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The Tech Report System Guide: December 2016 edition


Man, it feels good to be a gamer
— 2:07 PM on December 29, 2016

Welcome to the December 2016 edition of The Tech Report System Guide. Since our last installment, AMD made a big splash by taking the wraps off its Ryzen CPUs. Intel's Kaby Lake CPUs are now inside many laptops and convertibles, and the rumor mill says that the desktop variants of Kaby will be arriving soon. AMD's Ryzen chips also shouldn't be too far behind. The company has said its next-gen parts will launch in the first quarter of 2017. CES is just around the corner, in any case, so you'll probably want to hold off buying a motherboard or CPU until after the dust from that show has settled. Should you need a machine right now, though, we did our best to select the cream of the crop from the current-generation lineups.

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In the graphics card arena, there's been some major shifts in the $250-and-under segment of the market now that both AMD and Nvidia have revealed basically their entire next-generation graphics-card lineups. While we previously lamented the fact that AMD's originally-promised pricing for its Radeon RX 470 and RX 480 cards didn't materialize in stores, we're now happy to report that supply seems to have increased and prices have fallen. For example, you can grab a Radeon RX 470 4GB card for around $170, and its bigger brother the RX 480GB 8GB goes for about $240. This all means that the fight in the entry-level and budget graphics card segments is fierce indeed.

Nvidia isn't sitting still, though, and it's launched the wallet-friendly GeForce GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti to take the fight to the entry-level graphics-card market. The GTX 1050 is a solid enough performer for its price, but our preliminary testing has shown that the 2GB of RAM on board limits its appeal. The GTX 1050 Ti and its 4GB of RAM, on the other hand, are more interesting. Although the slightly-more-expensive RX 470 4GB boasts superior performance, the GTX 1050 Ti sips barely any power, runs dead-quiet, and often doesn't even need a 6-pin power connector to do its thing. That makes it a near-perfect choice for a living-room PC or upgrading a prebuilt system.

As for the remaining components that make up a PC, there hasn't been much in the way of new releases. Along with its next-generation CPUs, there are indications that Intel will be releasing new chipsets to go with them, which are reportedly going inside motherboards from all manufacturers as we speak. However, those motherboards have yet to hit the market. Given the rather large amount of uncertainty about these products, we'd be wary of buying a motherboard or CPU right now.

When it comes to memory, we'll put it plain and simple: buy it right now, and buy as much as you can. From what we can see, RAM prices have been climbing like crazy, sometimes in the range of 30% or more per kit. Even though our recommendations for specific kits won't be changing all that much, the price tags are rising by the minute. According to some reports and our own observations, SSD prices are on the rise, too. Although we've actually yet to see this phenomenon in most retail listings, the recent dearth of promotional deals and the apparent steadiness of the current prices (instead of the expected continued drop) may be a sign that your flashy new SSD will soon become more expensive.

The Tech Report System Guide is sponsored by Newegg. We'll be using links to the site's product pages throughout this guide. You can (and should!) support our work by purchasing the items we recommend using these links. A big thanks to Newegg for their continued support. In the rare cases that Newegg doesn't stock an item we want to recommend, we'll link to other retailers as needed. Despite its sponsorship, Newegg has no input on the components included in the System Guide. Our picks are entirely our own.

Rules of the road
The System Guide is our list of recommended parts for building a new PC. If you've never built a PC before and want to, that's great. Just be sure to read through our guide to building a PC, or kick back and watch the handy video below, before proceeding.

In the following pages, we'll discuss our picks for the critical components that make up a PC, including processors, motherboards, memory, graphics cards, storage, cases, and power supplies. We've picked parts to fit budgets of all sizes, without compromising on quality or performance. Those picks are divided into three categories: budget, sweet spot, and high-end. We'll also make a note of good choices for those readers who are looking to get in to a VR ready system.

Our budget picks will get you up and running with solid components that won't break the bank. Stepping up to our sweet spot parts gets you even more bang for your buck. At the high end, we've chosen parts that represent the pinnacle of performance, without falling into the trap of spending money for its own sake.

Each part will have a link to a TR review where possible. We also include a notable needs section for each item with any critical information that you need to know before putting together a parts list. Finally, we've put together some sample builds if you have no idea where to start.

If you like this article, don't miss the rest of our guide series: our how-to-build-a-PC guide, where we walk readers (and viewers) through the PC assembly process; our mobile staff picks, where we highlight our favorite devices for on-the-go computing; and our peripheral guide, where we pick the best monitors, mice, keyboards, and accessories to make your PC experience even better.