System Builder’s Guide: September 2017 R12,500 to R20,000

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. In an about-turn of events, AMD’s Ryzen platform rules the roost here. Intel fell quickly out of grace with the enthusiast PC community now latching on to AMD’s offering, and this might be the first time that AMD has the upper hand in both price and mind share. People want a change, and people want to get more done with their systems, and AMD finally offers that. I can’t wait to see how Threadripper does in the long term.

R12,500 budget

2560 x 1440 with high details and 2x MSAA
Processor AMD Ryzen 5 1400 3.2-3.4GHz (socket AM4) R2,630
CPU cooler Stock AMD heatsink
Motherboard ASUS Prime B350-Plus ATX (socket AM4) R1,831
Memory Kingston HyperX Fury Black 2x 4GB DDR4-2400 CL15 R1,257
Graphics MSI Radeon RX 580 ARMOR 4GB GDDR5 R4,099
Power supply Cooler Master MasterWatt Lite 500W R679
Chassis Raidmax Delta I ATX R722
Solid state drive Western Digital Green 240GB SATA (Silicon Motion SM2256S, TLC NAND) R1,269
Total (Rands): R12,487

With more options now being available thanks to AMD re-entering the high-end PC market with Ryzen, I’ve decided to allow the return of a mid-point between the R10,000 budget and the old R15,000 budget, which was previously a cookie-cutter Intel build. Compared to the R10,000 build, we’re getting a lot of value. We make the jump up to a Ryzen 5 1400, offering four cores with simultaneous multi-threading support piling on another four virtual cores, along with the best stock heatsink AMD has ever made. Intel’s is, well… just slightly below adequate.

The R5 1400 will sit on ASUS’s Prime B350-Plus motherboard, which just this past month received an update to AMD’s AGESA firmware for Ryzen processors, which does a lot to improve memory compatibility. There’s a lot to like here, from the 4+2 phase VRM for the CPU, to the right-angled SATA connectors underneath where the GPU will sit, to the overlong M.2 NVMe slot, to the ridiculously old PCI slots. And the CMOS battery, which sits next to the CPU slot. If you use the stock cooler or water-cooling, this is a great location for it. Memory wise, two sticks of Kingston’s HyperX Fury RAM at 2400MHz will do the trick. It’ll probably overclock to DDR4-2666 speeds as well.

GPU-wise, we jump up to the Radeon RX 580. It’s just a little faster than the GTX 1060 3GB it replaces from the previous build, but if past experience has proven anything, it’s going to hang on to its performance for a lot longer than AMD’s GPUs will. Although it’s not the full-fat RX 580 with 8GB of RAM, it’ll do just fine for our purposes.

Rounding things off, I’ve picked up a 500W version of the MasterWatt Lite to leave headroom for the RX 580 to overclock, and WD pulls in with the Green 240GB SSD again. Even cheap SSDs these days are more than enough for most people. The chassis changes to a Raidmax Delta I, and it wasn’t my first choice either until I looked at the alternatives, which were either complete fingerprint magnets, prone to tipping over, or that had styling closer to an actual box than a good-looking chassis. The Delta I, on the other hand, has more than enough space for two 360mm radiators inside, and comes with a magnetic dust filter for the top vents. If you’re lucky, Raidmax has a region-dependent version of the Delta 1 that ships with a front-mounted magnetic dust filter as well. Here’s hoping we score!

R15,000 budget

2560 x 1440 with high details and 4x MSAA
Processor AMD Ryzen 5 1600 3.4-3.6GHz (socket AM4) R3,535
CPU cooler Stock AMD heatsink
Motherboard ASUS Prime B350-Plus ATX (socket AM4) R1,831
Memory Kingston HyperX Fury Black 2x 4GB DDR4-2400 CL15 R1,276
Graphics Zotac GeForce GTX 1060 AMP 6GB GDDR5 R4,599
Power supply Super Flower Leadex II 650W 80Plus Silver Modular R1,149
Chassis Raidmax Delta I ATX R758
Solid state drive ADATA XPG SX7000 256GB M.2 NVMe (Silicon Motion SM2260, 3D TLC NAND) R1,796
Total (Rands): R14,944

For the R15,000 budget, there’s not a whole lot that changes overall. Most of the extra funds goes into a better processor, namely the Ryzen 5 1600. It has six cores and twelve threads, putting it above the multi-threaded performance of Core i7 quad-core processors costing far more. Even that kind of value doesn’t come cheap, and at R3,500 it’s not far away from Intel’s Core i5 K-series chips. It’s still overclockable even on a B350 motherboard, however, and it’ll crush any Core i5 processor when it comes to multi-threaded workloads that need to be running simultaneously, like playing Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds while streaming to Twitch. You can’t do that smoothly on a quad-core CPU from Intel these days.

