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Welcome to the second edition of the System Builder’s Guide for this month, and today we’re moving up to the mid-range segment. Prices seem to have settled a bit for these budgets, and it’s been relatively easy to keep things under control with no loss to performance. Unfortunately, the old cookie-cutter Intel build for R15,000 no longer applies – that’s now moved up to R20,000, although you could certainly make that build a lot cheaper if you make some sacrifices here and there. Continuing my shift from last week’s guide, both of these systems also have solid state drives with no mechanical storage anywhere. That’s not a cheap decision to make by any means, but it’s probably for the best as we move away from platter storage as your main system drive.

R15,000 budget – The sweet spot

2560 x 1440 with high details and 4x SMAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2x SMAA
 Processor   Intel Core i5-6500 3.2-3.6GHz LGA1151 R3,599
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Hyper 212X R587
 Motherboard   ASUS Z170-P LGA1151 ATX R2,254
 Memory   Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x 8GB DDR4-2400 R1,422
 Graphics   Gigabyte Radeon R9 380X G1 Gaming 4GB GDDR5 R4,579
 Power supply   Seasonic M12II 520W Modular Bronze R1,106
 Chassis   Cooler Master N400 ATX R825
 Solid state drive   ADATA SP550 240GB SSD (Silicon Motion SM2256, TLC NAND) R1126
Total (Rands): R15,498

I’m actually quite happy with this month’s build. Things seemed to have worked out pretty well despite going over budget a bit, and we’ve lost nothing in terms of performance since the last edition of this buyer’s guide. For those of you wondering why I’m using a locked processor with a Z170 motherboard, you can read our Intel Skylake Core i3 overclocking guide to see why. Certain BIOS versions for Z170 boards allow overclocking of non-K processors, and I’m exploiting that functionality to offer more value here.

Starting with the platform, I stuck to the Core i5-6500 quad-core processor. It’s a locked CPU with a base clock of 3.2GHz, but through our BIOS hackery, a base clock of 4.0GHz should be easily obtainable, giving us a sizeable performance boost. It’s sitting on the ASUS Z170-P, a cheap ATX motherboard that has all the features we’d be looking for in a “budget” setup, including USB Type-C compatibility and the possibility of running a Crossfire GPU setup in the future. There’s no USB 3.1 on board, but we can live without that for now.

Cooler Master’s Hyper 212X makes another run for keeping things cool, but it’s rapidly finding itself at a loss with Intel’s newer chips, unable to cope with the high heat from the K-series chips. For now, it’ll be fine. As I alluded to in last week’s budget guide, DDR4 prices are dropping so low that builds with 16GB of RAM are becoming commonplace, and here we have some Corsair LPX modules at 2400MHz. It’s still expensive, but much less so than DDR3 memory has been in the past.

Graphics is handled by Gigabyte’s Radeon R9 380X G1 Gaming. This is one of the finest and best-performing mid-range cards out there, and it’s faster than most NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 cards out there. It’ll handle any game quite well at 2560 x 1440, and 4K displays should be useable for gaming so long as you drop the quality settings. If you’re considering adding a FreeSync monitor into the mix, LG’s 29UM67-P is one of the cheaper FreeSync monitors available, and has a coverage range of 40-75Hz. That’s not a huge margin, but considering that you’ll be near to 60fps most of the time with this setup, that’s enough to work with to keep things looking smooth.

The rest of the build looks pretty normal. I’ve always recommended Cooler Master’s N400 chassis at this price point, and it’s still probably the best value for money out there. Seasonic’s M12II 520W PSU makes another return now that prices have dropped a bit, but it’s disappointing that Cooler Master’s Vanguard series is no longer available at a reasonable price. Perhaps future guides will turn to the FSP brand in the search for a proper replacement.

Finally, the ADATA SP550 240GB serves as our SSD and main system drive, but it’s only a tiny bit cheaper than the SanDisk X400. Both are TLC drives, but the X400 is the faster of the two. Samsung also recently launched the 750 EVO, which is a repackaged 840 EVO made cheaper, so the competition for budget TLC NAND 256GB drives is getting really, really brutal right now.

R20,000 budget – The high-end entry

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 R4,299
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Nepton 120XL R1,409
 Motherboard   Gigabyte Z170X-XP SLI LGA1151 ATX R2,759
 Memory   Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x 8GB DDR4-2400 R1,422
 Graphics   Gigabyte Radeon R9 390 Windforce2x 8GB GDDR5 R6,664
 Power supply   Seasonic M12II 620W Modular Bronze R1,263
 Chassis   Cooler Master N400 ATX R825
 Solid state drive   Samsung 750 EVO 250GB (Samsung MGX, 16nm TLC NAND) R1,269
Total (Rands): R19,940

We come to the last build, and I’m finally confident in calling this the new high-end entry-level build. Previously this was the R25,000 price point, but some things have changed around enough to make this build qualify. One of those is a large price drop on the Core i5-6600K, which is currently R4,299 at Rebeltech on promotion. Most other places are still charging a premium for this chip, but this promo might be pre-empting a price drop in the coming weeks. I would hope so, anyway. The other is a move to a water-cooled setup for the CPU, in the form of Cooler Master’s Nepton 120XL. The price hasn’t dropped so much on that, but since our build lacks a hard drive, I thought this would be a good way to spend the extra money.

My chosen motherboard is Gigabyte’s Z170X-XP SLI. It’s one of the cheapest boards available that splits the PCI-Express 3.0 lanes into x8/x8, which is enough bandwidth for an SLI setup according to NVIDIA’s SLI certification requirements. It’ll also do triple Crossfire, but that’s probably not a realistic setup on a LGA1151 build like this one. The Z170X-XP SLI is also almost identical to the Z170-D3H, one of Neo’s recommended boards for overclockers that are just starting out, but it has one extra fan header. Memory-wise, I’m sticking to the Corsair LPX 16GB kit from the previous build. I can’t say no to seeing 16GB inside the Windows task manager.

AMD’s Radeon R9 390 graphics cards keeps on trucking, and it’s creeping up slowly to the GTX 980 with every driver update. At around R6,600 in most stores, it’s exceptional value for money, and the 8GB frame buffer ensures that you’ll be playing most PS4 and Xbox One console ports just fine with the details cranked up high. Although it is the faster card, I know several people would rather opt for a GeForce GTX 970 in order to nab Tom Clancy’s The Division for free, and that’s a great choice as well. This EVGA variant for R5,999 will do just fine.

The rest of the build doesn’t change too much, and a minor spec bump for the PSU allows us breathing room for the monster GPU and some overclocking on the Core i5-6600K as well. The SSD however changes to the Samsung 750 EVO. “Cheap”, “extremely performant”, and “very reliable” are all words used to describe Samsung’s drives, and this one should be no different. Keep in mind that it launches at under R1,300, and it’s only going to get cheaper as time moves on.

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!

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