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rabb1t's pc gaming tech talk
last update: October 23 / '14

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.

The Core
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.

CPU


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, $200-300 seems to be a 'sweet spot' that will last you at least 2 to 3 years. Targeting the $300+ 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.

Lifespan: Up to 4 years. I recommend you change the CPU every 3.

Intel Quad Core socket 1150 Recommendations:
Intel Core i3-4340 - A decent entry-level gaming core. I'd only recommend this if you are in a different country with higher prices.
Intel Core i5-4430 - A solid mainstream quad core for gaming at a slightly slower speed for a lower price.
Intel Core i5-4670K - A solid mainstream quad core for gaming. This core is unlocked, which is benefitial for overclockers.
Intel Core i7-4771 - An ideal quad core for gaming.
Intel Core i7-4790K - An ideal quad core for gaming. This features the ability to reach higher overclocking levels.

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.
FX-9370 - Eight core CPU.
FX-9590 - Eight core CPU.


CPU Cooling

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.

Recommendations:
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
NewEgg link

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%.

GPU


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.

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.

Hidden advantages:
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.

Nvidia Recommendations:

GTX 750 two star - Asus GTX 750 / Evga GTX 750 / Evga GTX 750, Superclocked (OC)
The GTX 750 should offer solid performance at more modest graphical settings. This should be considered an entry level card and noting more. 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: This card is incapable of running in SLI, as it doesn't have the equired connector.

GTX 750 Ti three star - Asus GTX 750 Ti / Evga GTX 750 Ti / Evga GTX 750 Ti, Supeclocked (OC)
The GTX 750 Ti should offer solid performance at more modest graphical settings. This should be fine for a gamer who needs to stick very tightly to a budget. Note: This card is incapable of running in SLI, as it doesn't have the equired connector.

GTX 760 five star - Asus GTX 760 (OC) / Evga GTX 760 ACX / Evga GTX 760, Superclocked, ACX (OC)
This can run triple monitor on a single card, and is a solid mainstream choice. Note: PCIe plug x2 (two 6-pin).

GTX 970 overkill 1 - Asus GTX 970 / Evga GTX 970, Superclocked, ACX Cooler
This can run triple monitor on a single card. This is the higher mainstream card for the 9 series. Note: 10.5". Note: PCIe plug x2 (two 6-pin).

GTX 980 overkill 2 - Asus GTX 980 / Evga GTX 980 / Evga GTX 980, Superclocked (OC)
This can run triple monitor on a single card. This is the flagship card for the 9 series. Note: 10.5". Note: PCIe plug x2 (two 6-pin).

On the Horizon:
Nvidia note: Rumors are the 8 series for desktop may come soon. (Written May.)

AMD (formerly ATi) Recommendations:

R7 R250 one star - Asus R7 R250 / XFX R7 R250
This is really the lowest I'd recommend for (ATi) gamers.

R7 R265X two star - ASUS R7 265, XFX Core Edition R7 R265
This is really the lowest I'd recommend for (ATi) gamers.

R9 R270 and 270X three star - Asus R9 R270 / Asus R9 R270X / Gigabyte R9 R270X
This is a solid mainstream card.

R9 R280X four star - ASUS R9 280X / XFX R9 280X
A great choice for ATi for those looking for a high-end mainstream card.

R9 R290 and R9 290X overkill 1 - ASUS R9 290 / XFX R9 290 / Asus R9 290X / Gigabyte R9 290X
A great choice for ATi for those looking for an enthusiast card. Note: >10.5". Note: PCIe 6-pin plug + 8-pin plug.

On the Horizon:
ATi note: None.


one star 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 Two star cards are lower mainstream and should be fine for lower or medium settings.
three star 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 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 Five star cards are higher-end and are best for high-resolution and high settings.
overkill 1 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 2 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.

Ram


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 - 16 gig kits (2 x 8 gig sticks):
Corsair Vengeance Pro - a DDR3-2133 16-gig kit.
Corsair Vengeance Pro - a DDR3-2133 32-gig kit.
G.SKILL Ripjaws X - a DDR3-2133 16-gig kit
G.SKILL Ripjaws X - a DDR3-2133 32-gig kit

Motherboard


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 1150 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 newest chipset, Z87 and H87, are what to look for when considering socket 1150. While there is little to no improvement in gaming performance for socket 1150 over 1155, there are many advantages for laptop CPU chips, allowing for much more powerful desktop CPUs to be used in laptops. This generation is more about combining the two into a single line than it is desktop performance gain.

Lifespan: Motherboard changes are dictated by CPU socket changes. The tech rarely changes during a CPU lifecycle.

