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TR's system guide

Recommendations for the right enthusiast's PCs

WE GET A LOT OF REQUESTS for system and component recommendations. Everyone's looking for the best bang for his buck, either for individual components or complete systems, and we've played with, benchmarked, and otherwise abused enough hardware to know what's what. We've even dedicated an entire forum to vetting system configurations. Although our System Builder's Anonymous forum is a great resource for those looking for opinions on prospective builds, the time has come for an official system guide from The Tech Report.

We've dipped deep into the wells of TR hardware know-how, forged by thousands of hours of exhaustive component testing, in order to formulate a series of recommended system specs designed to fit any budget. These systems are designed specifically for PC enthusiasts, and we haven't compromised quality or reliability in order to cut corners on price. Read on for our recommendations. You might be surprised at how potent a system can be had for relatively little cash.

Rules and regulations
Before tackling our recommended systems, we should explain some of the rules and guidelines we used to select components. First, the guiding philosophy behind our choices was to seek the best bang for the buck. That means we avoided recommending super-cheap parts that are barely capable of performing their jobs, just as we avoided breathtakingly expensive products that carry a hefty price premium for features or performance you probably don't need. Instead, we looked to that mythical "sweet spot" where price and performance meet up in a pleasant harmonic convergence. We also sought balance within each system configuration, choosing components that make sense together, so that a fast processor won't be bottlenecked by a skimpy graphics card or too little system memory, for instance. The end result, we hope, is a series of balanced systems that offer decent performance as configured and provide ample room for future expandability.

We confined our selections to components that are currently in stock and available online. Paper launches and preorders don't count, for obvious reasons. We also tried to stick to $500, $1000, and $2000 budgets for our desktop systems. Those budgets are loose guidelines rather than hard limits, to allow us some wiggle room for deals that may stretch the budget a little, but are too good to resist.

Budgets make relative pricing an important factor for component choices. Rather than using the lowest prices displayed by various online search engines, though, we've tapped a single major retailer for all our price comparisons. Comparing search engine prices for individual components gets messy really fast and would give us a system guide filled with recommendations that required users to shop at a number of different retailers to meet the system's budget. Our reference prices are taken from a single retailer—Newegg in this case—so folks should be able to order all of the components for any of our systems from a single source with the knowledge that the total will stay on-budget. Newegg doesn't always have the lowest price around, so we've supplied lowest price links—in addition to reference pricing—for each system component.

Pricing wasn't the top factor in our component choices, though. Our own experiences with individual components weighed heavily on our decisions, and we've provided links to our own reviews of many of the products we're recommending. We've also tried to confine our selections to name-brand rather than generic products, and to manufacturers with a solid reputation for reliability. Warranty coverage was an important consideration, as well.