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TR's February 2015 System Guide

Maxwell fever, part deux

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Wow, is it almost March already? I guess we're overdue for a new System Guide.

We usually wait a while after the new year to update the Guide, since the post-Christmas period tends to be pretty slow in terms of hardware releases. That's been true this year, with one notable exception: the arrival of the GeForce GTX 960.

No question about it, Nvidia's newcomer has changed the game at $200. All of a sudden, cards both north and south of that price point are looking much less enticing. AMD has already cut prices to match, and one of our old budget favorites, the GeForce GTX 660, has effectively vanished from e-tail stocks.

We've seen other changes since Christmas, too, though none quite as momentous. Memory prices have come down a little, making 16GB kits a more appealing proposition than before. Some new solid-state drives have entered the ring, and then there's been the whole GeForce GTX 970 memory debacle, which has made us think long and hard about some of our recommendations.

In all, this is shaping up to be an exciting update to the System Guide. Let's get started!

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.