Hello boys and girls, welcome to the second episode of the System Builder’s Guide for November 2015. Today’s guide marks another major change in pricing, thanks in part to how our economy’s been doing in recent years. I’ve chosen to bump up the first two tiers by R1000 each to accommodate price hikes and changing hardware requirements. Unfortunately, things just keep on getting more expensive for the big-ticket items, while we see price drops and stability for other components. That said, let’s dive in and see what’s in store for buyers this time around.

R13,000 budget – Almost hitting the spot

2560 x 1440 with ultra details and 4x SMAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2x MSAA
 Processor   Intel Core i5-6400 2.7-3.3GHz LGA1151 R3049
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Hyper 212X 120mm R487
 Motherboard   MSI B150M MORTAR mATX LGA 1151 R1634
 Memory   Kingston Hyper-X Fury Black 2x 4GB DDR4-2133 R1014
 Graphics   Sapphire Radeon R9 380 Nitro 4GB GDDR5 R4168
 Power supply   Cooler Master Vanguard-S 550W Modular Gold R1083
 Chassis   Corsair Carbide 100R Windowed ATX R595
 Hard drive   WD Black 1TB 7200RPM R1088
 Solid state drive   —
Total (Rands): R13,118

Kicking off the mid-week guide, we stop at the new R13,000 budget. It’s weird to think that just two years ago, this price point was at R10,000 and R13,000 bought you the cookie-cutter Intel build of the day. Thankfully, while prices have increased, so has the performance on offer, so there’s some comfort to be found in that change, at least. I’ve bumped up the processor to Intel’s Core i5-6400, a quad-core chip with a 2.7GHz nominal clock and a 600MHz boost range. It’s not blowing off the socks of the Core i3-6100 in performance, for sure, but there are games that don’t play well with hyper-threaded cores, and that’s where this comes in. The motherboard is the same MSI B150M Mortar as last week’s build, but I’ve bumped up the memory speed to DDR4-2133.

You’ll notice that instead of saving money by using the Intel stock cooler, I went with the Hyper 212X. The reason is really because I would expect that temperatures would be low enough on the 212X compared to the stock cooler to allow the chip to stay at higher boost frequencies pretty much all of the time. Intel’s Speedstep is somewhat reliant on a mixture of information from the OS and the temperature readings to determine clock speed under load, and this is a quieter cooler as well. Graphics is now handled by the Radeon R9 380 from Sapphire, sporting the Nitro cooler. It’s a pretty big performance jump from the GTX 950 in last week’s R10k build, and will handily beat the GTX 960 and give the R9 380X a run for its money once overclocked. I reviewed this very card for NAG a few months ago, and it held up very well to our benchmarks.

With the increased power draws on all components came the need for a better power supply, and I bumped up the Cooler Master Vanguard-S from 450W in last week’s build, to 550W for this particular one. Power supplies seem to be one of the components heavily hit by the falling strength of the rand, and it’s rather surprising that the pricing on this unit is still so reasonable. Shoving this build into Corsair’s Carbide 100R should be no problem, even for the taller CPU cooler. I’m not able to stick a SSD in here yet, so the WD Black 1TB will have to do.

R15,000 budget – The sweet spot

2560 x 1440 with ultra details and 4x SMAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2x SMAA
 Processor   Intel Core i5-6600K 3.5-3.9GHz LGA1151 Unlocked R3399
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Nepton 120XL R1250
 Motherboard   MSI Z170A Tomahawk LGA1151 ATX R2435
 Memory   Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x 4GB DDR4-2400 R1011
 Graphics   Sapphire Radeon R9 380 Nitro 4GB GDDR5 R4168
 Power supply   Cooler Master Vanguard-S 650W Modular Gold R1155
 Chassis   Cooler Master N400 Windowed ATX R758
 Hard drive   WD Black 1TB 7200RPM R1088
 Solid state drive*   SanDisk X110 256GB R1299*
Total (Rands): R15,254

We arrive at our sweet-spot, the famous Intel Cookie-Cutter setup, with a budget that has ballooned to R15,000. Incredible. We start things off with Intel’s Core i5-6600K, a quad-core, unlocked processor, which gives you a sizeable amount of control over the performance and power consumption of the chip. It’s their best work yet, and easily one of the faster desktop CPUs out there. Grabbing hold of the Core i5’s reins is the MSI Z170A Tomahawk, a recent addition by the company. It’s a fully specced ATX motherboard that has specs and connectivity reserved usually for very high-end products, least of which is a rotated M.2 port. That’s some neat future-proofing added in there by MSI.

