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Hello, boys and girls, welcome to the second System Builders Guide for January 2015. Here we’re going into the mid-range builds, which typically offer you much more bang for your buck and a good deal of performance hidden away behind software sliders and BIOS settings to increase clock speeds. This is the second guide to have a AMD FX processor make an appearance and I hope it’s not going to be the last. On the eve of the GTX 960 launch, it’s also pretty surprising to see Nvidia’s GTX 970 come down in pricing as slowly as it has in recent weeks. Is Nvidia sitting on their laurels, knowing they have little real incentive to engage in a price war with AMD? I believe that’s the case, although our readers may say differently (and if you do, chat about it in the comments!). On to the builds!

R12,000 budget – almost hitting the spot

2560×1440 with high details and 4x AA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2xAA
 Processor   AMD Vishera FX-8350 4.0-4.2GHz Unlocked R2568
 CPU cooler   Zalman CNPS10X Optima R333
 Motherboard   MSI 970 Gaming socket AM3+ ATX R1370
 Memory   Kingston HyperX Fury Black 2x 4GB DDR3-1866 R1130
 Graphics   PowerColor Radeon R9 290 4GB GDDR5 R4299
 Power supply   Antec TruePower TP-650C 650W R1063
 Chassis   Cooler Master Centurion 6 Silver R703
 Optical drive   —
 Hard drive   WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM R727
 Solid state drive   Corsair Force LX 128GB (Silicon Motion) R865
Total (Rands): R11,928

Kicking off the mid-week guide, we stop at the new R12,000 budget. Lifting most of the choices from the R10,000 build and carrying it on, I’ve made several changes which will make it a different beast altogether. We’re sticking to the combination of a Zalman air cooler, the AMD FX-8350 and the MSI 970 Gaming with matching black-shrouded memory. So platform-wise, nothing much changes.

We do make big switches where performance really counts, though. Dropping the PowerColor R9 270X seems fair considering we’re swapping in the much, much more powerful Radeon R9 290. With a meaty 4GB VRAM and a 512-bit memory bus, its right at home with resolutions like UltraHD 4K and its entirely capable of running a triple 1080p Eyefinity setup all on its own. Plus, we’re getting access to the FreeSync adaptive refresh standard and a host of other features like AMD TrueAudio.

To keep the R9 290 fed, I’ve also switched to the Antec TruePower 650W. Built by Seasonic, this unit is easily capable of doing the job of keeping this rig fed with clean power, but it lacks modular cables which can be a bit of a downer. Hiding them inside the Centurion 6 is easy, though, so there’s not much to worry about there.

Finally, a SSD fits into the budget, courtesy of Corsair’s Force LX family. The Silicon Motion controller is a four-channel part and very cheap to make, so that helps with the costs of packaging the SSD quite a bit. At R865, we’re paying R6.75 per GB of drive space, which is fantastic and far below my R10/GB threshold. A SSD isn’t strictly necessary here, but the budget allowed for it. Ponying up for a 256GB drive would add another R600 though, so I’ll leave that decision up to you.

R14,000 budget – the sweet spot

2560×1440 with ultra details and 4xAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2xAA
 Processor  Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5-3.9GHz Unlocked LGA1150 R3137
 CPU cooler  Zalman CNPS10X Optima R333
 Motherboard  MSI Z97S SLI Krait LGA 1150 R2032
 Memory  Kingston HyperX Fury White 2x 4GB DDR3-1866 R1174
 Graphics  Gigabyte Geforce GTX 970 Windforce3X OC 4GB GDDR5 R5089
 Power supply  Antec TruePower TP-650C 650W R1063
 Chassis  Cooler Master Centurion 6 Silver R703
 Optical drive   —
 Hard drive  WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM R769
 Solid state drive   —
Total (Rands): R14,300

We return to the infamous cookie-cutter Intel build – a Core i5 K-series chip, a Z-series motherboard, a decent air cooler and 8GB RAM. Its pretty much a platform all on its own and it’s been a huge success for Intel, offering the best compromise of price and raw performance. Compared to the AMD setup in the previous build, the Core i5-4690K will stomp all over it in lightly threaded applications, but will lose in the long run in workloads like video encoding and editing.

