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Sample builds
By now, you should have the info you need to configure your own build based on your needs. However, we thought it would be helpful to outline a few sample configs, if only to offer a better sense of the kinds of component pairings one might want to make—or need to make, based on the components' compatibility requirements. We've put together three sample builds, one for each of our main pricing tiers. These are merely examples of what's possible, but you're free to replicate them wholesale if you wish.

Budget

Component Price
Processor Pentium G3420 $74.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-H97M-D3H $89.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3-1600 $45.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon R7 260X 2GB $109.99
Storage WD Blue 1TB 7,200 RPM $59.99
Enclosure Cooler Master N200 $49.99
PSU Corsair CX430M $49.99
Total $480.93

This is about as cheap as you can go based on our recommendations. Despite the low price, a machine like this one should prove a capable low-end gaming machine, with adequate CPU horsepower and reasonably good GPU performance at 1080p. We skipped optical storage altogether here, so installing Windows will require a USB thumb drive—not a big deal these days, but still something worth pointing out.

You could save even more by finding a cheaper case and power supply, but we would advise against it. The nice Cooler Master enclosure and Corsair PSU will make the build process painless and newbie-friendly, and they shouldn't flake out on you—or ruin gaming sessions with excessive fan noise.

Sweet spot

Component Price
Processor Core i5-4670K $239.99
Cooler Thermaltake NiC F3 $29.99
Motherboard Asus Z97-A $149.99
Memory G.Skill Ares 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600 $69.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 760 $259.99
Storage Kingston HyperX 240GB $149.99
WD Green 3TB $114.99
Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray burner $79.99
Sound card Asus Xonar DSX $59.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 450D $119.99
PSU Seasonic G Series 550W $79.99
Total $1,359.89

We've gone a little upmarket for the Sweet Spot build this time around, selecting a multiplier-unlocked processor and a matching, overclocking-friendly motherboard.

The quad-core Core i5-4670K and 8GB of memory should give this machine plenty of flexibility in the multitasking department, while the GeForce GTX 760 should offer silky-smooth performance at 1080p with detail settings cranked up. We've also added a speedy SSD for system and applications storage, a sound card to ensure good analog audio quality, a Blu-ray drive for backups and HD movies, and a beefier, more efficient PSU with the right number of PCIe power connectors for our graphics card.

High end

Component Price
Processor Core i7-4930K $579.99
Cooler Corsair H80i $86.99
Motherboard Asus X79 Deluxe $328.99
Memory G.Skill Ares 16GB (4x4GB) DDR3-2133 $156.99
Graphics XFX Radeon R9 290 Double D $429.99
Storage Crucial M550 1TB $529.99
WD Red 4TB $181.99
WD Red 4TB $181.99
Asus BW-12B1ST Blu-ray burner $79.99
Sound card Asus Xonar DX $79.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 750D $159.99
PSU Corsair HX850 $189.99
Total $2,956.88

This is the sort of build one might put together for very heavy multitasking and top-notch gaming performance at 2560x1440 (or perhaps some dabbling at 4K.) While it's not the absolute nicest config money can buy, it's not far off the mark.

Notice the two WD Red 4TB hard drives. If we were building this system ourselves, we'd configure them in a RAID 1 array. In that arrangement, data would be mirrored on both drives. If one drive should fail, the RAID controller would simply drop it out of the array, and its contents would remain accessible on the other drive.

Just keep in mind that RAID isn't a true backup method. If your computer catches on fire, your data will be gone regardless of the internal storage redundancy. We recommend backing up files to an external drive or an online service like CrashPlan no matter what.