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TR's Fall 2014 System Guide

GeForce GTX 900-series galore

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The holidays are fast approaching. PC hardware makers have spent the past little while getting their ducks in a row for the season, and today, the ducks look to be pretty well lined up and ready to pluck.

Or something.

Seriously, though. We've got Nvidia's new GeForce GTX 970 and 980 graphics cards, which have redefined performance, power efficiency, and value at the high end. We've got AMD's recent price cuts, thanks to which the Radeon R9 290 is now listed below $300 and A10-series APUs are (or should be) available under $150. And then there are the goodies that came out in the late summer, including Haswell-E processors, X99 motherboards, DDR4 memory, and the Radeon R9 285.

With the exception of the GeForce GTX 970, which is still in short supply, all of that hardware is available and ready to go now. In other words, you could build your Christmas gaming PC today and probably not miss out on much—you know, unless Intel somehow launches a quantum processor within the next eight weeks.

This latest edition of the TR System Guide should give you just about all the tools to build a holiday PC early. We've even added an AMD-based sample build, since those new A-series price cuts make AMD's desktop APUs compelling for the first time in a long while. Pretty crazy stuff, I know.

Let's begin, shall we?

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.