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The Tech Report System Guide: December 2015 edition

All about that Skylake, no Haswell

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Welcome to another edition of The Tech Report System Guide. We have to admit that our last guide was a bit of a weird one. Intel's Skylake CPUs were just beginning to hit the market, and we had to rely on some older Haswell CPUs to fill out our tiers of recommended parts. The Broadwell Core i7-5775C needed last-gen motherboards and DDR3 memory, too. That cross-generational blending wasn't ideal, since we had to talk about two incompatible sets of memory, motherboards, and CPUs all at once.

This time around, the situation is different. More of the Skylake desktop CPU lineup is on the shelves now, and those chips are available in more price brackets than before. Since we've so thoroughly covered Haswell CPUs and 9-series motherboards in past guides, we're not going to tread that ground again in this one. Instead, we're going to look exclusively at Skylake chips, DDR4 memory, and 100-series motherboards to avoid confusion. Most people will want to build around a Skylake CPU for their next system these days, and we're happy to help.

Since we last looked at the system-building landscape, AMD released its Radeon R9 380X graphics card. This Tonga-powered card provides a little more oomph than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 960. Even better, its price has quickly fallen right in line with GTX 960 4GB cards, so we think it's an easy pick in its price range. We'll discuss the best R9 380X to buy in our graphics section.

One less happy change for builders comes from the storage arena. Crucial's BX100 SSDs, long a favorite of ours for budget builds, are being phased out to make room for the BX200 series of drives. We've come to expect performance improvements from each new generation of SSDs, but the BX200 is an exception to that rule. Our review shows these drives often trail their BX100 predcessors, not to mention ancient SSDs like Intel's X25-M. Because of this shift, we've rejiggered our storage recommendations a bit, too.

The Tech Report System Guide is sponsored by Newegg. We'll be using links to their product pages throughout this guide. You can (and should!) support our work by purchasing the items we recommend using these links. A big thanks to Newegg for their continued support.

In the rare case that Newegg doesn't stock an item we want to recommend, we'll link to other retailers as needed. Despite its sponsorship, Newegg has no input on the components included in the System Guide, either. Our picks are entirely our own.

Rules of the road
The System Guide is our list of recommended parts for building a new PC. If you've never built a PC before and want to, that's great. Just be sure to read through our guide to building a PC, or kick back and watch the handy video below, before proceeding.

In the following pages, we'll discuss our picks for the critical components that make up a PC, including processors, motherboards, memory, graphics cards, storage, cases, and power supplies. We've picked parts to fit budgets of all sizes, without compromising on quality or performance. Those picks are divided into three categories: budget, sweet spot, and high end.

Our budget picks will get you up and running with solid components that won't break the bank. Stepping up to our sweet spot parts gets you even more bang for your buck. At the high end, we've chosen parts that represent the pinnacle of performance, without falling into the trap of spending money for its own sake.

Each part will have a link to a TR review where possible. We also include a "notable needs" section for each item with any critical information that you need to know before putting together a parts list. Finally, we've put together some sample builds if you have no idea where to start.

If you like this article, don't miss the rest of our guide series: our how-to-build-a-PC guide, where we walk readers (and viewers) through the PC assembly process; our mobile staff picks, where we highlight our favorite devices for on-the-go computing; and our peripheral guide, where we pick the best monitors, mice, keyboards, and accessories to make your PC experience even better.