The MSI Z97S SLI Krait is an interesting proposition and I wanted to see how far I could get things to match with it. The Kingston modules get swapped out for identical ones with a white shroud and the Cooler Master case has silver strips on the outer edges that sort of match. There’s a massive modding scene focused on colour coordination, so this is a good start if you want a black-and-white theme for your build. This also happens to be one of the cheapest Z97 motherboards certified for SLI, so that works for me.

Precisely why is because we’ve switched to the Geforce GTX 970. The equal of the R9 290, there’s not much that would justify buying any GPU more powerful than this. Perhaps if you’re gaming at UltraHD 4K most of the time the case could be made for a R9 290x or a GTX 980. This also works out well for any future SLI builds, as the GTX 970 adds less than 180W of power draw to the system and runs cooler and quieter than any R9 290. Nvidia’s focus on efficiency is working for them and builds such as these end up being both powerful and whisper-quiet.

Unfortunately, there were sacrifices made to accommodate the GTX 970 from Gigabyte, so I elected to not change the chassis and dropped the SSD to compensate. We’re over budget now, but just barely and its arguably worth it considering what we’ve ended up with – a slightly faster, cooler, quieter and more efficient computer.

While I used to have a R16,000 build in this space here, there’s not much that a extra R2000 will net you to improve performance over what we have here. However, if you do have the money, spring for Crucial’s M550 256GB, it’ll give you a hefty boost in usability.

R18,000 budget – not quite high-end

2560×1440 with ultra details and 4xAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2xAA
 Processor  Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5-3.9GHz Unlocked LGA1150 R3137
 CPU cooler  Cooler Master Nepton 140XL water cooler all-in-one R1045
 Motherboard  Gigabyte Z97X Gaming 5 LGA 1150 R2502
 Memory  Kingston HyperX Fury Black 2x 4GB DDR3-1866 R1130
 Graphics  Gigabyte Geforce GTX 970 Windforce3X OC 4GB GDDR5 R5089
 Power supply  Antec TruePower TP-650C 650W R1063
 Chassis  Cooler Master CM690 III Mid Tower R1150
 Optical drive   —
 Hard drive  WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM R769
 Solid state drive  Crucial M550 256GB SSD R2204
Total (Rands): R16,246

We come to the last build for today and it’s pretty similar to the R14,000 build. There’s little else that can match the Core i5-4690K for performance and value, so we’re sticking with it for now. Here I’ve concentrated on just pumping out more performance, so the Cooler Master tower cooler gets chucked out for an all-in-one water cooler setup with the Nepton 140XL. Going for a 240mm radiator at this point seems pointless because the processor isn’t going to create tremendous amounts of heat and in any case, I’d prefer to leave spots for 240mm radiators open for custom water-cooling loops that owners might want to switch to.

Given the fact that we’re not able to spring for the Core i7-4790K, I chose to move up to a better motherboard more suited to overclocking. Compared to the Z97S SLI Krait, we’re still retaining features like M.2 and SATA Express support, but now we also have the better Realtek ALC1150 on-board sound with Gigabyte’s AMP-Up technology. If you want to push bigger and better headhones using the onboard audio, you can switch out to better-performing amps and simply plug the module into the board when its off. Its a really neat feature to separate Gigabyte from its competitors.

Because we’re blessed with a higher budget, I also improved the chassis and SSD situation, moving to the Cooler Master CM690 III, which is just as roomy as some more expensive and larger full-size chassis. Crucial’s M550 takes up the job of being the system’s boot drive for Windows and your games and it’s currently rocking out on its own, as Samsung’s 850 Pro isn’t sitting at the same price point and Intel’s 530 doesn’t seem to want to play ball. If they continue like this, Crucial might end up dominating the market after all.

That’s all that we have for this week folks! Tune in this time next week for the high-end builds. Catch you next time, BYEEEEEEE!

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