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The Tech Report System Guide: summer 2018 edition

Beating the heat with some cool new system builds

Welcome to TR's Summer 2018 System Guide. This is where the TR staff picks out the créme de la créme of hardware components fit for the most price-effective builds around. We've tried to create builds across a wide range of price points with parts that provide the best performance possible for the money. However, 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.

Where we're at

In our last System Guide, we lamented that prices for solid-state drives and RAM in particular were sky-high. Good news, everyone! Prices for RAM have been steadily dropping to amounts that are still dear but not stratospheric, while figures for SSDs have sunk like rocks of late. That's especially true for higher-capacity offerings. We've had 1-TB and 2-TB solid-state drives in our deals posts for under 20 cents a gig recently. Insanity.

That's not the end of it, either. Cryptocurrency prices have taken something of a plunge this year, and the looming prospect of more ASICs for some popular coins means that graphics cards aren't in quite as high demand as before. Yes, they're still usually selling for more than their suggested prices, but not much more—especially at the high end. CPU power is cheaper than ever, so on balance, high prices for graphics cards can be offset with some savings elsewhere.

All in all, we can safely say that the time is right again to be a PC builder. Having said that, keep in mind that prices for pixel-pushers are changing all the time, so always shop around for the best deal.

AMD released its second-gen Ryzen CPUs a while back with a bang. We reviewed both top-end second-gen Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 CPUs as well as Ryzen APUs with integrated Vega graphics, and we found all of them worthy of Editor's Choice awards thanks to their great value propositions. The company has been playing the CPU game well with an aggressive bang-for-the-buck strategy, and enthusiasts everywhere get to enjoy the newfound competition. Our budget builds in particular got a big shake-up from these chips.

While AMD currently has a competitive selection of processors more or less across the board, the red team's graphics cards aren't quite so appetizing. Radeon RX 500-series cards in general are still more expensive than we'd like, and choices for Radeon RX Vega cards are both limited and much pricier than their original suggested stickers. In contrast, Nvidia's Pascal family of cards has generally been in stock at mostly sane prices up and down the stack. Our graphics card picks still favor Nvidia for this reason. Given that the graphics-card market is still in incredible flux, however, this judgment could change at any time.

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.

Although we include dedicated graphics cards in nearly all our selections with the assumption that the builder has an interest in gaming, that might not be the case. In that situation, it's easy enough to remove the card from the components list or replace it with a low-end model for basic video outputs in builds whose CPU doesn't include an integrated graphics processor. Intel builders will reliably get an IGP, while Ryzen owners need to bring their own graphics card outside of the Ryzen 3 2200G and Ryzen 5 2400G.

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.