Eish! Another System Builder’s Guide! Man, I don’t know about you guys but the drool is beginning to pile up on my keyboard, mostly because I cannot upgrade my rig for at least another year. This week we’re into the mid-range segment where we enter into a price/performance war. Ultimately, R13,000 is still the sweet-spot for most buyers but prices have shifted dramatically in the last two months. Just yesterday I was helping out a fellow NAGling on the forums with a build for R13k and the end result where I’d tried to squeeze out as much as I could resulted in a very compromised build.
That being said, at least the price increases are manageable and I don’t have to raise or go over the budget too much to fit things in properly. Let’s see what we ended up with this week.
R11,500 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with medium details and 2x AA, 5760 x 1080p with medium details and no AA)
Compared to the build from December, it is a similar build but it ends up being a bit more expensive. The Core i5-4670K sees a price hike of around R200, the memory changes from G.Skill 2133MHz to Corsair 1600MHz modules, there’s a change in the hard drive and the chassis gets a bump in price too.
Where we save money is in the graphics card and the power supply. AMD’s Radeon R9 series are very sought-after because of current cryptocurrency gains for Litecoin and Dogecoin, both of which are still more successfully mined on a GPU than a dedicated system purpose-made for mining. The ASUS DCII HD7870 is still powerful enough to hang ten with today’s mid-range and has a lower price to boot, saving us some cash.
Seasonic power supplies are also supply-constrained and I’ve chosen the next-best option, an Antec HCG-M which still boasts 80Plus Bronze efficiency, modular cables and a five-year warranty. Its not as well made as a Seasonic PSU, but it’ll get the job done.
All in all, we’ve maintained the same performance but bumped up in price by about R300. In fact, that R300 price jump is seen again in the builds below and if you compare prices for the Gigabyte GTX660 that I’ve chosen as an alternative, that alone sees a jump of over R250. If you’re on the fence about buying a rig, make a move on your plans now, as prices won’t be going down anytime soon, especially when it comes to memory.
If getting an AMD rig tickles your fancy for whatever reason, you can switch out the Core i5 and the Z87 board for a FX-8350 and this ASUS M5A97 Evo R2.0 motherboard. The pair is definitely cheaper but for many games which are still single-threaded in nature, AMD’s overall performance will fall behind. Some modern titles like Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4 are pushing the FX-8350 into the front with the Core i7-4770K and the i7-4930K, but there are less than ten games which do this. Multi-tasking and video streaming/editing are better on the FX chip, but overall the i5 will perform better in most scenarios.
R14,000 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with medium details and 2x AA, 5760 x 1080p with medium details and no AA)
Our R13,000 sweet-spot is gone, replaced by the R14,000 mark. Most of the previous build remains but we’ve moved to a better motherboard and cooler to facilitate higher overclocks and more controlled temperatures. The RAM and GPU stay the same in order to keep costs down, as there’s no real benefit to improving either one with the limited budget we have.
That budget, instead, goes into storage upgrades. The Samsung SSD doesn’t see any significant price hikes but our 2TB hard drive jumps up by R100, which is enough to push us right to the limits of our budget. You do have the option to drop both to a single 1TB drive and fit in under R13,000, although you lose the speed boost to the OS in general and the extra storage capacity.
As for graphical upgrades, moving to a Radeon R9 280X is out of the question because so many are being snapped up by miners overseas that our prices have hiked and stocks have run low. It’ll be a while before we see one retailing for anything close to R3,500 ever again. The only option at this point is to drop the SSD and 2TB drive and move to a 1TB drive and this Geforce GTX760.
There’s also still the option of the AMD bundle of the FX-8350 and this ASUS M5A97 Evo R2.0 board as well. Is it better? As previously discussed, that’s up to you to decide based on what you’re going to be using your PC for.
R16,500 Budget: (2560 x 1440p with Ultra details and 4x AA, 5760 x 1080p with medium details and 2x AA, UltraHD 4K and low-to-medium details with no AA)
Our R16k budget sees that same R300 price increase I noted earlier in this column. Luckily, we’re still able to use the Xeon E3-1230 V2 as our processor instead of the much, much more expensive Core i7 family which are essentially the same chips, just rebranded. The Xeon packs in all eight threads you’d find on a i7 chip and supports all the latest extensions and improvements that Intel offers to consumers, including the upgraded graphics. Luckily the ASRock board is compatible with it, so there’s no need for a change there.
Elsewhere the build sees a jump in graphics power thanks to a Geforce GTX760 with 4GB of GDDR5 memory. Its definitely not held back by any memory bottlenecks for games that use more than 2GB of VRAM but it is held back by its 256-bit memory bus, necessitating a slight drop in recommended game settings to provide playable performance. The chassis also gets an upgrade to the Cooler Master CM690 III, a vastly more flexible solution than the Centurion 610.
At this level, an AMD FX-8350 is still an option, paired this time with the ASUS M5A99X EVO. However, there’s the issue now that the Xeon and the FX chip are pretty much equals when you put them in a multi-threaded workload, with the FX edging out a tiny win because the Piledriver architecture is better suited to that kind of workload. In games thats another story and it’ll take a well-optimised title running on Mantle or OpenGL to fully exploit the untapped power in both octo-core chips.
Make no mistake, AMD is competitive in the low-budget and high-end markets, but only given certain workloads and use-cases. It will be some time before they’re competitive overall with Intel once again.
That’s all for this week, fellas! Tune in next Wednesday for more drooling on the high-end options.