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The Tech Report System Guide: September 2017 edition

Hog heaven at the high end

Howdy, fair gerbils, and welcome to the September 2017 edition of The Tech Report System Guide! It's been a while since our last Guide, and the pace of PC hardware releases hasn't let up. In fact, we haven't had such a brisk release cycle in recent memory. A near-constant barrage of fresh hardware has hit us this year, and we're taking a step back now to make sense of it all.

Last time around, we extolled the virtues of AMD's mid-range Ryzen 5 CPUs versus their Intel counterparts. The limelight is now on the red team's Ryzen Threadripper many-core CPUs. These workstation workhorses arrived in town in a cloud of dust, kicking posteriors and claiming nomenclatures. AMD's return to the high-end desktop impressed us enough that the Threadripper 1950X took home a coveted TR Editor's Choice award.

There's a gunfight brewing at the CPU corral, though. Intel's gang of high-core-count Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs are now saying the place is too small for them and the AMD processors both. Intel has a wide range of workstation-class CPUs to consider in the wake of the Skylake-X launch already, so our recommendations include models from both camps. If you're looking to build a high-end PC, now is a fantastic time.

Down in the budget saloon, AMD's quad-core Ryzen 3 CPUs offer a compelling alternative to Intel's low-end offerings. Intel's always been a little stingy with core counts in more affordable processors, so it's good to see the red team upsetting the status quo some. Our review suggested that buyers can't go wrong with a Ryzen 3 or a recent Core i3.

While AMD's CPU offerings have put Intel on its toes, the same can't quite be said about the red team's graphics cards. Radeon RX Vega cards were some of the most hyped-up pieces of hardware in recent memory. The RX Vega 56 and RX Vega 64 trade blows with the GeForce GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 on performance, but their power efficiency leaves something to be desired versus Nvidia's dominant Pascal architecture. Cryptocurrency miners have also been driving up the prices of Radeon graphics cards for months, and they've made the RX Vega duo hard to find for anything near the company's suggested prices. AMD knows this and has created bundles containing RX Vega cards and monitors, processors, or motherboards to give regular builders a shot at the latest high-end Radeons.

There's pretty bad news for anyone wanting to buy a mid-range graphics card, though. In short: good luck! The uptake of cryptocurrency mining in recent months has led to a situation where GeForce GTX 1060 6GB, GeForce GTX 1070, Radeon RX 570, and Radeon RX 580 graphics cards have been hard to find for their suggested price tags, if they can be found at all. Most are either constantly out of stock or insanely overpriced. Miners used to be interested in AMD cards in particular, but now even Nvidia's mid-range cards are feeling the pinch. Our graphics recommendations will take this bizarre pricing and availability situation into account.

We'll be using product links for multiple e-tailers throughout this guide. Please support our work by purchasing the items we recommend using these links. E-tailers have no input whatsoever on the hardware we choose, though. The 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 generally 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.