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TR's Christmas 2007 system guide

Recommendations for building the right enthusiast's PCs

Deciding when to pull the trigger on a new PC isn't easy, since new technology is always waiting just around the corner to spoil the party. As soon as you build a system, something shiny and new will arrive that offers higher performance and gee-whiz new features at the same price or less. This is the way of all things in the PC industry, and it's a very healthy dynamic.

But it's still a pain in the rear.

Happily, though, sometimes all of the elements converge and the time just seems right to build or upgrade. Now is unquestionably one of those times. The past few months have seen the release of a deluge of new PC components that offer solid value for the average enthusiast's PC—not just the high-end stuff with elaborate, snaking heatpipes and outrageous price tags, but truly affordable hardware with next-generation performance. We're talking about quad-core processors, DirectX 10-class graphics cards, near-terabyte hard drives, and the plumbing needed to keep such beasts well fed. At the same time, we've been inundated with a slew of major new PC games—everything from Unreal Tournament 3 to Team Fortress 2 to Crysis, to name just a few—to take full advantage of that hardware. If you've been holding off building until the time was right, your wait may well be over.

Into this fortuitous context steps the latest edition of TR's system guide, with our recommendations for building the best PC for your budget. Our four core systems represent what The Tech Report's editors would choose for themselves at various price points based on the findings from our own in-depth reviews. These systems offer more bang for your buck than ever. Keep reading to see what we've chosen and why.


Rules and regulations
The first thing you should know about this guide is that it's geared toward helping you select the parts for a home-built PC. If you're new to building your own systems and want a little extra help, our tutorial on how to build your own PC is a great place to start and a good complement to this guide.

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.