Some might be tempted to hold off upgrades due to the imminent arrival of products like Intel's quad-core "Kentsfield" CPU and next-gen graphics processors from Nvidia and ATI. However, such products tend to debut as high-end parts too expensive for the majority of users. Kentsfield, for instance, will arrive under the very same Core 2 Extreme brand that currently houses the company's $999 top-of-the-line chip. Unless you intend to have a couple of grand to blow on the latest and greatest parts in the next few weeks, your needs should be quite well met by this latest iteration of our system guide.
Our sponsor for the system guide is the excellent online retailer Newegg.com. Newegg's support will allow us to make more frequent updates to the guide, and considering its excellent track record and competitive pricing, it's also a fine source of components for prospective buyers. Of course, the component picks in the guide are still very much our own. They have evolved from our previous system guides, with obvious input from our more recent hardware reviews and new developments in the market.
Rules and regulations
Before tackling our recommended systems, we should explain some of the rules and guidelines we used to select components. The guiding philosophy behind our choices was to seek the best bang for the buck. That means we avoided recommending super-cheap parts that are barely capable of performing their jobs, just as we avoided breathtakingly expensive products that carry a hefty price premium for features or performance you probably don't need. Instead, we looked to that mythical "sweet spot" where price and performance meet up in a pleasant harmonic convergence. We also sought balance within each system configuration, choosing components that make sense together, so that a fast processor won't be bottlenecked by a skimpy graphics card or too little system memory, for instance. The end result, we hope, is a series of balanced systems that offer decent performance as configured and provide ample room for future expandability.
We confined our selections to components that are currently available online. Paper launches and preorders don't count, for obvious reasons. We also tried to stick to $500, $1000, and $1500 budgets for our desktop systems. Those budgets are loose guidelines rather than hard limits, to allow us some wiggle room for deals that may stretch the budget a little but are too good to resist.
We've continued our tradition of basing the guide's component prices on listings at Newegg. We've found that sourcing prices from one large reseller allows us to maintain a more realistic sense of street prices than price search engine listings, which are sometimes artificially low. In the few cases where Newegg doesn't have an item in stock, we'll fall back to our trusty price search engine rather than limit our options.
Finally, price wasn't the top factor in our component choices. Our own experiences with individual components weighed heavily on our decisions, and we've provided links to our own reviews of many of the products we're recommending. We've also tried to confine our selections to name-brand rather than generic products, and to manufacturers with solid reputations for reliability. Warranty coverage was an important consideration, as well.