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The Tech Report System Guide: June 2016 edition

Hijinks at the high end

Welcome to the most exciting Tech Report System Guide update we've had in a long while. GPU production is finally starting to transition to next-generation process nodes, and Intel has updated its high-end desktop CPUs with its Broadwell-E family of chips.

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Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1070 and GeForce GTX 1080 are taking the high-end graphics card market by storm right now, and with good reason. These cards are fabricated on TSMC's 16-nm FinFET process, a move we've been waiting on for quite some time. Combine that move with an apparent Nvidia engineering effort to push clock speeds to the sky with its Pascal architecture, and you get a pair of monster performers.

Going by the reviews we've surveyed, the GeForce GTX 1080 is at least 20% faster than the outgoing GeForce GTX 980 Ti—and often quicker yet—for about the same retail price, while the GeForce GTX 1070 delivers GTX 980 Ti-class performance for about $150 less than that card used to sell for. We're still working on our review of the GTX 1080 as of this writing, but we can easily recommend these cards to folks building a high-end system today. They're the best cards you can get in their price classes.

AMD is targeting a different set of price points with its first Polaris graphics cards. The Radeon RX series looks like it'll top out in the $200 range to start with. We don't have reviews of these cards yet, but the red team has promised "VR-ready performance" from its Radeon RX 480, the $200-ish card in the lineup. Our back-of-the-napkin guess is that the RX 480 might slot in between a GeForce GTX 970 and a GeForce GTX 980 in its potential performance, but that guess should be taken with a considerable amount of salt right now. Polaris cards should begin hitting the market on June 29, so we'll learn more about where their performance puts them in the graphics-card landscape later this month and throughout the summer.

The world of high-end CPUs has gotten a shake-up since our last Guide, too. Intel's recently-released Broadwell-E CPUs offer up to ten cores and 20 threads in a single socket, courtesy of the Core i7-6950X, but you will pay dearly for that privilege. The highest-end Broadwell-E chip now sells for $1,750, an upset of the "more cores for the same price" order that we used to enjoy in this market segment. Intel basically operates unopposed in this space for now, so that kind of pricing model is probably going to be par for the course from here on out unless AMD has something big up its sleeve.

Motherboard makers have refreshed their X99 board lineups for Broadwell-E, too. High-end system builders won't have to scrape by with two-year-old boards that lack the features we think most will want in a system that costs north of $2,000 these days. The new breed of boards offers USB 3.1 Type-C connectors, U.2 ports, fancy lighting, built-in wireless cards, and more. We'll consider this new breed of boards in our motherboard section.

Solid-state storage prices have creeped up again since our last Guide. Value favorites like Mushkin's Reactor 1TB SSD are now selling for closer to $0.25 per gigabyte than the $0.20 or so we saw in our last Guide. Crucial's MX300 is an interesting new option, though. Its 750GB of TLC capacity performs pretty darn well for its $200 price, and its performance nicely splits the difference between slower TLC 1TB drives and speedier MLC options like the Reactor. If you're willing to trade a bit of capacity for higher performance, the MX300 could be a worthy pick in a new system build.

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.