Hello and welcome, everyone, to this month’s System Builder’s Guide. In today’s episode, we’re at the budget end of the guide that deals with rigs that most of our readers could actually afford. While we’re on the verge of a switch to Intel’s Skylake family, some market pressures are keeping me from doing so, though I don’t see any problem with getting a Haswell-based machine at the moment, since there’s nothing technically outdated on them just yet. Follow me after the jump!

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Writing these updates to the guide almost feels like its own column. After all, this is setting the tone for what you’ll see in the next month, and it’s important to outline what I’m trying to do each month with the guides. This one comes a bit late because of the Steam currency change announcement, and I’m also spending a good amount of time finalising reviews for the Logitech G29 racing wheel, Need for Speed, and a WD Blue SSHD 4TB drive. Still, there’s a good amount of stuff to get through, so let’s chew through this update.

As of this writing, the rand is trading at R14.32 to the U.S. dollar. That’s the highest it’s ever been, and analysts are expecting R15 to the dollar before the year is out, and possibly R20 to the dollar before 2019. That’s a dire situation for most of the country, but it’s a particularly frustrating one for computer hardware enthusiasts. Since we don’t produce any of this stuff locally, it’s all imported, and it’s imported through pricing converted from either the dollar or the British pound. As time goes by, I lose hope that we’ll ever see a Core i3 processor for R1300 again, or a mid-range GPU like the GTX 960 for under R2600. Other products are seeing lower pricing, though, like SSDs and system memory, which is a welcome change. 120GB SSDs are now typically found for under R1000 even without specials, and 250GB drive are now creeping towards the R1300 price point again. Things are overall not too bad, but it’s still getting more expensive each time I write these guides.

Trying out something new, I’ve switched to using Rebel Tech and First Shop for my pricing. Both retailers are pretty good when it comes to pricing, but First Shop is the relatively unknown one. Where they are cheaper than other shops, its often by R50 to R100, and those savings do add up. They also seem to be the only retailer stocking the Core i3-6100 processor for under R1900, which is a really good value-for-money chip. Switching retailers also gives me the opportunity to see how they roll with currency changes and price adjustments. Rebel Tech is often sensitive to those, but it’s a daunting task to keep track of close to a hundred thousand items in most of the catalogs these retailers maintain online.

With that short update out of the way, let’s get on with it!

R4,000 Budget – Just the basics

720p with Low-to-Medium settings and 2x MSAA
 Processor   AMD Athlon 5350 AM1 2.05GHz R863
 CPU cooler   Stock AMD cooler
 Motherboard   MSI AM1I mITX R455
 Memory   Patriot Signature 4GB DDR3-1600 R334
 Graphics   MSI Geforce GT 730 1GB GDDR5 R1,046
 Power supply   Gigabyte 320W bundled
 Chassis   Gigabyte M5 mATX w/ 320W R499
 Optical drive   LG GH24NSCO DVD-RW R237
 Hard drive   WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM R750
 Solid state drive   —
Total (Rands): R4,184

For the basic budget build, I decided to stick with the setup I had in the September edition of the SBG. Utilising AMD’s Athlon 5350 quad-core APU along with the MSI AM1I motherboard as well as 4GB of RAM, we’re able to run just about any game that has the basic requirement of 4GB of system memory and a quad-core CPU. As more and more games focus on the CPU requirements, we’re going to see less and less people buying dual-core systems for gaming purposes (unless you’re not playing any of the AAA titles from the last two years, in which case you’re more than welcome to substitute a Pentium dual-core in here). AMD’s AM1 platform isn’t the strongest out of the gate, but it is good enough for powering games at 720p, with some lighter games being capable of 1080p.

Helping the system along is the venerable Geforce GT 730 with 1GB of GDDR5 VRAM. AMD doesn’t have a budget competitor for this card yet, as the Radeon R7 250 is still stuck with DDR3 memory, and the R7 250X, a better overall performer, is R500 more. Meh. On the plus side, sticking to NVIDIA means that you can optionally ditch Windows and go with a Linux OS to save some cash and fiddle with an arguably better ecosystem. Gaming on Linux is stronger than ever, and games ported to OpenGL typically have lighter system requirements as well.

