System Builder’s Guide: September 2017 R5,000 to R10,000

Welcome, NAGlings, to the System Builder’s Guide. This week we’re looking at budget builds, and finally – FINALLY – the GPU stock problem is coming to a close. Well, for now at least. Who knows what things will look like nine months from now when Monero picks up value, or if Ethereum sees another boom in the buying price. That aside, things are looking really good for now, and there’s some great value to be had even though we’ll be stretching a little bit above the budget limits. It’s a good month to build your rigs, folks.

The Ryzening aspirations of cryptocurrency miners

The System Builder’s Guide has been delayed for a few months because of cryptocurrency miners. While it was possible to buy GPUs overseas thanks to retailers implementing limits on orders from individuals, locally it was almost a bloodbath with stores and online retailers getting cleaned out overnight. Our entire country’s allocation of Radeon RX 470, RX 480, RX 570, and RX 580 GPUs dried up in less than two weeks, and it’s been that way for two months now. Getting cards at decent prices has been an exercise in patience and following classified forums almost daily. Thankfully, with the sinking value and see-sawing of Ethereum’s price now in full effect, miners are finally stopping the practice of shoring up GPUs for extending their mining farms, and the ones who were only in it for a quick buck are selling off their assets and waiting until the next popular GPU-centric coin-mining phase comes around. That coin, as it happens, is Monero. It’ll become popular around this time next year, so we can definitely look forward to another drought in GPUs nine months from now.

This week’s edition of the SBG bucks the trend of recommending Ryzen for everything, and instead only places an AMD build in the lowest rung. The reason for this is because Ryzen 3 doesn’t have consistent performance across a range of benchmarks despite its prowess at multi-core workloads, and Kaby Lake is extremely consistent in its performance overall. That’s not what some AMD fans will want to hear, but the truth is that the Ryzen 3 family is currently poor value, and the lineup becomes much more attractive starting with the Ryzen 5 1400. Until pricing drops, Intel’s Core i3 lineup remains a good choice for budget gamers. Clock speed is also a sore point for AMD’s cheaper processors, and while using a B350 motherboard does solve that, it pushes the platform cost above Intel’s.

As for GPUs, NVIDIA will be mostly ruling the roost because AMD’s GPUs still end up being priced higher than they should be. The RX 550 shouldn’t be priced higher than the GeForce GT 1030, but somehow it is. The RX 560 is decently priced at around R2,000 for the 2GB models, which makes the XFX RX 560D Core a steal, given that it’s around the same level as a GTX 1050. Finding a GTX 1060 under R3,500 also wasn’t difficult, at least for the 3GB models which are no longer suitable for mining. From that point on though, it’s mostly NVIDIA’s market. 6GB versions of the GTX 1060 can be found for R1,000 less than 8GB RX 580 GPUs.

Vega 56 costs on average R2,500 more than the GeForce GTX 1070 it barely beats. That’s not good value for money.

Lastly, ending off this update, Western Digital is sneaking in and stealing the SSD market with their cheap TLC-based SSDs in the Green and Blue family. Samsung’s 850 Evo has hiked up in price, and Crucial’s BX300 family still isn’t at the price point it needs to hit to sell better locally. ADATA, meanwhile, is making some waves with cheap NVMe SSDs in an M.2 form factor, and the XPG SX8000 is good value for money if you’re using it as a system drive.

Funny enough, Intel is the only vendor with 3D Xpoint memory being used on a consumer SSD, but it can’t be used as a scratch disk or a normal drive, which would speed up a lot of workloads for slower PCs that still use spinning rust storage. Nope, just disk caching. A waste of potential.