Intel Recommendations, socket 1150:
Asus Z97M-PLUS (Micro ATX - LAN ready) - A minimal board; single PCIe 3.0 slot. This is a fine board if size must be kept to an absolute minimum. It only has one GPU slot. Note that this is a micro-ATX board, and as such will be smaller and things may feel a bit cramped compared to a normal ATX size. However, if you plan on making a LAN box and want the smallest case possible, this is the only size which will fit.
Asus Gryphon Z97 (Micro ATX - LAN ready) - A mainstream micro ATX board. This is a fine board if size must be kept to an absolute minimum. This offers mainstream options in a smaller size. Note that this is a micro-ATX board, and as such will be smaller and things may feel a bit cramped compared to a normal ATX size. However, if you plan on making a LAN box and want the smallest case possible, this is the only size which will fit.
Asus Maximus VII Gene (Micro ATX - LAN ready) - An enthusiast micro ATX board. This is a fine board if size must be kept to an absolute minimum. Note that this is a micro-ATX board, and as such will be smaller and things may feel a bit cramped compared to a normal ATX size. However, if you plan on making a LAN box and want the smallest case possible, this is the only size which will fit.
Asus Z97-PRO - An mainstream board; Two PCIe 3.0 slots - one PCIe 2.0. This is a solid board for mainstream gamers.
Asus Maximus VII Hero - An high-end enthusiast board; two PCIe 3.0 slots - one PCIe 2.0. This is a solid board for enthusiast gamers. The increased thermal protection will be helpful to overclockers.
Evga Z97 Stinger Core - (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. Note that this is a micro ATX board, and as such will be smaller and things may feel a bit cramped.
Evga Z97 FTW - Two PCIe 3.0 slots - two PCIe 2.0 slots. This is a solid board for mainstream gamers.

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.

Sub-core Systems
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:
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.


Speakers

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.

Recommendations:
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.


Headphones

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.)

Note that some new consoles (PlayStation 4) and media devices (phones) are using a new unified single jack. I'll post headphones which could work for PC and consoles when I see them and note them below.

Recommendation:
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 Inferno Gaming Headset - 3.5mm 4-pole, 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 a new design with the single jack type plug. A splitter is included for the older type headphones/microphone connection. This seems to have newer speaker types and may reproduce better sound than the cheaper Fatal1ty unit.
Creative Sound Blaster Tactic3D Rage - USB connection type, 7.1 simulated sound - An over the ear design. Faux-leather 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 Fury USB Gaming Headset - 4-pole 3.5mm connector and/or USB, 2.1 sound - An over the ear design. Cloth ear covers. Simulated 3D sound if you use the USB connection. The microphone can be removed during times you are not using it. Note that this is a unified single jack style used by new consoles (PlayStation 4) and media. USB connection will be the easiest choice for PC/Mac, but if you want to connect via traditional 2 plug 3.5mm jack conneciton you'll need a converter, found here.
Creative Sound Blaster EVO - 4-pole 3.5mm connector and/or USB, 2.1 sound - An over the ear design. Faux-leather ear covers. The EVO line targets both general media and gaming; part of that is targeting a smaller size and easy to travel design making it great for LAN players or laptop users. It has a unified single jack style used by new consoles (PlayStation 4) and media. Note that the EVO line has a built-in mic, so there is no old-school boom in your face. USB connection will be the easiest choice for PC/Mac, but if you want to connect via traditional 2 plug 3.5mm jack conneciton you'll need a converter, found here.
Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR - 4-pole 3.5mm connector and/or USB, Bluetooth, Wireless, 7.1 sound, 50mm size - An over the ear design. Faux-leather ear covers. This is the top of the line EVO headset. The EVO line targets both general media and gaming; part of that is targeting a smaller size and easy to travel design making it great for LAN players or laptop users. It has a unified single jack style used by new consoles (PlayStation 4) and media. Note that the EVO line has a built-in mic, so there is no old-school boom in your face. You can connect to PC/Mac or your media device through Bluetooth or the new jack type if you prefer wires. If you want to connect via traditional 2 plug 3.5mm jack conneciton you'll need a converter, found here.
Logitech G230 Gaming Headset - 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.
Logitech G35 Gaming Headset - USB connection type, 7.1 simulated sound - An over the ear design. Faux-leathercovers. Simulated 3D sound if you want. The microphone can be rotated up to be out of the way.
Logitech G930 Gaming Headset - USB connection type, Wireless, 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.

Hard drive


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.
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 manufacturing 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 120 gig should do ok for a gamer, but ideally you want to target no smaller than 240 gig.

