System Builders Guide: February R3500 to R9000


Its time for our System Builders Guide once again and there’s some magic in the air this February – no, it’s not love, but it is lower-priced SSDs. Grabbing a 120GB SSD for your rig has never been easier than now and things are only going to drop lower now. If you’re on the fence about including one in your budget, perhaps this month’s guide will persuade you. Today we’re diving into the budget segments and introducing a new, low-end setup that should squeeze into even the tightest budgets. A shift in the GPU market has also affected many of my builds for better and worse, but I’ll explain why later. Dive in!

A little update since we last got together…

So, the bad news – the Rand is dipping with a very worrying linearity. Prices of everything in the country are increasing – bread, milk, eggs, bacon, my favourite German coffee, DDR3 memory, processors and motherboards are all more expensive this year – and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of this letting up. As our economy slows down ever more and as retailers concentrate on the things that are really selling, like tablets and cheap laptops, the PC component industry will slow down along with it. Several components that translate well across the desktop and mobile markets, like SSDs and hard drives, are coming down in price so there is some relief there.

Its all got to do with our location, our government and how we’re not producing anything that really makes us stand out on the world stage. We’ve slowed down the brain drain quite a bit, but we are still wasting trillions of Rands on things we don’t need – E-tolls, expensive cars, fire pools and amphitheater-like holding walls – and exporting all of our raw minerals to countries outside our borders. Without a strong economy and a growing technology market many new shiny things won’t reach us at all or, if we do get some of the nicer toys, they’re all much more expensive.

Honestly, the fact that the ASUS VG248QE is almost double the price that people in the US and the EU pay is unbelievable. No-one in this country will be able to realistically afford a G-Sync monitor upgrade unless it’s imported and SA Customs waivers your import fees because they’re feeling fine and dandy on that particular day. At least the prices of the Radeon R9-290 and the 290X aren’t being inflated because of Litecoin miners.

Exactly one year ago, a Core i7-3770 only chewed up R3000 out of your budget. Today, it’s exactly R1000 more expensive and the K-series version is R500 more on top of that. That kind of increase is scary. For those of you who managed to snag a Playstation 4 back when the standard version was R6300, good for you. You dodged a costly price hike and a drought that will only see new PS4’s hitting the shores in March or April.

Anyway, that’s the doom and gloom out of the way for this month. We’ll mope about this again in two month’s time!

R3500 Budget: (720p with low-to-medium settings and 2x AA)

AMD A6-6400K @ R965

MSI FM2-A55M-E33 mATX @ R585

Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 4GB @ R595

Seagate Barracuda 1TGB SATA HDD @ R783

LG GH24NS95 DVD-RW @ R178

Thermaltake V2S w/ 350W PSU @ R440

Total: R3546

The new introductory build was a request from one of my readers and it plays, I guess, to the gamers or first-time owners who are just starting out and have a very low budget to work with. This rig is perfect for anyone using this in the home for a basic internet, HD video and school projects/homework machine. The dual-core A6-6400K will keep up with most software and applications you’ll want to use and for the odd indie game or HD movie that requires hardware acceleration, the built-in Radeon graphics will be well-suited for this purpose.

Of course, concessions need to be made here. We’ve dropped down to 4GB of DDR3 RAM and for the types of activity this machine will be used for, it probably won’t matter much. For multi-tasking and using more tabs in browsers, having more applications running in the background and working with productivity apps, 4GB is more than enough. It also helps that it’s still enough for light gaming, but your settings for most games will need to be reined in heavily. 720p is the most you can expect out of any 3D title you’ll be playing on this hardware.

Of course, as a nod to my earlier hint about SSDs, adding one in here isn’t expensive – swap out the 1TB hard drive for this Samsung Evo 120GB SSD. You only get a quarter of the drive space, yes, but the upgrade costs you less than R500. The benefit here is that you’ll never be stuck waiting for something to finish installing or the system to finish booting, although you’ll have to be more careful about how you store your data on the system.

R4500 Budget: (720p with medium-to-high settings and 2x AA, 1080p with low settings and no AA)

AMD A8-6600K @ R1572

MSI FM2-A55M-E33 mATX @ R585

Kingston Hyper-X H2O DDR3-2133 4GB @ R883

Seagate Barracuda 1TGB SATA HDD @ R783

LG GH24NS95 DVD-RW @ R178

Cooler Master Elite 344 w/400W PSU @ R642

Total: R4643

Moving to the build that I used to start off with, we’re sticking with an APU to handle the processing and graphics duties. AMD’s A8-6600K is one of the cheapest quad-core processors around and also is fully unlocked, so you can tweak to your heart’s content for extra performance. We’ve used the same motherboard from the R3500 build, but it is one of the few cheap socket FM2 boards around. Sadly, socket FM2+ isnt an option at this point and Kaveri is nowhere to be seen locally. Richland will just have to do for now.

