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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. With new graphics card releases on the horizon, things are looking bright for PC builders in the coming month. AMD’s Radeon RX 480 is set to launch soon, and all indications are that stock levels are good and prices are more than acceptable – they’re downright disruptive, especially if performance settles in at the right level. Today, we start to see indications of prices dropping and settling into more affordable levels, and for the first time we’re seeing regressions in prices on the high-end parts like Intel’s Core i5-6600K. Let’s get into it, shall we?

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 i5-6400 2.7-3.3GHz LGA1151 R3,421
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Hyper 212X R587
 Motherboard   MSI Z170A TOMAHAWK LGA1151 ATX R2,443
 Memory   Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x 8GB DDR4-2400 CL14 R1,388
 Graphics   Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro 4GB GDDR5 R4,746
 Power supply   Seasonic M12II 520W Modular Bronze R1,074
 Chassis   Cooler Master N400 ATX R830
 Solid state drive   Samsung 250GB 750 EVO (Samsung MGX, 16nm TLC NAND) R1212
Total (Rands): R15,701

I’m quite pleased with the R15,000 build so far, even if it’s a far cry from the ones that I used to have in here that would be the entry point for tinkerers and overclockers. I’ve dropped from the older Core i5-6500 to the Core i5-6400 due to price constraints, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem, because we’re going to overclock this one. That’s right, overclocking locked processors is still a thing, so long as you can downgrade to an older BIOS version. I had briefly considered using a Core i3 in here instead, but the raw power of four actual cores is too good to pass up on, and this chip should be able to reach about 3.6GHz with some tweaks. Cooling it down is the Cooler Master Hyper 212X, which is getting a little old in the tooth, but still formidable. MSI’s Z170A TOMAHAWK steps in for motherboard duty. It’s quite the looker, and has all the connectivity in the right place.

The chosen graphics card is a Radeon R9 380X with Sapphire’s Nitro cooler. This isn’t a permanent recommendation, though. In what’s likely to be the last time it appears on the guide, I expect that the R9 380X will be replaced by the cheaper Radeon RX 470 8GB, due to appear sometime in mid-July. Not only is the RX 470 set to be faster, it also will have twice the amount of VRAM as the R9 380X, giving it a leg up in games that heavily load the GPU’s memory, like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst with Ultra textures that tends to choke out GPUs with less than 4GB of VRAM. It’s also going to be cooler and quieter than the R9 380X, and power supply requirements are lower.

I’ve retained the recommendation of the Seasonic M12II, because it’s partially modular and I like having less cables in a case to begin with, and the Cooler Master N400, because it’s beautiful and flexible. The mid-range case market often turfs out gems that end up staying on the market longer than intended, and I think the N400 might be one of those chassis in the future. Swapping out from ADATA’s SP550 240GB drive is the Samsung 750 EVO. It’s faster, more reliable, cooler, has more storage space, and cheaper to boot. Finding a bad side of this drive is quite difficult, and it’s cheaper than faster than the Crucial M550 that I bought two years ago for R1,600.

For those of you wanting to save money on this build, drop the Hyper 212X for the stock Intel cooler and worry about upgrading to a better one later. For the AMD fans out there, wait for Bristol Ridge or Zen coming later this year. There’s no point moving back to socket AM3+ anymore.

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 R4,235
 CPU cooler   Cooler Master Hyper 212X R587
 Motherboard   MSI Z170A TOMAHAWK LGA1151 ATX R2,443
 Memory   Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x 8GB DDR4-3000 CL15 R1,779
 Graphics   AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB GDDR5 R5,899
 Power supply   Seasonic M12II 520W Modular Bronze R1,263
 Chassis   Phanteks Ethoo Pro Black Full ATX R1,299
 Solid state drive   Samsung 750 EVO 500GB (Samsung MGX, 16nm TLC NAND) R2,605
Total (Rands): R20,110

Moving on, with R20,000 to spend, we have the cookie-cutter Intel setup from years past – a Core i5-K processor and a mid-range Z-series chipset for overclocking. Done and dusted. But it’s not as simple with Skylake, because the chips no longer ship with a stock cooler, so the Hyper 212X becomes our only option at this point. MSI’s Z170A TOMAHAWK stays in the ring because there aren’t enough reasons to upgrade to a different board under R3,000, unless Gigabyte’s Z170X-Gaming 3 drops below that point. Strangely, Skylake has been the turning point for popular brands like ASRock, who are no longer as price-competitive as they used to be with the Ivy Bridge and Haswell chip families. I wonder what changed.

I’ve upgraded the memory to take advantage of the higher clock speeds you’ll be reaching. While DDR4-2400 is a respectable speed for most builds, DDR4-3000 at CL15 timings is much better. Skylake is a bandwidth-loving architecture, and more memory bandwidth is never a bad thing. The price still needs to be sorted out, though. In overseas markets, there isn’t a large jump from DDR4-2400 to DDR4-3000, while locally it’s still an issue if you’re aiming for a rig with 16GB instead of 8GB. Still, not a bad price.

The graphics card isn’t so much a recommendation as it is a placeholder. AMD’s Radeon RX 480 8GB fits in here quite neatly, and it’ll certainly bring up the performance profile a lot compared to the Radeon R9 390 that was in the table previously. As I’ve stated before, the RX 480 should shift the mid-range landscape quite a bit, and it’s priced at the right level to make an impact on the R9 390 and GTX 970 recommendations most people make at this point in time. We’re still a week from launch, or thereabouts, but I’m quite confident that this will be a good performer.

Because our power requirements are actually dropping thanks to the RX 480, I don’t have to make any changes to my Seasonic PSU recommendation. Instead, I’m using the extra cash to move up to the Phanteks Ethoo Pro, and full ATX chassis that looks fantastic for the price. There’s a front 200mm fan for intake, which means it’ll spin slowly and quietly, and there are plenty of build options for enthusiasts, with lots of space for hardware and custom water loops, among other things. Finally, Samsung’s 750 EVO returns as storage, this time with 500GB of stupid-fast NAND on offer. We’re getting there, guys! One more year and 500GB drives will be half the price they are now. R5.21 per gigabyte for a drive that saturates the SATA standard is perfectly fine with me.

That’s all that we have for today! Tune in on Friday this week for the really high-end builds. Next week is the first time the R60,000 build appears, the one where being sensible doesn’t apply.

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