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TR's February 2014 System Guide

Introducing our new format

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The TR System Guide has been around for a little over eight years. Starting with the original edition in November 2005 and ending with the Christmas 2013 guide, which went up last December, we followed roughly the same formula. We specced out a handful of builds at various price points and briefly explained the rationale behind each component pick. We also offered a short discussion of peripherals and, more recently, mobile systems that might complement a desktop build.

That format has served us well. Lately, however, it's started to feel somewhat unwieldy and a little opaque. The guide has been a good resource for people content to buy our recommended builds wholesale, but it's failed to deliver in some other ways we think are important. For that reason, we've changed our format for the first TR System Guide of 2014.

Our new format is component-centric rather than build-centric. We're going to devote a section to each main component category—processors, motherboards, memory, storage devices, and so on—and in each case, we'll attempt to give you the information you need to make an informed selection. We'll open up each section with a quick overview of the state of the market, and then we'll narrow things down by listing a small number of recommendations at various prices, detailing the pros and cons of each. It'll be up to you to make final component choices based on your personal needs and the compatibility considerations we outline.

In a nod to our old format, we'll wrap up the guide with a selection of sample builds: PC configurations based on our recommended components and designed to accommodate different budgets. By that stage, we expect folks will understand not just which components to choose, but also how to choose them.

As part of this format change, we'll be spinning off our peripheral and mobile recommendations into separate articles. We should be able to address those topics in greater detail that way. The downside is that we don't have an update to those sections to share with you just yet. Folks seeking our advice on things like monitors, keyboards, tablets, and laptops should check out pages seven and eight of the last edition of the System Guide. The recommendations there are still largely relevant, and we promise to revisit them soon.

Rules and regulations
A short disclaimer: this is a component selection guide, not a PC assembly guide or a performance comparison. If you need help with the business of putting components together, look at our handy how-to build a PC article—and the accompanying video:

For reviews and benchmarks, we suggest heading to our front page and starting from there.

On the next several pages, we'll discuss the main categories of components needed to build a PC: processors, motherboards, memory, graphics cards, storage, cases, and power supplies. We'll then recommend a handful of carefully selected parts split into three tiers: budget, sweet spot, and high end.

For the budget tier, we won't seek out the absolute cheapest parts around. Rather, we'll single out capable, high-quality parts that also happen to be affordable. The sweet-spot tier is self-explanatory; it's where you'll find the products that deliver the most bang for your buck. Finally, our high-end tier is a mirror image of the budget tier. There, we'll seek out the fastest and most feature-packed components, but without venturing into excessive price premiums that aren't worth paying.

Each recommendation will involve a mental juggling of sorts for us. We'll consider variables like benchmark data, our personal experiences, current availability and retail pricing, user reviews, warranty coverage, and the size and reputation of the manufacturer or vendor. In most cases, we'll favor components we know first-hand to be better than the alternatives.

Finally, each recommended component will have a "notable needs" box. In that box, we'll point out any special requirements one should consider when building a full system with that part. For instance, we'll address socket type and form factor compatibility between different processors, motherboards, and cases.

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 serve 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.