Ars Technica System Guide, Spring 2018: The show-your-work edition

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In the December 2017 System Guide, we discovered the unexpected. Given the bevy of pre-built computing devices now available, there’s a lot of debate and confusion about building one yourself these days. What’s the goal behind a custom PC build in 2018? What makes a certain hardware choice “right” to support that?

So rather than starting 2018 with a traditional guide—where Ars presents three build ideas and a set of specific hardware to accomplish each—we’re going to take a step back. This will be more of a meta-guide than an actual guide; we’re going to share the methods and mechanics behind putting together your favorite long-running PC building guide. So while this guide will build from a set of three major system design goals like always, this edition will go through each major PC hardware component one by one, focusing more on ideology than instruction, discussing how a specific part does (or doesn’t) contribute to a specific construction goal.

Standard system design goals

It’s not enough to say a system should be “fast” just like it’s not enough to sum up a sports car with its 0-60 time on a track. A gaming-focused system that impressively renders the most demanding scenes in Crysis can still be frustratingly slow to boot… and may handle the same gaming scenes abysmally if you forgot to (or didn’t want to) close your email client or your 30-tab Web browser first. A system with server intentions may effortlessly run five or 10 entire virtual machines but similarly stumble on a single demanding application. Meanwhile, a five-year-old system that doesn’t have very impressive specs might feel surprisingly fast. You know you’re not going to play the latest AAA games in 4K on it, and you don’t expect it to handle 200 tabs in Chrome, but somehow, despite how old it is, such a build can feel comfortable.

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