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Many believed that the PC would ultimately trump the relatively backwards console systems back in the 90s as computer technology took great leaps forward. No one could predict the insane popularity of the new generation of console systems featuring the exact same technology that you can find in a normal computer. But that’s another issue that we’ll deal with later!
The personal computer has been a popular market for games ever since the old school commodore 64 systems back in the 80s. Computer gaming truly hit its stride in the 90’s as the technology furiously evolved and changed the landscape of both PC and console gaming forever. I’d love to write about the history of PC development but our focus is on video games, and as such we’ll jump right into what you need to play today’s best PC games.
The great thing about a PC is that you can pick and choose your components. It’s not like a console where you buy a box and never get to see what’s inside. PCs can evolve with time as new hardware becomes available. You never have to wait four years for a new console to be developed and released. Instead, PC gaming moves in fluid steps compared to hiccup steps for the console. Here is a list of crucial components for a serious PC gaming system. You’ll notice I’ve omitted some components like the motherboard and the RAM simply because you have to tailor those choices to match your processor.
Your central processor unit (CPU) is the brain of your PC system. It dictates in general how fast system calculations can be completed. Speeds are listed in Hertz (Hz), which is a frequency unit that tells you how many operations per second it can complete. Right now, modern processors are in the Gigahertz (GHz) range, meaning that they can handle some several billion operations in the blink of an eye. The two major brands available are Intel and AMD. Intel is famous for its Pentium line that has never really faltered throughout its evolution. AMD has always been the underdog, though it has survived the demise of several other underdog competitors. Today, AMD is a more economical choice though Intel still claims title to the most popular and fastest processors on the market. The rule of thumb is to buy the highest speed you can afford.
One distinct advantage of PC games is the use of the physical hard drive for storage of saved games and installation of patches. In general: the bigger the better. Newer generations of Serial ATA (SATA) and SCSI drives offer faster access times and better performance overall. If you’re a normal user without high-end aspirations, an ultra-IDE drive with an 8 MB cache is all you really need. You’ll find that the average size of today’s computer games ranges between 700 MB to a whopping 4 GB.
You really can’t get anywhere in the PC gaming performance arena without a good video card. Never skimp out on this if you can afford it. Since developers always market their games for as many users as possible, you’ll find that game requirements often lags behind the current generation of video card technology. If you can figure out which generation of cards precedes the current one, then the best thing to do is purchase the top of the line model from the previous generation rather than drop up to $1000 on the newest ones. There are only two major manufacturers of cards. Nvidia is the reigning champion while ATI has slowly chipped away at Nvidia’s consumer base. Consult some benchmarks online to see which card performs best.
If you can afford to do so, it’s always wise to get a bigger screen. Bigger screens can support higher resolutions, resulting in the best visual experience possible. The current craze in gaming is the LCD screen. They’re super-bright, easy on the eyes, take up about a quarter of the space, and weigh next-to-nothing. Most users should be happy with a 17” monitor (measured diagonally like TVs) though higher end gamers prefer the 19” or 21” monitor.
Dial-up or Broadband?
This is a bit of a no-brainer. Broadband Internet is the ONLY way to go if you want to experience multiplayer action.
Sound Card & Speakers
Creative Labs makes the best soundcards on the market. Their newest generation supports up to 7.1 surround sound so you’ll have to match the speaker set to the capability of the sound card. Many new games are offering surround sound options and post-processing effects that may sap processor power so having a newer sound card will help download some of that processing off the CPU.
Mouse & Keyboard
It doesn’t cost that much these days to get a wireless keyboard and mouse. Trust me on this one: rid yourself of the shackles that come with all those silly wires. If you want hassle free gaming you want a wireless mouse at the very least.