In this, our last System Builder’s Guide of the month, we take a look at some pants-sweatingly expensive hardware that most of us could only dream of owning. This time, however, there’s a bit of a twist at the end and it’s all thanks to Intel’s launch of the Haswell-E and LGA2011-3 platform later this year. It throws a spanner in the works when considering my highest-value recommendation and it also makes things a bit uncertain for buyers today eyeing out a X79 system. If you’re shopping anywhere at this level, be sure to check out this week’s episode of the guide to know more about why I think you should wait if you have R30,000 burning a hole in your pocket.
R19,500 Budget – Kicking In To High Gear
2560 x 1440p with ultra details and 4x AA, 5760 x 1080p with high details and 4x AA, UltraHD 4K and medium details with 2x AA
I’m not entirely sure where to spend the last R144 left in the budget for the R19,500 rig. After all, we’ve squeezed in a lot of hardware for a budget that isn’t all that ludicrous. We pick up the same Core i7 processor, ASRock motherboard and Crucial M500 and Ballistix memory kit from last week’s R16,500 build, helping us save some cash and providing a strong base for a properly speedy rig. The Cooler Master Seidon gets replaced by the quieter and more flexible Corsair H75. It doesn’t have the Corsair Link software or the USB connection, but it won’t matter much because we’re cooling a locked processor which won’t see much in the way of overclocking aside from Intel’s sanctioned boost capability.
The Radeon R9 290 is a PowerColor brand and features a triple-slot, triple-fan cooler with niceties such as higher quality caps, quiet VRM phases and an aluminium backplate to help prevent bending the card as it hangs in your chassis. Its also the only way that we can afford a giant leap in graphics horsepower – Nvidia’s competing offers like the Geforce GTX770 and even the GTX780 aren’t capable of matching the price/performance ratio offered by most R9 290 variants floating about in the R6500 price range. It helps that performance is also within 15% of the R9 290X, making options like triple-monitor and 4K gaming a real possibility without toning down the settings too much.
The Seasonic G 550W goes against what most people might do which is to tack on a 650W Bronze-rated power supply and call it a day, but that’s actually the worse decision to make. The G 550W has a 80Plus Gold rating of 92% efficiency at 80% utilisation, which means that at the expected load of 400W for this rig while gaming measured from the wall socket, only around 32 watts of power will be wasted as heat. If you had taken a bronze-rated 650W power supply with a power draw of 480W while gaming, you’d be running at under 70% utilisation which would drop efficiency down to just under 80%, resulting in around 80W of energy wasted as heat, not insignificant when you are trying to save on your power bill and play for at least four hours a day.
Lastly, the NZXT Source 530 is just fantastically massive and flexible, helping to keep all this hardware cool and offering up a lot of flexibility for very little money.
R24,000 Budget – Hurting That Wallet!
5760 x 1080p with high details and 8x AA, Ultra HD 4K with medium details and 2x AA
The next step up in our build kicks things up a notch, but it’s not too dissimilar from the R19.5k build. What did the extra R4500 buy us? Well, mostly just overclocking capability. We’ve moved up to the Core i7-4770K and mated it to Corsair’s Hydro H100i. The motherboard has been switched up to ASRock’s Extreme 6 and we’re still sticking to the Crucial Ballistix memory which is a lot more useful now that we’re going to be doing some high overclocks. The Crucial M500 is still here and so is the NZXT Source 530.
Here’s where things get difficult. Once you get to the R9 290’s level, there are diminishing returns with buying stronger graphics cards. Unless you’re really planning to push 120Hz gaming, or a multi-monitor setup, or game at 4K resolution, or use super sampling, there’s little tangible benefit to buying anything bigger when you’re still running on a 1440p or 1600p monitor. We’re at the end of what AMD’s GCN and Nvidia’s Kepler architectures can do and the amount of money we need to spend to get to 60FPS playability at 4K with high or ultra settings is ludicrous. We would have to run two R9 290s in Crossfire to achieve that, which is a massive expense that would also require upgrading the power supply (and you’d have to not overclock to stay within the PSU’s range of power delivery and efficiency).
Still, given that we need to maximise the budget and shoot for the best value, I’ve settled on the Radeon R9 290X for handling graphics duties. Its just as fast as the GTX780 Ti and retails for much less on many stores, giving AMD the price/performance advantage. Its also much faster than the GTX780, which is normally around the same price and offers comparitively lower performance. However, if you do want to use all of the features that Nvidia offers through CUDA and Geforce experience, you can’t go wrong with a decent GTX780. Performance, once overclocked, would still be quite impressive.
Sticking with a single GPU also allowed us a little more leeway in terms of which power supply we’ll be using and Cooler Master’s 80Plus Gold-rated Vanguard 650W is more than enough to service this build and whatever overclocks you’ll be applying to it. It also helps that the power supply is modular to reduce cable clutter, even though it only has two 8-pin PCI PEG power connectors anyway.
No R30,000 Build for this month, folks
I know, I know, it feels like a bit of a cop-out, but there’s method to my madness. AMD and Nvidia have recently been working on more or less the same thing, which is drivers or software that reduces the impact of CPU limitations in games. The R337 Geforce driver and AMD’s Mantle API are precursors to the real McCoy which is Microsoft’s DirectX 12, out next year. It makes no sense at this point in time to invest in the X79 platform or into a processor like the Core i7-4930K because performance in games really won’t be that much better given the current circumstances.
In the past it was completely different, that much is true. Choosing ever-more powerful Intel processors usually gave you better performance in CPU-limited games like Skyrim. But those days are long behind us, as is DirectX 9 and Windows XP. Future titles will be built to take advantage of four or more cores, more games will spread the load evenly for maximum performance and going beyond eight cores, especially for a rig tasked almost exclusively with gaming, is going to be a waste of money and power. You could rather put that money into dual graphics, better power supplies and more memory instead.
There’s also a coming wave of change from Intel and it begins with the Haswell-E platfom on socket LGA 2011-3. That will bring us the first DDR4-compatible motherboards as well as the first commercially available DDR4 memory modules. While new platforms aren’t always a good idea to buy into, this transition is different. Intel is well-equipped to bring consumers something that works from day one and the industry has been using and preparing for DDR4 for quite some time. There’s no reason to think that it’ll be a bust from the start, aside from the obvious fact that it’s going to be more expensive for a little while.
So there won’t be any recommendations for a R30,000 budget for this month, or for the next System Builder’s Guide in June. There will be, however, one in August. By that time the fuss and attention over Haswell-E will be over and prices will have dropped enough to warrant consideration, in addition to stocks being more plentiful. Its going to be an expensive platform, no doubt, but it’s going to fit right in here.
If you’re desperate for a X79 system right now then there’ nothing stopping you from taking my suggestions from February into account. However, keep in mind that it will be severely outdated in a mere three month’s time and the resale value of the newer hardware will depreciate more slowly than current-gen technology.