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Welcome, NAGlings, to the bi-monthly System Builder’s Guide. 2017 has gotten off to a decent start, and we still have Betty White with us. What we also have are builds for this month that stick rather closely to the budgets I’d set for myself. It’s been relatively quiet since November 2016 – no extreme price spikes have taken place, no products have been recalled en masse, there haven’t even been drops in availability of parts. Things are just simply stable, and it’s my hope that the rest of the first quarter of 2017 continues in the same fashion. Onwards!

New Year, New Build!

You may have heard the phrase, “New Year, New Me”, which is supposed to suggest that people have this ability to flip a switch as the calendar resets and try be a different person. While it’s certainly a worthwhile endeavour to improve yourself, it’s far easier, and possibly cheaper, to just replace your old rig and bathe in the adrenaline rush of having new hardware! We have a lot to look forward to in the first half, and even the first quarter of 2017, and almost all of it is brand spanking new.

Firstly, we’re set to have a CPU platform battle between Intel’s Kaby Lake family, and AMD’s Ryzen family. Kaby Lake launched this past week at CES 2017 and reviews went up last week as well. While it’s no surprise that performance hasn’t really increased compared to Skylake, there are definitely some things that can be appreciated, like the ease of which the silicon hits 5.0GHz on air cooling, as well as the improved chipset which gives us more PCI Express storage options. Where Kaby Lake hits hardest is in the mobile space, where the improved thermal characteristics and lower power draw allow Intel’s partners to make their systems that bit faster. At the mobile level, the improvements contribute to performance increases of about 10%, and there are sizeable gains in battery life thanks to improvements on the graphics core.

With Intel’s launch out of the way, though, many enthusiasts have turned to AMD’s Ryzen family for their fix. These chips are coming out fairly soon, I’d say within the next two months, and will launch on a brand new platform with a new socket design, support for ITX motherboards, a new chipset, a new core architecture, and silicon based on a bleeding-edge 14-nanometer process from Global Foundries. There have been rumours that hint at good things to come, and if the early bugs are ironed out before the launch, we may have chips that take the fight straight to Intel. It’s finally time for AMD to make a push back into the CPU market, because a massive win is what’s needed to keep the company going into the next decade.

What that means for the guide, though, is something else. AMD’s processors have traditionally been very highly priced locally, and a FX-8350 is still priced over R3,000. It may still be reasonably priced compared to Core i3 and Core i5 processors, but it’s not like there are a lot of attractive socket AM3+ motherboards on sale. There are some real gems to be had, like this FX-8300 octacore for R2,092, but that kind of value comes too little, too late. AMD needed a win locally two years ago when prices started sliding upwards and a FX-8320 cost the same as a locked Haswell Core i7 processor. When Ryzen hits our shores, those chips are surely going to be available in small quantities, and with a higher-than-expected price for a little while.

Not to mention that there are hundreds, if not thousands of socket AM3+ and AM2+ motherboards and processors that will need to be cleared out first. I don’t foresee AMD taking a hit on their books to refund local distributors and vendors who import this stuff on their own dime. This doesn’t mean AMD fans should despair though, I’m just recommending patience in the launch window. If you’re able to save up and wait for a better deal, do that. If you can’t, then you can’t go wrong with a new Kaby Lake chip and a Intel 100 or 200-series motherboard.

R5,000 budget

720p with Low-to-Medium settings and 2x MSAA
Processor AMD Athlon X4 845 3.5-3.8GHz (socket FM2+) R1,169
CPU cooler Stock AMD cooler
Motherboard ASRock FM2A68M-DG3+ (socket FM2+) R849
Memory Kingston Hyper-X Fury Black 4GB DDR3-1866 R483
Graphics Sapphire Radeon R7 240 2GB GDDR3 R1,087
Power supply Gigabyte 320W bundled
Chassis Gigabyte M1 mATX w/ 320W R784
Solid state drive ADATA SP550 120GB SATA (Silicon Motion SM2256, TLC NAND) R784
Total (ZAR): R5,156

Our budget build for the month stays in the AMD camp once more, but its days are now numbered thanks to the coming of socket AM4 this year and newer, cheaper, faster APUs. I’ve always picked a low-end quad-core chip with discrete graphics in this price point because APUs are thermally constrained, and having those parts separated has always been a better idea. If videos like this one showing off DOOM running on an A12-9800 are any indication, though, this build will soon be an APU build because that chip might actually be faster.

