System-builders-600-x-2722

Welcome to the second edition of the System Builder’s Guide for this month, and today we’re moving up to the mid-range segment. This is the point at which things get into the sweet-spot category – where you’re set for the next two years without needing an upgrade, but where getting one might still be of benefit to your use case. It’s quite odd to think as well that neither of the two systems you’ll see here today needs more than 400 watts of power to run overclocked. We’ve achieved insane levels of efficiency in the last decade, and these systems are at the bleeding edge of what’s possible with modern components. Let’s look at the builds, shall we?

R15,000 budget – the sweet spot

2560 x 1440 with high details and 4x SMAA, UltraHD 4K with medium settings and 2x SMAA
Processor Intel Core i5-7500 3.4-3.8GHz (socket LGA1151) R3,429
CPU cooler Stock Intel heatsink
Motherboard Gigabyte Z270M-D3H (socket LGA1151) R2,134
Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x 4GB DDR4-3000 CL15 R1,276
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon RX 480 G1 GAMING 8GB GDDR5 R4,860
Power supply Corsair CX450M 450W Modular Bronze R1,208
Chassis Corsair Carbide 88R Windowed mATX R758
Solid state drive Samsung 250GB 750 EVO (Samsung MGX, 16nm TLC NAND) R1,318
Total (Rands): R14,983

I’m quite pleased with the R15,000 build so far, even if it’s a far cry from the ones that I used to have in here that would be the entry point for tinkerers and overclockers. Once again, I’m working off the premise that we’ll be able to overclock a locked processor by using a launch BIOS that exposes this functionality. I first knew that Kaby Lake was capable of this when I attended the MSI Kaby Lake launch in Johannesburg last week, and there I was able to overclock a Core i5-7600 from a base clock of 3.5GHz to almost 3.7GHz. If I was able to test it further, the 105MHz BLCK overclock would have yielded a boost clock of 4.2GHz. Netting extra speed for free, even if it’s a tiny amount, is always welcome. Higher BLCK overclocks might also have been possible, but there wasn’t enough time to test to see if the system could boot with higher speeds.

Taking that into account, I selected the brand new Core i5-7500 for this build, along with its stock heatsink. This is a slighty faster chip than the Core i5-6500 that it replaces, and it’s also marked at the same price. Kaby Lake ships with a higher-speed DDR4 memory controller, so there’ll be some slight boosts thanks to that, but we’re going to exploit another feature that came with Skylake, but wasn’t widely used – overclocking the memory controller. I’ve selected Gigabyte’s Z270M-D3H for the this purpose, and it has a good layout overall, putting the M.2 slot above the PCIe slot to improve thermals, and placing the CMOS battery lower down on the board so it can be reached even if you have a graphics card installed.

It’ll be running two 4GB DDR4-3000 modules with CL15 timings, and all that’s required is to enable these speeds using the Intel XMP options in the BIOS. How much of a benefit is there to doing this? Eurogamer did some testing on a Skylake system not too long ago, and there’s a measurable improvement in most games even with a discrete GPU. It’s mostly minimum framerates that benefit the most, and Kaby Lake will see a slightly bigger boost thanks to higher clock speeds.

On to the GPU, we’re using Gigabyte’s Radeon RX 480 with the G1 Gaming cooler to run all our games. This was a tough decision to make because of all the GeForce GTX 1060 6GB cards floating around, but those were typically higher-priced, and I wanted to stay within the budget. Picking one or the other is a bit moot these days because the RX 480 pulls ahead in DirectX 12 and Vulkan titles, while the GTX 1060 does very well in games using DirectX 11 engines, which still make up the majority of titles that will be shipping this year. The drivers used by each company also have a part in this decision, because the direction GeForce Experience is heading in hasn’t been taken to very kindly by the internet, whilst AMD is making large strides towards its goal of having a unified driver that supports everything from game recording to monitor overclocking.

