PC gaming can be an expensive pastime if you aren’t careful. Sure, it’d be nice to have a GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card and Core i9-13900K processor, but in today’s economic climate, is there much desire to lay down ~£4,000 on an all-singing, all-dancing gaming rig? Fair play to those who revel in the ultra-high-end, but for the rest of us, what’s become of the mid-range?
Not a lot, as it happens. The industry has misjudged the post-pandemic slowdown, and with so much focus on flagship components, there hasn’t been a great deal of interest in the middle of the stack. We enjoy premium systems as much as any gamer, but it’s instructive to see what’s available at more mainstream price points, and to that end, we’ve taken in a PCSpecialist Zircon Elite R gaming PC for evaluation purposes.
Priced at £1,499, the premise is simple enough; what we have is a latest-generation platform with mid-range graphics and ample opportunity for future upgrades. Question is, with an ageing GeForce RTX 3060 at the helm, what level of gaming performance can we expect here and now? Let’s dig in.
Mid-range systems are in a state of flux in late 2022. Do you choose to save some cash with a previous-generation motherboard and CPU, or do you favour the current crop for the sake of forward-looking potential? PCSpecialist takes the latter approach with Zircon Elite R, opting for a six-core, 12-thread AMD Ryzen 5 7600X processor from AMD’s latest Zen 4 stable atop an Asus Prime X670-P WiFi motherboard.
A fine combination for a mainstream build, though platform considerations do weigh heavily on AM5 rigs. The Asus motherboard alone fetches over £250 at retail, and when you add the requisite DDR5 memory, the cost of board plus RAM approaches £400, effectively a quarter of the entire system cost. Speaking of memory, PCSpecialist’s preferred choice is 32GB (2x16GB) of Corsair Vengeance DDR5-5200.
It’s in the graphics department that things get tricky. Latest-gen architectures have yet to extend to the mid-range, and with system integrators being cautious when it comes to Intel Arc, older hardware continues to hold the fort. Aiming squarely for 1080p goodness, a 12GB GeForce RTX 3060 in Zotac guise is a safe bet and sensible choice now that GPU pricing is returning to some form of normalcy.
Rounding out the specification sheet, a 1TB Samsung 980 Pro M.2 SSD pre-loaded with a clean install of Windows 11 is mainstay for many a build with good reason – the blend of performance, capacity and pricing is bang on – while a 650W Corsair TX-M Series power supply provides 80 Plus Gold efficiency and semi-modular cabling. CPU cooling, meanwhile, is provided by a rebranded SE-224-XT from ID-Cooling.
Nothing extraordinary, as is to be expected at this price point, yet there is decent scope for future proofing. The Asus motherboard touts both Wi-Fi 6 and 2.5GbE connectivity, and though there’s no support for PCIe 5.0 expansion slots, you do get a PCIe 5.0 M.2 storage bay in addition to a further two of the PCIe 4.0 variety.
A 650W power supply doesn’t provide a huge amount of headroom – something to bear in mind if you envisage a high-end graphics upgrade somewhere down the line – and PCSpecialist’s Prism mid-tower chassis, though easy on the eye, does have limitations. The case lacks niceties such as captive thumb screws or quick-release side panels, and while the top I/O panel has three USB Type-A ports (two USB 2.0, one USB 3.0), you’ll have to reach around back to the motherboard I/O for forward-looking USB Type-C.
One final niggle to be aware of is that the four supplied case fans (three 140mm intakes, one 120mm exhaust) are SATA powered and run at higher speed than necessary. You can always hear them, and we’d be inclined to swap them out for quieter PWM solutions. On the flip side, if the PC is intended for a younger family member, vivid RGB contrasts well with a white frame to elicit a certain amount of wow factor.
Our calculations suggest it would cost in the region of £1,450 to buy all the aforementioned components or their nearest equivalents and put the rig together yourself. PCSpecialist is therefore charging a negligible premium for taking the pre-built route, which has the added benefit of a three-year warranty from one of the UK’s biggest system integrators. Cover includes collection costs for the first month, parts for 12 months, and labour for the duration. Enough chit-chat, let’s see how a more mainstream build fares when faced with up-to-date benchmarks.
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Six cores and 12 threads of Zen 4 pedigree allow for a swift top speed of 5.3GHz. Single-core performance is impressive given the price point, meanwhile the multi-core score is reflective of the fact that Zircon Elite R touts fewer physical cores than any other system in our charts.
Both memory bandwidth and latency are right in line with our expectations of a DDR5-5200 configuration on AM5.
Easy to see why Samsung’s 980 Pro remains a hugely popular SSD. Speeds approaching 7,000MB/s are suitably quick and a 1TB capacity offers enough room for a decent-sized game library.
We’ve been so accustomed to high-end turnkey builds that we’ve not seen a sub-10k 3DMark score for some time. No surprise, actually, given the PCSpecialist Zircon Elite R is at least 25 per cent cheaper than the nearest system in our chart.
When it comes to PC gaming, it’s important to cut your cloth accordingly, and there are plenty of CPU and GPU combinations to help hit specific framerates at certain budgets. Ryzen 5 7600X and RTX 3060 are a fine fit for high-speed 1080p gaming and, in most cases, will just about manage 1440p60. That’s about the limit, as 4K UHD is a tough ask without significantly reduced quality settings.
|FPS @ 1080p
|FPS @ 1440p
|FPS @ 2160p
|Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Ultra High Quality)
|Cyberpunk 2077 (Ray Tracing: Ultra, DLSS Off)
|Far Cry 6 (Ultra Quality, HD Textures and DXR On)
|Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction (Ultra Quality, DLSS Off)
Running an array of modern titles reaffirms the Final Fantasy benchmark. Getting over 80fps ought to be straightforward at 1080p, and we manage to run 1440p at over 60fps in all but one title. The outlier, of course, is Cyberpunk 2077, which is particularly brutal with ray tracing set to Ultra. Note that turning ray tracing off returns framerates of 70, 44 and 20 at the three respective resolutions.
RTX 3060 may be getting on a bit, yet it still has game and 12GB of GDDR6 memory will come in handy if you opt for a QHD monitor.
Outside of the initial saving, there is another upside to choosing a mid-range rig; power consumption is noticeably more restrained. 265W while gaming is barely tickling the 650W PSU, and you won’t feel guilty having a marathon gaming session amid soaring energy costs.
The Ryzen chip does appear to get relatively toasty, however there’s no cause for alarm as Zen 4 processors are designed to run optimally at ~90°C. Perfectly normal and the GPU meanwhile stays suitably cool.
Seemingly odd decibel readings can be attributed to the noisy case fans. At idle, Zircon Elite R is noticeably more vocal than it needs to be. It doesn’t get a great deal louder when gaming, mind, as the RTX 3060 is relatively easy to tame.
Following a dizzying array of launches in recent months, there are myriad upgrade options for your next PC. With AMD AM4 finally coming to an end, latest-generation AM5 holds merit as a platform that will last a good number of years. There is a premium attached – current AM5 motherboards are pricey and associated DDR5 doesn’t come cheap – but if the longevity of AM4 is anything to go by, such an investment is sure to stand the test of time.
PCSpecialist’s Zircon Elite R is geared for PC gamers of that mindset and pairs a modern Ryzen 5 7600X with an older GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card to deliver solid 1080p gaming performance today and ample upgrade opportunity for tomorrow.
PCSpecialist Zircon Elite R
Verdict: a capable 1080p gaming rig and an entry point to the latest generation of AMD Ryzen.
Primed for 1080p gaming
Latest-gen Ryzen platform
Low power consumption
Could be quieter
No front USB-C
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