Welcome to TR's Winter 2017 System Guide. This release marks a major change in the format of our long-running system-building advice. See, our old guides were getting too long and unwieldy to be useful to the average builder who just wants to know what to purchase when they start shopping for a new build. As a result, we're trying something new and going back to our roots in this edition. We're hoping to keep it simple and stick to advice about complete builds only, rather than producing an exhaustive survey of the state of the enthusiast PC. We'll add commentary where it's justified, but we think this pared-down format should be a lot easier to follow for folks looking for advice.
The rules of the road for the System Guide aren't changing, though. We've tried to create builds across a wide range of price points with parts that provide the best performance possible for the money. We don't just ferret out the cheapest components possible or compromise configurations to hit arbitrary price points. Indeed, these are the systems we'd build for ourselves, given the money. From our cheapest build to our most expensive (or the second-most expensive, at least), you can rest easy knowing that we've done the hard work of balancing the need for performance against the curve of diminishing returns.
The lay of the land
Since our last System Guide, prices for most hardware parts have remained stubbornly steady, and in some cases have risen significantly. RAM is now at least 25% more expensive than it used to be of late, and certain kits have become far more expensive than that. SSD prices have remained high, too. That's because demand for RAM and NAND chips is high right now in markets that aren't related to the good old PC. Some component manufacturers have promised increased production of those chips to cope with the demand, but for now, system builders are paying the price in memory and flash storage.
The rest of the components for a common build are priced roughly the same, counteracting the usual "PC parts get cheaper all the time" narrative. Overall, this situation hurt our more affordable builds more than most, since that's where a price increase in a single component has a disproportionate effect on the power we can pack into a given build.
It's not all bad news, though. Some mid-range and high-end builds can reap the benefits of Intel's recently-introduced eighth-generation Coffee Lake Core CPUs and their increased core counts, all in the same price ranges as their predecessors. For that reason, the big battles right now are in the $900-to-$2000 builds where options for processors are aplenty.
While AMD currently has a competitive selection of processors more or less across the board, pricing for the red team's graphics cards isn't quite so appetizing. Radeon RX 500-series cards in general are still more expensive than we'd like, and Radeon RX Vega cards are out of stock or way overpriced at retail when they're available at all. In contrast, Nvidia's Pascal family of cards has generally been in stock at sane prices up and down the stack. Our graphics card picks reflect this situation.
Rules of engagement
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 and builds to fit budgets of all sizes, without compromising on quality or performance.
Our budget builds will get you up and running with solid components that won't break the bank. Stepping up to our sweet spot builds 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.
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.