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The Tech Report System Guide: August 2016 edition

The midrange graphics market heats up

Welcome to another edition of The Tech Report's System Guide. We're edging into the hottest part of the summer at the TR labs, and fittingly, the graphics card wars touched off by the industry's move to next-generation fabrication technology are only getting hotter. Both AMD and Nvidia are bringing their lineups of next-generation graphics cards to lower price points where competition can flourish, and PC gamers are reaping the benefits—at least in theory.

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After our last Guide update, AMD unleashed its Radeon RX 480 on the world. Shortly after, Nvidia released a Pascal-powered competitor of its own: the GeForce GTX 1060. In our review, we found that the RX 480 offers GTX 970-class performance for about $240 in its 8GB form. AMD is also offering a 4GB version of the RX 480 for $200, a great value if the smaller pool of RAM isn't an issue. We haven't gotten our hands on a GTX 1060 yet, but a survey of reviews suggests the Nvidia card is slightly faster than the RX 480 in today's DirectX 11 titles while consuming less power than the Radeon.

The GTX 1060 only comes with 6GB of RAM on board, though, and its prices start at $250 and up. Whether its minor performance lead and cooler-running chip are worth the extra money over a Radeon RX 480 will probably be a matter of taste. What's not in question is that both cards should offer a similarly smooth gaming experience. Our advanced frame-time metrics show that AMD has greatly improved the consistency of its cards' frame delivery with Polaris GPUs, erasing a long-standing pain point for Radeons.

While AMD and Nvidia are doubtless pleased to have no problem selling every Polaris and Pascal card they can make, buying one of those cards at the moment is a real challenge for the PC do-it-yourself-er. Enormous demand for these next-generation parts means that GTX 1060s, GTX 1070s, GTX 1080s, and RX 480s are often selling for large markups when they come in stock, muddying their value propositions. If you're trying to build a system right now, don't be surprised if you can't get a next-generation graphics card for anything resembling the suggested prices from AMD or Nvidia. We expect that stock of these products will improve with time, but it's not clear how soon that might happen.

We've got a lot to talk about in the "What's Next" section of this Guide, but we'll leave that for the last page. For now, let's get to building.

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.