Here it is ladies and gents! The last System Builders guide for 2013. Its been quite a year for the tech industry and things are going to get even more interesting next year with CES 2014 opening cans of worms in every direction as new disruptive technologies move to shape the future of the desktop PC. For now, though, its still very familiar and friendly and that’s what I hope will remain with the platform as is morphs throughout next year – that it remains friendly, easy to jump into and easy to customise. For now, lets dig into the high-end builds and see what your money gets you. Caution! Excessive drool ahead.
R19,000 Budget: (1440p with ultra details and 4x AA, 5760 x 1080p with high details and 4x AA, UltraHD 4K with medium details and 2x AA)
For the first time in a while, we’re under budget here. There are several ways this build could have been done but the end result, I think, is much more interesting than what we had with the previous R16,000 build, and definitely a step up from what I was trying to do there. We move up to the full-fat Core i7-4770K processor and pair it up with Gigabyte’s Z87X-UD3H motherboard to provide for some really decent overclocking headroom.
We’re cooling this hot tamale down with a Cooler Master Seidon 240M water cooler and also feed my slightly OCD tendencies by having a set of Corsair memory that is also colour-coded to match the motherboard.
The biggest change to the build is the Radeon R9 290. This card performs so well that it trades blows with some of the most expensive cards on the market, including Nvidia’s flagship GTX Titan graphics card. The kicker is that it’s also roughly a third of the price locally, giving it some incredible price-performance ratios. Its also a very hot and power-hungry beast, but this shouldn’t be too much of an issue once versions with aftermarket coolers hit the market.
This also means that my recommendation of what game settings to use for maximum playability also change quite a bit. The R9 290 can be anywhere from 30% to 50% faster than a GTX770 and frequently is faster than a GTX Titan. But the jump in overall power isn’t that significant because one of these still isn’t enough to play games at UltraHD 4K resolutions with high settings fluidly. We’re hitting a performance wall there and moving beyond that is going to take some time.
Still, all that power is definitely welcome and it shows that AMD is still capable of pushing out a heavy-hitter every now and then. Nvidia countered with the equally fast GTX780 Ti, but it’s also nearly twice as expensive.
R23,000 Budget: (5760 x 1080p with high details and 8x AA, Ultra HD 4K with medium details and 2x AA)
Well, this build is well-rounded by now and few surprises are left to be had here. The processor, motherboard, CPU cooler and memory remain the same, doubling to 16GB in the case of the latter. Samsung continues to drive forward in total domination of the SSD scene and for just over R2000, the 250GB 840 Evo is a steal. The chassis, power supply and hard drive remain unchanged.
The biggest changes are really the SSD and the GPU and this is because there’s not much reason to move to the LGA2011 platform just yet. It will effectively be a dead socket for the next year while Intel prepares Haswell-E silicon and there’s not much need for quad-channel memory here either. So instead we turn to the other drivers of performance today, namely storage and graphics.
Choosing the GTX780 over a R9 290X may seem a bit odd, but there’s some sense in this decision. The GTX780 doesn’t trail that far behind for most games and in most cases can be overclocked to match up – so performance isn’t an issue for the most part. Additionally, it comes with three free games as part of the Geforce Gaming bundle (Batman: Arkham Origins, Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag) and all three are also great examples of the use of Nvidia Physx and other technologies that Nvidia is working on.
Tie that into Nvidia’s advances in software with Geforce Experience, Shadowplay, on-the-fly game recording, natively streaming to Twitch and G-Sync to remove stutters, and there’s once again a very strong case to choose Nvidia for its technical prowess. But this is only a temporary lead for Nvidia and it could be lost in a flash if AMD finds way to capitalise on their work with Mantle. The R9 290X will always be the better performer, but the GTX780 will be the more technically capable option.
R30,000 Budget: (5760 x 1080p with ultra details and 4x AA, Ultra HD 4K with medium details and 2x AA)
At the tippity-top we have some of the most drool-worthy hardware available in the market. We kick the rig off with a Core i7-4930K, boasting twelve threads, six cores and an unlocked multiplier, as well as the ASRock X79 Extreme 9, which is still probably the most feature-and-port-packed motherboard I’ve ever seen in my life. Complementing this pair are four 4GB DDR3-1600 modules from Corsair and it’s cooled down by the Cooler Master Seidon 240M, one of the best coolers the company has made thus far.
The rest of the rig isn’t too ludicrous. We have the choice of an equally-matched Radeon R9 290X or a Geforce GTX780 GHz Edition card and at this level they both are almost equally matched. The only difference with the Geforce is that it opens a host of Nvidia-only features in some popular games and comes with three for free inside the box. AMD will counter with their own game bundle offering at some point, but for now Hawaii stands on its own without needing free games to shift any stock.
Down the list, we’ve added in a 500GB SSD, a nice boost from the 360GB Corsair Force GS we had to include last time. As the prices for NAND and controllers drops, so we’ll see faster and larger SSDs made available on the market over time. Having 500GB of storage space is also good news, because this is much less hassle to maintain than smaller 128GB and 256GB drives.
Holding everything is the NZXT Phantom 530, one of the prettiest chassis to come out of the NZXT stable in the firm’s history. Its surprisingly flexible and roomy on the inside and at R1700, it’s one of the cheapest full-tower chassis on the market as well.
That’s all for this month and the year of 2013, folks! Enjoy your christmas and may you spend the rest of the year playing games to your heart’s content. The guide will resume in February 2014.