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TR's fall 2013 system guide

Wherein we change all our graphics recommendations

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Wow, is it really that time again? I suppose it must be.

Since we published our last system guide, AMD and Nvidia have introduced a cornucopia of new graphics cards—and cut prices on existing offerings for good measure. Most of the newcomers are based on the same silicon as their predecessors, but they're faster and, in some cases, more aggressively priced. We're facing a completely changed graphics landscape.

On top of that, Intel has released its Ivy Bridge-E processors, and motherboard makers have cranked out updates to accommodate them. Corsair has introduced a successor to one of our favorite cases. Memory prices have gone up again—although, this time, it's because of an unfortunate factory fire. Also, Microsoft has rolled out Windows 8.1, and a whole boatload of new convertibles and notebooks based on it have come out.

So, yes, I suppose it really is time for a new edition of the TR System Guide.

This time, we've tried to update our staple builds while trimming some of the fat from our writing. The result, we hope, is a set of more concise recommendations that should be a little less daunting to parse, especially for first-time builders.

All right, that's enough teasing. Come along, and check out the new guide!

Rules and regulations
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 build a PC 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" 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.