Hello and welcome to the second episode of the System Builders Guide this month. We’re returning to the mid-range today and looking at what is probably the most volatile part of the market, where a large percentage of readers typically spend their money and budget for. As you’ll notice from last month’s guide, the budgets have been raised to accommodate price hikes – that doesn’t change today, moving up to the R11,000 and R16,000 price brackets. Its unlikely that we’ll be dropping to lower ones any time soon, at least before year-end, so it’ll have to do for now. Let’s see what you money would get you.
R11,000 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with Ultra details and 4x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Medium details and 2x AA)
The predicament of what looks like waning availability of AMD’s socket AM3+ processors in the FX family, at least for the moment, forced my hand to Intel, but it’s not all bad. We only lose four threads and in return we’re gaining strong single-thread performance and high overclocking headroom, at least if you choose to equip the Core i5-4670K with an aftermarket cooler, as I’ve chosen to do here with the Cooler Master Hyper T4. Motherboard-wise, we’re using the MSI Z87-G43. It exposes the overclocking options we’re looking for and supports a decent amount of hardware.
With prices dropping thanks to the new Radeon R-200 series, which are mostly rebrands, prices for the PowerColor HD7950 have dropped low enough to be included in our budget here. Its a decent card and has enough muscle to power everything from triple 1080p monitors to UltraHD 4K behemoths. You may be CPU-limited at that resolution, but the fact that you’d be able to do it with little hassle is great. There is also the option of a Geforce GTX760, but it has less memory, a smaller bus width, and you’ll have to decide if Physx and Nvidia’s other game optimisations are important to you. Still, its practically a cheaper GTX670 for less money.
The rest of the rig is complemented by a terabyte of storage, a decent power supply, a rather roomy case and the return of my favourite memory kit, the G.Skill DDR3-2133MHz kit. That will allow us to overclock the system as a whole quite nicely and enjoy speedy memory bandwidth on top of that.
AMD alternatives? Well, there isn’t one this time around. Not only are FX processors jumping up in price, but decently priced motherboards with modern connectivity are becoming hard to find. Perhaps this is the tide being sucked out before the tsunami that will be socket FM2+ and Steamroller, but for now AMD isn’t a viable option, unless you like USB 2.0 speeds and prefer to stick to older chipset technology.
R13,500 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with Ultra details and 4x AA, 5760 x 1080p with Medium to High details and 2x AA)
Moving up halfway through our list, we’re mostly sticking to the same or similar hardware. I elected to speed up the rig with a watercooler for more overclocking headroom and a better motherboard from ASRock, which has better VRM cooling, more SATA ports and a better port and slot layout compared to the MSI board. It also has a nice grey colour that adds neutrality to the other colours we’re shoving into the same chassis.
With the small jump in budget, there are options for adding in better and faster hardware, using our R11,000 build as a base, but that will still be limited thanks to the hard drive. We’re sticking in a Seagate 600 solid state drive to give the rig a speed boost. 120GB should be enough for your Windows install, your applications and about two to three frequently played games. If you already have hard drives lying around, ditch the 2TB and grab yourself a 250GB SSD. These things aren’t cheap, but the speed is incredible.
Note that we’re not changing the power supply, or the chassis. There’s nothing substantial being added in here to necessitate an upgrade in that area and the Carbide 400R has enough room to swallow most hardware configurations comfortably.
Moving up to our high-end build and here we see some improvements to the build. On the subject of the Core i7-4770K, I realise that the Core i7-4820K on the LGA2011 platform might be a better choice for high-end users, but motherboards based on the X79 chipset aren’t getting any cheaper. I would have to include a multiplier-locked Core i7-3820 and use a motherboard that isn’t a very good overclocker anyway. LGA2011 only makes sense now in really high budgets with lots of memory and with multi-GPU configurations with three graphics cards or more. Its a testament to Intel’s product with LGA1150 and the Z87 chipset that it makes most LGA2011 setups redundant, which is what’s happening here.
The Radeon R9 280X is a rebranded HD7970 GHz Edition, but with a few twists. Newer versions of these cards no longer require Displayport to run a third monitor on an Eyefinity setup, which means that you can use the two DVI and HDMI ports with cheaper monitors to get your triple-display setup done and dusted. In addition, using a MST Displayport hub, you can run another three monitors off a singlecard. Pretty much every Radeon R-200 card with the new display connector configuration can drive six screens on its own.
Moving down the list, we’re sticking to our 120GB SSD and 2TB storage configuration, but we change up the power supply to Seasonic’s 750W M12II. Its overkill for now, but we’ve left ourselves room to add in a second R9 280X on Crossfire. AMD has been making tremendous strides in performance and visual quality with Crossfire and its only going to continue getting better. There’s also the fact that it trades blows with the GTX680 and the GTX770 on occasion, but is priced way cheaper than both. That’s good value for money and something Nvidia doesn’t have a counter for, yet.
That’s all we have time for this week! Tune in on the 29th to see the final build for this month. We next resume the guide we’ll be in December, so make sure you drop in then to see what you can ask Santa for.