Hello, boys and girls, welcome to the last episode of the System Builders Guide for November 2015. Yes, I know that this is being released in December, but there’s a good reason for that – all of the specials released in the last week, for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and everything else in between, meant that pricing was changing almost daily for my builds, and there was no way I could settle on something lest a retailer like Wootware drop prices on a GTX 980 by 18% (that deal’s still on, if you’re interested). Despite that, I’ve managed to avoid most of the crazy by tidying up the build list over the weekend, and the Cyber Monday specials did little to put a spanner in the works. Let’s get into it.

R20,000 budget – Kicking in to high gear

Ultra HD 4K with High details and 4x MSAA
 Processor   Intel Core i5-6600K 3.5-3.9GHz LGA1151 Unlocked R3599
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Nepton 120XL R1250
 Motherboard   ASUS Z170-A LGA1151 R2940
 Memory   Corsair Vengeance LPX Black 2x 4GB DDR4-2666 R1131
 Graphics   Sapphire Nitro Radeon R9 390 8GB GDDR5 R6074
 Power supply   Cooler Master Vanguard-S 650W Modular Gold R1155
 Chassis   Cooler Master N600 Windowed ATX R1058
 Hard drive   WD Red 2TB 7200RPM R1437
 Solid state drive   SanDisk Ultra II 240GB (Marvell 88SS9190) R1470
Total (Rands): R20,114

Kicking off the month-end guide, we start at the R20,000 mark. In previous builds I would have a Xeon processor in here, commonly the E3-1231 V3, which is a quad-core chip with a peak turbo of 3.8GHz with hyper-threading, which makes it a cheaper and slightly slower Core i7-4790. With Skylake now the default high-end offering, that’s not going to be the case for a while, as the Xeon family has yet to receive Broadwell, let alone Skylake into its arms. Intel will eventually update the lower-end Xeon family to Skylake, but that might only happen in the first quarter of 2016, if it’s even ready by then. So I’m sticking to the Core i5-6600K for now, with the Cooler Master Nepton 120XL, and I’m adding in the ASUS Z170-A to max out on features and overclocking potential. There’s not that much more room compared to MSI’s Z170 Tomahawk, but it’s something. To help with that, the memory kit gets bumped up to DDR4-2666. More memory bandwidth is always groovy.

Moving to the graphics, I’ve switched the R9 290 in the R18k build for the R9 390, which is a good deal faster, coming in close to the GTX 980 in a lot of benchmarks. Sapphire’s version sports the over-engineered Nitro cooler, but that’s necessary for the 8GB of GDDR5 memory it has to keep cool. With the R9 390 in the mix, playing games at 4K should be doable with very few settings disabled, and having 8GB of VRAM will help for those games which like to soak it all up. Because the R9 390 doesn’t consume much more power over the R9 290, our power supply requirements don’t change, so the Cooler Master Vanguard-S 650W stays in for now.

With the build mostly specced out, all that’s left is the chassis and storage. Cooler Master’s N600 will do the job here for keeping everything tidy and cool, and it looks to be much easier to build into than the NZXT S340, which is similarly priced. For mass storage, I recommend the WD Red 2TB, which will do just fine for storing games and media. SanDisk’s Ultra II 240GB SSD finishes things off, and it’s a pretty cheap TLC-based drive that still performs decently. If I had more budget on the table, I would have doubled the RAM to 16GB, if only to accommodate for games that are sucking up more and more system memory, like Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

R25,000 budget – Hurting that wallet!

UltraHD 4K with High settings and 4x MSAA
 Processor   Intel Core i7-6700K 4.0-4.2GHz Unlocked LGA1151 R5399
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Nepton 120XL R1250
 Motherboard   ASUS Z170-A LGA1151 R2940
 Memory   Corsair Vengeance LPX Black 2x 4GB DDR4-2666 R1131
 Graphics   Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury Tri-X 4GB HBM v1 R8338
 Power supply   Seasonic M12II 750W 80Plus Gold Modular R1678
 Chassis   NZXT Source 530 Black Full Tower R1349
 Hard drive   WD Red 2TB 7200RPM R1437
 Solid state drive   Samsung 850 Evo 250GB (Samsung MGX) R1839
Total (Rands): R25,591

Fun fact: This is the first time that I’m able to fit in the Radeon R9 Fury into a build. In the past, the R9 Fury has been largely slower than the GTX 980, and it was priced equally to the GTX 980. Nothing really wowed anyone about the card, though the HBM memory was technically fascinating. Now, it’s generally available for under R9000, making it both faster and cheaper than the GTX 980, and it’s only going to get faster as AMD’s drivers improve. Complimenting this beast of a card is Intel’s Core i7-6700K, a quad-core processor with hyper-threading, unlocked for your tinkering pleasure. Because it ships out of the box with a 4.2GHz turbo, it is already close to the limits of the chip, and will probably top out at 4.6GHz if you get a decent sample. Nothing else on the platform changes, not even the CPU cooler, though I admit that the Nepton 120XL is probably near its limits with this CPU.