Additionally, we’re dropping down to 4GB of fast system memory here. The Rand has been steadily losing value against the Dollar, Pound and Euro and prices have shot up for several components. Memory is mostly affected and just six months ago it was possible to purchase 8GB of DDR3-2133 RAM at this same price from G.Skill. Still, 4GB should be enough for what this system will be doing, but the drawback is that upgrades will be a little trickier because this motherboard only has two DIMM slots. Moving to 8GB would require replacing both modules – a costly upgrade and a prospect I’m not too happy about. But this is the price for living at the bottom of Africa and not using an Intel processor.

Speaking of an Intel rig, few combinations will come close to the capability of the A8-6600K. Sure, we can bundle a dual-core Pentium with a Radeon HD7730 or R7 250 GDDR5 graphics card, but it does end up being the more expensive option and you lose out on two extra cores which will help in well-threaded games and some online multiplayer titles. 64-man matches are doable with the A8-6600K, not so much with a Pentium processor.

R6500 Budget: (720p with Ultra settings and 4x AA, 1080p with high settings and 2x AA)

Intel Core i3-4130 @ R1509

ASRock H81M mATX @ R895

Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 4GB @ R595

MSI Radeon R7-260X 2GB GDDR5 @ R1881

Seagate Barracuda 1TGB SATA HDD @ R783

LG GH24NS95 DVD-RW @ R178

Cooler Master Elite 344 w/400W PSU @ R642

Total: R6483

The first sweet-spot in this guide is the R6500 build. Some compromises had to be made to fit in under budget but there are a few surprises here. We have a Haswell-based Core i3 processor, 4GB of system memory and a Radeon R7-260X. This is the re-skinned Radeon HD7790 with an extra gigabyte of GDDR5 memory and all the bells and whistles enabled – TrueAudio, Eyefinity on a single card without Displayport cables (only if all your monitors are the same) and Mantle, AMD’s API designed in collaboration with DICE that promises to improve game performance on all GCN-based graphics cards.

But there are a few drawbacks to this rig that make it a lot less versatile than previous ones. We’ve been forced to drop to a mATX motherboard and chassis to save on the budget, which limits system upgrades. If you want to add in a better sound card, that is possible, but note that since we’re using a dual-slot GPU this limits space inside the chassis quite a bit. There are also only four SATA ports, but I don’t expect many people to need, or use, more than two hard drives in a system like this. Moving to ATX, had it been an option, would have been the better solution.

The ATX conundrum is why I’ve been able to recommend an alternative AMD build for a little more money. Swap in the FX-4300 processor, this MSI 970A-G46 motherboard and use this Cooler Master Elite 311 chassis and Extreme Power2 475W power supply. Its an extra R400 or so, but you get a bigger chassis, better port layout and a more tweaking-friendly processor. Performance should be about the same between the two systems, even when taking Mantle into consideration.

R9500 Budget: (1080p on Ultra details and 4x AA, 2560 x 1440 with medium details and no AA)

Intel Core i5-4440 @ R2463

MSI Z87-G41 PC Mate @ R1527

Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 8GB @ R1190

ASUS DirectCU II Radeon HD7870 2GB GDDR5 @ R2548

Seagate Barracuda 1TGB SATA HDD @ R783

Corsair VS550 @ R589

Antec One S3 @ R476

Total: R9576

Man, price hikes. I hate them. Our R9000 budget had to be increased again (six months ago, is was R8500) to accommodate similar hardware found in our December System Builder’s guide at this same budget. Unfortunately, price increases to the processor, motherboard, memory and even the freakin’ chassis have forced compromises to be made. The Core i5-4440 remains but the motherboard is bumped up to the MSI Z87-G41, memory gets bumped down to 8GB of Corsair’s DDR3-1600 RAM and we don’t have a fancy Corsair chassis any more.

The changing of the GPU isn’t all that bad though – we have the functional equivalent of the Radeon R9-270X seen in the December build in the form of the HD7870. Overclocking it in the control panel to meet the same memory speeds as a stock R9-270X is easily done and performance should be mostly the same, if not slightly higher. This is a better option than the R9-270 cards running around because those are clocked lower and only have a single 6-pin PEG power connector, limiting performance and overclocking headroom. Meh.

This wouldn’t be a problem if AMD’s six-core socket AM3+ FX processors were available, but they aren’t easily found here. Even if they were, the prices would have inflated enough to match the Core i5-4440 and make it a less sensible choice. Hell, even the A10-6800K is currently way overpriced. We will have to stick with Intel for the forseeable future.

The truly sad thing is that prices will only climb higher, and when all the retailers ever see is people buying up Intel chips, they’ll assume that no-one wants an AMD processor and begin to stop ordering them because they’re not making a lot of profit off them. Is AMD simply not interested in doing anything for South African and African markets? It sure seems that way.

That’s all for this week, folks! Tune in next week Wednesday for the next episode of the guide where we jump into the mid-range builds. Expect to see more domination from team Blue there as well.

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