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TR's July 2014 System Guide

GPU price cuts, Pentium AE, and Crucial's MX100

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Here we are, not quite two weeks from the end of this year's Steam Summer Sale. We were all ambushed by a veritable cornucopia of bargains, many of which were simply too good to pass up. At this point, I expect a lot of us are quietly dreading our next credit card statement.

Who in their right mind would consider a hardware upgrade after all this?

Well, believe or not, the hardware market seems to be giving us—the over-indebted Steam addicts—a break this summer. Graphics card prices have fallen sharply over the past little while, and they're now lower than ever. The price tags on some cards have dropped by the equivalent of a full performance tier, or close to it. The getting is unquestionably good.

Then there are Intel's Devil's Canyon and Pentium Anniversary Edition processors, the latter of which is perhaps the best CPU value we've seen in years. Picture this: a $75 dual-core processor that's fully unlocked and can overclock by up to 50% on air, at which point it can nip at the heels of $200 quad-core chips. Talk about a return on investment.

On top of that, some new, value-friendly solid-state drives have joined the party. Crucial's MX100 offers an almost unbeatable combination of value and performance at 256GB and 512GB, ideal capacities for a gaming PC.

If you haven't maxed out your credit on Steam games already, you really ought to get in on this. The deals are there, and so are the performance rewards. There's hardly ever been a better time to upgrade—and you don't need to break the bank to do it.

The 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. Instead, 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.