Lifespan: Hard drive tech changes rarely, but I recommend changing your hard drive about every 3 to 4 years, whenever it is that you change your motherboard and CPU.

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 Blue 1TB - A solid performing HD. A great drive for those on a tighter budget.
Western Digital Black 1TB - Higher/enhanced cache for better/quicker access and very high storage space.
Western Digital Black 2TB - Higher/enhanced cache for better/quicker access and very high storage space.
Western Digital Black 3TB - Higher/enhanced cache for better/quicker access and very high storage space.
Western Digital Caviar Black 2 terra - Higher/enhanced cache for better/quicker access and very high storage space.

Recommendations; solid state, 2.5":
Corsair Force Series LX 128 gig - A slightly smaller drive. This will likely do fine for many gamers, but you probably want to consider larger 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 LX 240 gig - A decent sized drive. Likely ideal for most minimalist gamers.
Corsair Force Series LX 512 gig - A larger drive. While this is still small compared to traditional drives, this should be a comefortable amount of space for a gamer to work with.
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.

Blu-ray /
DVD /
CD

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.

Recommendations:
Asus DVD/CD burner (DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS - OEM) - A good drive that should cover all of your DVD or CD burning and reading needs.
Asus Blu-ray/DVD/CD burner (BW-12B1ST/BLK/G/AS) - A good drive that should cover all of your Blu-Ray, DVD, or CD 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. Note that Blu-ray players and burners actually run slightly slower than standard DVD/CD burners when reading. If burning and reading time of media is really important to you, consider carefully if you want a Blu-ray burner.

Power Supply


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.

Recommendations:

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.
Evga SuperNOVA 750 G2, 750w - Modular, quiet, xGPU+. A great choice for systems with dual graphic cards, but I wouldn't recommend triple. This series is both modular and quiet.
Evga SuperNOVA 850 G2, 850w - Modular, quiet, xGPU+. This is an ideal choice for a multiple graphic card systems. This series is both modular and quiet.
Evga SuperNOVA 1000 G2, 1000w - Modular, quiet, 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 unless you are running triple GPU. This series is both modular and quiet.

Corsair RM Series RM650, 650w - Modular, quite. A great choice for systems with single graphic cards. This PSU gets the fancy carrot for single GPU systems. The Corsair RM series is both modular and quiet.
Corsair RM Series RM750, 750w - Modular, quiet, xGPU+. A great choice for systems with dual graphic cards, but I wouldn't recommend triple. The Corsair RM series is both modular and quiet.
Corsair RM Series RM850, 850w - Modular, quiet, xGPU+. This is an ideal choice for a multiple graphic card systems. This PSU gets the fancy carrot for having plenty of power for dual GPU systems. The Corsair RM series is both modular and quiet.
Corsair RM Series RM1000, 1000w - Modular, quiet, 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 unless you are running triple GPU. The Corsair RM series is both modular and quiet.

- - -

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.

Case

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.

Recommendations:
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 Gaming Series One - This is a great budget case. 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 10.5" GPU size. It won't fit those huge graphic cards, but you should have plenty of room for mainstream cards.
Antec Three Hundred Two - 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 v2 - Extended ATX - It has three 120mm fans (and 7 optional fan spots), 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.

Fan recommendations:
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

LAN Recommendations:
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.

NZXT Crafted Series Vulcan - While this is only a bit smaller case than a standard desktop, it has lots of spots to mount fans, and a lot of mesh for breathing. It also has a removable handle for easy carrying.

Peripherals
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.

Mouse

There are many features to consider when purchasing a mouse, and unfortunately most of them will only be discovered through use. In overall design there are three commonly discussed grip types; claw, palm, and finger-tip. With a claw grip the mouse tends to have a higher curve, or bulge in the middle. People who use a claw grip are more likely to arch their fingers and poke downward on the main buttons. With a palm grip you are more likely to control the mouse with the palm of your hand than your fingers. And a finger-tip user is more likely to touch the mouse with just their finger-tips. With these second two styles the users fingers are more straight than curved. If you aren't sure which kind of mouse would be more comfortable, I'd say try holding your arm in a fairly comfortable position and see if your fingers and palm rest in a more curved or straight position.

The next thing to consider with mice, particularly gaming mice, is where are the buttons placed? Most will only use the primary two buttons, but for some buttons on the side that your thumb can reach may also be useful. I myself only tend to use one button with my thumb because I'm usually lightly holding the mouse with my thumb for control, so using it to press requires I stop movement for that brief second. Button tension should also be noted, as some buttons give a stronger resistance, requiring more force to press them down.

