things happening in AMD’s corner at the moment. There might be better symmetry from the MSI A88X-G45 hooked up to a A10-7700K (and a cheaper overall asking price), but what would be the point? Steamroller loses efficiency at high clock speeds and doesn’t provide the same kind of muscle that Haswell does.

R14,000 Budget – The Sweet Spot

2560 x 1440 with High details and 4x AA, UltraHD 4K with Medium settings and 2x AA
Processor Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5-3.9GHz Unlocked LGA1150 R2845
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212X 120mm R394
Motherboard ASRock Z97M OC Formula LGA 1150 R1899
Memory Kingston HyperX Fury Black 8GB DDR3-1866 R1266
Graphics Powercolor Radeon R9 280X TurboDuo 3GB GDDR5 R3499
Power supply Antec Neo Eco 620W 80Plus Bronze R835
Chassis Cooler Master Centurion 610 Black Mid tower R882
Optical drive
Hard drive Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM R708
Solid state drive Crucial MX100 256GB SSD R1613
Total (Rands): R13,941

The next step up in our build doesn’t change things too much. We’ve swapped out the Zalman cooler for the slightly higher-performing Cooler Master Hyper 212X to help with the high overclocks we’re no doubt going to be seeing on the CPU and moved into the larger Cooler Master Centurion 610 chassis for the extra flexibility and better airflow. Since we’re sticking to a single GPU for now, keeping the Z97M OC Formula isn’t a big deal.

That single GPU is the Radeon R9 280X with 3GB of VRAM. Luckily there’s been a slight price drop on the Powercolor version for this month, so that helps with the budget quite a bit. There’s still no other GPU that can provide the same level of performance. Nvidia’s GTX760 comes close, but it’s not as fast as the Tahiti core inside the R9 280X. The R9 280X is also expected to be joined by a companion called Tonga, which will supposedly fill in the gaps and make up a R9 285. We won’t have to wait too long to see how AMD plays that card.

At the end, we slap in a 256GB Crucial MX100 and call it a day. No-one should be left without solid state storage in 2014, it literally changes the way in which you work with your computer entirely.

R16,500 Budget – Not Quite High-End

5760 x 1080p with High details and 4x AA, UltraHD 4K with High details and 4x AA
Processor Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5-3.9GHz Unlocked LGA1150 R2845
CPU Cooler Corsair Hydro H75 water cooler all-in-one R1005
Motherboard ASRock Z97M OC Formula LGA 1150 R1899
Memory Kingston HyperX Fury Black 8GB DDR3-1866 R1266
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon R9 290 Windforce3X 4GB GDDR5 R5864
Power supply Cooler Master V650W 80Plus Gold Modular R1232
Chassis Cooler Master CM690 III Mid Tower R982
Optical drive
Hard drive Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM R708
Solid state drive Crucial MX100 256GB SSD R1613
Total (Rands): R17,414

Although R13,000 to R14,000 has normally given you the most bang for buck in the past, I think those days are over. I think the R16,500 budget is going to be suffering from that as well. Compared to the same build from two months ago, we were easily able to stay in line with the budget we’ve set for ourselves but that didn’t happen this time around. Price increases for the graphics, memory, SSD and power supply all push us over R1000 above budget. Preserving the same performance from the June build at the same price point was my only concern for today and it just goes to show how much prices can change in just eight weeks.

The Corsair Hydro H75 isn’t strictly needed, but it’s in here to facilitate more stable overclocks and to exhaust heat better out of the Cooler Master CM690 III, which handles top-mounted radiators better than the Centurion 610 from the previous build. Our CPU, motherboard and RAM platform doesn’t change yet because it doesn’t need to.

Moving down, we’ve had to switch in the Gigabyte Radeon R9 290 because the MSI version is out of stock locally. The triple-wide fan arrangement is still good and will turn out pretty quiet as well. Thanks to the Hawaii-based part, GPU performance makes a massive jump to settle somewhere just under the levels of the GTX780. Not bad. As the resolution scales to include triple surround monitors and UltraHD 4K displays the longer legs on the R9 290 will run away from the GTX780, which can’t completely keep up thanks to the smaller 384-bit memory bus and 3GB of VRAM.

Corsair’s CS650M was in this build but it has been switched out for Cooler Master’s V650W, which offers a longer warranty and 92% efficiency, which is Cooler Master’s way of saying that it could have passed the 80Plus Platinum tests but didn’t go through them because the company prefers to under-promise and over-deliver on their new range of products. It’s no Seasonic, but it’s more than good enough for powering this rig and a single R9 290.

That’s all that we have for this week folks! Tune in this time next week for the high-end builds. I may have one or two surprises in store for that one. BYEEEEEEE!