To accommodate the leaps in performance we get from the CPU and GPU, I’ve selected Seasonic’s M12II to power the rig, offering up to 720 watts of continuous power draw if need be, though this build isn’t getting anywhere near that. The extra headroom opens up the possibility of slipping in another R9 Fury in the future for extra speed, and that’s probably going to work out well thanks to improvements in DirectX 12 and the Vulkan API, with both allowing for memory pooling as well as addressing two GPUs as a single unit. AMD’s HBM tech may have launched slowly out of the gate, but it’s going to come in handy later on.

Our chassis switches up to the ever-stylish NZXT Source 530, one of the cheapest full tower cases around. I’ve chosen it for the extra airflow it provides in the CPU area where the power phases are located, as well as for the additional 120mm fan mount in front of the area to blow more air in the direction of the GPU. My experiences with NZXT chassis have been positive, and they’re pretty quiet to boot. The only storage upgrade is to the Samsung 850 Evo, decidedly the fastest SATA 3 drive on the market right now.

R30,000 budget – You paid how much?

UltraHD 4K with Maximum everything and 4x MSAA
 Processor   Intel Core i7-5820K 3.3-3.6GHz Unlocked LGA 2011-3 R6388
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Nepton 280L water cooler all-in-one R1470
 Motherboard   MSI X99A SLI PLUS ATX LGA2011-3 R3871
 Memory   Kingston Hyper-X Fury 4x 4GB DDR4-2666 R2088
 Graphics   Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury X 4GB HBM v1 R10,482
 Power supply   Seasonic M12II 750W 80Plus Gold Modular R1678
 Chassis   NZXT Source 530 Black Full Tower R1349
 Hard drive   WD Red 2TB 7200RPM R1437
 Solid state drive   Crucial MX200 500GB M.2 SATA R3256
Total (Rands): R32,019

We end off this week’s guide with Intel’s X99 platform again, but this time we’re massively over budget, far more than I’ve been in the past. The price increases levied on Intel’s chips are substantial, raising the Core i7-5820K to over R6000, a price point that the Core i7-5930K used to have. Our exchange rate with the U.S. dollar has devolved so much that R10,000 no longer buys you the X-edition of Intel’s HEDT line, it just buys you the 5930K now with some change to spare. People with deep pockets won’t care much, but that puts only Intel’s bottom-of-the-barrel chip in our reach.

So we start off with the Core i7-5820K and I’ve chosen to mate it to MSI’s X99A SLI PLUS, which is also the cheapest X99 board we can put into the budget. This isn’t the fanciest board on the earth, but it has a number of features and connectivity that do make it good enough. The Core i7-5820K houses six cores with hyper-threading, giving you more than enough oomph for the kinds of workloads that you’ll be using this rig for (which is just about anything, really). At this point, quad-channel memory is highly recommended if you want to get the most out of the X99 platform, so there’s a 16GB kit in there as well.

Graphics take a big leap up to the Radeon R9 Fury X. Where’s the GTX 980 Ti? Well at this point it’s actually about R1500 to almost R3000 more expensive than this card at the moment, and the Fury X is faster than the GTX 980 Ti at the moment when you’re looking at UltraHD 4K results, which is what this rig is built for. 4GB of HBM isn’t going to be enough for some games however, so take the recommended settings at the top of the table with a pinch of salt.

The rest of the system isn’t as extravagant, housed in the humongous NZXT Source 530. What does change for the storage system is the SSD, which finally moves from being in a 2.5-inch form factor to a M.2 form factor, ready to plug into the open M.2 slot on the motherboard. While it isn’t a PCI-Express SSD, there is a small improvement in latency thanks to running over the PCI-E connection which goes straight to the CPU, instead of going through the chipset first. NVME drives are still rare as hen’s teeth locally, and it’ll take a while before the current offerings from Samsung, SanDisk, and their competitors to drop in price. Still, M.2 drives are now much more common, and I hope to include more of them in my builds next time.

Thanks for getting through this long read! This month I’ll be moving back to the Laptop Buyer’s guide. If you’re looking for gift ideas for someone, or yourself these holidays, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for other buyer’s guides that I’ll be working on this month.

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