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The Tech Report System Guide: April 2016 edition

All aboard the VR train

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Welcome to a new edition of The Tech Report's System Guide. Since our last update, the basic shape of the hardware that goes inside today's PCs hasn't changed much, but there's plenty going on outside the case. HTC's Vive and Oculus' Rift VR headsets are here now, and we expect many people will be dusting off their PC-building chops to put together new systems to power those headsets. A number of people might even be stepping up to the PC-building plate for the first time. Whatever your skill level, we're here to help.

If you're wondering whether your PC is VR-capable, we have some good news. If you built a Sweet Spot system from our System Guides dating all the way back to December 2014, you already have the CPU, graphics card, and RAM you'll need to power a Rift or Vive. Those systems already included a GeForce GTX 970 or Radeon R9 290 graphics card, a Core i5-4590 or better CPU, and 8GB of RAM or more. Those specs are all the same or better than the baseline Oculus and HTC recommend. If your system falls short of those specs, it may finally be time to pull out the credit card.

We're still building with the same Radeons and GeForces that we have in past Guides right now. AMD has said that it'll be releasing new graphics-processing units built on next-gen fabrication processes later this year, and Nvidia has strongly hinted that it'll be following suit. We don't know precisely when chips from either company will hit the market, and we also don't know what sort of performance classes those companies will be targeting with their new graphics cards at first. Even so, the looming proposition of newer, shinier graphics cards makes life as a PC builder a little tricky right now, especially after GPU fabrication's long stay at the 28-nm process node.

Solid-state storage continues its downward march in price. We're not quite at the point where we can put a 480GB or 512GB SATA SSD in a system where a 240GB drive would have gone before, but we're getting close. More companies appear poised to enter the PCIe SSD market soon, too, but the value proposition for these lightning-fast drives is still unclear for all but the most demanding desktop users. Unless you've got to have face-melting synthetic benchmark numbers to screenshot, you'll probably be fine with a good old SATA SSD for now.

The Tech Report System Guide is sponsored by Newegg. We’ll be using links to the site's 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 cases 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. 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. We’ll also make a note of good choices for those readers who are looking to get in to a VR ready system.

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.