Hello, boys and girls, welcome to the last episode System Builders Guide for January 2015. We’re officially into the high-end market now, having dewlled enough in the peasantry of the sub-R20,000 builds. Once again Intel rules the roost here and a few price drops make the Core i7-5820K and the X99 platform all the more viable for enthusiasts, especially if you’re not afraid to shell out some cash for decent DDR4 memory. One change was made across the rest of the board though – dropping Nvidia’s GTX 970. Although the card would have been a straight recommendation here, recent issues with the mixed memory pools still deserve some investigation, particularly after Nvidia’s promised driver patch to fix any lingering issues. AMD’s Radeon R9 290 takes its place temporarily, though you can be sure that Nvidia’s will return in the March edition of the System Builder’s Guide. On to the builds!
Kicking off the month-end guide, we stop at the R20,000 mark. Its not that much different from last week’s build or the R20,000 build from November 2014. We’ve switched to a cheaper water-cooler and motherboard combo compared to November’s build and the memory has been switched out to match the colour of the board. Performance-wise, this shouldn’t hurt anything though.
Complimenting the strong platform start is the Radeon R9 290X, currently duking it out at the same price range as most GTX 970 cards currently available. Most of the time, the R9 290X will match the GTX 970’s performance, but the key differences here are support for Displayport 1.3 Adaptive Sync, AMD TrueAudio and no mismatched memory pools that may affect performance at super-high resolutions with extreme detail settings. Though it will still consume on the order of 100W more than the GTX 970, in this build its perfectly suited for the job.
Moving down the list, Cooler Master’s excellent CM 690III gets replaced by the NZXT Source 530, one of the cheapest full-tower chassis on the market with more than acceptable build quality. The vast expanses of open space inside give us plenty of upgrade options in the future and there’s enough room for cool air to circulate well. With it, we’ve also moved up to the Super Flower PSU family with the Leadex 750W. Super Flower is on par with Seasonic on the worst of days and in many cases build quality and performance exceeds other brands who have had more time to get their stuff right. These PSUs are distributed by Wootware for now, but I expect more retailers to catch on thanks to the build quality and superb price.
Finally, storage gets a little bit of an upgrade to a 3TB Seagate Surveillance drive. Designed for 24/7 operation, it’ll be perfectly fine as a storage drive and it comes with an extra year of warranty, something that only happens to hard drives designed for business use these days. Crucial’s M550 256GB serves again as our boot and OS drive, but price drops over the next few months will surely see this replaced by a 500GB SSD of comparable performance and price.
Moving along to R25,000, we see the biggest jump in overall performance thus far. We’ve now upgraded to the Core i7-4790K quad-core, hyper-threaded processor that will make mincemeat out of any workload you put it through. The Nepton 140XL and Gigabyte’s Z97X Gaming 5 should be more than enough to facilitate high overclocks, but at this point you’re probably not going to see much beyond 4.8GHz with the silicon lottery stacked against you. Our Kingston memory stays the same, although it would be nicer to see some price drops to allow for 16GB to fit in here.
Leading the graphics charge are two Radeon R9 290 cards in Crossfire. AMD’s been making some big strides with game performance on multi-GPU setups these days and with Crossfire now being done over the PCI-Express bus, they aren’t limited to how they can implement frame pacing or advanced tricks like split-frame rendering. With a game running on Mantle, very few configurations will be able to beat this setup. With prices for the GTX 980 still being around the R9000 mark, this is also the most performant and sensible solution if you’ve got the power supply to run them properly.
Nothing changes from the previous build, although you may want to set up the Source 530 to have the hard drive and SSD on the bottom drive cages, removing out the middle one to allow for better airflow to the Crossfire pair. Unfortunately, AMD’s current Radeon Rewards program is over tomorrow, but we may see more deals coming out in the next week or so if you want to wait for that.
We end off this week with a magnificent contender for the R30,000 budget, Intel’s X99 platform. Even the Core i7-5820K offers up enough PCI-E lanes to be super-flexible with any hardware you put in there, so we’re not limited in any way due to board design or Intel’s PCI-Express setup. Keeping things cooled down is Cooler Master’s Nepton 280L, one of the cheapest 280mm kits out there. Luckily the Source 530 supports it, or else I may have had to scramble for a different case that wouldn’t end up being much better.
Platform-wise we have Gigabyte’s X99-UD4 housing everything thanks to a small price drop and DDR4 is getting cheaper by the week – this set of DDR4-2400MHz RipJaws memory would have easily fetched R4000 two months ago. By the time Intel’s Skylake platform launches later this year, this same kit should be sitting at around R2000.
Because we’ve poured most of the money into upgrading to the X99 platform and DDR4, the rest of the build doesn’t change except for the higher-wattage Leadex 850W power supply, now fully modular. As time goes by and prices drop and the Rand recovers, things will get a little cheaper and more affordable, but overall I think we’re finally seeing some progress into DDR4 and SSDs becoming the norm instead of the exception. Will the same hold true to the Notebook market in the Laptop Buyer’s Guide next month? Who knows. Stay tuned to find out! BYEEEEE!