System-builders-600-x-272

Hello and welcome to this month’s edition of the System Builder’s Guide. Things are heating up quite a bit, eh? We have one GPU release over and done with (NVIDIA’s Pascal) and another on the way (AMD’s Polaris), and there’s been a crazy mounting of pressure for new cards that break the current upgrade cycle. Lately it’s just been a series of rehashes and small performance improvements, but this year we’re getting the whole hog, with incredible jumps in performance and efficiency. But those improvements aren’t coming to the budget segment just yet. If you’re building this month, though, there are some good deals already. Hit the jump for more.

There’ll be a new sheriff in town soon

For a while, Intel dominated build logs all around the world with their cheap dual-core processors, promising great performance for very little money. To this day, the Pentium dual-core chips are still great value and if you only play games that run on dual-core processors, you can assemble a build that doesn’t require a lot of money to play free titles like DOTA 2 or Counter-Strike, or Hearthstone. AMD has only recently become an option again in this segment, but it’s a little too late for some people. If they were looking into that market, they’ve already bought an Intel machine.

AMD Bristol Ridge mobile Computex 2016 (3)

This is set to change in the coming months with AMD’s launch of the socket AM4 platform and a new wave of Carrizo-based APUs under the Bristol Ridge family (see relevant slide up top). These chips will have some cheap quad-core options available, one of my requirements for any of the builds that I recommend. They won’t be as fast as Intel’s Skylake chips, mind. They’ll have DDR4 and modern connectivity options, but they’ll be competing on price rather than performance. Suits me just fine.

On a side note, we’ll also see better Linux support from these chips because they are SoC designs rather than socketed APUs that connect to a South Bridge on the motherboard. This means more stability and performance is on the cards for Linux users on Bristol Ridge, and perhaps more performance drivers from AMD are also on their way.

Radeon RX 470 and RX 460 Polaris slide

On the GPU side, we’re about to see the Radeon RX 470 and RX 460 hit the ground in the coming months. These card should retail for around $150 and $80 respectively, putting them well within reach of the two budgets we’re looking at today. The RX 470 is based on Polaris 10 and should come with between 4GB to 8GB of GDDR5 memory, with a peformance profile close to the GTX 980.

The Radeon RX 460 on the other hand is a little different. Being the top-end Polaris 11 GPU, it will be weaker, but it should take the fight to the ultra-cheap Geforce GT 740 and ageing GTX 750, cards from NVIDIA’s stable that have yet to be replaced with Pascal silicon. Targeting these low-end price points is good for business, and it means AMD racks up the sales while NVIDIA is still trying to push out enough chips for their high-end lineup and get ready for the GTX 1060 launch at the same time.

Elsewhere, there’s a little difficulty in securing good, cheap chassis and power supplies. Both those components have seen price hikes in recent months, and in particular it’s become difficult to find a decent power supply at the 450W level for less than R650. Bundled options are also in short supply, and I’m not willing to take any chances recommending cheap units like the Raidmax 350W units. This will resolve itself eventually, but currently none of the prices and options out there are budget-friendly, not even the Gigabyte M1 recommended in my first budget build.

Also, an update on the promise to only have SSDs in my builds – it’s still happening! Price adjustments have gone down instead of up, and that means it’s still quite competitive to have an SSD in the builds instead of a hard drive, unless you really want the extra space instead. I think, dear reader, that you’ll agree that the user experience is more important than how much storage space you have on the system drive.

R5,000 Budget – Just the basics

720p with Low-to-Medium settings and 2x MSAA
 Processor   AMD Athlon X4 845 3.5-3.8GHz FM2+ R1,304
 CPU cooler   Stock AMD cooler
 Motherboard   MSI A88XM-E35 V2 FM2+ R957
 Memory   Patriot Signature 8GB DDR3-1600 R477
 Graphics   Sapphire Radeon R7 240 1GB GDDR5 R1,173
 Power supply   Gigabyte 320W bundled
 Chassis   Gigabyte M1 mATX w/ 320W R763
 Solid state drive   ADATA SP550 120GB SATA (Silicon Motion SM2256, TLC NAND) R711
Total (Rands): R5,385

For the basic budget build, only one component pushes us above budget – the chassis and power supply bundle. Everything else is quite reasonably priced, including the SSD. R700 for a 120GB drive? Sold!

