Welcome to the month of December boys and girls. Have you been good this year, or are you the naughty type? No matter, because this year there’s going to be some great price drops and bargains on components by retailers looking to capture the buyers in the silly season. In this third-last episode in the SBG for the year, I’m looking at the low-end rigs that will play all your games and not break the budget too badly. Follow me to check out what’s what.

Firstly, something needs to be discussed concerning what’s going to happen next year with the guide and where I’m getting my prices. There are more online retailers competing in our local market than there were last year and even though times are tough, some are standing out because of their lower prices, cheaper shipping fees and of course, better selection and after-sales service. For the past two years I’ve been recommending people shop at Rebeltech not because they’re paying me or anything, but because I’ve seen how they approach their business and the pricing and selection of components is more or less spot on. It saves time for me especially because I don’t have to go too far with my price hunting. But that might change next year.

See, a couple of places are stocking things Rebeltech doesn’t have. Evetech has the full range of NZXT chassis. Wootware now stocks Crucial, Patriot and Sandisk SSDs. Just about no-one is paying any amount of attention to socket FM2 products besides stocking one brand of motherboard (Asrock) and not giving a hoot about the lower-end buyers because there’s too much Llano FM1 stock floating around. While its entirely possible to put together a cheap FM2 rig, it would involve buying one or a few parts from different retailers and in the end the combined shipping fees and varying markup values may just force you to give up and look for something that doesn’t require convoluted planning and praying to your God that there’s no truck driver’s strike.

Don’t get me started on the stock issues plaguing some retailers who just can’t seem to get any Piledriver FX chips besides the FX-8350. They’re pricing it right up against the Core i5-3570K, despite the RRP being cheaper to fall under the vanilla i5-3570. Its like they’re less interested in the customers and more interested in just selling Intel chips in larger volumes (probably because they make more money that way). But anyway, rage-rant over…

That’s why during next year I’ll be mish-mashing Wootware and Rebeltech together. Wootware has a better grip on AMD products and has a larger board selection, while most people price their Intel products against Rebeltech. The fluctuating Rand-Dollar exchange rate does carry some measure of the blame but that’s an easy cop-out. I do hope Rebeltech gets back in first place but they’re beginning to spin off the track in the same way Take2 did. So today, I’m including Wootware’s pricing to see how things pan out. On to the builds!

R4000 Budget: (720p and medium-to-high settings with no AA, 1080p medium to low settings with no AA)

AMD Trinity A8-5600K (Radeon HD7560D) @ R1292

MSI FM2-A55M-E33 @ R749

Corsair Vengeance LP DDR3-1600 8GB @ R454

Seagate Barracuda 500GB SATA @ R657

LG GH24NS90 24x DVD-RW @ R163

Cooler Master GX 400W @ R536

Cooler Master Elite 344 @ R317

Total: R4168

So here we are with the first AMD rig in a very long time taking pride of place where Intel previously ruled. One could argue that Llano on the FM1 socket deserved to be here as well, but I knew that was a dead socket and wouldn’t be a great value proposition. A large chunk of the budget goes into the A8-5600K processor, being an unlocked quad-core with a Radeon HD7560D graphics card integrated into the same die as the processor. Not having discrete graphics makes things a lot easier when it comes to system complexity and if you ever need some extra shove, you can simply pop in the cheap-as-chips Sapphire HD6570 for some extra oomph in games and applications that can make use of the Hybrid Crossfire pair.

This rig is more or less tailored to be efficient and we have the GX 400W power supply taking care of things on that side. But what about efficiency in terms of space? Some people are tired of having to fit a mid-tower chassis under or on top of their desks. I’ve therefore chosen to use Cooler Master’s diminutive  Elite 344 here. Its tiny but still has some features more expensive chassis do not – like a completely removable drive cage. Simply pop the DVD drive into the lower 5.25″ bay and you can store the small amount of unused cables from the power supply above it. Its a wonderful little design and I hope to own one in the future.

One thing I do lament is the lack of high-speed memory. Kingston used to lead the way here with a 4GB DDR3-1866 module that was available from Rebeltech, but hasn’t been in stock for ages. For an APU to function properly, DDR3-1866 RAM is recommended to boost frame rate and responsiveness. This situation will improve as time goes on, but for now you can make do with DDR3-1600 (you can even try overclock it, a lot of modules do support one speed higher than their official rating). We’re not asking too much of this baby rig anyway – 720p and medium-to-high settings should be easily achievable with framerate above 40 fps average.

Of course, some of you guys will favour an Intel solution, so what do you pick? Chuck out the APU, the board and the RAM. Substitute in the Pentium G860, MSI’s H61M-E23, two TEAM Elite Dark 4GB DDR3-1600 sticks and finally the KFA² GT640 1GB DDR3 for a grand total of R4297. If it ever comes back into stock, drop one RAM module and pour the extra money into the insanely cheap KFA² GTX650 EX OC 1GB DDR5.

R6500 Budget: (720p and Ultra settings with 2x AA, 1080p and High settings with no AA)

Intel Core i3-3220 @ R1245

ASRock B75M @ R710

TEAM Elite Dark DDR3-1600 8GB @ R400

Sapphire HD7770 OC 1GB DDR5 @ R1491

TEAM Xtreem S2 120GB @ R1009

Seagate Barracuda 500GB SATA @ R657

LG GH24NS90 24x DVD-RW @ R163

Cooler Master GX 400W @ R536

Cooler Master Elite 344 @ R317

Total: R6528

Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking I’m a bit loony. I managed to put a HD7850 in here two months ago, what went wrong?!! Well in the course of my deliberation on what do include in the build, I decided that as much as extra graphics horsepower would be appreciated, it was at the expense of maxxing out a budget that was already strained. In addition, the exchange rate was much more favourable and the higher prices today don’t help. There are no good graphic options in the R2000 price range so I’m either forced to bump up the budget or skim on a few components to make things work. No, I won’t do the latter and the former isn’t an option – for most of you, what you’ve got is all that you have to work with. Sometimes you can borrow from the parents (or Toxxyc can sneak his credit card away from his girlfriend), but it won’t be in large amounts.

So here I decided to keep things mostly the same and make the jump to Intel’s Core i3. I also used the extra cash to snag TEAM’s S2 120GB SSD which is great value for money. The speed-ups it gives to the OS for general use and for those two or three games you’ll have installed there are going to be welcome. AMD’s HD7770 is king in the R1500 segment so that was an automatic choice for me either way – make sure that the retail pack comes with the coupons for you to shave 20% off the price of Medal of Honour: Warfighter and a free copy of Far Cry 3.

You can also choose the AMD A8-5600K and MSI’s A75MA-E35. Arguably it could be the better deal because you’re getting a highly overclockable quad-core chip for the same price as a locked and stock Core i3. Game performance would be more or less the same but the Intel would fare a little better at stock speeds. Pushing the A8 to 4GHz may just give it the edge and remember, its a chip with four physical cores, so multi-tasking should recieve a welcome boost as well.

Some people will say that it doesn’t make sense using an APU with strong discrete graphics but its all got to do with price and since I haven’t seen benchmarks featuring an APU with discrete graphics, I’m led to believe that it would easily hang ten with the Core i3 in most games and benchmarks.

That’s all for this week’s version of the guide, ladies and gents. Tune in next week as I explore options in the R9000 to R11,000 price range.

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