Hello, boys and girls, welcome to the second episode of the System Builders Guide for July 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. There’s a lot going on today, especially on the storage side. Now that OCZ is offering relatively dirt-cheap 240GB drives for the masses, I think its time we revisited the possibility that I can finally ditch spinning platter storage once and for all. Let’s see what happens.
R12,000 budget – Almost hitting the spot
2560 x 1440 with ultra details and 4x SMAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2xMSAA
Kicking off the mid-week guide, we stop at the new R12,000 budget. Is it cheating to take advantage of sales, even momentarily? Hmm, probably. But that’s okay, given that for this month, at least we’re returning to a build that leans more towards the kind of horsepower we saw during 2014. For this stop, I’ve upgraded to the Core i5-4590, a locked processor, but retained the motherboard and memory from last week’s R10,000 build. To keep this puppy cool, I’ve employed the CNPS10X Optima once more, with the addition of thermal paste. It came as a surprise to me to learn that Zalman isn’t bundling a small tube of thermal grease with this particular unit, but that may be as a result of cost-savings initiatives that the company has recently implemented. After all, they were nearly declared bankrupt last year.
The surprise today comes in the form of the Radeon R9 290 from PowerColor. While the discounted price of R3999 does make this a little weird, considering the GTX 960 I had a week ago for the R10k build is just a little bit less than this, there’s undoubtedly a huge amount of bang for your buck being returned here. Not only does the R9 290 allow for gaming at 2560 x 1440 with all the eye candy turned on, its also a decent contender for 4K gaming, as long as you ease up on the AA and some eye candy like extra tesselation. Honestly, with this kind of a deal going on, there isn’t even a reason to consider buying a R9 380, let alone a R9 390X. Imagine two of them in one system… 0_0
The rest of the platform gets minor updates over a similar build I did for May. The power supply is still Super Flower’s HX500W, but it turns out that these things are either in huge demand, or short supply – they’re almost always sold out a week or two after I see them listed on Wootware, so the pricing can fluctuate a bit. The chassis switches from the Fractal Design 2300 to the Cooler Master N400, a case that I might actually buy for myself at some point (my own one is turning into a rust bucket). The side window, all-black internals, thoughtful port layout and rubber grommets for hiding cables inside the rear shield make it a decent buy if all you’re after for is value.
Finally, for storage, I had to take a step back to a hard drive instead of a SSD+HDD combo. The reason for this is because the increased prices on hardware all-round choked the budget a bit, and left me with little room for a 120GB boot drive, let alone one of OCZ’s Trion 100 240GB units. Maybe next time. Until then, a 1TB WD Black with a 5-year warranty is a damn fine choice.
R14,000 budget – The sweet spot
2560 x 1440 with ultra details and 4xSMAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2xSMAA
We arrive at our budget sweet-spot, the famous Intel Cookie-Cutter setup. If you’re not aware of what that is, its basically the pairing of a Core i5 K-series chip, your choice of a mid-range board at R1500 or so, with 8GB of mostly-cheap DDR3 memory and a SSD. For the last four years, this has been the best bang-for-your-buck option, and its been such a powerful staple that people on Sandy Bridge systems who followed this setup still have no reason to upgrade. Here we have the Core i5-4690K cooled by thew CNPS10X Optima and socketed inside ASRock’s Z97 Pro4, a board that’s been featured in this guide many times before, usually due to the amount of storage options it has, as well as enabling overclocking with the Z97 chipset from Intel. There’s also 1866MHz memory from Kingston, but that doesn’t really do anything much for games in general.
Together with the Radeon R9 290 from the previous build, and with the larger power supply, the aim of this build is to get as much performance you can through basic overclocking techniques, using software and walkthrough guides you may stumble onto on the internet. Most Devils Canyon processors can overclock to around 4.4GHz on air without voltage changes, while most R9 290 cards, once overclocked, give both the R9 290X and the GTX 980 a run for their money. Otherwise, just overclocking the CPU helps overcome any issues with single-threaded games and software that may just need more clock speed rather than more cores.
Because Super Flower’s PSUs seem to be out of stock almost every month, the lack of any decently priced 750W units has lead me to replacing it temporarily with the Seasonic S12II, another old favourite that was quickly replaced by Super Flower once those PSUs were generally available in the country. There’s nothing wrong with the S12II and even the semi-modularity is fine for a unit that has a Bronze rating on it, though it does drop down to a three-year warranty.
Our case and hard drive are familiar, but the newcomer is the OCZ Trion 100 240GB, newly released and still very wet behind the ears. While this drive isn’t a demon on the write speeds with heavy workloads, the read speeds are perfectly fine, and its use as a boot and system drive is a good idea. The price-per-gigabyte ratio is still not there for 240/250/256GB drives, but it’ll drop down to below R4 per GB sometime this year, I hope.
R18,000 budget – Not quite high-end
2560 x 1440 with ultra details and 4xMSAA, UltraHD 4K with high settings and 2xMSAA
We come to the last build for today, the R18,000 build that is mostly high-end, but isn’t really there yet. This build is probably the limit of sensibility for me personally and for this guide. The only place where spending more money actually yields useable performance improvements is in the storage sector, where a larger-capacity SSD would be welcome. Our base platform is still the same – still a cookie-cutter Intel Core i5 build. This time, I’ve moved up to a water cooler to help keep thermals and power consumption down, as well as a motherboard upgrade to ASRock’s Z97 Extreme4, which should be able to handle all this extra pressure. I’m sticking to 8GB of RAM for this build, although it could be argued that 16GB would be more beneficial, especially with the R9 390X’s frame buffer being so large.
That may very well be one of the achilles’ heel for this build. See, while CPU horsepower stays the same, the amount of GPU performance on tap increases by about 15% over a competing Radeon R9 290X, but things get tricky with VRAM counts. Is it necessary to have 8GB of GDDR5 RAM on this card? No, not at all. By the time you need it, you’ll be churning in single-digit framerates because there’s not enough bandwidth for whatever game or simulation program you’re running. About the only modern game that consistently uses more than 4GB of VRAM all the time is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and that’s only really down to how the game engine likes to store its textures and other assets on to the GPU, instead of streaming from the drive, or from system RAM.
Moving down, I splurged a little on the chassis, Cooler Master’s CM690 III, because we need the better airflow to keep all these components cool. It has some pretty nifty features and is pretty close to the original 690 in looks and internal design. Its still going to house a 620W Seasonic PSU, but since we have no need for extra power right now, the headroom on offer for overclocking stays there.
Storage-wise, only the SSD changes to Samsung’s 850 EVO. While the Trion 100 family is a great set of budget SSDs, Samsung’s EVO offering is overall better in terms of performance, which I think is really what this build is after – performance, but at a reasonable price point. Altogether, its not a bad build at all.
That’s all that we have for this week folks! Tune in this time next week for the high-end builds and remember to bring napkins for the drool! Catch you next time!