Hello, boys and girls, welcome to the last episode of the System Builders Guide for January 2016. This is the last guide for the month and as expected, it’s going to be quite a big one. Because I’d reached the budget of R20,000 with last week’s guide, this one got a lot tricker, and took more time to sort through. I’m now juggling lists that look at four retailers (Rebel Tech, Wootware, Raru, and Takealot) and it seems that no one site offers the best value-for-money for an entire build. That’s the competitive market at play, and some places elect to drop prices on specific components in order to entice you to spend more on other components. I do recommend trying to get everything in one place though, it just makes keeping slips and filing for warranty returns that much easier. Anyway, let’s get on with it!
R25,000 budget – Kicking in to high gear
UltraHD 4K with High details and 4x MSAA, 2560 x 1600 with Ultra details and 4x MSAA using VRR
Kicking off today’s builds is the new R25,000 budget. Why yes, it is R5000 higher than last year’s build. Anyway, I’ve moved to the Intel Core i7-6700K which is Intel’s top-of-the-range Skylake processor, an unlocked quad-core with hyper-threading monster. It’s a very different beast from the older Haswell and Broadwell processors that used to be here, because it’s using a “new” 14-nanometer production process and comes with a shiny new chipset to play with, which is nice. It’s getting cooled by the Cooler Master Nepton 120XL, because Intel doesn’t ship any coolers in the box, and it’s mated up to Gigabyte’s Z170X-Gaming 3 motherboard, which is fairly current and offers ports for everything up to and including USB 3.1 Type-C devices. G.Skill’s Ripjaws memory makes a return from last week’s build, and 8GB is still enough memory for this system, though I think it’s cutting it fairly close now. Shaving off, or adding on R1000 would allow you to pop in another 8GB of RAM in there.
The GPU is still the Sapphire R9 390 Nitro from last week’s build. This part surprisingly hasn’t gone up in price too much since my last guide two months ago, so that’s some relief for those of you looking for a new GPU today. The R9 390 Nitro’s performance is also quite excellent considering the cost, easily beating the GTX 970 and matching the GTX 980 overall in the latest tests by Techpowerup. It’s a magnificent card, and one of the few that I’ve reviewed that I really wanted to keep for myself.
Powering everything is the EVGA Supernova G1 650W, which has more than enough headroom for this build with overclocking thrown in. EVGA has been doing fantastically well with its Supernova brand, scooping up awards everywhere for these units and giving Seasonic and Corsair a run for their money. Super Flower doesn’t seem to be in stock at Wootware anymore, but this is quite possibly better. Make sure you register your warranty with EVGA and you’ll probably qualify for a warranty extension up to ten years.
The chassis and storage moves up to the full-tower NZXT Phantom 530, which looks very Alienware-like in its design. For a boot drive we have the SanDisk X110 256GB returning once more, and alongside it is the WD Blue 2TB drive for storing media and games that can’t fit on the boot drive. It’s not a fast drive by any means, but as secondary storage it won’t do too badly.
R30,000 budget – Hurting that wallet!
UltraHD 4K with High settings and 4x MSAA, 2560 x 1600 with Ultra details and 4x MSAA using VRR
We’re moving up in the world with an extra R5000 burning a hole in our pocket. Nothing really changes on the platform side, not even the motherboard, but I did use some of the budget for more memory. 8GB of RAM and 8GB VRAM on the GPU might be cutting it finely because of how much games or applications might want to swap assets between the system RAM and the GPU, so moving up to 16GB alleviates that issue and gives us more space to play with for more applications running concurrently (read: opening up more tabs and separate windows with Chrome).
The GPU makes a jump again, but not to NVIDIA’s GTX 980 this time, but to the Radeon R9 Fury with 4GB of HBM memory. The Fury draws ahead with higher framerates by nearly 20% over the GTX 980, which is a good example of how AMD’s driver update team tends to work their magic over time to eke out more performance from GCN. It should be noted that while the specs do say that this rig is made for 4K gaming, running games maxed out will probably drop the framerate to around 35fps, which is playable but not smooth. Dropping the quality settings to the “high” preset in most games should boost up the framerate and make it a better experience. The R9 Fury is also capable of driving triple-1080p multi-monitor setups, so that might be a fun purpose to build towards.
I should also note that there’s a new spec that I list at the top of the table now – “2560 x 1600 with Ultra details and 4x MSAA using VRR”. This means that this machine will deliver the smoothest, and most consistent experience, when running it on a variable refresh rate (VRR) monitor. Both FreeSync and G-Sync are maturing now and settling down as viable technologies, and moving forward I’ll add recommended settings for gamers on a static refresh monitor as well as a VRR monitor.
The rest of the system doesn’t change save for the SSD, which is Samsung’s 850 Evo 250GB. Samsung holds the honor of being the only company that has figured out how to make TLC flash memory viable for high-performance applications, and until other companies figure out how Samsung does it, they’ll be left to try sell off TLC-based drives as cheap solutions, while Samsung reaps the rewards of having their in-house designs and using vertical integration to drive down the BOM cost to increase profit margins. The rise of NVMe storage, or SATA Express drives, along with 3D Xpoint memory from Intel and Micron might level out the playing field once more, giving the other brands a chance to steal some of the limelight for themselves.
R35,000 budget – You paid how much?
UltraHD 4K with Maximum everything and 4x MSAA, 2560 x 1600 with Ultra details and 4x MSAA using VRR
We finally end off with an Intel HEDT system, the platform that is most suited to content creation and software development. I’ve moved up to Intel’s X99 platform with the Core i7-5820K, a six-core hyper-threaded processor with an unlocked multiplier, as well as MSI’s X99A SLI PLUS, which is still the cheapest X99 board on the martket. Complimenting this pair is the Cooler Master Nepton 240M and 16GB of Kingston’s Hyper-X Fury DDR4-2400 memory. I’d use something with higher speeds, but we’re over the budget as it is already.
The GPU doesn’t change, as the R9 Fury still tops the charts quite frequently compared to other cards. A possible option was this Sapphire Radeon R9 Nano, but with the recent price drops, and the fact that this card tends to drop a little behind the R9 Fury at stock settings, I can’t really recommend it yet. Both AMD and NVIDIA are bringing out their newer, bigger guns in the form of Polaris and Pascal very soon I bet, and it doesn’t look like we’ll see any price drops for the GTX 980 Ti or the R9 Fury X until then. Bummer.
As before, the rest of the system doesn’t change, but I have upped the SSD to Samsung’s 850 Evo 500GB. A reader asked me two months ago why I didn’t go for a NVMe drive instead, and that’s really because the size difference doesn’t make up for the boost in performance. a 250GB drive is still a 250GB drive, and ideally you’d want 500GB or more so that you don’t spend too much time using Steammover to swap your games to and from the SSD (Steam responds well to doing this manually now, but it’s still a pain in the butt). 500GB is still useable and manageable, and it’s just a better fit for a gaming machine.
Thanks for getting through this long read! Next month I’ll be moving back to the Laptop Buyer’s guide, which will see a redesign of the layout and the format. I promise that you’ll like it. Stay tuned to NAG for more news, reviews, and rants from Chris Kemp as we head into the weekend wishing we could spend more time playing the games we love.