Lastly, some mice have a curve in their design, with the right mouse button side of the mouse being lower than the left button. This may or may not suit your style depending on the kind of grip you use, and the frequency at which you press right mouse. Some games, such as MMOs which use hold right mouse to rotate the screen, or RTS and MOBA style games which use it to tell your character where to move, may require you to be as comfortable clicking on the right mouse as the left. Some designs may not work well based on the games you play and your grip style. Ambidextrous mice may be designed with no such curve, leaving the left and right mouse buttons at an equal height.

Unfortunately, only you will know which mouse is best for you, as this is often one of the most personalized parts of a gamers' system.

Lifespan: About 3 years or as needed.

Recommendations, Wired:
Razer DeathAdder 2013 - 5 buttons, 6400 dpi max.
Razer Taipan Ambidextrous - 9 buttons, 8200 dpi max.
Razer Ouroboros Ambidextrous - 9 buttons, 8200 dpi max, charging cord / cordless. For the extreme enthusiast, this mouse features the ability to change its shape for the perfect fit, allowing you to change the side panels and adjust the height and length of the back section.
Logitech G402 - 8 button, 4000 dpi max. A solid basic gaming mouse.
Logitech G700s - 13 button, 8200 dpi max, profile settings, charging cord / cordless.


Mouse pad:

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.

Recommendations:
Razer Goliathus 2014 Small SPEED - 10.63" x 8.46" - Cloth surface type.
Razer Goliathus 2014 Large SPEED - 18" x 14" - Cloth surface type.
Razer Goliathus 2014 Extended SPEED - 36.22" x 11.57" - Cloth surface type.
Logitech G240 - 13.39" x 11.02" - Cloth surface type.
Logitech G440 - 13.39" x 11.02" - Hard surface type.

Keyboard

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.

Recommendations:
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 G510s 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 G19s 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.
Razer Lycosa Gaming Keyboard - A keyboard that has programmable profiles for quick programmable key changes.

Recommendations, Mechanical:
Logitech G710+ Gaming Keyboard - This is one of the new mechanical type keyboards.
Razer Blackwidow Ultimate - 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.
Thermaltake eSPORTS Challenger Ultimate - This is one of the new mechanical type keyboards.

Game Controller

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.

Recommendations:
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.

Monitor

Monitor

LCD screens with LED backlighting are mainstream now, and most commonly 1920x1080 resolution. These afford you the greatest brightness and color reproduction while keeping costs low compared to older technologies no longer used. While '4k' are starting to appear, be mindful that the higher resolution will take significantly more power to run the screen, as the power required is effectively the same as running four 1920x1080 monitors. I would not be surprised if we are looking at something around 2017 before 4k monitors become mainstream and graphic cards which can run them easily become very affordable. (Running triple 4k screens right now would take ridiculous amounts of power.)

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.

1920x1080 res, 16:9 aspect, 144Hz, Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision 2 compatible Recommendations:
Asus VG248QE 24" HDMI, DVI, VGA. A great monitor with great resolution.

1920x1080 res, 16:9 aspect, LED backlit, Recommendations:
Asus VS247H-P - 23" HDMI, DVI, VGA. A good size with great res.
Asus VN247H-P - 23.6" HDMI, DVI, VGA. A good size with great res. This has an extra slim bezel which is great for multi-monitor.
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.

Cable Recommendations:
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.

Projections:
A new standard appearing for monitors is DisplayPort. Though HDMI and DVI still seem to be the dominant connector type. 4k monitors are just now starting to show up on the market, but as above, I predict we are looking at 2017 before they really filter into mainstream due to price and graphical power required to run them.

Emergent Gaming Tech

ATi Eyefinity

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.

Projections:
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 VG248QE 24"

Projections:
Adoption rate of Nvidia 3D vision has been slow, and with the change to Vision 2 we are seeing even less support. Unfortunately Nvidia has hurt themselves by not being in either new generation console. This means that 3D will be ignored and out of the minds of players for probably another 5 years while this new generation console runs through its life cycle. I don't know if this means they are putting 3D Vision on the back burner, or if this is a failure to adopt the technology in other markets, such as monitor manufactures. Either way, it seems that 3D Vision isn't going to increase its adoption rate anytime soon.

Nvidia Surround

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.

Projections:
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.

Operating System

Operating System

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.

Recommendations:
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.)

Testing

Benchmarks

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

Cleaning and Protection

Digital cleaning:

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.

Physical cleaning:

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.

Power

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.

Recommendations:
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.

Comments and stuff Copyright E. Stryker 2006-2014
Product images are copyright of wherever I borrowed them from if borrowed, or by me if taken by me. :)

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