Rethinking my R5,000 recommendation to System Builders

With the arrival of AMD’s Raven Ridge processors yesterday, I’ve spent some time thinking about how they change the build orders for my System Builders Guides, specifically the R5,000 build which has the tightest budget out of any of the others. Prices for the Ryzen 3 2200G range from R1,499 to as much as R1,600, so it’s a narrow price range that won’t affect the build much. Instead, AMD’s APUs need faster RAM, and this is a stumbling block for anyone building their first system based on Raven Ridge. But let’s see what we can do with what’s available today.

In my previous episode of the System Builder’s Guide, I managed to fit together an APU build for under R5,000. The system is quite hobbled in that it needs a dual-channel memory kit for the best performance, and while it’ll perform decently, it’s based on older architectures. It isn’t going to stay relevant for much longer.

In the month between writing that guide and today, pricing has changed somewhat. The A10-9700 was chosen only because it was so cheap, and another round of price drops has seen it go as low as R1,262. The motherboard could be skimped on some more. I’ve also found a chassis and power supply combo that saves us more money. We could even move to a 1TB hard drive instead of an SSD, much as it pains me to think about it. All these changes save us R635. But is that enough?

R5,000 budget

1080p with Low-to-Medium settings
Processor AMD Ryzen 3 2200G APU 3.5-3.7GHz (socket AM4) R1,499
CPU cooler Stock AMD Wraith Stealth cooler
Motherboard ASRock A320M-HDV mATX (socket AM4) R894
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws V 2x4GB DDR4-2666 CL15 R1,369
Graphics Radeon Vega 8 graphics
Power supply Gigabyte 320W ATX
Chassis Gigabyte M1 mATX with power supply R787
Solid state drive Western Digital Blue 1TB WD10EZEX 7200RPM R649
Total (ZAR): R5,198

Holy moly, it’s actually doable!

Granted, I had the idea that it was technically possible, but I didn’t think we’d actually get so close to the budget limit. For a small increase in the budget and a few compromises, we get much higher CPU performance from the Ryzen cores, and graphics performance equivalent to a NVIDIA GeForce GT 1030 or a Radeon RX 550. As a bonus, we’re still able to overclock the GPU using AMD’s software tools on the Windows desktop. The Ryzen 3 2200G has already proven in some reviews that overclocking the GPU matches the stock performance of the Ryzen 5 2400G, so it’s a powerful chip for such a low price.

The only caveat to this build, as I’ve discussed before, is that all socket AM4 motherboards will be compatible with the new Raven Ridge family, but only with a BIOS update. There are a handful of boards out there that can update their BIOS even if the processor is incompatible, but that feature doesn’t extend to the ASRock A320M-HDV. You’ll either need a friend who might have a Ryzen processor to lend to you to update the BIOS, or you’re going to have to ask the retailer if they can do it themselves before shipping it off. Rebel Tech will do that for a R50 fee, which I’ve included in the build price, though you have to request this specifically. Wootware will do this for free, although their prices are already higher, so in this case it doesn’t matter who you order from. Bear in mind that retailers like Raru or Takealot won’t be able to offer the same service.

Now the next question is whether the Ryzen 5 2400G is worth the cost. For an extra R900, you get the benefit of simultaneous multithreading as well as an extra three shader modules for the GPU, which makes it a Vega 11 GPU. Stock performance is higher than the GeForce GT 1030, but the Ryzen 5 2400G is much closer to its thermal maximum than the 2200G, which means that it might require an aftermarket cooler to get the most benefit from overclocking it. Vega 11 is also bottlenecked by memory performance, and getting hold of DDR4-3600 memory for a sane price isn’t happening any time soon, so this limits the platform’s potential somewhat.

That’s why I think that if you want the higher performance, but don’t want to tinker, the Ryzen 5 2400G is a good fit if your budget was already high enough to accommodate it. If you had to buy a system with a Ryzen 3 1200 and add in a GeForce GT 1030, you’d be spending around R150 more for equivalent performance. The Ryzen 3 2200G is such good value for money that I think it’ll become an automatic recommendation for a lot of budget builds starting today, and hopefully AMD’s relationship with OEMs sees this go into more pre-built desktops and all-in-one PCs.

And that’s it, really. Go forth and build! And don’t forget to get the BIOS update done, because you’re gonna have a bad time if you don’t.

Play Disintegration for free this weekend