The rest of the system looks pretty familiar. We have the Gigabyte M5 chassis with a bundled power supply, which is more than enough for this setup, as well as a run-of-the-mill DVD writer and a 1TB WD Blue hard drive. None of this is really awe-inspiring, but it’ll suffice for most people’s requirements. Recently 120GB SSDs have also fallen past the R800 mark, but I can’t recommend those just yet because Grand Theft Auto V takes up 55GB of storage space on its own. Unless you’re only playing one game at a time, that isn’t the smartest choice. A 250GB drive is a safer bet.

R6,000 Budget – The basics, with gusto

720p with High settings and 2x MSAA, 1080p with Medium settings and 2x MSAA
 Processor   Intel Core i3-4170 3.7GHz LGA1150 R1,799
 CPU cooler   Stock Intel cooler
 Motherboard   ASRock H81M-DGS mATX LGA1150 R643
 Memory   Patriot Signature 2x 4GB DDR3-1600 R668
 Graphics   Sapphire Radeon R7 360 2GB GDDR5 R1,905
 Power supply   Gigabyte 320W bundled
 Chassis   Gigabyte M5 mATX w/ 320W R499
 Optical drive   LG GH24NSCO DVD-RW R237
 Hard drive   WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM R750
 Solid state drive   —
Total (Rands): R6,578

Our R6,000 budget build moves things up a bit and goes back to the Intel camp, with a Haswell-based Core i3-4170, ASRock’s H81M-DGS, and 8GB of DDR3 memory. Its not the latest and greatest, but with things as they are, the exchange rate pretty much screwed this one up on its own. Perhaps in another two month’s time it’ll be cheaper to move to Skylake. For now, this cookie-cutter Intel build works just fine. With two cores and two virtual ones through hyper-threading, we can also launch any game that requires a quad-core CPU, which is great. At this level, AMD unfortunately isn’t an option. Even if I was able to find a FX-6300 for a lower price, the overall performance of Haswell for most games will be higher. Fallout 4 is certainly a testament to that.

The graphics card now bumps up to AMD’s Radeon R7 360, and this variant by Sapphire is fairly close to the R9 380 I reviewed a while back, at least in terms of cooler design. With 2GB of GDDR5 memory, it’s able to run most games at 1080p with high settings and will probably be good enough for another year or two for AAA titles. However, more games are requiring more VRAM to speed up level loads and loading objects into the game, so 2GB in a year’s time will probably be thought of as “measly”.

The rest of the system shares the same components as the R4000 build. While the system is several orders of magnitude more powerful, it’s not consuming that much more power, and it’s probably just below, or slightly above, 200W of power draw. I also decided to keep the DVD writer in the build, even though most of you that buy your games online won’t ever use it. It is an optional component at this point, and I’m not even sure when I last used the one in my own system.

R8,000 budget – The budget sweet spot

1080p with High settings and 4x MSAA, 2560 x 1440 with Medium settings and 2x MSAA
 Processor   Intel Core i3-6100 3.7GHz LGA1151 R1,858
 CPU cooler   Stock Intel cooler
 Motherboard   MSI H110 Pro-VD LGA1151 mATX R1,113
 Memory   Crucial Budget 8GB DDR4-2133 R830
 Graphics   ASUS Strix Radeon R7 370 OC 2GB GDDR5 R2,789
 Power supply   Corsair VS350 350W R475
 Chassis   Bitfenix Comrade Black ATX R505
 Hard drive   WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM R750
 Solid state drive   —
Total (Rands): R8,320

Moving up a notch, we arrive at the budget sweet-spot, which is a much better system overall than the one we had in here two months ago. I’ve now replaced our Haswell-based system with a Skylake processor, the Intel Core i3-6100. With a high clock speed out of the gate, better switching speeds thanks to Intel’s improved production process, lower temperatures and lower power consumption, this is one very impressive processor. I’ve also decided to slap it into MSI’s H110 Pro-VD, which is sparse on the feature set, but packed with enough connectivity to satisfy most users. I’ve also added in a single 8GB stick of DDR4-2133 memory, which will allow us to bump up the system memory to 16GB in the future. Having only a single channel of memory filled won’t reduce the system’s performance much at all, so we can get away with it for now.