Sticking to a quad-core because I’d like for anyone to launch any game out there, the Athlon X4 845 is a locked chip that has limited overclocking options, but it’s serviceable for this purpose. We’re not running games on maximum settings, and we’re not doing anything intensive with it productivity-wise (although it’s certainly capable). The motherboard is nondescript, but decently built by ASRock. The cooler is AMD’s stock heatsink, tweaked to run quieter than previous units. There’s a single stick of RAM in there because we’re not sleeping on a bed made of drug money. It might hobble performance a bit, but you can always add a second module for higher dual-channel performance. Steamroller is a bandwidth-starved CPU architecture, and it always likes having more.

The graphics card is AMD’s oldie-but-goodie Radeon R7 240. It’s getting long in the tooth now, seeing as it has DDR3 memory, no new features, and pretty atrocious performance compared to the GDDR5 version that can’t be found anywhere today. It doesn’t even have good support in Linux right now, because AMD’s driver team is still working in support for GCN 1.0 hardware into the open-source drivers. It’ll do just fine in a Windows environment, though, and you’d better stick to playing games at 720p with low settings to get by.

R10,000 budget

1920 x 1080 with ultra details and 4x MSAA
Processor Intel Core i3-6100 3.7GHz (socket LGA1151) R2,014
CPU cooler Stock Intel cooler
Motherboard Gigabyte H110M-S2PH R1,011
Memory Kingston ValueRAM 8GB DDR4-2133 CL15 R797
Graphics PowerColor Red Devil Radeon RX 470 4GB GDDR5 R3,249
Power supply Corsair CX430 430W Bronze R711
Chassis BitFenix Comrade black ATX R497
Solid state drive Samsung 250GB 750 EVO (Samsung MGX, 16nm TLC NAND) R1,288
Total (ZAR): R9,567

Jumping up to R10,000, things look a lot better with double the budget. I was tempted to not run a Skylake build and instead base this around the FX-8300 that just arrived in the country, but that would be somewhat irresponsible of me, considering that AMD’s GPU driver performance is still a sore spot for their FX lineup. Skylake it is then!

The Core i3-6100 is good for now, so we’re sticking with it and the stock cooling. The motherboard is Gigabyte’s H110M-S2PH, which in its second revision boasts a USB 3.0 Type C connector and USB 3.1 support. Not many cheap boards have that feature set. There’s front-panel USB 3.0 support as well. I like cheap stuff that ticks all the boxes. Only one stick of Kingston RAM needs to be in this build, but I’m picking up the 8GB module because I’d like users to have the option to moving up to 16GB easily.

Graphics duty is handled by the Radeon RX 470, and this PowerColor variant uses the Red Devil cooler and heatsink design. It’s not a Devil edition, but it’s close enough. Most RX 470 cards cost more than the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti cards they’re up against, but this one is cheaper, which makes more sense. Hey, Hitman is bundled in as well! Cool. Powering all this won’t be a problem using the CX430 from Corsair, and it has just one 8-pin PEG connector, so we’re not pushing it too much with this card.

Bitfenix’s Comrade makes another appearance this month. I worked with one recently and found it quite decent, although you really want to invest in angled SATA cables with this one. There’s barely space for cables in the back panel, and what’s there isn’t enough for a fully stocked power supply. It does the job well, though, and you can’t complain for R500-ish. Finally, sticking to SSDs as the main system drive, I’m happy to keep the Samsung 750 EVO in this month. Crucial is bearing down on this drive and price point with the MM300, but the 750 EVO is still so quick that very few drives can keep up. Crazy value for this price point, honestly.

That’s all for this episode of the guide. Keep your eye out for the other builds coming later this month!

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