While the motherboard and RAM doesn’t change, I decided to pull in a little for the GPU and included the Zotac GTX 1060 AMP. While AMD’s RX 580 GPUs might be faster with 8GB of RAM, this GTX 1060 is punching way below its mark thanks to a price cut for a promotional pre-order, and it’s just too tempting. Thanks to the extra hardware and RAM, it’ll pull in a better performance than the 4GB RX 580 in the previous build, and it’s super efficient to boot. Again, Rocket League is free, which is a nice little add-in.

While this all fits inside the Raidmax Delta I, I thought a little bit of future proofing might be warranted, so I added in the Super Flower Leadex 650W power supply. Wootware’s finally imported more of these into country, and it’s at the same level of quality as a Seasonic PSU for the same price, with a longer warranty. These are great units, and as a bonus will also shut off the fan when power draw drops low.

As for the SSD, NVMe drives are the future and are much faster than SATA-based SSDs, and that’s why ADATA’s SX7000 is in here. As the cheapest 256GB NVMe drive in a M.2 form factor on the market, it’s almost certainly pulling sales away from Samsung’s 960 Evo, which costs a heck of a lot more.

R20,000 budget

UltraHD 4K with high settings and 2xMSAA
Processor AMD Ryzen 5 1600X 3.6-4.0GHz (socket AM4) R4,023
CPU cooler Antec Kühler H1200 Pro All-in-one water cooler R999
Motherboard ASRock X370 Killer SLI ATX (socket AM4) R2,520
Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x 4GB DDR4-3000 CL15 R1,496
Graphics ASUS GeForce GTX 1070 DUAL 8GB GDDR5 R7,030
Power supply Super Flower Leadex II 650W 80Plus Silver Modular R1,149
Chassis Raidmax Delta I ATX R758
Solid state drive ADATA XPG SX7000 256GB M.2 NVMe (Silicon Motion SM2260, 3D TLC NAND) R1,796
Total (Rands): R19,771

With R20,000 to spend, we finally have a build that is truly high-end. The CPU gets an upgrade to the Ryzen 5 1600X, which has higher base and boost clock speeds and better binning, allowing us to overclock it higher. Keeping it cool won’t be a tough job for Antec’s H1200 Pro. Although this AIO is now end-of-life, it still boasts a five-year local warranty, and it’s the cheapest 240mm AIO in the country by about R400. Despite misgivings about the price, this is a solid unit, and I personally bought one myself. The only annoyance is that the included fans can’t have their LEDs turned off, but that’s a minor issue if you choose to swap them out.

Motherboard-wise, ASRock’s X370 Killer SLI is a good board for the money, and arguably a better product purely for the sake of ASRock’s transparency when updating the BIOS and including or fixing new features. The board uses a 4+2 power phase design with doubling on the chokes and MOSFETs for more stable power delivery, and the heatsinks are actually functional, and not just decorative. Other niceties added in include SLI capability, two M.2 NVMe slots for SSDs, and right-angled SATA connectors. Because we’re focusing on overclocking here, the RAM has also been changed to Corsair’s Vengeance DDR4-3000 memory. The Ryzen platform loves faster RAM, and with a few tweaks in the BIOS, getting this kit to run at its rated speeds is not the hassle it used to be.

GPU-wise, we also have a big jump up to a GeForce GTX 1070. These were rare as hen’s teeth for a whole three months globally, and stock is just filtering in locally and prices are getting lower. This ASUS model isn’t the beefiest out there, but it does fit in very well with the black-and-white theme we’ve accidentally created here. This card isn’t even overclocked that high, and there’s still another 300MHz of boost clock headroom left in there along with a potential memory overclock to 9.0GHz.

Given this rig’s general beefiness, I think it isn’t wrong to say that this build will generally play anything at UltraHD 4K resolution with high settings. Don’t enable things you don’t need that bog down your framerate, and 4K at 60 fps should be possible in just about every game out there. Honestly, that’s a bit mind-blowing. It’s the first time a R20k build was capable of that.

That’s all that we have for today, folks! Tune in for the super-high-end builds next week.

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