Hello boys and girls, welcome to the second episode of the System Builder’s Guide for July 2015. Today, we’re running this a little late, as I’ve had several reviews pile up on me this week in addition to rAge expo preparations, which began for me this week, though I’m waiting for a lot of stand owners to get back to me. rAge this year is going to be insane, and any of you attending are sure to have a blast.
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 R12,000 budget. I wanted a Skylake build here for many reasons, but the primary one is that I like shiny new things, and Skylake is new and shiny. Replacing the Core i5-4590 is the Skylake-based Core i5-6500, with a turbo boost range of up to 3.6GHz with four physical cores. Because the i5-6500 is a 65 watt processor, there isn’t a lot of heat to dissipate here, as we’re not going to be overclocking it at all. With that is Gigabyte’s B150M-D3H motherboard, one of the first B-series boards in stock locally. While it is more budget than I’d like, the H170 series isn’t in stock yet, so this will do just fine. We’re slapping on some cheap DDR4-2133 memory from Corsair, which will do the budget nicely.
Powering our games is the PowerColor Radeon R9 380, and this is the PCS+ edition which sports a custom cooler and board design from PowerColor, as well as a full metal back plate for support. The PCS+ variants of PowerColor’s cards are fast becoming one of the most desirable, as often their headroom and thermals is on par with brands like EVGA or MSI Gaming. This variant ships with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, which will serve us well as we begin heading into the high-resolution era with 4K displays becoming cheaper by the day. There are no free games here, but we can manage without those add-ins for now.
The power supply is the venerable Super Flower HX500W, a model made by an OEM brand that supports other brands you may have heard of, like Corsair, PC Power and Cooling, among others. It joins all the other components inside Cooler Master’s N400 chassis, along with a 1TB WD Black drive and a new cooler brand I’ve never seen before. Rajintek is popular in Europe with budget builders, and they’re garnering support and making a name for themselves against the old stalwarts like Cooler Master or Thermaltake. The Adios 92mm cooler will be fine for this build’s heat output, taking us finally just over the budget allowed. Of course, if you want to save some cash, you can use the Intel stock cooler boxed in with the Core i5-6500. The one bundled with Skylake chips is probably a better effort from them than in recent years.
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. Thankfully, despite our woes with the exchange rate with the U.S. Dollar, I can still slip in an unlocked Core i5-6600K quad-core Skylake-based processor, Gigabyte’s Z170-HD3 motherboard, 8GB of speedy DDR4-2400 memory and a nice tower cooler by Cooler Master, the Hyper T4. The Cookie-Cutter build is probably the most popular configuration bought by enthusiasts today, because we’ve seen what kind of staying power Intel’s processors have when overclocked – a Core i5-2500K is still one of the fastest CPUs available once overclocked to around 4.9GHz on air. Gigabyte’s board also seems quite nice, offering a speedy M.2 NVME-compatible slot for SSDs, six SATA 6GB/s ports with SATA Express added on, and USB 3.0 Type-C support at the rear I/O panel. Not a bad deal for just over R2,000.
The rest of the system is similar to the previous budget, with the exception of an SSD, SanDisk’s X110 256GB drive. I’ve used this drive before in our Evetech review rig and it was very speedy, suffering no slowdowns or hiccups at all in the few weeks that I had the PC to test with. There sadly doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of movement in the 256GB space in the last two months, but I have seen 120GB drives trending downwards in price to the R900 price point, so things are definitely getting cheaper.
I do go over budget quite a bit here and there’s really nothing that can be helped by it, I suppose. Where can I chop off a part and save money, but not compromise on performance or useability? I’m not sure. Perhaps the buyer’s guide next time will have a R15,000 sweet-spot instead, opening up more room for better hardware selections.
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. Not a lot changes here and you can thank the lack of cheaper motherboard options and rising prices for that. We don’t really gain a lot here at all, and its not for lack of trying – Intel’s Core i7-6700K easily finds its way over R5,000 on most retailer sites and inside stores, and it still requires a CPU cooler as Intel no longer includes them in the box. High-end Skylake builds are just not the same kind of value-for-money that the older Haswell generation was a few weeks ago.
What we do gain is better cooling on the CPU, so we can clock it up a bit higher and keep it a lot cooler at the same time. The 14 nanometer process really squeezes everything together tightly, and there’s little room for heat to dissipate on the chip itself before reaching an add-on cooler. The Nepton 240M helps ventilate most of that heat out the top of the N400, which means we’ll have less heat to deal with inside for other components, and we might get a nice bit of positive pressure going on as well.
Graphics is catered for by the EVGA GTX 970 with the company’s standard ACX 2.0 cooler. I deliberated for some time on the purchase of this card versus the Radeon R9 390 (especially this Sapphire variant that I reviewed), but in the end the bundling of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain swayed me. According to our review and others, this is fast becoming the game of the year for a lot of people, and netting it for free is welcome, essentially turning the card into a R4,699 purchase. This GTX 970 should also offer quite a bit of overclocking headroom, which is also welcome.
At the tail end of our build, I’ve switched out the storage drive for WD’s Red series, a 2TB spinner in particular. The reason why you’d want a Red drive instead of a Green, Black, or Blue only becomes evident when you run into a bad sector, or want to find a file that may be located on a part of the drive that will have gone bad (we’re talking years from now, maybe). With all of the other drives, the controller will hog CPU cycles trying to find that lost data, and if its in a bad sector, it’ll sit there trying to read it for as long as 30 seconds before the controller gives up and tells the system that there’s a problem. 30 seconds is a long time, and that hang could be important if you’re storing any Steam games on there that you might be playing at that moment. On a Red drive, the time taken to attempt reading data in a bad sector is typically around 7 seconds. These drives are built not to have higher tolerances for poor performance, but to warn you the instant that things start taking a turn for the worse, so that you can back up what data you need to another drive before the first one begins corrupting data.
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!