Finally, this build is powered by a 450W power supply, because there’s no way it’s going to need much more than that to run at full tilt. Corsair’s CX450M is a semi-modular design with a five-year warranty, but for the price I would have appreciated a gold efficiency rating. Oh well. The chassis is Corsair’s Carbide 88R, because the motherboard is a mATX design and we don’t need lots of space for components. It’s small and features a really clean interior design, and the price is really good. Storage is taken care of by a 250GB Samsung 750 EVO solid state drive. Never, and never again, shall computers be held back by slow hard drives.

R20,000 budget – the high-end entry

2560 x 1440 with ultra details and 4xMSAA, UltraHD 4K with high settings and 2xMSAA
Processor Intel Core i5-7600K 3.8-4.2GHz (socket LGA1151) R4,111
CPU cooler Antec Kühler H600 Pro All-in-one water cooler R962
Motherboard Gigabyte Z270M-D3H (socket LGA1151) R2,134
Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x 4GB DDR4-3000 CL15 R1,276
Graphics Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury Tri-X 4GB HBM R6,722
Power supply Corsair CX650M 650W Modular Bronze R1,571
Chassis Corsair Carbide 88R Windowed mATX R758
Solid state drive Samsung 750 EVO 500GB (Samsung MGX, 16nm TLC NAND) R2,199
Total (Rands): R19,733

Moving on, with R20,000 to spend, we have the cookie-cutter Intel setup from years past – a Core i5-K processor and a mid-range Z-series chipset for overclocking. Done and dusted, right? Only this time it’s a little tricky. Kaby Lake doesn’t have a great selection of mATX boards for overclocking just yet, and this means accepting a compromise on how much headroom we’re able to get out of an unlocked chip. mATX also turned into a budget restriction because I had to open up the funds to get a better graphics card than the RX 480. This shouldn’t be a big stumbling block on your way to a 5.0GHz overclock with stock voltages, however.

We start off with the Core i5-7600K, the drop-in replacement for the Core i5-6600K. The Kaby Lake chip is only a little faster on default settings than the CPU it replaces, but it should overclock to 5.0GHz much easier, something that most people struggled with on Skylake. Keeping it all at these settings will be a challenge, and it’s something that the old favourite, Cooler Master’s Hyper 212X, won’t be capable of. That’s why this build features an all-in-one water cooler from Antec. It’s quite decently priced, and will handle the temperatures from an overclocked chip a little better than the 212X. I’m sticking to the same Corsair DDR4-3000 RAM from the previous build because it’s a really good deal. I just wish it was cheaper so that 16GB could be a reality for this system.

The GPU was an easy choice, but there are fewer R9 Fury cards in circulation this year. It’s on average 15% faster than an overclocked Radeon RX 480, and it’s not too far behind NVIDIA’s mid-range monster, the GeForce GTX 1070. It still has all of the same features as the new Polaris family, and with a slight overclock to the memory it can deliver a near 10% improvement in stock performance. In time, this might be replaced with a GTX 1060 Ti, if one ever exists, or a similarly-priced Vega GPU, but for now it’s the best bang for your buck in this price range.

Because of the much more powerful R9 Fury and multiplier overclocking thrown into the mix, the power supply switches to Corsair’s CX650M with a bronze rating. It’s a shame that this isn’t a Seasonic-based unit, or anything from SuperFlower, but it’ll to the job just fine, and quietly too. It’ll look at home in the Carbide 88R as well, which I’m keeping in for now. Finally, prices for a 500GB SSD have dropped so low that it’s actually a good idea to pick one up now. 250GB drives might be cheaper and would open up the budget a bit for other components, but the sheer frustration of trying to keep a limited number of games installed on your drive will drive most people mad. At least this way you can keep more than five games installed on your system, and none of them have to be on a slower hard drive.

That’s all that we have for today! Tune in soon for the high-end builds towards the end of the month.

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