Welcome to TR's January 2019 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 the previous instance of our System Guide, there was much rejoicing in the fact that solid-state drives and RAM prices had come down from the stratosphere down to attainable atmospheric levels. We're more than happy to report that the trend has continued in the intervening months, and that both of those types of components can be had for prices that could comparatively be called "dirt-cheap," particularly in the case of SSDs. Processors from the AMD team have also been quite aggressively priced lately, particularly in the up-to-$300 arena, making them good fodder for a handful of our builds.
In turn, these price drops mean one single thing: Every single one of our builds hits harder and is better, faster, and stronger at its appointed tasks than ever before. Generally speaking, the savings in SSDs and RAM let us pick higher-end gear pretty much across the board, and our sub-$2000 builds particularly benefit from that. Those with a need (or just a penchant) for high-end-desktop (HEDT) machines brimming with gobs of CPU cores and memory will find they too have quite a few options these days—maybe too many, even. Workstation aficionados currently have valid CPU choices from either camp, with chip prices ranging from roughly $500 up to $2000. That's a wide price bracket, and within it lie a handful of performance tiers ranging from high-end to god-like.
A while back, we said that the time was nigh to be a PC builder again after the mercy killing of the cryptocurrency bubble, and presently, and indeed, here we are. However, the glass-half-empty folks might point out the valid complaint that the good times could be even better if graphics card pricing hadn't more or less stagnated after the crypto fad died. AMD's lack of competitive options in the high-end graphics arena has been a sore point for a while now, and it's no coincidence that Nvidia's recently released GeForce RTX cards come in at a pretty penny. Sure, the RTXes do deliver potent performance, but those expecting a newer generation of cards to double the price-to-performance ratio (or close enough) of the extant models were quite disappointed.
However, there's no arguing the RTX cards' pixel-pushing prowess. The 2000-series cards generally slot into our builds as direct upgrades to the outgoing models, meaning the RTX 2080 is roughly equivalent to yesteryear's GTX 1080 Ti, the RTX 2070 generally matches a GTX 1080, and so on. The mighty RTX 2080 Ti, as you'd imagine, is in a new performance tier of its own—but it dang well should, as it currently commands a price of no less than around $1300. The just-released RTX 2060 presents particularly good value, though, seeing as it nips at the heels of the RTX 2070 above it. In addition, the new cards' ray-tracing and deep-learning super-sampling (DLSS) smarts are rather impressive, though the number of released games with support for either tech is so far rather small. Having said that, ray-tracing makes for impressive visuals in Battlefield V, and DLSS can enable smooth 4K gameplay in Final Fantasy XV, so there's no denying the technologies' potential in future games.
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. We're only considering new-in-box parts, too.
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, unless they're using 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.