The system RAM gets bumped up to Corsair’s Vengeance LPX DDR4-2400, because having more memory bandwidth is never a bad thing for a highly overclocked system. Cooling is taken care of by the Cooler Master Nepton 120XL, although it’s recommended that you look at the larger 240mm parts if you’re going to be pushing the Core i5-6600K’s clock speed towards 4.6GHz and higher.

For the rest of the build, there are no changes for the GPU and the storage, because I expect that most of the improvements in performance will come from overclocking the CPU and GPU, which the Vanguard-S 650W allows. Keeping it cool in a quiet, enclosed environment will be the Cooler Master N400, one of the cheaper chassis on the market that offer some features only found on more expensive cases. There’s also much more flexibility in the cooling department, with options for those of you thinking about moving to a custom water cooling loop in the future.

And at the end, I have an asterisk next to the SSD listing. Even with the increase of R1000, the SSD would push this build way over budget, and it’s entirely optional at this point. I would have loved to included it, but that would come at the expense of something else that affects performance, and at this stage that applies to just about every component here. Keep an eye open for SSD specials on Black Friday next week if you’re still keen on adding one in there.

R18,000 budget – Not quite high-end

2560 x 1440 with ultra details and 4xMSAA, UltraHD 4K with high settings and 2xMSAA
 Processor   Intel Core i5-6600K 3.5-3.9GHz LGA1151 Unlocked R3399
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Nepton 120XL R1,250
 Motherboard   MSI Z170A Tomahawk LGA1151 ATX R2435
 Memory   Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x 4GB DDR4-2400 R1011
 Graphics   ASUS Radeon R9 290 DirectCU II OC 4GB GDDR5 R5360
 Power supply   Cooler Master Vanguard-S 650W Modular Gold R1155
 Chassis   Cooler Master N400 Windowed ATX R758
 Hard drive   WD Red 2TB 7200RPM R1358
 Solid state drive   SanDisk X110 256GB R1299
Total (Rands): R18,131

We come to the last build for today, the R18,000 build that finally qualifies as a high-end rig. You’ll notice that nothing really changes aside from the GPU and the storage setup. Well, that’s because there’s very little reason to spend more for something faster than the Core i5-6600K, at least for gaming purposes. The budget can’t really support any drastic improvements in performance either, because the Core i7-6700K easily retails for more than R5000 on most weekends – there’s just no point to it, really, not for that price. At that point, you may as well move to the LGA2011-3 socket, where the Core i5-5820K makes more sense compared to its price tag.

So let’s look at the GPU. The Radeon R9 290 might be an old chip by this point, but it’s still very much up to date with the current technologies being used in games and in Windows 10. For only about R1000 more than most R9 380 cards, you’re getting a sizeable performance jump on the order of 25% for most games and applications, which is nice. The Hawaii core is also still packing most of AMD’s new GPU features like Adaptive Sync compatibility, TrueAudio support, XDMA Crossfire, and basic HSA support for OpenCL applications. At this point, it’s in line with the GTX 970, a card which costs R1000 more on average. That’s really good value for money from an older card.

As for the storage, I opted for the SanDisk X110 256GB for the system drive (that price is just too good!), and the WD Red 2TB for mass storage. Why the Red, and not a larger Green or Blue drive? That’s really down to the controller firmware that the drive uses. While most other consumer hard drives will tolerate errors for an agonisingly long time (40 seconds in some cases), the Red, Purple, and Black drives will error out and try to recover themselves in less than ten seconds. While this benefit really only comes up once there’s an error, being able to work on and correct the error quickly means that there’s a better chance of data being recovered fully if the drive starts failing, or it stores data on sectors that have gone bad. Its for this reason that Reds and Black drives also make great system drives, because a system hang because of a drive issue won’t take as long to resolve or fix.

That’s all that we have for this week folks! Tune in this time next week for the really high-end builds and remember to bring napkins for the drool! Catch you next time!

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