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TR's Christmas 2014 System Guide

For your eleventh-hour shopping needs

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It's that time of year again. The streamers are up, the colored LEDs are a-flashin', and the stockings are pinned to the mantelpiece.

Some of you may still have room under the tree, though. Maybe you've been too busy to shop, or maybe you just have a really big tree. Either way, there's room—and if you ask us, there's no better way to fill that room than with a brand-spankin' new gaming PC.

So, forget trips to Best Buy or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. This is the guide you need for your last-minute Christmas shopping.

The hardware landscape hasn't changed dramatically since our last guide update, but we've had to make a few tweaks to account for recent pricing and availability changes. We've also given a nod to the companies crazy enough to release products in December. (We're looking at you, Samsung.) And we've configured a new sample build: the Cuboid, a small-form-factor PC that combines discretion with serious gaming brawn.

Last, but not least, this guide includes an up-to-date forecast for next year's launches, so you can buy your eleventh-hour stocking stuffer without the specter of planed obsolescence looming too closely.

Sound good? Let's begin.

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.