Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of the System Builders guide. Today we’re going into the mainstream builds once again, where we begin to hit the sweet-spot between price and performance. While not everyone gets a chance to buy a tower for this kind of money, it seems a large amount of NAG readers do according to our last Reader’s Survey – the majority of people have about R13,000 to spend on a brand new PC when they decide to dive into it. This episode is marked, however, by steep rises in the price of memory and stagnation of the price of NAND memory for SSDs. Is it still possible to stay under budget this month? Follow me to find out.
R10,000 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with Medium to High details and 2x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Low to Medium details and no AA)
Slight increases and decreases here and there help us to be, rather surprisingly, just R8 more expensive than last month. Price drops were observed on the processor and DVD drive, while nearly everything else saw an increase thanks to our exchange rate increases. Thankfully, this didn’t result in me having to downgrade anything or make any concessions to stay close to budget.
As before, we’re going with AMD’s eight-core processor by default, as I feel that buyers at this level want more power, more speed and more all-round capability. Our rig is balanced out by a decent 990FX-based motherboard that will allow for a healthy level of overclocking, combined with some incredibly well-priced and speedy DDR3-2133 memory. A bump up in storage space also helps here and we stick with the same DVD drive, PSu and chassis choice that we previously had.
On the GPU side of things, it’s only about 20% faster than our previous rig, which sported a dirt-cheap Radeon HD7870. The HD7870 LE is an amalgamation of a HD7870 and a HD7950, taking the best parts of them and smashing the designs together to see what one could come up with. At R2900, its also cheaper and more effective than any similarly-priced Geforce equivalent and it comes with four free games as well.
Alternative variations on this build would be to simply use the R8500 build from last week’s episode, but pair it up to a speedy 120GB SSD. Moving to Intel would require dropping the processor and motherboard for the Core i5-3570K and the cheap MSI Z77A-G43. There won’t be any performance drops in games, but there will be a noticeable deficit in multi-threaded applications like video transcoders.
R13,000 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with High to Ultra details and 2x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Medium to High details and 2 AA)
Our sweet-spot rig is still the starting point where Intel assumes its dominance over the market. This machine is designed to get the most out of it through overclocking. While Haswell processors do run hotter under load when overclocked, bumping the Core i5-4670K to 4.0GHz using the stock cooler will be just fine. Going higher than that may require some extra cooling in the form of the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Turbo.
Two big changes are afoot here. Now that Haswell motherboards are flowing in at a decent rate, more and better options are popping up, like the ASRock Extreme4. More SATA ports, a better PCI-Express layout with the ability to run three GPUs and a well-equipped VRM bank makes for a very stable and well-equipped motherboard. Its not going to blow world records, but its certainly a much better option than its competition at the same price point.
The second change is the initial recommendation of the brand new Geforce GTX760. Gigabyte’s version comes pre-overclocked with the Windforce 3x cooler and that’s enough to make it not only faster than the Radeon HD7950 it competes with, but the outgoing GTX670 as well. Overclock it some more, and you can get GTX680 performance quite easily. The Radeon HD7950 will still be the better performer at higher resolutions and comes with the games bundle, but its up to you to decide which one you want here.
The AMD option would be to stick in the AMD FX-8350 and the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3 motherboard. As mentioned before, the AMD system will be better for multi-threaded use and running things like virtual machines, if that’s what you need to do with the system. Gaming performance will also be on par, but the Core i5 may net the system slightly higher frame rates in games that do not scale with more cores.
R15,500 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with Ultra details and 4x AA, 5760 x 1080p with High details and 2x AA)
Our highest budget in the mainstream category stops at the R15,500 mark. This is more of a high-end system than anything else right now and its probably the one with the most interesting choices. The rig finally goes under budget thanks to price drops on the ASRock Extreme4, which we’re complimenting with a Core i7-4770. We can’t yet squeeze in the K-series variant of this chip, but its more than enough for most people. Next to it is some nice after-market cooling courtesy of Cooler Master and a PowerColor Radeon HD7950. The only surprise here, really, is the inclusion of a Seagate SSD, the company’s first foray into the consumer SSD market.
But that’s not what we’re going to discuss here. See, one could drop the CPU cooler and the Radeon HD7970 to fit in an even bigger beast – the Geforce GTX770. Sure, it may run the budget up to a final amount of R15,703, but its much faster than the Radeon. Its practically a GTX680 with nitrous injected into it. Its 15% faster than the GHz Edition of the HD7970 and, once overclocked can close in on the GTX780, which would then have roughly a 15% lead. While it is a monster and definitely one of the finest GPUs Nvidia has ever made, its up to you to decide what you want from the system.
The other option is dropping the Core i7 and the ASRock motherboard for AMD’s FX-8350, the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3 motherboard and the Geforce GTX770, resulting in a final total of just R15,256. You’re still retaining the Hyper 212 Evo Turbo, the overclocking capabilities and now you’ve added in a monster graphics card as well. And the system will run at the same level, or sometimes better, than the Core i7 machine. Definitely something to think about, there.
That’s all for this week! Next week Tuesday is the high-end segments where we have some new processors from AMD to take note of and some insane graphics setups now that Crossfire is almost completely fixed. Until next time…
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