I’ve been reasonably impressed in the past with how quickly Intel has seeded their products into the retail channel, with local stores sometimes receiving their stocks in the same week as the international launch with sales happening soon after. It benefits the local retailers to have something to sell after a product launch that will be popular and it benefits you, the enthusiast and PC gamer, who wants to buy all these nice shiny things. Intel’s Skylake platform launched recently and it’s been selling like hotcakes overseas. As soon as stocks of the Core i7-6700K and Core i5-6600K are replenished, they sell out within minutes, such is the need to get the new hotness. If you’re likewise struggling to figure out where to start shopping for your Skylake build, perhaps this is a good spot to begin.
Considerations before you buy
One of the things you’ll need to keep in mind is that not only is Skylake still in a launch window (ergo, lots of teething issues), it is also really expensive. I’ve seen prices for the Core i7-6700K go way over R5,600, and that’s just for a mainstream quad-core hyperthreaded processor that doesn’t offer much more over the cheaper Core i7-5820K. Pricing is going to be a big factor in your decision of when and what to buy and this isn’t helped by Intel’s stock issues either. Naturally, they will target the markets where the need is greatest, so they’re moving as many units as possible to overseas markets. We’re pretty small in the grand scale of things and this won’t change anytime soon. Its going to be expensive no matter which way you look.
At the same time, this launch is only really for the K-series chips. Intel does have other products based on Skylake that will ship later, but those are all weeks away from landing here in full. Cheap LGA 1151 boards also need to arrive before then, and I’ve now started seeing more listings crop up online (though they all seem to be from ASUS). If you’re keen on a Skylake build or you’re looking into this for the first time, wait a few weeks for availability to improve and prices to settle a bit. Its a little bit crazy right now.
Also keep in mind that you do have to move to DDR4. Those motherboards that offer DDR3 compatibility with Skylake won’t be very common, as you’ll mostly find that in OEM machines rather than the average consumer market. Anything from the 2400MHz frequency and upwards is a decent buy, as the latency isn’t cutting in too deeply to affect performance in any noticeable way. Its not much more expensive than DDR4-2133 in any case.
And one more thing. If you’re buying a K-series processor, budget for a CPU cooler as well. Intel no longer ships these products with a boxed processor and it’ll be up to you to pick up one that is suitable. With the 95W ratings on these chips posing potential problems for cheaper CPU coolers, don’t shop for anything weaker than a Corsair H60 all-in-one kit, or a Zalman CNPS10X Optima.
Granted, we’re still in the launch window for Skylake, but it does look like we’re getting somewhere with pricing. For now, Raru is the only online store that lists other processors from the Core i7 and Core i5 ranges. If you’re not overclocking, my advice would be to grab the Core i5-6500. Both the base and boost clock speeds are high enough to deliver good performance and it’ll be hovering around that maximum turbo level almost all of the time. The Core i5-6600 is also not a bad choice, but for R300-odd more, you can gain unlocked multipliers. That almost pays for itself if you’re buying a Skylake system with the intention of keeping it for a number of years.
For now, the cheapest place to buy a Core i7-6700K is Wootware. The cheapest place for a Core i5-6600K is Takealot. The prices are separated by a fistful of coins in some cases, but this could weigh into your decisions for other parts in your system. Perhaps you’re just that budget-constrained. By contrast, if you’re only able to afford the Core i7-6700, rather wait a bit for the Xeon E3-123x variant of the same processor, which would save you about R400 if the Xeon E3-1231 V3 is anything to go by.
While we’re here, take a gander at the price for the Core i5-6400. That’s a good indication for how expensive Intel’s Core i3 range are going to be. I don’t think we’re going to find a Core i3 Skylake chip selling for anything less than R1,800 when they land. If I’m proven wrong, though, I’ll be happy.
Obviously, I’m not going to list every single Skylake motherboard currently available locally, or at least with pricing available – that would yield a table three times as long as this one. Just the list of Z170 boards I’ve seen so far online is exhaustive to look at and I don’t want to imagine the number of boards coming out based on the H170 and B150 chipsets. Safe to say though, that if you were building a new system tomorrow, you’d be able to find a CPU and motherboard combo in stock that could arrive by the weekend, with the rest of the kit like the memory and CPU cooler as well.
Taking a look at all of the boards available so far, the ones that catch my eye are Gigabyte’s Z170-D3H as well as the ASRock Z170 Extreme4. The former is probably the most sensibly priced board for the features it offers, while the Extreme4 offers ten Digital VRM phases, a luxury usually only found on much more expensive ASUS boards. In technical terms, the Gigabyte Z170X Gaming G1 and the ASRock Z170 Extreme7+ are the most interesting, as the Gaming G1 sports a lot of PCI Express connectivity through the use of PLX chips, while the ASRock board offers a lot of storage options in the form of M.2, mSATA and mini-PCI Express slots.
If you’re not in the market for high-end hardware like this, by the end of September there’ll be more processors and boards for the mainstream and budget markets that might be more affordable. Still, if you’re going to wait that long (or potentially wait to buy your rig at rAge Expo), save up more money and buy into the Z170 chipset with a Core i5-6600K at the least. You won’t make many changes to your base platform for the next three to five years (or you won’t need to, at least) and you can always improve on other aspects of your build like GPUs and solid state drives as new tech comes out in 2016.