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TR's September 2014 System Guide


Haswell-E and DDR4 galore
— 7:42 PM on September 11, 2014

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Oh, wow, is it time for another system guide already?

I guess it must be. Intel has shaken up the high end of its desktop line with Haswell-E processors and the new X99 chipset, which has also had the side-effect of bringing DDR4 memory into the picture. None of that premium, state-of-the-art hardware is particularly cheap, but it sure is fast—and there's nothing else like it in the market today.

Then there's AMD's Radeon R9 285 graphics card, which came out of a couple of weeks ago and is perhaps the best option around $250 right now. It may even be a better deal than the pricier Radeon R9 280X. A couple of Nvidia's high-end offerings have come down in price, too, which has made us rethink our recommendations somewhat.

All in all, there's plenty of meat here for a substantial guide update.

To mark the occasion, we've also featured not one but two Haswell-E configs in our sample builds section. The fastest one is decked out with 32GB of DDR4 RAM, dual GeForce GTX 780s, and other such indulgences. It's kind of crazy, but that's part of the point of Intel's new platform. Read on for all the gory details.

The rules and regulations
A short disclaimer: this is a component selection guide, not a PC assembly guide or a performance comparison. If you need help with the business of putting components together, look at our handy how-to build a PC article—and the accompanying video:

For reviews and benchmarks, we suggest heading to our front page and starting from there.

On the next several pages, we'll discuss the main categories of components needed to build a PC: processors, motherboards, memory, graphics cards, storage, cases, and power supplies. We'll then recommend a handful of carefully selected parts split into three tiers: budget, sweet spot, and high end.

For the budget tier, we won't seek out the absolute cheapest parts around. Instead, we'll single out capable, high-quality parts that also happen to be affordable. The sweet-spot tier is self-explanatory; it's where you'll find the products that deliver the most bang for your buck. Finally, our high-end tier is a mirror image of the budget tier. There, we'll seek out the fastest and most feature-packed components, but without venturing into excessive price premiums that aren't worth paying.

Each recommendation will involve a mental juggling of sorts for us. We'll consider variables like benchmark data, our personal experiences, current availability and retail pricing, user reviews, warranty coverage, and the size and reputation of the manufacturer or vendor. In most cases, we'll favor components we know first-hand to be better than the alternatives.

Finally, each recommended component will have a "notable needs" box. In that box, we'll point out any special requirements one should consider when building a full system with that part. For instance, we'll address socket type and form factor compatibility between different processors, motherboards, and cases.

Now that we've addressed the how, let's talk about the where. See that "powered by Newegg.com" logo at the top of the page? Newegg sponsors our System Guides, and more often than not, it will serve as our source for component prices. However, Newegg has no input on our editorial content nor sway over our component selections. If we want to recommend something it doesn't carry, we'll do just that.

We think sourcing prices from a huge online retailer gives us more realistic figures, though—so much so that we quoted Newegg prices long before this guide got a sponsor. Dedicated price search engines can find better deals, but they often pull up unrealistically low prices from small and potentially unreliable e-tailers. If you're going to spend several hundred (or thousand) dollars on a PC, we think you'll be more comfortable doing so at a large e-tailer with a proven track record and a decent return policy.