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Gaming Computer Advice

Written on March 11, 2009 by William George

The Rest of the Computer

With those three major categories taken care of much of the work in designing a gaming computer is done - but there are a few other considerations:

Motherboard - Once you know what processor, how much memory (and what type), and what sort of video card setup you want to use then the motherboard should be pretty straightforward. It needs to have the proper type of CPU socket, enough RAM slots of the correct kind, and a sufficient number of PCI-Express slots for the video card(s). The chipset on the motherboard also needs to be able to support the correct multi-GPU standard if you are using more than one video card (currently SLI for nVidia cards and Crossfire for ATI), and it is a good idea to check with the motherboard manufacturer to make sure that the memory you want to use is on their qualified list.

Power Supply - This is what provides power at different voltage levels to the various components in a system, so it is important not to skimp here. You want something capable of running all of your hardware without approaching its maximum power rating (usually the number shown in the product name and on marketing materials for any given power supply), but you don't want to go overboard either. A good rule of thumb is to have something where the idle power usage - when the system is just sitting not doing anything - is no less than 25% of the power supply's rated maximum and the full load power usage is no more than 75% of the maximum. The range from 20 - 80% of maximum is usually where power supplies are most efficient, so keeping it in there will help your electricity bill later on. In addition, the capacitors and such in a power supply can degrade over time and with use - so you want to have plenty of headroom.

There are various websites with calculators for determining what level of power draw a system will have, and they are accurate to varying degrees. Here at Puget we provide and maintain a wattage calculator on our configure pages that shows both the estimated maximum power draw and the recommended power supply size as you customize a computer.

Besides the wattage and efficiency, you want to make sure you get enough connections to run all of the hardware in your system. With any decent power supply there will be plenty of Molex (standard 4-pin) and SATA power plugs for a gaming computer's needs, so what you want to look for is the number of PCI-Express power leads. Just like checking the motherboard for PCI-E slots you need to ensure that the power supply has enough plugs to hook up all of your video cards. There are both 6-pin and 8-pin varieties, with different video cards needing different combinations, and in general 8-pin plugs can also serve as 6-pins - but not the other way around.

Chassis / Case - A computer's case has several roles: to protect the components inside, to provide adequate airflow, to mount all the different parts needed to run the system, and in some cases to reduce noise or show off as well. When selecting a chassis you want to make sure that you get one large enough to hold the motherboard you've picked out, the video cards (some can be rather long), and whatever number of drives you want. Once those factors are taken care of you also need to consider the overall size and weight of the unit to ensure that it will fit well where you plan to put it, and make sure that there are enough fans present running at a sufficient speed to cool everything. Stock fans can usually be changed out in favor of quieter or more powerful versions, if need be, and other case modifications can be added to help reduce noise, add windows and lights, etc. Keep in mind that you will have to live with the system for as long as you plan to use it - so you want to strike the right balance of appearance and noise level in the finished product.

CPU Cooling - Similar to the fans in a case, this component is responsible for cooling and can affect overall noise levels. The stock fans included with CPUs are generally sufficient, but tend to be on the louder side and don't do as good of a job at cooling as aftermarket products can. I say 'can' because not all 3rd party coolers are created equal: some are junk, while others are amazing. Because they change relatively often it is a good idea to research the options available for your specificly selected motherboard / CPU and then select a model that meets your cooling needs and desire for noise level.

Liquid-cooling is also an option for the CPU (and other components in a computer), but a comprehensive discussion of it is outside the scope of this article. In short, liquid-cooling will generally keep a few key components (CPU, GPU(s), and sometimes the motherboard chipset) running cooler than air alone could - but in trade they cost more, are more complicated to maintain, and can hamper future upgrades. They can also have an affect on noise level, since some fans (those on the CPU and video card) are no longer present. Not all fans can be removed, though, as some air cooling is still needed for the other internal components - and noise sources are added in the form of a pump and often additional fans to cool the liquid as it passes through a radiator. Because of this liquid-cooling is not usually the best choice for a quiet system, though in some cases it can be quieter than an extremely high-end computer would be on air alone. Where liquid-cooling really shines is in enabling better overclocking results, but again that is a topic for another time.