R5,000 budget

1080p with medium-to-high settings and no MSAA
Processor AMD Athlon X4 950 3.5-3.8GHz (socket AM4) R959
CPU cooler Stock AMD cooler
Motherboard ASRock A320M-HDV (socket AM4) R836
Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 4GB DDR4-2400 CL14 R597
Graphics ASUS GeForce GT 1030 2GB GDDR5 R1,197
Power supply Gigabyte 320W bundled
Chassis Gigabyte M1 mATX w/ 320W R761
Solid state drive ADATA SU800 128GB M.2 SATA (Silicon Motion SM2258, TLC NAND) R917
Total (ZAR): R5,267

Our budget build for the month goes a little bit over budget, but it’s way more powerful than the previous builds I’ve had at this price point. The platform is AMD’s socket AM4, which gives us a possible four year-long upgrade path thanks to AMD’s promise to allow motherboards to work with future processors based on the Zen architecture. We’re starting off with the Athlon X4 950, AMD’s latest quad-core processor that retails for less than R1,000. Intel’s Pentium G4600 family continues to show as out of stock, which is peculiar because it isn’t being snapped up by miners in droves anymore.

Paired with the X4 950 is ASRock’s A320M-HDV motherboard. It’s a no-frills design and leaves nothing to the imagination, but it’s rather well balanced, placing the PCIe 1x slot above the PCIe x16 slot for the GPU, and putting the M.2 slot above the GPU as well for easy access. The RAM is a basic Corsair kit and is single-channel only. I decided to choose a kit with a lower CAS latency, because it raises the possibility of overclocking it to DDR4 2,666MHz speeds with loose timings.

NVIDIA’s GeForce GT 1030 is a great mid-ranger with enough horsepower to play games at full HD, some of them at high settings, most at medium settings to improve the frame rate. Setting games to run at 720p with maximum settings will probably still yield frame rate averages of around 60fps. It’s a great little card for budget builds, and it lifts my expectations quite a bit compared to the desktops of old. Ditch MSAA though, since the card only has a 64-bit memory bus and can’t really afford a bandwidth hog like MSAA in the mix. Compared to what you could buy for R1,200 last year, it’s twice as fast as the previous generation. I can’t recommend it enough.

Just make sure you don’t install GeForce Experience, and disable NVIDIA’s telemetry. No-one wants to be spied on.

As for the chassis, Gigabyte’s M1 sticks around with a bundled 320W power supply, which I’m okay with. We could spend around R100 more for a better power supply and a slightly better case, but I don’t think the trade-off is worth it. Finally, storage is an M.2 SATA drive from ADATA. 128GB is enough for Windows, some applications, and about 3-4 games that consume around 20GB each, so it’s a decent start for low-budget builds like this one.

R7,500 budget

1080p with medium-to-high settings and 2x MSAA
Processor Intel Core i3-7100 3.9GHz (socket LGA1151 V2) R1,815
CPU cooler Stock Intel cooler
Motherboard Gigabyte B250M-D3H mATX (socket LGA1151 V2) R1,191
Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 4GB DDR4-2400 CL14 R1,194
Graphics XFX Radeon RX 560D Core 2GB GDDR5 R1,649
Power supply Gigabyte 320W bundled
Chassis Gigabyte M1 mATX w/ 320W R761
Solid state drive ADATA SU800 128GB M.2 SATA (Silicon Motion SM2258, TLC NAND) R917
Total (ZAR): R7,527

A returning price point is the R7,500 budget. Previously, there wasn’t really a reason to include this because of stagnating options in the CPU and GPU market, and almost everything was far too expensive. Things are slightly less murky this time around, and as such we have a really decent setup. I deliberated for a long time between the Ryzen 3 1200 and the Core i3-7100, but the R3 1200 is priced to slightly undercut the Core i3 line, while also being a better option than Intel’s G4600 family. Its performance lies somewhere along those lines as well – in some games, it’ll pull up right alongside the Core i3-7100. In others, the hardware setup in Ryzen 3, which splits four cores across two core complexes with half the L3 cache, means that it’ll be less performant overall than the Core i3 family, not to mention the fact that it’s also clocked lower.

So instead, probably to the ire of Reddit’s r/AMD fans everywhere, I’ve picked the Core i3-7100. Pairing it with the Gigabyte B250M-D3H gets you four RAM slots, some well-placed PCIe slots that don’t cover any SATA ports, an M.2 NVMe slot, and a small heatsink for the power phases. The DDR4 RAM from the previous build remains and bumps up to two sticks – but keep in mind that it’s red, so it clashes with the motherboard’s colour scheme. The case doesn’t have a side window, however, so this will really only annoy you because you know about it.

