System Builders Guide: June R18,000 to R30,000

Its the last episode of the System Builder’s guide today and we’re looking at dropping some serious cash on components – not my cash, though, that would just be insane. I’d have to work for an entire year just to be able to afford half the expense here. But no matter, this is pretty much a fantasy for most people anyway. As the market share for the desktop PC shrinks, however, we can expect to see the high-end to get more and more expensive and exclusive. The big money is in mobile these days and although the desktop user will still be important for the next decade, its important that companies make sure their bottom lines are not affected. That could mean, in turn, that Intel and AMD will instead focus on improving performance in the mid-range market rather than the high-end side of things. With that big picture in mind, let’s get into the lists!


R18,000 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with Ultra details and 2x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Medium to High details and 2x AA)

Intel Core i7-4770K @ R3994

Cooler Master X6 CPU Cooler @ R603

ASRock Z87 Extreme4 @ R2608

Corsair Vengeance Pro DDR3-1600 CL9 8GB @ R1059

Sapphire Radeon HD7970 Vapor-X 3GB @ R5673

Sandisk Extreme 120GB SSD 2.5″ @ R1199

Seagate Barracuda 1TB SATA @ R781

ASUS DRW-24D3ST @ R195

Corsair GS700 @ R1102

Cooler Master Centurion 610 @ R819

Total: R18,033

Much of the R15,500 build was kept for budgetary reasons and here I wanted to give the rig some headroom for overclocking and tweaking. Not only is the Core i7 processor now multiplier-unlocked, but we have a better air cooler thrown in as well as a Radeon HD7970 fitted with Sapphire’s excellent Vapor-X cooler design. Both cost far more than their lower-end counterparts in our previous build, but they also have a lot more potential.

Along with that we have Corsair’s new Vengeance Pro memory. This is a complete new lineup from the company and uses new memory chips from memory vendors Hynix and Micron. Some of these chips are highly overclockable, some are only minorly overclockable, but the line is generally overclockable. At stock speeds, at least, the DDR3-1600 kits should be able to reach DDR3-1866 speeds without changing anything other than XMP profiles.

The rest of the rig is pretty much the same as our last one in the previous episode in the buyer’s guide, right down to the storage subsystem and the power supply and chassis. I’d argue that the R15,500 price point was right on the edge of diminishing returns because at stock speeds this rig won’t be much faster than the last one.

As far as the AMD option goes, we can switch to the FX-8350 along with the MSI 990FXA-GD80. With the rest of  the money we’ve saved there are a few options available to us, including upgrading to a 256GB SSD and a 3TB hard drive, or a better power supply and two Radeon HD7950 graphics cards paired up in Crossfire.

R21,500 Budget: (5760 x 1080p with High details and 8x AA, Ultra HD 4K with Medium details and 2x AA)

Intel Core i7-4770K @ R3994

Corsair H80i Hydro @ R1113

Gigabyte Z87X-UD5H @ R3118

Corsair Vengeance Pro DDR3-1600 CL9 8GB @ R1059

PowerColor Radeon HD7950 3GB in Crossfire @ R6998 (MSI GTX660 Ti 2GB Power Edition in SLI @ R6554)

Samsung 840 SSD 250GB @ R2395

ASUS DRW-24D3ST @ R195

Corsair TX850 V2 @ R1627

BitFenix Raider @ R1013

Total: R21,512

This was a tough one and figuring out where to go from the previous build was difficult. I decided to stick with the general Haswell build and bump up the motherboard and add in a water cooler. Most of the value here comes out from overclocking, so improving the chances of getting better performance is worth the extra expense. Because Haswell processors typically also run very hot, some water cooling is a good idea.

The choice for graphics was easier because I knew what I was aiming for – SLI or Crossfire. Both technologies enable games to run faster than even a single, more expensive GTX780 and both solutions also duck under my R7000 limit I set aside for them. Crossfire stuttering is set to become a thing of the past soon and when that’s fixed, it’ll be the better and faster solution between the two here. As prices for the GTX780 come down, however, you may be tempted in that direction because its only slightly slower than a GTX Titan and doesn’t carry the extra complexity of dual graphics solutions.

I also ditched the hard drive here to make space for a larger SSD. By this point if you can get a monster rig like this one, you probably have a hard drive somewhere used for storing your media. Currently only Wootware sells Samsung drives but its only a matter of time before other retailers follow suit. Its not going to win all the races, but the drive’s performance in combination with its price is hard to beat.

The rest of the rig sees an upgrade in the chassis and power supply, both increased to make room for the dual-GPU setups. If its an AMD build you want, the FX-8350 along with the MSI 990FXA-GD80 is what you want. Mix that in with an upgrade to the Corsair H110 and a chassis switch to the Carbide 500R. After that, you have a choice – get a larger SSD and keep the Crossfire/SLI pair, or damn all common sense and get yourself a Geforce GTX780.

R30,000 Budget: (5760 x 1080p with Ultra details and 4x AA, Ultra HD 4K with High details and 2x AA)

Intel Core i7-3930K @ R6778

Corsair H110 Hydro @ R1369


G.Skill Ares DDR3-2400 16GB @ R1976

PowerColor Radeon HD7970 3GB in Crossfire @ R8590

Samsung 840 SSD 250GB @ R2395

Seagate Barracuda SV 2TB SATA @ R1265

ASUS DRW-24D3ST @ R195

Corsair HX850 Gold @ R1925

BitFenix Shinobi XL @ R1608

Total: R29,916

The top of the range gets a slight budget boost because of price increases in high-end hardware, particularly for power supplies, the Core i7 processor and memory. Here I chose to go straight to the Core i7-3930K along with a strong motherboard offering from ASUS for the X79 platform in the P9X79 Deluxe. Its overkill for gaming, really, but the advantage that the quad-channel memory offers as well as the extra available PCI-Express lanes mean that it’s a very flexible setup. I also chose to fill up all the memory slots with DDR3-2400 memory, the fastest speed the board officially supports.

The rest of the rig shouldn’t surprise you. There’s a SSD, 2TB of storage space, a humongous chassis and a 80 Plus Gold-rated power supply with enough juice for everything. But as with everything else here, we’re beyond the point where spending more money actually nets us more and better performance. The R15,5-00 price point was right on the edge and even doubling the budget doesn’t bring us that much better CPU performance, while the GPU setup improves substantially.

If I’m realistic, I’d probably only recommend this build in theory. Intel’s Haswell Core i7 range can be overclocked and approach a similar level of performance and the motherboard selection offers almost the same flexibility as the X79 chipset, saving you, in theory, about R4000. Hell, even if you pick the AMD FX-8350 and the best motherboard for the platform, the ASUS Crosshair V Formula, you’re saving a whopping R6000. That’s extra money that can go into something else because at this level all your games will be GPU-limited anyway.

So we end off the System Builders Guide this money with what I consider to be a fantasy rig. Sure, you can have it if you have the money for it, but I just don’t see many people moving in the direction of the X79 platform with Haswell and X87 offering almost the same package. I’m surprised to be saying this, but we appear to have reached the “good enough” plateau in the high-end segment. Both Intel and AMD will have to improve CPU performance heavily if these kinds of builds are going to make sense from now on.

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