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TR's fall 2011 system guide

A new harvest of PC builds

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Has it already been two months since we published our last system guide? Excuse us. We kept our noses down testing the latest processors, graphics cards, solid-state drives, and enclosures, which might have made us lose track of time just a tad. On the flip side, we now have a rather fresh perspective—and some new fodder for an updated edition of the guide.

This latest guide update is well timed, too, because we're amid one of the busiest game release seasons we've had the pleasure of witnessing in quite some time. id Software's Rage is fresh out of the gate, and still to come are titles like Battlefield 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, to name a few. Now's a great time to make sure you have an up-to-date gaming rig. I mean, how else are you going to get the best experience in these titles? With a console? Puh-leeze.

Join us as we reveal the latest updates and additions we've made to our four classic builds: the $600 Econobox, the $900 Utility Player, the $1,500 Sweeter Spot, and the cheaper-than-before-but-still-quite-expensive Double-Stuff Workstation.

Rules and regulations
Before we get into our component recommendations, we should explain our methodology a little bit. Before that, though, a short disclaimer: this is a component selection guide, not a PC assembly guide or a performance comparison. If you're seeking help with the business of putting components together, we have a handy how-to article just for that. If you're after reviews and benchmarks, might we suggest heading to our front page and starting from there.

Over the next few pages, you'll see us recommend and discuss components for four sample builds. Those builds have target budgets of $600, $900, $1,500, and around $3,000. Within each budget, we will attempt to hit the sweet spot of performance and value while mentally juggling variables like benchmark data, our personal experiences, current availability and retail pricing, user reviews, warranty coverage, and the manufacturer's size and reputation. We'll try to avoid both overly cheap parts and needlessly expensive ones. We'll also favor components we know first-hand to be better than the alternatives.

Beyond a strenuous vetting process, we will also aim to produce balanced configurations. While it can be tempting to settle on a $50 motherboard or a no-name power supply just to make room for a faster CPU, such decisions are fraught with peril—and likely disappointment. Similarly, we will avoid favoring processor performance at the expense of graphics performance, or vice versa, keeping in mind that hardware enthusiasts who build their own PCs tend to be gamers, as well.

Now that we've addressed the "how," let's talk about the "where." See that "powered by" logo at the top of the page? Newegg sponsors our system guides, and more often than not, it will double 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. That vendor doesn't have to be as big as Newegg, but it probably shouldn't be as small as Joe Bob's Discount Computer Warehouse, either.