Here I’m sticking to the AMD Athlon X4 845 and bundling it with the cheapest decent socket FM2+ board I can find, the MSI A88XM-E35 V2. It’s not snazzy by any means, but it does the job and features front-panel USB 3.0 and six SATA ports. RAM is stock-standard DDR3-1600 memory, but it’s a single 8GB DIMM this time rather than two 4GB modules. That’s a hell of a price for DDR3 memory, I think you’ll agree.

Graphics duty is done by the old, but decent Radeon R7 240. This should be replaced soon by the RX 460 if it falls into the right price point, and I’m looking forward to moving up from the 720p and medium recommended settings. The next build that sports an RX 460 should do 1080p and medium to high settings without breaking a sweat. Isn’t that a nice thought? Progress is its own success, and AMD should be raking in the cash with such an offering.

Gigabyte’s M1 chassis is as run-of-the-mill as you can find. It’s positively boring in most aspects, and it’ll keep things ventilated enough. Finally, ADATA’s SP550 TLC drive sees another price drop, and it’s getting very close to R5 per gigabyte. Once it drops to R600, it’s an instant recommendation for me. Everyone needs to see how much a system with an SSD behaves.

R10,000 budget – The budget sweet spot

1920 x 1080 with High details and 2x MSAA
 Processor   AMD Athlon X4 880K 4.0-4.2GHz Unlocked FM2+ R1,779
 CPU cooler   Stock AMD cooler
 Motherboard   ASUS A88XM-A mATX FM2+ R1,245
 Memory   Corsair Vengeance Pro 2x 4GB DDR3-2400 CL11 R1,006
 Graphics   MSI Geforce GTX 950 Armor2X 2GB GDDR5 R3,299
 Power supply   Seasonic S12II 520W 80 Plus Bronze R786
 Chassis   Cooler Master N400 Black ATX R830
 Solid state drive   Samsung 250GB 750 EVO (Samsung MGX, 16nm TLC NAND) R1,212
Total (Rands): R10,157

With the second build of the day, I’m reaching into the AMD offerings again. Some price drops allow me to to fit the even faster Athon X4 880K in. It’s not Carrizo-based but rather a Godavari chip, though it ships with the same revamped cooler as the X4 845 which is much quieter and a better performer than any of AMD’s previous bundled coolers. A slight upgrade on the motherboard side to the ASUS A88XM-A is required to facilitate overclocking the CPU to around 4.5GHz, and the better specced power phases should deliver power more stably.

And looky here, DDR3-2400 Vengeance Pros for just over a grand. Who am I to complain about this? I could double up to go to 16GB with DDR3-1600 kits, but AMD’s APUs have always benefited from more memory bandwidth, and this build is no exception. If you want the extra RAM, go right ahead.

I’m sticking to the Geforce GTX 950 for my graphics recommendation this month, and I’ve dropped to the MSI Armor2X cooler to benefit from the cheaper price. This is a rather nice card, and it’s faster than the Radeon R7 370 for not much more money. AMD will come swinging soon with the Radeon RX 470  and 4GB of VRAM, so NVIDIA will soon have to think about how they’re going to target the budget market. Also keep in mind that the Radeon RX 480, at $199, is technically within budget here as well. That’s quite an exciting prospect, honestly. I wouldn’t mind GTX 980 Ti levels of performance for around R3500.

Seasonic’s 520W S12II returns, replacing the Cooler Master Vanguard S 450W that was in here previously, though it’s seriously long in the tooth now. I don’t know what’s going on with the high efficiency sub-500W PSU market lately, but everyone seems keen on overpricing them. Perhaps all the vendors know that the arrival of the 14nm GPU generation means they’re no longer selling 800W PSUs to the mass market, and everyone’s going to be looking at running a single GPU with a sub-500W PSU. I can understand the business logic here, but do I like it? Hell no.

One benefit to this build is that the Cooler Master N400, my favourite ATX chassis under R1000. It has just about everything you need – fan filters, easily removable panels, a removable hard drive bay, cable management, thickened steel. And it looks good too. Rounding the build off is the new Samsung 750 EVO, a reworked version of the 840 EVO that has all of the speed and none of the drawbacks associated with those drives. It’s a nice price for 250GB of storage space as well – under R5 per gigabyte is a great place to be.

That’s all for today! Tune in on Wednesday to see the R15,000 and R20,000 builds!

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