You know how it is. You spend the first half of December occupied with other things, and then all of a sudden, Christmas is a week away. You grab your coat, run outside, and scramble to find gifts for your loved ones. Sometimes, others have beaten you to the punch and left store shelves maddeningly empty.
Today, we're giving stragglers a hand with their last-minute shopping. We've put together a freshly revamped set of PC build recommendations—because, sometimes, a shiny new gaming PC is the best gift you can give. (Besides, you know, love and togetherness and all that nonsense.) There's still enough time to shop and get parts before the big day.
We've adjusted our customary configs to account for our latest performance findings and recent changes in availability. Our GPU selections have been tweaked in light of the performance problems we recently encountered with AMD's Radeon HD 7950. We've also altered our SSD recommendations to replace previously favored drives that have become harder to find.
We've spiced things up by revamping the peripherals section at the end of the guide, too. If you need a hand picking monitors, keyboards, mice, and other gadgets, you'll definitely want to check it out... once you're done perusing our newly updated PC builds, that is.
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, you'll want to have a look at our handy how-to article—and the accompanying video:
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.