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TR's March 2007 system guide

Recommendations for building the right enthusiast's PCs

THE VISTA LAUNCH HAS COME and gone, but the hardware market certainly hasn't been sitting still over the past month and a half. Nvidia has brought DirectX 10 graphics below the $300 mark with its GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, AMD has generously discounted its Athlon 64 X2 line, and hardware prices have dropped overall—especially in the memory sector. With these changes in mind, we've cooked up a new system guide for your shopping pleasure. Our recommended systems are now faster and cheaper, and we've also added a one-off "LAN Box" system for enthusiasts and overclockers who need a portable gaming system that won't break the bank.

Since Vista has now been out for a month and a half and supports all the hardware we recommend, we've removed the Vista driver notes that followed many hardware listings in our previous guide. However, we have left the occasional note wherever there are caveats pertaining to Vista driver support.


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.