System Builders Guide: December R13,000 to R18,000

Yes, hello and welcome to the last of the System Builders Guide episodes for this year, folks. We’re just a week away from Christmas and the new year and quite frankly, I think the whole “world is gonna end, dude!” thing will just be bogus. Haters are gonna hate and they’ll probably go and find another date to settle on to restart the fear-mongering again. But anyway, here’s looking to the desktop high-end market once more to see what we can fit in.

R13,000 Budget: (1080p with High or Ultra details with 4x AA, 2560 x 1440p with High details and 2x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Medium to High details and no AA)

Intel Core i5-3570K @ R2359 (AMD FX-8320 @ R2273)

GIGABYTE GA-Z77X-UD3H @ R2053 (MSI 990FXA-GD80 @ R2067)

G.Skill Sniper DDR3-1600 8GB (version 2.0, 1.25v) @ R557

Gainward GTX670 Phantom OC 2GB DDR5 @ R4499

ADATA SP900 256GB SSD @ R2027

LG GH24NS90 24x DVD-RW @ R163

BitFenix Shinobi Black @ R790

Corsair GS600 600W @ R885

Total: R13,333

Now, some things have changed around here. Back in October, I could only squeeze in a 128GB SSD, a much more miserly Antec Three Hundred chassis and slower RAM. This month, the build is significantly better with the addition of the GTX670 Phantom, the cheaper Core i5-3570K and a newcomer to our shores, the Bitfenix Shinobi. Its no ninja, but it gets the job done well and has plenty of flexibility. I love the clean design and the fact that the closed up side panels should help with acoustics as well as temperature.

One thing that needs to be noted is the RAM. Now, regular DDR3-1600 modules operate at 1.5v for stability. The fact that this G.Skill hit has such a remarkably low voltage is probably a sign that the chips will overclock very well, possibly to DDR3-2400 speeds with 1.6v. While RAM overclocking doesn’t always bring in benefits, tighter timings at higher speeds will be a welcome ability that I think many enthusiasts will appreciate.

I’d also like to welcome the FX-8320 to the party. It’s a little late, but its notably cheaper than its competition and when exposed to a multi-threaded workload should draw ahead quite convincingly. The lower clock speed and voltage should also bring temperatures down a bit for those of you who prefer to leave things stock.

And one more thing. I always list what kind of settings should be playable next to the budget to give you more places to figure out what your budget should be or where you should be aiming. Note that Far Cry 3 is brutally vicious at Ultra settings, so you’d have to resign yourself to playing the game on High until Nvidia extracts some extra performance with their next driver release.

R18,000 Budget: (1080p with Ultra details with 4x AA, 2560 x 1440p with High details and 2x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Medium to High details and no AA)

Intel Core i7-3820 @ R3225 (AMD FX-8350 @ R2592)

ASRock X79 Extreme4 @ R2513 (ASRock Fatal1ty 990FX Professional @ R2161)

G.Skill Sniper DDR3-1600 16GB (version 2.0, 1.25v) @ R1114

Sapphire Radeon HD7970 OC 3GB DDR5 @ R5980 (MSI Twin Frozr GTX680 2GB DDR5 @ R6036)

SanDisk 240GB Extreme SSD @ R2101


Corsair GS800 800W @ R1207 

Antec Eleven Hundred @ R1086

Zalman CNPS14X @ R469

Total: R17,957

I know what you’re thinking, I know. Last time we did this I had an unlocked Core i5 and dual HD7950s, where did I go wrong? Well, for starters I had to look at the platform longevity of the LGA1155 offers and to be honest, with Haswell launching next year with a new socket, there’s just no reason do dump money from a super-high-end budget like this one into a socket that’s going to be dead next year. Its different for the price points below this one because they’re concentrated on value and to be honest, LGA2011 doesn’t hold any value to budgets smaller than this one. I think at around R15,000, that’s then you’ve got to make the switch to a much more competitive platform than sink your money into something that won’t see another chip release.

LGA2011 at least has the advantage of seeing the Ivy Bridge-E upgrades next year, promising much lower power use and lower temperatures. Its also incredibly well kitted-out thanks to the X79 Extreme 4, boasting enough SATA ports and PCI-Express 3.0 lanes to fuel your need for speed. Unfortunately, there’s only four RAM slots so I’m populating them right off the bat with the super-low voltage G.Skill RAM. The AMD option comes in much cheaper by R985, giving you more room for adding in something in elsewhere to augment the system. The board is pretty much the same as the Intel offering, only that it lacks the extra memory bandwidth and eschews two SATA ports. All things considered and taking the price into account, its a worthy enough competitor.

I’d also like to touch on the SSD and the PSU. Generally, OCZ’s Vertex 4 or the new Vector would be making an appearance here, but its still too damn expensive to warrant the consideration after the exchange rate turned for the worse a few weeks ago – there are much cheaper options out there like Intel’s 330 family, ADATA’s SP900 256GB drive and even the Agility 4 series. However, I feel that coupled with the latest Sandforce controller and 24nm synchronous NAND flash chips, the SanDisk Extreme SSD is worth the consideration. If you’d like to stick to something more familiar though, I’d recommend the Agility 4 256GB, its fast enough for anyone.

And of course, the PSU. There are quite a few options out there and I’ve always stuck to the GS800 because its good value for money and offers enough connectors and power for systems like these to add on another GPU later. However, on a single 1080p or 2560 x 1440p monitor with a single GPU and no plans to add in a second, you could swap in Be Quiet!’s Straight Power 680W instead. 80-Plus Gold efficiency, modular cables and rock-solid rails add up to what could be the best line of PSUs we’ve yet to see at this price range. It won’t match the GS800 for output, but with a single GPU in the system above, its more than enough even with overclocking added in. And on the same note, if you stick with the FX chip and the GS800 (or bump up the budget a bit), you can also replace the single card with two MSI GTX660 Ti Power Edition 2GB DDR5 or MSI Twin Frozr HD7950 3GB DDR5 cards.

That’s all for this year folks! Remember to add some of this stuff onto your Christmas wishlists! Who knows, you might find a GPU in your stocking when you next look.

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