Hello boys and girls, welcome to the second episode of the System Builder’s Guide for January 2016. As I’ve mentioned before in last week’s guide, the exchange rate is hiking up the price for everything PC-related, and this edition of the guide won’t be any different. We have two new budget price points – R16,000 and R20,000, with the R20,000 budget being the new Intel cookie cutter starting point. Yes, dear readers, you have to spend at least R20,000 if you want the same kind of performance that cost you R15,000 a year ago. Let’s dig into the builds.
R13,000 budget – Almost hitting the spot
2560 x 1440 with ultra details and 4x SMAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2x MSAA
Kicking off the mid-week guide, we stop at the new R13,000 budget. Although things in general are more expensive this year than they were two months ago, I’m able to actually boost the performance of the R13,000 build just a tiny bit. The CPU bumps up to the Core i5-6500, which has a higher base and turbo clock speed than the Core i5-6400. However, this comes at the expense of the motherboard and the CPU cooler. Cooler Master’s Hyper 212-series coolers aren’t anywhere to be found locally for some odd reason, so the stock cooler will have to do. The motherboard changes from the MSI B150M Mortar to Gigabyte’s cheap and cheerful B150M-D3H – it’s not going to knock your socks off, but it does have a M.2 port and SATA Express, so I can’t complain too much. Our RAM changes to Corsair’s LPX memory, though there’s little difference between it and the Kingston kit it replaces.
GPU-wise, I’ve switched vendors but the hardware remains at the same performance level, though the XFX R9 380 Double Dissipation is a better deal overall. Not only is it cheaper than most 4GB R9 380 cards in the market, the unique cooler design also helps in its selection because you can pop off the fans easily for cleaning, which is a pain in the neck for most other designs. This is pretty much a once-off deal though. Two months from now it’ll probably be gone, or the price will have increased even more.
Powering the build is Antec’s TruePower 550, which was a surprising find after seeing every other brand nearly double in price compared to two months ago. It displaces the Cooler Master Vanguard-S 550W power supply, though it isn’t modular and it doesn’t have a five-year warranty attached. Cooler Master’s N400 returns for duty as my chosen chassis, and there’s still nothing else in the market that is as flexible as it. Storage is taken care of by Western Digital’s WD Blue 1TB drive. Sadly, there’s no space in the budget for a SSD as a boot drive, but I have shoehorned in a Corsair 60GB drive to serve as a cache using Intel’s RST technology.
R16,000 budget – The sweet spot
2560 x 1440 with ultra details and 4x SMAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2x SMAA
We arrive at our sweet-spot, the famous Intel Cookie-Cutter setup, with a budget that has ballooned to R16,000 thanks to the exchange rate hikes. This build is more interesting, though. I’ve stuck with the Core i5-6500 and added in a somewhat-overkill CPU cooler from Raijintek along with Gigabyte’s Z170M-D3H. The plan here is to overclock the CPU using the workarounds provided by various motherboard vendors to adjust the BLCK strap for these chips. It won’t get you very far in terms of clock speed, but it will get you just over 4.0GHz on the base clock, and it will also adjust the memory speed upwards. Coupled with the G.Skill RAM I’ve selected, DDR4-3000 should be doable. You can read up here on how others are overclocking locked Skylake CPUs on Intel’s Z170 chipset. There are still some oddities with it and only SuperMicro and ASRock are supporting it for now, but ASUS and Gigabyte will surely follow suite soon.
The GPU gets upgraded to the Radeon R9 380X, which is the full-fat version of the R9 380. The R9 380X is generally faster than the old R9 280X, but it also brings in all the new features that AMD has released for the GCN architecture thus far, and it uses less power to boot. It also puts the GTX 960 firmly underfoot, and this will probably spur NVIDIA to release a GTX 960 Ti in the near future to counter it. This is also the G1 Gaming edition of the R9 380X, so there should be a good amount of overclocking headroom left over for you to take advantage of.
The rest of the build leeches parts from the R13k system and there’s not much point going into it again.
R20,000 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, the new R20,000 build that finally qualifies as a high-end rig. It’s crazy to think that a year ago, during the early months of 2015, this would have all ended up being R5,000 lower in price. We’re now back to the Core i5-6600K, Intel’s latest overclockable quad-core CPU that pulls no punches. It’s cooled by the Raijintek Ereboss which draws all the heat away into its massive array of fins, and it’s running off the MSI Z170A Tomahawk, easily the most impressive Z170 board for the money right now. G.Skills DDR4-2666 memory pops up again, and will probably clock up to 3000MHz speeds quite well because of the CPU change, which no longer requires adjusting of the BLCK strap.
The GPU gets a big boost, moving from the R9 380X to the R9 390. This is officially Oculus Rift territory, and if you wanted to play games on a Rift without really worrying about what it’s going to look like or what settings you’ll have to drop, this is the card for you (and the GTX 970 I suppose, but it’s more expensive). I reviewed Sapphire’s R9 390 a while ago and it’s a beast of a card, being super-quiet as well as super-quick in the benchmarks. It also beat out the GTX 970 in my tests, if you want to have more bragging rights to add on top, and thanks to AMD’s driver developments it continues to get faster.
To keep the beast fed, I’ve employed Seasonic’s M12II 620W. It’s an older platform, but it checks out, and has modular cable management as well as a great reputation in the enthusiast market for being a no-frills workhorse. It doesn’t have gold efficiency nor does it have a five-year warranty, but given our budget contraints we can’t really complain. The hard drive storage bumps up to 2TB, and I’m finally able to add in a SSD, the SanDisk X110 256GB. It’s still the best price for a 250GB-ish MLC drive, seeing as all of the SSD vendors are now trying to flood the market with cheaper TLC flash that doesn’t perform as well.
That’s all that we have for this week folks! Tune in this time next week for the really high-end builds and remember to bring napkins for the drool! Catch you next time!