Doing the graphics legwork is the AMD Radeon R7 370, this time the ASUS Strix variant, which is a great card for 1080p gaming at mostly maxed out settings. Based on the ageing Pitcairn GPU, it misses many of the updates AMD has made to their GCN architecture like TrueAudio, FreeSync, and more advanced power gating, but this card will still perform really well for AAA games, and is set to receive at least another two year’s worth of driver updates with the Radeon Software Crimson release happening later this month. Power consumption is also quite good, averaging around 140W of power draw, and at lower temperatures the fans will switch off completely, so your system is quieter at idle.

I elected to switch out the chassis and power supply to the Corsair VS350 and the Bitfenix Comrade. The VS350 is adequate for our needs while not being too expensive, and our system probably won’t draw much over 230W. The Bitfenix Comrade is also a great budget buy, with cable management lanes, good airflow, and pre-made 2.5-inch drive bays for any solid state drives you may put in there in the future. I’ve finally thrown out the optical drive as well, which is probably why I’m not too far out of the budget I’ve set for myself. As usual, the WD Blue 1TB drive is serving as storage. In the future I’ll have to list the model number in the table as well, to indicate to readers whether it’s a 5400rpm-class or 7200rpm-class drive.

R10,000 budget – The beginning of mid-range

1920 x 1080 with High details and 4x MSAA, 2560 x 1440 with Medium details and 2x MSAA
 Processor   Intel Core i3-6100 3.7GHz LGA1151 R1,858
 CPU cooler   Stock Intel cooler
 Motherboard   MSI B150M MORTAR mATX LGA 1151 R1,666
 Memory   Crucial Budget 8GB DDR4-2133 R830
 Graphics   MSI Geforce GTX 950 Gaming 2GB GDDR5 R3,291
 Power supply   Cooler Master Vanguard-S 450W Modular 80Plus Gold R785
 Chassis   Corsair Carbide 100R Windowed ATX R595
 Hard drive  WD Black 1TB 7200RPM R1,135
 Solid state drive  —
Total (Rands): R10,160

With the final build of the day, we’ve come up to a system that’s at the bottom of the mid-range market, but is by no means a slouch. While the performance is on average only about 15% better than the R8000 system with the Radeon R7 370, we do have hardware that is much better looking, more capable, and would serve as a base for upgrades for both the GPU and CPU. Sticking to the Core i3-6100, I’ve switched the motherboard to MSI’s B150M Mortar. While it is rather expensive for a B-series board, it packs in a lot of features and has a great setup. I’m particularly happy with the rotated SATA ports, which I consider to be a necessity for any enthusiast setup that needs clean looks. I’m also still sticking to Crucial’s DDR4-2133 memory, because the Core i3 doesn’t officially support faster speeds than that. It looks like pricing is falling down fast enough, but it could still be cheaper.

My choice of graphics card drops from the Geforce GTX 960 to the GTX 950. While on paper this looks like a much slower card, the real-world results place it anywhere from 5% to 8% slower than the GTX 960, which is no mean feat. While it isn’t really the card I hoped to have in here, once overclocked it just about overtakes a stock GTX 960. For just over R3000, that’s not a bad deal. I have noticed GTX 960s from brands like Galax on sale, but that’s not a guaranteed price, and one might find a better deal on Black Friday in any case.

On the power supply side, I’ve switched out to the Cooler Master Vanguard-S. Its a decent unit, comes with a decent warranty of five years, semi-modularity, and doesn’t break the bank too much. 450 watts is also more than this build will ever use, and it’s expected that future GPUs from AMD and NVIDIA will be even more efficient, so there’s no need to swap out to a newer PSU even if you’re upgrading to, say, the GTX 980. The chassis is also upgraded to the Corsair Carbide 100R. It’s not spectacular, but it’s cheaper than the Cooler Master N400 that was in here, and I really like the understated look of the front panel.

Finally, storage is taken care of by the WD Black 1TB. I probably could have crammed a 2TB drive in here, but that’s not really the point. At this price point for these components, spending more money for quality also generally gives you a better warranty, and the Black family still comes with the standard five-year warranty. That goes for the power supply as well, which is also warrantied for five years. I do wish the ASUS B150 D3 Trooper was in stock, because the warranty synergy there is also just too good.

That’s all that we have time for this week folks! Tune in this time next week for the mid-range builds. Catch you next time!

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