System-builders-600-x-272

Hello, boys and girls, welcome to the System Builders Guide for November. Here we’re going into the mid-range builds, which typically offer you much more bang for your buck and a good deal of performance hidden away behind software sliders and BIOS settings to increase clock speeds. This is the first part of the guide to have a Nvidia Maxwell GPU bringing up the rear and it’s not going to be the last – in the high-end builds, the GTX970 and GTX980 are taking top spots in all manner of benchmarks and tests and it doesn’t seem like Nvidia is going to wait for an reply from AMD. The hurt may start with the GTX980 this year, but remember that it only has a 256-bit memory bus and it’s not the full implementation of Maxwell. There’s another Titan lurking around the corner and I bet it’ll hit the ground before Christmas. On to the builds!

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 R3000
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212X R418
Motherboard ASRock Z97 Pro4 LGA 1150 R1545
Memory Crucial Ballistix 8GB DDR3-1866 R1220
Graphics PowerColor Radeon HD7950 3GB GDDR5 R2399
Power supply Antec Neo Eco 620W 80Plus Bronze R835
Chassis Cooler Master Centurion 6 Silver R703
Optical drive
Hard drive WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM R769
Solid state drive
Total (Rands): R10,889

We start off with the R11k budget and things don’t look too different from our previous version of this guide published in August. Some price increases and drops shifted the budget a bit, but overall we have a much more powerful rig for games. The Core i5-4690K remains, although it sees a price hike, but the CPU cooler, motherboard and RAM change to components that were more readily available or suitable. Notably, the seasonal increase in hardware prices at this time of year pushed the budget up enough that the ASRock Z97M OC Formula wasn’t an attractive option for this build. That meant having to swap it for the Z97 Pro4, which is decent but limits overclocking headroom.

The Radeon HD7950 gets ported over from our R9,500 build because it is simply unbeatable value for money. The unfortunate thing is that this won’t stick around forever. At some point we’re going to have to drop this for a 2GB R9 270X or pony up more money for the R9 280 3GB or R9 285 4GB, whenever that card launches. For now I have no problems recommending it, but it’s definitely not going to be a viable option next year.

Owing to the motherboard change, the Cooler Master Silencio 352 was no longer suitable as its built for mATX motherboards, so a switch was made to the slightly cheaper Centurion 6 with silver striping. Cooler Master is going to be replacing this in due course, so keep your eyes on CES 2015 if you want to see what they’re planning on replacing it with. There’s no SSD here, owing to the tighter budget.

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 R3000
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212X R418
Motherboard ASRock Z97M OC Formula LGA 1150 R1999
Memory Crucial Ballistix Tactical 8GB DDR3-1866 R1296
Graphics Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X 3GB GDDR5 R3526
Power supply Seasonic M12II 620W 80Plus Bronze R935
Chassis Cooler Master Centurion 6 Silver R703
Optical drive
Hard drive WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM R769
Solid state drive Crucial MX100 256GB SSD R1475
Total (Rands): R14,121

The R14,000 build this month sticks to the cookie-cutter Intel build of an unlocked Core i5 K-series processor, 8GB RAM, a mid-range board costing R2000 and a mid-range GPU. Thanks to the increased budget, we now have space for the ASRock Z97M OC Formula. Overclocking headroom is higher as a result thanks to the better component selection and eight-phase DigiVRM support, but I don’t see most people aiming for more than 4.5GHz for everyday overclocks anyway. The RAM changes to the yellow-clad Crucial Ballistix Tactical modules to better match up with the yellow accents on the ASRock board.

Graphics-wise, what does R3,500 buy you these days? Not much, I can tell you that. There’s a wash of Radeon R9 270X and R9 280 variants, alongside Nvidia’s GTX760 and older GTX660 Ti. Out of the lot, the R9 280 wins the toss thanks to the 3GB of RAM as standard. Although we don’t have a lot of games that do need more than 2GB VRAM, Far Cry 4 and Assassin’s Creed: Unity as the first AAA titles that are considered “mainstream” enough to buck that trend. Both will require more than 2GB if you’re enabling all of the visual details and playing at 1080p.

Moving down, the build bumps up to the 620W Seasonic M12II PSU, mainly to allow for higher overclocks as the R9 280 can still draw a lot of power when highly strung. Its not a modular PSU, but hiding extra cables inside the Centurion 6 shouldn’t be a problem.

Price hikes for the SSD market have taken some of the low-cost options out of the picture and the low-cost 256GB market now belongs to Crucial, OCZ, Mushkin and Transcend. It’ll be a few months before the 256GB MX100 breaks the R1299 barrier again, but it’s done so before. Ditching a SSD isn’t an alternative for this build, so it stays.

If you have R500 spare for a build like this, swap out the Radeon R9 280 for the PowerColor Radeon R9 290. Its easily almost 50% faster in almost every game you run it through, but it requires more juice and produces more heat as a result.

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 R3000
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Nepton 140XL water cooler all-in-one R1045
Motherboard ASRock Z97M OC Formula LGA 1150 R1999
Memory Crucial Ballistix Tactical 8GB DDR3-1866 R1296
Graphics Gainward Phantom Geforce GTX970 4GB GDDR5 R4999
Power supply Seasonic M12II 620W 80Plus Bronze R935
Chassis Cooler Master CM690 III Mid Tower R1149
Optical drive
Hard drive WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM R769
Solid state drive Crucial MX100 256GB SSD R1475
Total (Rands): R16,667

We come to the last build for today and it’s pretty similar to the others. There’s little else that can match the Core i5-4690K for performance and value, so we’re sticking with it for now. Here I’ve concentrated on just pumping out more performance, so the Cooler Master tower cooler gets chucked out for an all-in-one water cooler setup with the Nepton 140XL. Going for a 240mm radiator at this point seems pointless because the processor isn’t going to create tremendous amounts of heat and in any case, I’d prefer to leave spots for 240mm radiators open for custom water-cooling loops that owners might want to switch to.

The Gainward Phantom GTX970 steals the show, offering GTX 780Ti-class performance for almost half the price. It still qualifies for the Geforce Pick Your Path bundle, so you get to choose one free Ubisoft game from their 2014 lineup – Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4 (P.S. pick this one) and The Crew. The GTX970 is at home doing duty for 4K gaming, or playing with multiple monitors in Surround, or game streaming with Geforce GRID, or doing some hocus-pocus with the DSR feature that it almost seems too good.

Oh, there’s also still a good deal of overclocking headroom left in there to be exploited. Where does the value proposition in this card end, Nvidia?

As a result of the use of the GTX970, our power supply requirements drop drastically. The GTX970 is comfortable hovering around a 160W TDP, so it will only ever see peak power of about 180W of power draw. For a card that offers that level of performance, it’s kind of insane. The lower overall power requirements also contribute to less heat in the case, less noise from the fans and a lower electricity bill at the end of the month. The only other place we’ll splurge this month is with the case because honestly, who can hate the Cooler Master 690 family? The 690III is probably the best of them all.

That’s all that we have for this week folks! Tune in this time next week for the high-end builds, where Nvdia’s Maxwell starts to dominate the high-end lineup. Honestly, it’s insane. Catch you next time, BYEEEEEEE!

More stuff like this: