rabb1t's pc gaming tech talk
last update: May 9 / '13
This page is where I discuss PC gaming hardware. The page is divided into sections and each section contains components that have different levels of importance in the system and different upgrade/life cycles. Along the left side you will see a brief description of the part and it's purpose in the system. To the right you will find discussion on the current options for that part, what I recommend, and future directions or options for that part. One part for each section will have a "fancy carrot" This denotes what I recommend highest in terms of manufacturer, performance, and features, and should provide an excellent gaming experience at a good price. Recommendations are (most often) listed alphabetically by manufacturer (and then ranked by power/features). Hopefully, by translating some of the technospeak that hardware sites use into regular speak you will be better able to choose upgrades that suit your needs and give you a happy computing experience.
What I call "the core" of the computer are the parts that are the most critical in determining the power of your system. It is these four parts, the central processing unit (CPU), the graphics processing unit (GPU), also known as the graphics card, the random access memory (Ram), and the motherboard. Of all the parts in your system these have the greatest impact on your overall performance.
|The Central Processing Unit, or CPU as it is most commonly referred to, is essentially the brain of the computer. Much like a human brain all of the logical processing goes on here.
||If you are buying a new CPU, $100-200 seems to be a 'sweet spot' that will last you at least 2 to 3 years. Targeting the $200+ range will put you into the higher-end category and set you up nicely to pair your system with a really great GPU and will last 3, possibly even 4 years. However, I do not recommend spending over $350 on a CPU as CPUs beyond that range often are so far into bleeding edge that their advantages are lost due to lack of current support for those features. By the time those features are closer to mainstream, faster cores are often available. Or, they are simply priced so high due to being bleeding edge and having a small bit more power
AMD's CPUs have 6 and 8 cores. While this is more than Intel's offerings it should be noted that this will not yield much of a gain in the majority of games today, as the Intel chips out-perform AMD in most applications. Reviewers believe that the Intel offerings are the better choice.
Intel's socket 1155 is something to consider for any build. The socket has three different cores to choose from; Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7, with a separate designation of "K" following their model number for versions that can reach higher overclocking levels. Gamers who want the absolute best want to get a Core i7 as it offers higher cache and better multi-threading, but a Core i5 type will dominate quite handily. Though the Core i3s offer fewer cores and lower cache they should still do quite respectfully.
Intel's newest chipset, Ivy Bridge, is now out. There are many improvements over the previous generation boards, though they can still run with Sandy Bridge if you so choose. The main advantage for gamers over the previous generation of motherboards is that the graphics card slots are PCIe 3.0. While they can run previous generation graphic cards, when you put in a 3.0 compatible graphics card it can run with higher bandwidth. While this is less important today (2012) at launch, this will become more and more of an advantage as the 3.0 compatible graphic cards mature. I would highly recommend people who are building a new system look for a motherboard of this type. Many of the Ivy Bridge CPUs feature on-chip graphics, which is irrelivant to gamers, however, they also offer higher performance than the previous Sandy Bridge CPUs, so they are worth considering for anyone doing a new build.
Lifespan: Up to 4 years. I recommend you change the CPU every 3.
Intel Dual Core socket 1155 Recommendations:
Intel Core i3 3210 - A good dual core entry level CPU. While it may not be amazing for gaming (particularly as more games take advantage of multi core) it should be able to hold its own well enough.
Intel Core i3 3225 - A good dual core entry level CPU. While it may not be amazing for gaming (particularly as more games take advantage of multi core) it should be able to hold its own well enough.
Intel Quad Core socket 1155 Recommendations:
Intel Core i5 3450 - A solid quad core for gaming.
Intel Core i5 3570K - An ideal quad core for gaming. This features a higher-end on-CPU graphics chip, which is irrelivant to gamers. However, it also features the ability to reach higher overclocking levels.
Intel Core i7 3770K - An ideal quad core for gaming with a higher cache and hyperthreading (allowing for more computational threads if needed). While a gamer may see some benefit over an i5, those who perform genera media tasks will have a higher gain over the 3570/3570K (when creating or compressing audio / video, etc.).
AMD Six Core Recommendations, socket AM3:
The Vishera line is the newest CPU line from AMD. Note that you will need an AM3+ compatible motherboard in order to use them. I recommend doublechecking with your manufacturer that they are compatible if you plan to use them with an AM3 (not +) motherboard.
FX-6350 - Six core CPU. Note that for the cost you may want to consider just spending a touch more on the FX-8120.
AMD Eight Core Recommendations, socket AM3:
The Vishera line is the newest CPU line from AMD.
FX-8320 - Eight core CPU.
FX-8350 - Eight core CPU.
An 'aftermarket cooler' is never required, but they can be cooler and quieter than retail coolers. A good liquid system will keep your temperatures low as well as offering a lower noise volume if it doesn't use fans. However, I only recommend liquid if you are going for a silent system or are going to do extreme overclocking. Although a self-contained smaller liquid cooling system may be the best of both worlds. Most aftermarket air coolers will do just fine under mild overclocking conditions and are a lot lower cost than liquid and much easier to install.
When installing the CPU cooler be careful not to touch the surface with your fingers, particularly the part which contacts the CPU, as finger greases will harm most coolers. Usually you can hold the coolers by their fin areas with little to no danger of harm. I recommend using rubber gloves if you have them.
Zalman CNPS9900MAX-R - A great cooler, but a bit large.
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme - An incredible cooler with controlable fan speed, but a bit heavy. I would only recommend this for those who want maximum cooling under air-based overclocking conditions. For almost all non-extreme overclocking conditions the above 9900MAX-R will do just fine at a much lighter weight.
Self-contained Liquid Recommendations:
Corsair Hydro Series H50 - A great liquid cooling unit. Since it's self contained you don't have to worry about checking liquid levels or leaks. It's minimalist appearance is ideal for someone looking for great cooling with minimal footprint. It is plenty cool for anyone who isn't going to do extreme overclocking, and it is a fair bit quieter.
Corsair Hydro Series H80i - A higher-end Corsiar unit.
CPU Cooler Compound / Paste
Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Compound
Do realize that if you use an aftermarket cooler you will have to apply thermal compound (in almost all cases), whereas retail coolers often have cooling paste pre-applied. It is fairly easy to do this if you follow the directions. The manufacturer should include paste with the cooler, but this can be better than the free stuff for low cost and it reportedly performs at maximum cooling capacity very quickly.
For cleaning off thermal paste you can use "isopropyl rubbing alcohol" which can be found in most regular shoping stores, like Safeway, for about $1.75. I've seen them sold in 70% and 90% bottles. I'm pretty sure either is fine. I use 70%.
|The Graphics Processing Unit, or GPU as it is most commonly referred to, is what drives the graphics of the system.
The GPU consists of 2 chips - one drives 2d elements, such as video streams and web sites, and a 3d element, which runs games.
The more powerful your GPU is, the better performance you will have in video and games.
|A graphics card worth about $150-300 should cover you for high-end settings on new games for ~2 years depending on the exact settings you use. Typically graphics cards in the $100-150 range will do just fine for mainstream/medium settings and resolutions for new games or slightly higher for games that don't use the most current graphical effects. At $300 and higher you are into the high end and will have a better gaming experience at higher resolutions or higher graphical settings. Note though that the majority of users won't need to spend this much, as the increase is only typically necessary for bleeding-edge games with maximum settings, or very high resolutions such as 2560x1600.
Something new for graphics cards and motherboards is PCIe x16 Version 2. When a graphics card and motherboard both have PCIe v2 the graphics card has more bandwidth. It may be some time before games need this increased bandwidth, but it is a nice feature to watch out for. It likely will be a few years before graphic cards benefit from this, so this isn't something to be overly concerned with right now. Everyone should have made the move to v2 before it's power is tapped. Note that part of the PCIe v2 standard is a new 8-pin graphics card connector. Some of these new graphic cards may use this connector type, and if they do, you would also need a PCIe v2 compatible power supply. (All the ones I list have PCIe v2 compatibility.)
I have developed a rating system that may help people choose which graphics card is best for their resolution and use. Note that this is not an absolute science, as each game varies in how much graphical power it will use, and in-game settings will require different levels of power. Note that these ratings may chang as time goes on and the cards age, are replaced by newer cards, or games require more power.
It is important to note that there are some hidden advantages with your choice of graphic chip manufacturer. Right now all the advantages lie with Nvidia.
ATi: ATi cards can do ATi's Eyefinity, a way of using multiple monitors for gaming. While this does get you the potential for a much wider (or larger overall) field of view it can get very expensive buying multiple monitors to support it. Also, at this time there are only a very small number of monitors which support the video input/outputs required for Eyefinity on a single GPU (one monitor must use DisplayPort). Word is that they are working on their own physics acceleration and 3D monitor, but neither has released. In terms of manufacturer advantages there are several Nvidia manufacturers which offer lifetime coverage (and more) while only XFX offers lifetime coverage for ATi cards.
Nvidia: Nvidia's main advantage is PhysX, a method of accelerating physics calculations on the graphics card in order to produce some cool effects. One of the more noteworthy effects is dynamic cloth simulation. While these effects are basically limited to 'eye candy' right now and only appear in a small number of games, adoption of the PhysX engine may become more widespread as more and more PhysX capable cards filter into the hands of consumers. (These are limited to the series 8 and on, so older cards can't do it.) There is also 3D gaming by way of Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision and Vision 2. Currently this is a fairly expensive technology, as the glasses cost $150 and it requires a special monitor. In terms of manufacturer advantages there are several Nvidia manufacturers which offer lifetime coverage (and more). Nvidia can also do Surround, which is their version of multiple monitor support. However, only the series 2 and 4 can do triple monitor, and each graphic card is limited to 2 inputs, meaning if you want to run 3 monitors you will need at least 2 cards. (Though a few special cards circumvent this issue.) Also, when running 3D Vision Surround you have to have identical monitors, meaning they must not only be the same resolution, but the same manufacturer and model number.
Cards that reference (OC) are overclocked, offering minor performance increases over stock speed versions. Cards are listed in order of power and alphabetically by manufacturer.
Lifespan: About 3 years. I recommend you change your graphics card every 2 to stay completely current in features and power.
GTX 650 - Evga GTX 650, 1 gig / Evga GTX 650, 1 gig, Superclocked (OC) / Evga GTX 650, 2 gig / Evga GTX 650, 2 gig, Superclocked (OC)
The GTX 650 should offer solid performance at more modest graphical settings. This card is not capable of running triple monitor on it's own. For most gamers I would recommend the 2 gig version, however, if your budget is extremly tight you can probably mange with a 1 gig card. One gig is a bit short on ram for current day gaming though, so you may need to make extra sacrifices in game quality.NOTE: You can NOT run the 650 in SLI, as it does not have a connector to do so.
GTX 650 Ti - Asus GTX 650 Ti, 1 gig (OC) / Evga GTX 650 Ti, 1 gig, SSC (OC) / Evga GTX 650 TI, 2 gig (OC)
The GTX 650 should offer solid performance. This card is not capable of running triple monitor on it's own. For most gamers I would recommend the 2 gig version, however, if your budget is extremly tight you can probably mange with a 1 gig card. One gig is a bit short on ram for current day gaming though, so you may need to make extra sacrifices in game quality. NOTE: You can NOT run the 650 Ti in SLI, as it does not have a connector to do so.
GTX 650 Ti Boost - Evga GTX 650 Ti Boost, 2 gig / Evga GTX 650 Ti Boost, 2 gig, Superclocked (OC)
The GTX 650 should offer solid performance. This card is designed to put back in features that were removed from lesser cards, such as the Boost software overclocking and SLI potential. This card actually is closer to a less powerful GTX 660 than an overpowered GTX 650 Ti.
GTX 660 - Asus, 2 gig (OC) / Asus, 2 gig (OC) /Evga GTX 660, 2 gig, Superclocked (OC) / Evga GTX 660, 2 gig, FTW (OC)
The GTX 660 is very close of the performance of the GTX 660 Ti. This can run triple monitor on a single card, a new feature for the 6 series. The 6 series has advanced cooling and power use featres which helps to keep it cooler and quieter than it otherwise would be. Note that there are some versions of the GTX 660 with 3 gig of memory, however, it may be more benefitial to spend the extra money on a GTX 660 Ti instead of a GTX 660 with extra ram. If you plan to run triple monitor this extra would likely be very benefitial. However, under normal game settings the differnce between the GTX 660 and GTX 660 Ti is more theoretical than noticible to the gamer. Overclockers note: reviewers are saying the GTX 660 will not overclock as high as the GTX 660 Ti, so if you are heavily into overclocking your cards, the Ti may be the way to go for you.
GTX 660 Ti - Asus GTX 660, 2 gig / Evga GTX 660 Ti, 2 gig / Evga GTX 660 Ti, Superclocked, 2 gig / Evga GTX 660 Ti, Superclocked, 3 gig
The GTX 660 Ti offers ~85% of the performance of the GTX 670 at a lower price (at launch, ~75%). This can run triple monitor on a single card, a new feature for the 6 series. The 6 series has advanced cooling and power use featres which helps to keep it cooler and quieter than it otherwise would be. Note that there are some versions of the GTX 660 Ti with 3 gig of memory. If you plan to run triple monitor this would likely be very benefitial, however, it may come at a steep price. Note: PCIe plug x2 (two 6-pin).
GTX 670 - Evga GTX 670 / Evga GTX 670, Superclocked, 4 gig
The GTX 670 offers nearly all of the performance of the GTX 680 at a lower price. This can run triple monitor on a single card, a new feature for the 6 series. The 6 series has advanced cooling and power use featres which helps to keep it cooler and quieter than it otherwise would be. Note that there are some versions of the GTX 670 with 4 gig of memory. If you plan to run triple monitor this would likely be very benefitial, however, it may come at a steep price. Note: PCIe plug x2 (two 6-pin).
GTX 680 - Asus GTX 680 / Evga GTX 680, 4gig
This can run triple monitor on a single card, a new feature for the 6 series. The 6 series has advanced cooling and power use featres which helps to keep it cooler and quieter than it otherwise would be. Note: 10". Note: PCIe plug x2 (two 6-pin).
GTX Titan - Asus GTX Titan / Evga GTX Titan / Evga GTX Titan, SuperClocked (OC) / Evga GTX Titan, SuperClocked Signature edition (OC)
This is really just a note for the GTX Titan. Due to how much it costs ($1000 at the time of launch) there are very few situations I'd recommend you consider it. It has quite a bit more power than the GTX 680, and due to a new cooler design can run in places air-flow is limited, such as small form factor cases. It does take a bit more power to run, but runs cooler, and therefore will likely be quieter due to reduced fan needs. It also has greatly improved computational power in terms of number crunching, which those doing video work may find useful. However, if you want the greatest price-to-performance ratio it will not be cost-effective until it drops below about $750, as two GTX 680 can out-perform at a slightly lower cost. I'd only recommend the GTX Titan to those who don't need to worry about money, or who absolutely must fit it into a small form factor case which may not have enough air-flow. Note: 10". Note: PCIe plug x2 (one 6-pin, one 8-pin).
On the Horizon:
Nvidia note: There are rumors that Nvidia may be launching the series 7 as soon as late May, 2013. It looks like the first cards launched may be taking up the high-end spots, probably somewhere around where the current GTX 670, 680, and Titan are. - rumor link
AMD (formerly ATi) Recommendations:
HD 7750 - Asus HD 7750
This is really the lowest I'd recommend for (ATi) gamers.
HD 7770 - Asus HD 7770 / XFX Core edition 7770
This is a solid mainstream card.
HD 7790 - ASUS HD 7790 / XFX HD 7790
A great choice for ATi for those looking for a high-end mainstream card. Though rated at 4 star, it's really around 3.5-4 in terms of power depending on the game.
HD 7850 - ASUS HD 7850
A great choice for ATi for those looking for a high-end mainstream card.
HD 7870 - ASUS HD 7870
A great choice for ATi for those looking for a high-end card. Note: PCIe plug x2 (both 6-pin).
HD 7950 - Asus HD 7950 / XFX HD 7950 Double D Black edition (OC)
The 7950 cards come with 3 gig standard, which should smooth things out when running with single GPU and Eyefinity. Note: >10.5". Note: PCIe 6-pin plug x2.
HD 7970 - XFX HD 7970 / XFX HD 7970 Black edition (OC)
The 7970 cards come with 3 gig standard, which should smooth things out when running with single GPU and Eyefinity. Note: >10.5". Note: PCIe plug x2 (one 6-pin and one 8-pin).
On the Horizon:
ATi note: There are rumors that new graphic cards will launch during 2013, but I have no other details.
One star cards will be an entry level or lower mainstream gaming cards. Most games will need to be set at low settings. I only recommend 1 star cards if you can't afford a 2 star, as there will be a big rift between them in power. While a one star card may run the game, you are talking about very low settings.
Two star cards are lower mainstream and should be fine for lower or medium settings.
Three star cards are a great choice. Most people will want a 3 or 4 star card. Games should run at medium or higher settings.
Four star cards are a great choice and have a touch more oomf. Most people will want a 3 or 4 star card. Games should have no problem running at higher settings.
Five star cards are higher-end and are best for high-resolution and high settings.
Overkill Rank 1 is a high-end card and has power or features that exceed all but the most demanding games. It is best to avoid this type of card unless you have a high spending limit.
Overkill Rank 2 is a high-end card and has power or features that exceed all but the most demanding games, and likely will remain overkill for quite some time. It is best to avoid this type of card unless you have an unlimited budget.
Note that some cards are 10.5", or larger, and may not fit in all cases. These cards are referenced by a note in the above text. Also note that some cards may require more than one PCIe plug. These are noted in the text above as "Note: PCIe plug x2" with an additional note if they require the 8-pin type.
|The Random Access Memory, or Ram as it is more commonly referred to, is effectively the short-term memory of the system.
In general, the more ram a system has the more it can work with at one time. If it has too little information will have to go back and forth between the ram and the hard drive.
|Ram has two ratings; one is the overall speed, and one is the timings. "Tighter" timings, those which are smaller numbers, can be "faster" ram. While this may not yield a huge difference compared to regular speed ram, if you can get ram with lower timings for not too much more than regular timings you may want to go for it. If you have a choice of slower overall speed versus tight timing, tight timing will often yield a better rain.
Note that it is ideal to match the ram speed to the (fastest) motherboard FSB speed. I say ideal as most times faster ram speeds will increase the cost, and the gain may be very small for such an increase. However, if you are an overclocker and choose to alter these settings for even higher performance you are free to do so. Additionally, when the system boots, even if you have modified these settings they will be temporarily reset to safe settings during boot to be safe, so you don't have to worry about extreme settings messing things up and preventing a boot cycle.
Lifespan: Add or change as needed. Typically needs change with CPU / Motherboard generations. Roughly 4 years, but I recommend changing with your Motherboard change. Check the standards every other year.
Recommendations - 8 gig kits (2 x 4 gig sticks):
Corsair Vengeance - a DDR3-1600 8-gig kit with 9-9-9-24 timing.
Corsair Vengeance - a DDR3-1600 8-gig kit with 8-8-8-24 timing.
Recommendations - 16 gig kits (2 x 8 gig sticks):
Corsair Value Select - a DDR3-1600 16-gig kit with 11-11-11-30 timing. Good for those on a tight budget.
Corsair Vengeance - a DDR3-1600 16-gig kit with 10-10-10-27 timing. A solid mainstream choice.
Corsair Vengeance - a DDR3-1600 16-gig kit with 9-9-9-24 timing. A solid mainstream choice with slightly better timing.
Corsair Vengeance - a DDR3-1866 16-gig kit with 9-10-9-27 timing. A faster kit for those with a bit more to spend on ram.
G.SKILL Ripjaws X - a DDR3-1600 16-gig kit with 10-10-10-30 timing.
G.SKILL Ripjaws X - a DDR3-1866 16-gig kit with 10-11-10-30 timing.
G.SKILL Sniper Gaming Series - a DDR3-1866 16-gig kit with 10-11-10-30 timing.
|The Motherboard, sometimes abbreviated as MB, is effectively the nervous system in the computer. It controls the flow of information between various locations.
||Intel's socket 1155 is here and there are lots of happy choices for gamers. You can get something entry level if you like or get something targeting enthusiasts. Note that there are several designs in regards to PCIe x16 options. With many boards there are more slots than you can actually use for graphics, as often times a slot capps at slower speeds. Be very careful to look for this if you are looking for a board you can run multiple graphic cards on. Here at my site I will clearly mark the number of slots and what they are used for to simplify things for you.
Intel's socket LGA-2011 has launched. This is targeting the high-end enthusaist (a group who lies mostly outside of the range of user this site is targeted at.) If you have basically no budget, you can get CPUs with more cores, faster speeds, and motherboards that can do up to 4-way graphic setups. If you are on a budget you likely want to avoid this chipset as its gains really only lie in the extreme range, so going mainstream with such a build would not be a huge benefit compared to going with the lower cost socket 1155 parts. Also note that the majority of motherboards are extended ATX size and will only fit in a few cases due to that larger size.
Intel's newest chipset, Z77 (and Z55) which are tweaked for the Ivy Bridge chips, is now out. There are many improvements over the previous generation boards, though they can still run with Sandy Bridge CPUs if you so choose. The main advantage for gamers over the previous generation of motherboards is that the graphics card slots are PCIe 3.0. While they can run previous generation graphic cards, when you put in a 3.0 compatible graphics card it can run with higher bandwidth. While this is less important today (2012) at launch, this will become more and more of an advantage as the 3.0 compatible graphic cards mature. I would highly recommend people who are building a new system look for a motherboard of this type. Be warned that many of the Z77 motherboards are extended ATX, a larger size than previous motherboards. If you are looking at purchasing such a board be very sure that your case can support it. Many cases will not be large enough to accommodate these boards
Lifespan: Motherboard changes are dictated by CPU socket changes. The tech rarely changes during a CPU lifecycle.
Intel Recommendations, socket 1155:
Asus P8Z77-M (micro-ATX - LAN ready) - A minimal board; single PCIe 3.0 slot. This is a fine board if costs must be kept to an absolute minimum. It only has one GPU slot, and it has a lower ram speed cap (DDR3-1333). I only recommend this if you must watch every single penny, as a dual GPU and faster ram speed board is only a small bit more. Note that this is a micro-ATX board, and as such will be smaller and things may feel a bit cramped.
Asus Maximus V Gene-Z (micro-ATX - LAN ready) - Two PCIe 3.0 slots. A high-end micro board. This would be ideal for someone who wants portability for LAN events, yet does not want to sacrifice on features such as dual GPU and faster ram.
Asus P8Z77-V LK - An mainstream board; three PCIe 3.0 slots - one at 4x. This is a solid board for mainstream gamers.
Asus P8Z77-V - An mainstream board; three PCIe 3.0 slots - one at 4x. This is a solid board for mainstream gamers. While the Wi-Fi connection seems like a nice addition, wireless play is not something gamers want to use if they have the option for a lan connection.
Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe - Extended ATX - An enthusiast board; three PCIe 3.0 slots - one at 4x. This is effectively the same as the P8Z77-V, but with dual lan connctions, dual Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. While the Wi-Fi connection seems like a nice addition, wireless play is not something gamers want to use if they have the option for a lan connection.
Asus Maximus V Formula/Assassins C3 - Extended ATX - A high-end enthusiast board; three PCIe 3.0 slots. This board has more features than the average gamer would need, but if you want the options for anything and everything this is the board for you.
Evga Z77 FTW - Extended ATX - A high-end enthusiast board; five PCIe 3.0 slots. Certified for "four-way SLI + PhysX" SLI or four way Crossfire. This board has far more features than the average gamer would need, but if you want the options for anything and everything this is the board for you.
AMD AM3+ Recommendations:
Asus M5A78L-M LX - AM3+ - a single slot motherboard for teh cheap.
Asus M5A99FX PRO - AM3+ - a dual slot Nvidia SLI and ATi CrossFire ready motherboard. This board has the new Sata 6 gig speed connections.
Asus Sabertooth 990FX - AM3+ - an enthusiast dual slot Nvidia SLI and ATi CrossFire ready motherboard. This board has the new Sata 6 gig speed connections.
Asus Crosshair V Formula-Z - AM3+ - an enthusiast dual slot Nvidia SLI and ATi CrossFire ready motherboard. This board has the new Sata 6 gig speed connections.
The sub-core is what I'd consider the parts of the computer that are required for operation, but are parts that have a far less significant impact on the system's overall performance.
|Sound Card / Speakers / Headphones
|An add on sound card helps out the CPU by accelerating sound independent of other CPU processes. Additionally some sound cards can greatly increase the quality of the sounds.
||For me, good positional audio really increases my enjoyment of a game. Creative Labs used to be king of the hill, but since the launch of Vista they have had compatibility issues (with games) which apparently remain even with Windows 7. Acceleration can, and can not, happen depending on the game. The Asus "Xonar" line emulates the same surround quality that the Creative Labs cards do, though it may suffer similar results.
A PCIe 1x type card can theoretically be used in any PCIe slot, so those 16x and 8x graphic card slots should work just fine for a PCIe 1x sound card if you don't have an available 1x slot.
Lifespan: Sound card tech rarely changes. I recommend updating every 3 years, or as needed due to a tech change.
Recommendations; PCI express 1x connection:
Asus Xonar DX - Should be good for gamers.
Asus Xonar D2 - Should be good for gamers. This card features advanced sound cleaning techniques, so there will be less distortion from the system as a whole. Note though that distortion of sound is rarely an issue with any add-in card, so this seems to have an awfuly high price tag for what you are getting.
Creative Sound Blaster Z - This card features new SBX features, EAX, and CrystalVoice for cleaner audio input. This line does seem to lack the THX certification of the previous line, but unless you are watching movies on your PC this shouldn't matter to gamers.
Creative Sound Blaster Zx - This card features new SBX features, EAX, and CrystalVoice for cleaner audio input. This line does seem to lack the THX certification of the previous line, but unless you are watching movies on your PC this shouldn't matter to gamers.
I tend to stick with one speaker set and change when the sound technology changes. The technology for speakers tends to change so slowly that a decent speaker set will likely last you several years, possibly through several system builds.
Lifespan: A personal choice, but I recommend every 5 years or as needed.
Logitech Z-506 5.1 speaker set - A very good speaker set choice.
Logitech Z-906 5.1 digital speaker set - A high-end speaker set for the true sound enthusiast. This is one of the few speaker sets that uses a digital connection. Note that these reportedly get so loud they shake the walls. Do not use these if you live in an apartment and have neighbors close by.
AmazonBasics - If your sound card and speaker set can use a digital connection, this would be a good choice for a cable. At 6' this should be plenty long enough to go from your PC to your speaker set.
Belkin PureAV AV20000 - Another digitial cable.
For those who may want to run a second set of speakers to use for voice chat - so that you can have your game sounds and voice chat on separate speakers - you may want to look at the Logitech V10 USB speakers.
I prefer speakers to headphones, but some people may not have that option or may prefer to use headsets so they don't bother their roommates. It seems there are three classes of headsets; the tiny in the ear type (aka "ear buds"), the type you put on your ears (a type not really sold anymore), and the type which are larger and have foam pads and go around your ears. The tiny in the ear type are not very good for gaming due to their inability to reproduce good tonal range. (They also tend to have very short cords.) Also, these can bother the wearer over extended periods of use. The on the ear type can be ok for sound reproduction, but they aren't ideal for extended use as they often bother the user due to either smashing or hanging on the ear. The over the ear type is ideal for extended use and gaming, and often superior in tonal range reproduction. Also, this type often features the best microphones.
There is some debate if surround sound actually works with headsets. While headsets can include multiple speakers on each side to truly reproduce surround sound, this will obviously come at a sacrifice of speaker quality due to the multiple smaller speaker size compared to two larger ones. Thus, most 5.1 and 7.1 sound is simulated in that only 2 speakers are acting as several. Typically USB conneciton types are the only ones to do this. (Likely due to higher bandwidth of the conneciton type.)
USB connections are sharper and clearer in microphone audio quality, so if that is important to you, or you happen to be using the microphone for other things, such as podcasting, you definitely want to look at a USB type. However, if you chose to use a USB headset be aware that this ignores any add-in sound card you may have, as it is plugged in via USB, not to the sound card. Also, many speaker sets have 3.5mm headphone jacks, making it very easy to plug in or remove your headset as needed at a position closer to your head. Also you can use a converter jack to plug the headhones in to larger plugs, such as on a home entertainment receiver, or sometimes use them in music playing devices. If you have a USB connection type not only will you be unable to use these connection points, but they often also require special drivers in order to get full functionality.
I noticed a reference that USB headsets can play sound independent of your speakers if you are using a voice chat program. Though the only reason I could think for doing this would to independantly control volume of the game sounds and voice chat sounds. Since most voice chat and game controls can already do this I don't know how useful this feature would be.
Good headphones can cost as much as a good speaker set, however, they will often have a shorter lifespan due to wear and tear on the cord and headset as you take them off and on. If you are someone who uses a headset frequently and sound quality is not terribly important, it's likely that almost any decent headset ($35-50) will do you just fine. However, if sound quality is important, or if the headphones are your main or only listening device, and you are gentle with equipment, it may be worth it to consider a more expensive headset. (Non-wireless will tend to be around $50-75, with wireless running around $125.)
Corsair Vengeance 1300 - 3.5mm connection type, 2.1 sound - An over the ear design. Cloth ear covers. The microphone can be rotated up to be out of the way.
Corsair Vengeance 2000 - USB connection type, 7.1 simulated sound - An over the ear design. Cloth ear covers. The microphone can be rotated up to be out of the way.
Creative Fatal1ty Gaming Headset - 3.5mm connection type, 2.1 sound - An over the ear design. Cloth ear covers. The microphone can not be rotated out of the way, however, it can be removed during times you are not using it. This is an older design, but a great mainstream gamer headset.
Creative Sound Blaster Tactic 3D Sigma USB Gaming Headset - 3.5mm connection type and/or USB, 2.1 sound - An over the ear design. Faux-leather ear covers. Simulated 3D sound if you use the USB connection. The microphone can not be rotated out of the way, however, it can be removed during times you are not using it.
Creative Sound Blaster Tactic3D Rage Wireless USB Gaming Headset - USB connection type, 7.1 simulated sound - An over the ear design. Faux-leather ear covers. Simulated 3D sound if you use the USB connection. The microphone can not be rotated out of the way, however, it can be removed during times you are not using it.
Logitech G930 Gaming Headset - USB connection type, 7.1 simulated sound - An over the ear design. Faux-leather ear covers. Simulated 3D sound if you want. The microphone can be rotated up to be out of the way.
|The hard drive stores all of the information in the computer. You can think of this like your long-term memory. When your PC operates it moves information from the hard drive's long term storage to the system ram.
||Solid state drives are quickly becoming an excelent choice for a higher mainstream build. Note that because solid state drives are still new tech they are still far more costly per gig. A solid state hard drive is quickly becoming one of the better choices in terms of improving your game (and overall computing) experience as it greatly reduces load times and waiting between opearions. However, note that not all are created equal and there are differences in manufacturin that you can't see. Cheaper drives may be slower than the more expensive drives, but they will always be faster than 'old school' hard drives (they are about 10x faster than the 10k RPM drives).
The only real limitation to solid state drives is that they are still a bit pricy in terms of cost per gig (take the formula of ( Price / gig capacity ) to calculate the cost per gig), and their sizes are still small in comparison to the older drive types. If you tend to store a lot of information on your system besides games (such as music, movies, pictures, homework files, etc.) you will probably want to get a second drive for those files. For games, even the smaller sized solid state drives should be fine. Most single player games average around 5 gig, while online games will varry between 10 and 20 gig. Something around 80 gig should do ok for a gamer, but ideally you want to target no smaller than 160 gig.
Note that the OS wants to put everything into "my documents" or "program files", both of which will fall onto the boot drive. Some programs may have issues with going into different places, and multiple disk systems may be problematic because of this. If you want to avoid this issue, be sure to check how much space you are currently using for games and programs and add about 20% for growth. (Music and movies shouldn't have too much of a problem going on a second drive.) For some the cost of putting this onto a solid state drive may not be worth the cost. I recommend for ease of use you get no smaler than an 120 gig drive to avoid these potential pitfalls.
Solid state drives often come in the 2.5" size. While there is technically nothing wrong with 2.5", the 3.5" size is the standard drive size cases target (though this is changing). While many cases have 2.5" ports, or converters from 2.5" to 3.5", some cases may not have many 2.5" ports or none at all, so be sure to check for that if the case is lower cost.
Note: There is apparently a shortage of parts which is driving the price up (Jan, 2012). As such, buying a new hard drive is really not worth it for gamers compared to buying a solid state drive. Unless you have large storage needs you will be getting far more for your money with a solid state drive at this time.
Lifespan: Hard drive tech changes rarely, but I recommend changing your hard drive about every 3 to 4 years.
Note that all drives are "OEM" items and do not have a box or cables. However, your motherboard kit should include the necessary Sata cables.
Recommendations; standard speed:
Western Digital Caviar Blue 320 gig - A solid performing HD. A great drive for those on a tighter budget.
Western Digital Caviar Black 500 gig - Higher/enhanced cache for better/quicker access and very high storage space. This is a 6.0 sata speed type.
Western Digital Caviar Black 750 gig - Higher/enhanced cache for better/quicker access and very high storage space. This is a 6.0 sata speed type.
Western Digital Caviar Black 1.5 terra - Higher/enhanced cache for better/quicker access and very high storage space. This is a 6.0 sata speed type.
Western Digital Caviar Black 2 terra - Higher/enhanced cache for better/quicker access and very high storage space. This is a 6.0 sata speed type.
Recommendations; solid state, 2.5":
Corsair Force Series GS 180 gig - A slightly larger drive. This will likely do fine for many gamers, but you probably want to consider 240 gig or higher if you tend to have half a dozen or more games on your system at any given time. (Particularly if those are MMOGs.)
Corsair Force Series GS 240 gig - A decent sized drive. Likely ideal for most minimalist gamers.
Corsair Force Series GS 360 gig - A larger drive. For those looking for a bit more space without a high price increase this would likely be ideal.
Corsair Neutron Series 64 gig - A smaller drive, but it should be large enough for your OS and a few games. You probably want to consider larger. (The Neutron is a newer line than the Force GS and features slightly faster speeds.)
Corsair Neutron Series 128 gig - A decent sized drive, but you may want to consider larger. (The Neutron is a newer line than the Force GS and features slightly faster speeds.)
Corsair Neutron Series 256 gig - A decent sized drive. Likely ideal for most minimalist gamers. (The Neutron is a newer line than the Force GS and features slightly faster speeds.)
Corsair Neutron Series GTX 120 gig - A decent sized drive, but you may want to consider larger. (The Neutron GTX is a newer line than the Force GS and features slightly faster speeds.)
Corsair Neutron Series GTX 480 gig - A very large drive. While more space is almost always a good thing, I don't know if this is worth the cost to most gamers. (The Neutron GTX is a newer line than the Force GS and features slightly faster speeds.)
Kingston HyperX 3k 90 gig - A smaller drive, but this should be sufficient for minimalist gamers or a boot disk.
Kingston HyperX 3k 120 gig - A decent sized drive, but you may want to consider larger.
Kingston HyperX 3k 240 gig - A decent sized drive. Likely ideal for most minimalist gamers.
Kingston HyperX 3k 480 gig - A very large drive. While more space is almost always a good thing, I don't know if this is worth the cost to most gamers.
OCZ Vertex 4 128 gig - A decent sized drive, but you may want to consider larger.
OCZ Vertex 4 256 gig - A decent sized drive. Likely ideal for most minimalist gamers.
OCZ Vertex 4 512 gig - A very large drive. While more space is almost always a good thing, I don't know if this is worth the cost to most gamers.
OCZ Vector 4 128 gig - A decent sized drive, but you may want to consider larger. The Vector line features a newer controller than the Vertex line and is a bit faster.
OCZ Vector 4 256 gig - A decent sized drive. Likely ideal for most minimalist gamers. The Vector line features a newer controller than the Vertex line and is a bit faster.
OCZ Vector 4 512 gig - A very large drive. While more space is almost always a good thing, I don't know if this is worth the cost to most gamers. The Vector line features a newer controller than the Vertex line and is a bit faster.
|DVD burners are getting lower in price these days, so there isn't any reason not to get one (compared to getting a CD type). Just be sure it has features and speeds you are happy with. Try and check for a sata connection type and Windows Vista certification.
Lifespan: Media tech changes rarely. I recommend changing as necessary.
Asus Blu-ray/DVD/CD burner (BC-12B1ST/BLK/B/AS - OEM) - A good drive that should cover all of your burning and reading needs. The free software which is included may not have very many Blu-ray audio playback options. Additional software may be required to get the full uncompressed 5.1 audio.
|The power supply unit, or PSU, is basically the heart of your system. It controls where the power goes and how much is sent.
||Something new to watch for is compatibility with the new PCI Express 16 Version 2 standard (PCIe v2). This requires an 8-pin power connector for graphic cards. Previously power supplies used a 6-pin type, most on the market only have 6-pin. However, many new power supplies use a "6+2" pin method. My recommendations all have at least one 6+2-pin PCIe connector, with two or more total PCIe connectors.
Lifespan: About 4 years. I recommend changing every 3 years or as needed.
There are three things to consider when purchasing a power supply; the overall Power ratting, the 12 volt rails / total amps, and the Fan size / speed.
Power rating is the overall big number you see listed on the box. Today, right now, you want to target 500w or higher with a new system for single graphic card use, or 750w or higher for dual graphic card use.
The 12v lines and total amps is equally important and equally as tricky to gauge your needs. These are very important for graphics card power, but also important if you run lots of devices (such as multiple hard drives.) The short version is that you want at least 34 total amps these days. If a power supply has multiple 12v lines you can add their amounts together to find the total amps.
Fans are important to consider if you are concerned about noise. Larger fan size doesn't automatically mean that the fan will be quieter, but it does mean that it can run at a lower speed. You will want to be sure that the fan has a speed control, which is critical for keeping noise at a minimum. Some fans run at only one speed, meaning they produce more noise than they have to and will likely be overly loud. Most power supplies these days have variable fan speeds.
Efficiency is also something you may wish to check. Most power supplies these days will have >80% efficiency. Less efficient units will produce more heat and may cost you more in terms of a monthly power bill. (Though this monthly cost increase likely won't be too noticeable.) Also, some fan speeds may increase with heat increasing your noise, so more efficent heat disipation will reduce noise as well. Some will refernce "bronze", "silver", or "gold" certified. Basically any will be fine, as they are all 80%+, with the higher certifications costing more, but also containing better parts.
PCIe connectors are also something you may want to consider. The power supplies I recommend all have at least two PCIe connections that use the new 6+2 pin connectors. Some graphic cards only require one PCIe plug, however, some require two. Depending on how many of which cards you will use you may want one, two, four, or six PCIe connectors total.
While it is tempting to buy a cheap power supply, don't. The power supply is the heart of your system, so you want a good one. Read some reviews and go with a well-known brand that matches your price and performance needs if you are unsure.
Recommendations: All power supplies listed are PCIe v2 compatible and have two or more 8-pin ("6+2") PCIe connection types.
Corsair Enthusiast Series TX650 v2, 650w - 2 PCIe - Good for systems with single card. Note that with only 2 PCIe lines you won't be able to run dual card which require more than one plug each, but I wouldn't recommend trying as you really want at least 750w for dual graphic cards.
Corsair Enthusiast Series TX850M, 850w - 4 PCIe - Modular, xGPU+. A great choice for systems with dual graphic cards. This PSU gets the fancy carrot for having excellent power, a good number of PCIe lines, and low price.
Corsair AX760i Digital, 760w - 6 PCIe - Modular, xGPU+. A great choice for systems with dual graphic cards, but I wouldn't recommend triple. This features a higher certification level, and even better quiet running features.
Corsair AX860i Digital, 860w - 6 PCIe - Modular, xGPU+. This is an ideal choice for a multiple graphic card systems. This features a higher certification level, and even better quiet running features.
Corsair AX1200i Digital, 1200w - 6 PCIe - Modular, xGPU+. This is an ideal choice for a multiple graphic card systems. Having more power ensures things run smoothly, but this may be into the overkill range. This features a higher certification level, and even better quiet running features.
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Note that a reference of "Modular" means that you only plug in the power lines that you need, freeing up space for airflow in your case. A reference of "xGPU+" means this power supply could handle two or more graphic cards depending on their plug configurations.
|I have to say that the Antec Nine Hundred is an amazingly quiet case and it isn’t overly large like some. I accidentally had one fan bumped to high when I first booted up, boy was that loud, but that's actually a good feature - the fans can be switched between three different settings depending on your cooling needs. The extra room in the case makes it easy to set things up. The fan settings are a great option, allowing you to go for silence or for maximum cooling. There are even thingies in the tray of the case so you can twist tie cables here and there to make cable management easy. The Antec Nine Hundred is easily one of the best cases I have owned. (So far I’ve owned at least 6.)
In my opinion cases that cost more than $100 are too expensive. Usually the features you gain for the really expensive cases simply aren't worth the cost. If you find a case you like, look around for better prices; sometimes you can find really good cases much cheaper at one retailer compared to another. If you like one which is more than $100 look very carefully at the stats, ask yourself if you really need the features it offers compared to a less expensive case.
General case comments:
Drive bays - Each case has a different number of bays. Consider your needs. You likely won't change your needs drastically, so there isn't much point in getting something that would be overkill.
Cooling - Case fans can make a decent amount of difference in the overall temperatures inside your case. Choosing a case with more than one fan, particularly if they can be changed to different speeds, is a good idea. Two should be plenty.
Noise - Few cases are louder than others simply based on design. The exception to this are ones which have open sides or fronts, as the open nature will allow for a little more noise to come out. Basically your noise level will be impacted more by the number and type of fans the case has than by design.
C00ln3ss! - The "coolness" factor of a case can deceptive. Be sure the case meets your needs on the above factors before buying it just becaue it looks cool. Some of those cool design factors may impact the ease of installation of parts or how well the case cools the parts inside.
Size - Some cases (especially the smaller ones) can be difficult to work with (when installing stuff). This can be problematic if you expect to change out parts. While the larger cases can often provide plenty of internal room, they can take up a lot of external room - meaning that large case which is very roomy inside may take up all of the available space you have in your PC area. Balance the case size with your biological size needs - meaning leave enough room for your PC parts as well as enough room for your body parts. Consider where that PC will go in relation to where you will go. Will the size be helpful or harmful to your personal space?
Weight - A minor point, but one to consider none the less. Aluminum cases will be lighter compared to Steel cases. If you are going to be changing parts every now and then, or carrying your PC to a friends for those lan party weekends, you may want to consider a smaller aluminum case.
Lifespan: About 5 years. When you need to change will be determined by changes in the industry which alter Motherboard or graphic card size.
Choose a case that fits your computing needs as well as your personal needs. I'd avoid ones that include 'no name' power supplies, as the power supply is really the heart of your system. (See the power supply section above for details.)
Antec Three Hundred (Illusion Black) - This is a great low cost case with some higher-end features. It comes with two fans, one on top and one in the back, with optional locations to mount fans on the front of the case and the side. Antec references a max 12.5" GPU size. Additionally it has washable filters.
Antec Eleven Hundred - XL-ATX/Extended ATX - This provides hot swap bays. (Why a gamer needs those is beyond me.) It has two 120mm fans (and 7 optional fan spots) and one 200mm top fan, washable air filters, a fan speed control (for each fan), and cable organization on the back of the motherboard tray. With three different speeds on each fan, you have the option to keep the system quiet or to go for maximum cooling.
Thermaltake Level 10 GT - XL-ATX/Extended ATX - This case has some higher-end features, and looks really unique/cool. If you are looking for a case that looks a bit different that you may want to put on display you may want to give this a look. The graphics card clearance isn't specified, but it looks like it has enough room for even the longer cards.
If you'd like to add more case fans, or replace the ones which come with your case, I recommend using Antec tri-cool fans. These have an adjustable speed (three settings), so you can tailor the speed according to your need or your preference for fan volume.
Antec 120mm Tri-Cool - Red led, Green led, Blue led, No led
If you plan on going to a LAN event, size and weight matter. You may want to consider a smaller case for easier portability and lighter weight, particularly if you are going to need to be using public transport, such as a plane or train.
Thermaltake ARMOR A30 - This case appears to have all of the luxuries of a larger case in terms of graphics and power supply, while retaining as small of a footrpint as possible.
The peripherals are what I'd consider the parts that create an interface between the user and the system. These parts are unlikely to have an impact in terms of hardware performance, but may alter how the user interacts with the system based on their ease of use to their owner.
|Let me begin by saying that the G9 is one of the best mice I have ever owned. This seems to be a trend, in that each Logitech mouse upgrade I make improves my experience. The mouse begins very light, but has extra weights so you can tailor its weight to your style. It is fairly small, though very similar in size compared to the G5. I would guess it to be about 85% of the length. It is, however, a lower profile mouse. My fingers rest in a more natural position on the G9. The scroll wheel is a pretty superior design overall and feels like solid construction compared to the fumbly G5 design. It rolls quickly and smoothly. The on-the-fly setting switch is different from the G5 design, in that the G9 is flat and sort of 'one' with the overall design. This might make it a bit more challenging to change mid-combat. I'm sure it wouldn't take very long before you could get used to it. The side button seems great, but the front/side button seems a bit more difficult to get to. I find myself moving my entire thumb area on my hand to get to it. While this may seem troublesome now, I'm sure I can get quicker at it in the future, and it certainly is a lot faster than doing something like, say for example, moving my left hand off of 'wasd' to hit an F key.
It would appear that Logitech has stopped including drivers with the mouse. This is a bit of a double edged sword in that it's good because it ensures that the user has the most recent version of the software, as they are forced to download them, but bad in that people actually have to go online to get them. However, I don't know if this is really an issue, as the mouse is plug and play compatible and works just fine after windows has detected it.
A new feature for the G9 is a customizable faceplate housing. The G9 comes with 2, one being targeted at a gamer design, and one a more classic style design. I am honestly shocked that we haven't seen specific game-specific designs. I know there have been some special G5s out there with Battlefield images and it surprised me to not see any designs for the G9. Hopefully we will see some nice plates for low cost in the future allowing you to swap your design when it strikes your fancy. Another new feature for the G9 is the ability to change the LED colors. This can be done fairly easily through the SetPoint sofware.
Lifespan: About 3 years or as needed.
Razer Diamondback 3G (green) - 1800 dpi max, glowy bits that look cool (you can turn them off), 7 buttons, 5 profile settings.
Razer Banshee blue - 9 button, 4000 dpi max, glowy bits that look cool (you can turn them off), 5 profile settings.
Logitech G500 - 10 button, 5700 dpi max, adjustable weights at the bottom, 5 profile settings, custom LED coloring. An excellent choice for gamers. This is a revision to the G5 (and replaces both the G5 and G9).
Logitech G700 - 13 button, 5700 dpi max, profile settings, charging cord. A great gaming mouse if you must have cordless.
I don't know how critical exact mousing is to everyone else, but I like my movements to be precise. Fumbling and hitches were left behind long ago when I stopped using non-gaming mice. While I would not recommend an expensive mouse pad to all, for those who don't want their mouse movements disrupted, I'd say get yourself a good one. This one has been used and endorsed by professional gaming teams.
Corsair Vengeance MM200 - 14.17" x 11.81" - Textured surface type. This actually comes in seveal sizes, so I've linked the one most users should find comefortable.
Corsair Vengeance MM400 - 13.86" x 13.86" - Plastic surface type.
Razer Goliathus - 10.63" x 8.46" - Cloth surface type.
Razer Goliathus - 14" x 10" - Cloth surface type.
SteelSeries QcK Mass - 12.6" x 11.2" - Cloth surface type.
|Keyboards are on the verge of a change. The mainstream current type uses a method which requires longer keystrokes and more force to push. Newer mechanical types are starting to emerge, offering shorter distances to push and shorter keys (meaning you will get tired less frequently and, in theory, can react quicker), individual mechanical sensors for each key, and padding which allows for a quieter experience. Unfortunately, at this time (early 2013) there are only a few mechanical keyboards to choose from and they are pretty expensive at about $150, particularly compared to a cheaper mainstream type which range around $20.
Lifespan: About 5 years. Change as needed.
Logitech K120 Keyboard - A basic keyboard.
Logitech G110 Gaming Keyboard - A gaming keyboard for the mainstream gamer. Note though that what you lose in terms of features compared to the G15 may not be worth the small price difference.
Logitech G510 Gaming Keyboard - This appears to be a newer version of the G15 with a higher number of programable keys than even the G19. However, it doesn't have the same nice screen that the G19 has.
Logitech G19 Gaming Keyboard - This is an update to the G15 keyboard featuring a full color LCD and more macro keys. Though this has an uber LCD screen the price is a bit steep.
Logitech G710+ Gaming Keyboard - This is one of the new mechanical type keyboards.
Razer Lycosa Gaming Keyboard - A keyboard that has programmable profiles for quick programmable key changes.
Razer BlackWidow 2013 - This is one of the new mechanical type keyboards.
Razer Blackwidow Ultimate 2013 - This is one of the new mechanical type keyboards. It looks like the only difference between this model and the non-Ultimate is the ability to switch between game profiles.
|At times console ported games may be easier to control with a game pad than with keyboard and mouse. Here are a few suggestions that are both Xbox 360 and PS3 like.
Xbox 360 controller for Windows - Xbox 360 style for PC gaming.
Xbox 360 Wireless controller and reciever for Windows - Xbox 360 style for PC gaming.
Logitech F710 Wireless Gamepad - A solid gamepad. Playstation 'dual shock' style. Cordless.
|The 16:10 and 16:9 aspect LCDs are really great. Games look really good when they use the wide screen resolution. Some monitors have extra inputs, allowing you to watch a picture in picture image. Today, during late 2009, we are seeing a final phasing out of the 16:10 standard PCs used to use in favor of an adoption into mainstream of the 16:9 standard that HDTV and other media uses, forming a unified standard. In fact, when comparing prices, resolutions below 1920x1080 seem to be so close in price to the 1920x1080 screens as to not be worth the cost savings.
Note that as you increase your screen resolution you will need a more powerful graphics card to keep pace with the higher resolution. See my star rating system in the graphic card section to decide what cards would be best for which resolutions.
The only major disadvantage to the LCD tech is that currently they do not have 'glass screens'. This means that you have to be extremely careful to not get anything on it, point at it with fingers, pens, or other poking devices, squish bugs on it, bump into it, etc. It cannot be cleaned with normal cleaning methods (you have to use a soft cloth and plain water and press pretty carefully, which is best done in vertical and/or horizontal movements or use a special cleaning kit). I think the reason they don't currently have glass covers is that the screen changes color depending on temperature and we don't currently have the technology to place hard glass over the LCD mesh without affecting the temperature.
Lifespan: About 4 years.
ATi Eyefinity compatible mini-DisplayPort or DisplayPort to DVI converter Recommendations:
PowerCooler - For use with the AMD series 5. A converter that attaches to the graphics card via DisplayPort, then converts to DVI. You then connect the DVI cable to the converted end.
PowerCooler - For use with the AMD series 6 and on. A converter that attaches to the graphics card via mini-DisplayPort, then converts to DVI. You then connect the DVI cable to the converted end.
1920x1080 res, 16:9 aspect, 120Hz, Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision 2 compatible Recommendations:
Asus VG278HE 27" HDMI, DVI, VGA. A great monitor with great resolution.
Asus VG278H 27" HDMI, DVI, VGA. A great monitor with great resolution. Includes glasses / Nvidia 3D kit.
1920x1080 res, 16:9 aspect, LED backlit, Recommendations:
Asus VS247H-P - 23" HDMI, DVI, VGA. A good size with great res.
Asus VK278Q - 27" DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI, VGA. A great size with great res.
Monitor stand Recommendation:
Ergotech Triple Horizontal LCD Monitor Arm Desk Stand (100-D16-B03) - An ex-guildie got this when he moved to triple monitor and he really likes it. The max monitor size is only 24", so those with larger monitors are out of luck.
Belkin - 10' (dual link) DVI cable for ATi Eyefinity or Nvidia 3D Surround (monitors should include shorter DVI cables for free, typically 2-4 feet long). This cable is not only longer, but dual link (which means it supports monitors of 2560x1600 res and higher). If you need a longer cord than is included with your monitor this would be a good option.
Be aware that currently the industry is moving to HDMI. However, HDMI is only important for high-def DVD viewing. If that is not important to you, don't worry about it, as the industry will slowly transfer to HDMI over time and by the time you replace the items over the next few years you'd get HDMI anyways. Another new standard appearing for monitors is DisplayPort. I don't know which standard will be more readily adopted, but most graphic cards include adaptors, so you are free to use the older DVI standard, HDMI or DisplayPort.
|ATi is the first on the scene with true multi-display gaming. The greatest limitation is that, obviously, you need multiple monitors. For balance you are looking at three monitors (one for left view, one for center, and one for right). Currently there are very few monitors which support the DisplayPort, which is the connection Eyefinity prefers and requires for at least one monitor. The easiest setup is using DisplayPort for one monitor (I'd say the center one), a DVI connection running to the second monitor, and a DVI connection running to the third monitor. It is mentioned that the graphics card HDMI port is shared with a DVI port so you effectively can not use the HDMI connection. Setup may be difficult, confusing, and challenging depending on your monitors, but it should be easy if you follow the above configuration. Lastly, note that having three monitors will take up a lot more desk space than just one, be sure that your desk could accommodate the wider size.
If you want to run triple monitor from a single AMD card you must get a DisplayPort to DVI converter, or mini-DisplayPort to DVI converter, as there are not enough DVI ports to run triple monitor from a single card. With this you connect the converter to your graphics card, and then use the standard DVI connection to your monitor. This allows you to use three standard monitors instead of ones which have the DisplayPort, which are often a noticeable amount more expensive. This makes Eyefinity a much cheaper option and within easy grasp. The only limitation is that this single link connection caps at a resolution of 1920x1200, plenty for standard displays, but out of reach of higher resolution monitors.
Maximum: Six displays at 7680 x 3200 resolution.
Lifespan: Until technology changes.
This is a brand new technology and still undergoing tweaks. I haven't heard of any tech-breaking issues other than games not supporting the new technology and the occasional aspect or camera setting glitch.
See this page if you are having trouble setting up Eyefinity
Nvidia 3D Vision 2 and 3D Vision 2 Surround
|3D Vision 2: Nvidia has launched a set of glasses which allow you to game in 3D. How cool is that? Unfortunately, this technology has some tricky requirements right now. First, you'll need the glasses kit itself, which at the time of this writing is $150. There has been mention you can get additional glasses for friends to watch with you, but those are insanely pricy at $100 per glasses. Second, you'll need a special PC monitor with a 120Hz refresh rate. This is problematic as nearly all PC LCDs are 60Hz. Third, you'll need a pretty powerful Nvidia graphics card. The technology works by creating two images, so your frame rate is cut in half as each eye needs to see half the images. Lastly, you'll need Microsoft Vista or Windows 7.
The Vision 2 technology is an improvement over the original technology as it solves the brightness issues that the Vision 1 suffered from. This is purely a hardware change, so there is nothing developers need to do differently to be compatible with the new technology.
Since the requirements are fairly pricy, and parts are few, the prices will likely remain high until both of those issues are resolved.
3D Vision Surround: While running in surround you can also run 3D, provided you meet all the above 3D requirements and have three identical monitors. For 3D Vision Surround the monitors must not only be the same resolution, but the same manufacturer and model number.
Lifespan: Until technology changes.
Glasses and Monitor:
Nvidia 3D Vision 2 kit
ASUS VG278H 27"
Nvidia has greatly improved the 3D Vision technology with the changes in 3D Vision 2. However, it still remains pretty pricy due to the cost of the Vision kit and special monitor. For the gamer with no real spending budget it's worth a look, but for the other 90% of the gaming population it's probably still a bit out of reach due to price.
|Nvidia cards have the ability to run with multiple monitors. The new 6 series can run triple monitor and a fourth for non-gaming items. Previous series are limited to up to two monitors per card, so you need multiple cards to run triple monitor. This allows Nvidia Surround to compete with ATi's Eyefinity. However, each graphics card can only run two monitors from DVI, meaning you need to use the HDMI port or a DisplayPort to DVI converter to run more, or monitors which natively support DisplayPort. Note that if you are planning to run 3D Vision Surround the monitors must be the exact same model.
Maximum: Three displays at 7680 x 1600 + 1 for non-gaming.
Lifespan: Until technology changes.
Nvidia has one-upped AMD with the series 6 Surround capabilities. Although I don't know that I'd recommend running that many monitors on a single card, it's great that it's possible. I would think that the ideal choice for triple (or triple +1) monitor setup would be dual GPU.
|There is often little choice in which operating system you use. While non-Microsoft operating systems will work for many non-gaming applications, they really won't work for gamers.
Although Windows 8 is the most recent version of Windows, showing to be about 10% faster in terms of performance, numerous game developers are saying they do not like Windows 8 due to coding limitations and that they will not be producing games specifically for it. This doesn't mean that games won't run correctly on Windows 8, it just means that it will not take advantage of things like DirectX 11.1. (Apparently Windows 7 is going to be capped at 11.0.) Since developers are not embracing the features of Windows 8, and the transition to the new UI may be confusing to users, I recommend a high level of caution when considering the transition. It may be more beneficial to skip 8 and wait a year or two for 9. If, however, you are building a brand new system and need to purchase an operating system for it, you may want to go ahead and consider making the (mental) transition and go with Windows 8.
Windows 7 Home Premium - OEM - - This is the version most people want to get as it has all the features a gamer needs. This is an OEM version which means it may be missing things that are normally in the box. (Typically this is stuff like marketing materials, non-critical manuals, etc.) I've heard it also does not include free phone support, which the retail version gives you. (Though this is only something like 90-days.)
Windows 8 - OEM - This is the version most people want to get as it has all the features a gamer needs. This is an OEM version which means it may be missing things that are normally in the box. (Typically this is stuff like marketing materials, non-critical manuals, etc.) I've heard it also does not include free phone support, which the retail version gives you. (Though this is only something like 90-days.)
|While testing your system is not critical I will always install the most recent versions of Futuremark's 3dMark software to test my system after I've set it up. I also like to run these tests after I've changed a major part, such as when I upgrade my graphics card, or even if I have changed DirectX versions or updated my GPU drivers.
It is a great way to see if everything is working and if you go online to compare to other people's scores it is also a great way to see if you seem to be near the range of other systems with your parts and operating system.
Futuremark's 3dMark 11
The first DirectX 11 benchmark is out; "Heaven" by Unigine. I don't know what information or ratings it outputs, but it should be very pretty to watch.
Download Unigine's Heaven benchmark
Your PC constantly builds up little 'bits' of left over information in the system directory, as well as suffers from attack from web pests (adware, spyware, viruses, etc.) In order to keep your system running quickly and smoothly I recommend getting these two programs. I run a Registry sweep about once a month and let Spysweeper run once a week. And to keep things speedy defrag my hard drive once a month as well.
Registry Mechanic specializes in finding the 'left over' bits of information that accumulates in your system as time goes on. It is easy to use and fairly cheap should you choose to purchase it. Keeping the system registry clean will help speed up the overall operation of your system.
ESET NOD32 Antivirus will find almost all of the known viruses. According to many reviewers it does as good of a job, and sometimes a better job, than Norton. The ESET software also reportedly uses fewer resources and works more invisibly on your system.
AVG Free Antivirus will find almost all of the known viruses and you can get it for teh free. It is a touch more limited than the pay antivirus software solutions in that it doesn't have some of the same features (which at the time of this writing is a firewall or message protection), but the pay versions also don't always offer those either.
Webroot Spysweeper will find almost any ad or spyware on your PC and delete it. Adware and Spyware are things that evil companies use to track what you are doing with your PC. Some of these are both illegal and dangerous. These little programs will slowly eat up your system resources as they store and gather more and more data. I highly recommend people protect themselves with Spysweeper.
Disk Cleanup is a free thing with Windows. You can find it by going to the start menu, accessories, system tools, then "Disk Cleanup". You don't need to do this one very often, but your system does store temporary files that you don't need after a while and this will clean those up. I'd say try and do this maybe every 4 to 6 months.
In some versions of Windows the Disk Defrag can be found in the same area as the Disk Cleanup tool. In others it will be in your control panel under Performance and Maintenance. The hard drive works like a book, and when data is in the proper order it will run quickly. If, however, the 'pages' get all jumbled up looking things up will take a lot longer and performance will be affected. I recommend running a disk defrag once a month or every other month. Note: It is critical that you not defrag your hard drive if it is a solid state drive. Solid state drives do not need to be defragged and doing so may actually reduce their lifespan.
You can get cans of "compressed air" in many different forms. These are typically sold at computer stores, but you can also sometimes find them at other stores, such as gaming stores like GameStop or EB Games. The most common is the "Dust-off" brand. You can often find these sold singly, as a double plack, or in 3 packs. Often a 3 pack is the best deal for the money. I recommend opening up your system and blowing the parts off to get all the dust out once every 6 months, although once every 4 months is probably ideal. Also, you have to be very careful when cleaning an LCD monitor, and the best way to do this is with compressed air, or if you need to get yuck off, use cleaning wipes.
|Your system is always at risk of damage from any kind of anomaly on the power line. As such I always recommend people protect their system with a good surge protector or universal power supply (also known as a battery backup). Don't go cheap with these. A good surge protector will stabilize the flow of electricity as well as decrease 'line noise' and help stabilize any over or under current situations. Also, many of them will cut power once power is lost, preventing your system from flickering on and off during a situation when power becomes unstable.
A good surge protector will probably run you between $25-35 and is a very worthwhile investment for any system.
Uninteruptable Power Supplies (UPS) tend to be a lot more expensive and range in price from about $75 to $750. Here is the tricky part - you want a battery backup that will be able to cover your current power needs. This is something you don't have to consider if you are using a simple surge protector. I would say that you probably want to target one which has a "VA rating" equal to, or higher than, your power supply rating. The average gamer doesn't need a battery backup, however, if you would like an extra few minutes to shut the system down after you loose power you may want to consider one. I'd say you probably only want to consider one if you work with media, such as video or audio editing. An gamer doesn't need to spend the money on a UPS.
APC SurgeArrest P8T3 - 1750 joules - This should be all you really need unless your area is prone to surges on data lines (such as an area that gets lightning strikes).
APC SurgeArrest P11VNT3 - 3020 joules - A bit more protection than the base model and a couple more plugs.
Belkin AP20800FC08 aka PureAV PF30 - (NewEgg) / (Amazon) - 3245 joules, 'level 4 protection' - The highest rating of protection you can get. Also, this plug cleans the power signal, which is important for places with older wiring where power flow may not be as stable.