Graphics duty is handled by the XFX RX 560D Core, which isn’t the best option in the market to be honest, but it’s the best RX 560 that fits into the budget, and it comes with a free code for Quake Champions. Compared to the Radeon RX 550 cards that now sit at this price point, it’s a little more than twice as fast. AMD’s local pricing is extremely wacky at the low-end, because the passively-cooled Geforce GT 1030 is as fast as an air-cooled RX 550, which costs upwards of R500 more. That’s why this RX 560 is such a good deal.

The rest of the build doesn’t change, owing to budget constraints, but we’re nowhere near pushing the safe power limit of that PSU. It’d be nice if 256GB SSDs were really cheap right about now, but that’s not happening for a long time.

R10,000 budget

1920 x 1080 with ultra details and 4x MSAA
Processor Intel Core i3-7100 3.9GHz (socket LGA1151 V2) R1,815
CPU cooler Stock Intel cooler
Motherboard Gigabyte B250M-D3H mATX (socket LGA1151 V2) R1,191
Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 4GB DDR4-2400 CL14 R1,272
Graphics Zotac GeForce GTX 1060 3GB GDDR5 R3,299
Power supply Cooler Master MasterWatt Lite 400W R595
Chassis Corsair Carbide 88R mATX Black R654
Solid state drive Western Digital Green 240GB SATA (Silicon Motion SM2256S, TLC NAND) R1,269
Total (ZAR): R10,095

Deliberating over the R10,000 budget didn’t take long, thanks to the cryptocurrency boom. There’s simply no way we’re getting ANY Radeon graphics cards in reliable stock levels for the next month or so, especially when Ethereum is seeing another set of successive bear and bull trends, and Bitcoin is at levels high enough to cause minor insanity among people trying to get rich quick. This means that Intel and NVIDIA, again, pick up the slack and take the throne of the first sweet-spot build.

The Core i3-7100 stays because of budget constraints, along with generally more consistent performance than AMD’s offerings at the same price point. The motherboard remains too, because there’s just nothing wrong with it. I changed the RAM to the black Vengeance LPX RAM, which somehow costs more. The power supply switches to Cooler Master’s MasterWatt Lite 400W. It’s a Channel Well design, but the 500W version holds its own in a really off-brand German hardware site. It’s also quite odd how quickly Western Digital has replaced Samsung in the budget SSD market. I guess those 250GB 850 Evos were selling too well.

Finding a GTX 1060 for a decent price is difficult if you’re aiming for the name brands you’d normally consider, but Wootware’s association with Zotac is paying off, with lower prices on average, along with a three-year warranty. We’re only able to snag a 3GB card, but it’s still plenty powerful for the kind of games we’re going to be playing at 1080p. And hey, Rocket League for free! Can’t say no to that (unless you already have it, because you can’t share the code with someone else).

Rounding off the build is Corsair’s Carbide 88R. This might be the last year it sticks around, as ATX cases from Chinese brands are including niceties like tempered glass, aluminium feet, and better cable management for less than their competition. Those haven’t hit our shores yet, but they’ll arrive soon enough. mATX case options are limited at this point to whatever Corsair has at the time, as Cooler Master’s N200 and the Carbide Spec-M2 don’t change much. mATX sells less, I get it, but that doesn’t mean that this segment of the market is okay with cheap materials for a near-premium price. Even Cooler Master’s MasterBox Lite 5, priced similarly, uses perspex panels instead of glass. That thing’s going to instantly become a dust magnet.

Guys, perspex picks up scratches more often than my cat bites me. Slap Gorilla Glass 2 on there instead, and you’ll corner the market in scratch-resistant, glass-paneled cases for a few months. I’m just emphasising that really clearly here so that you get it. Build it, and they will come. And they’ll come carrying lintless cloths.

The next edition of the System Builder’s Guide lands next week. Stay tuned!

Nokia's iconic Snake game is available to play in Google Maps for April Fools
Get in on the retro-gaming action with Snake for Google Maps