Windows 8 is here at last. Some love it, and some hate it. Regardless of how you feel about Microsoft's new operating system, one thing is undeniable: it's arrived at a pretty good time to upgrade.
AMD has just refreshed its processor lineup from top to bottom, countering Ivy Bridge with what might be its most compelling alternatives yet. Those alternatives include chips like the A10-5800K and the FX-8350, which are great performers despite their relatively high thermal envelopes. Intel has also expanded its Ivy Bridge lineup with dual-core offerings like the Core i3-3220 and i3-3225, which seem ripe for our budget Econobox build.
Things have been moving on the GPU front, too. AMD and Nvidia have treated us to a handful of new cards like the Radeon HD 7850 1GB and GeForce GTX 660. Some of those happen to ship with extremely tantalizing game bundles. Also, as usual, memory and solid-state storage prices have continued their steady decline, inviting us to recommend ever-larger SSDs and RAM kits.
Just as you'd expect, we've carefully updated our four staple builds to account for all of these changes. We didn't stop there, though. We've also outlined a number of complementary Windows 8- and Windows RT-powered mobile systems, some of which are quite unusual, and we've updated our operating system section with the lowdown on the new OS—which editions are available, which version to get. Keep reading for all the details.
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, 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 about $600, $1,000, $1,500, and $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 Newegg.com" 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.