Hard Drives - The hard drive is where data is stored permenantly in a computer, and has a variety of characteristics that can affect how a system performs and what it is capable of. Thankfully it does not have a huge impact on gaming, at least not directly. A larger drive (in terms of capacity, measured in GB or TB - which are 1000GB) does mean you can hold more games at once, but even a relatively small drive can hold dozens easily. The speed of a drive, which is a function of a few different things, will affect how quickly Windows boots up, how fast games can launch, and the amount of time loading takes between levels - but once you are in the games itself there won't be any impact on frame rates and such, assuming you have enough RAM. For this reason I don't recommend spending a lot on a hard drive for a gaming computer; the money is generally better allocated to a faster CPU or video card(s).

Networking - For online gameplay, which is more popular with each passing day, the connection you are using to communicate with the outside world is very important. Most of this is dependent on your type of internet connection and the service provider you use, but the connection from your system to the modem for your service provider can make a difference too. For best performance you want a wired connection, as this is the lowest-latency choice (and latency, rather than bandwidth, is generally the factor governing online gaming performance; ping is a way of measuring latency commonly used in games). Most motherboards these days include at least one wired Ethernet port, so generally no additional hardware is necessary. There are specially designed network cards for gaming that can be employed, and in some cases they can provide a boost, but because of the relatively high cost they are usually a low-priority item for gaming computers.

If the location that your system will be in prevents using a wired connection then you will have to go wireless. There are two components that you will need to do this: a wireless adapter in the computer, and a router. To get the best performance look for units using the latest WiFi standards, and if possible select hardware from the same manufacturer for both devices. Compatibility should not be an issue even across brands, but setup may be easier that way.

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too basic.

i wish for more information to make those choices. as i prefer to make them. do i differ from most of your customers?

Posted on 2009-03-12 05:24:55

In the interest of being able to better cater to our customers, what additional information would you be looking for? Please note that the intent of this particular article was not to make specific hardware recommendations, since those change with every new release, but to give folks a background in what goes into the hardware choices - with the hopes that they could combine this with up-to-date reviews (either here or elsewhere) and then be able to make decisions on what to order. If we failed in that aim, or if we overlooked things, please let us know!

Posted on 2009-03-12 15:51:21
mike pyne

Hi PCC-Jon,
I referred your link and i found it really interesting, hence there is controversies that using the PC for Gaming purpose even though built for gaming could reduce the life of PC.
How many of you agree with it.


Posted on 2009-05-25 05:26:03

As I mentioned in a previous post - I don't agree that a PC built specifically for gaming has a shorter shelf life than one built for 'standard' use.

Intense heat can be offset with superior cooling. Use of high quality parts (which most gaming systems use) also comes into play.

Will there come a day when the 'boutique' builders are gone? Tough call. I think at some point we will see a merging of console and PC systems.

As I also mentioned in a previous post - PCs lend themselves to ease of upgrading and even building your own. When was the last time you assembled an XBOX or PS3 on your kitchen table? ;)

Posted on 2009-05-25 08:33:56
mike pyne

Hi PCC-Jon,
I referred to your link and found it interesting. Can you please suggest that extreme gaming on standard PC could reduce the life of the PC. Do you agree with it.


Posted on 2009-06-16 04:49:21

Mike -

I don't agree. The chips do not contain moving parts. Higher temperatures outside their spec can reduce the life of a PC, so technically gaming could have an impact, but if the computer is properly cooled the impact of gaming will be insignificant enough to be unmeasurable.

Posted on 2009-06-16 16:53:14
mike pyne

So we need to integrate external cooling device because in general it's not available by default. So this is the point that i was proving that unless you don't install cooling device into your PC system then definitely extreme gaming could result in reducing PC's life.


Posted on 2009-06-19 01:49:22

So we need to integrate external cooling device because in general it's not available by default. So this is the point that i was proving that unless you don't install cooling device into your PC system then definitely extreme gaming could result in reducing PC's life.


I don't understand what you mean by a "cooling device."

Any well built PC in a quality enclosure will have proper air flow to pull-in cool air and exhaust hot air from the components.

"Extreme gaming" machines will produce more heat because they tend to have hotter components (overclocked CPUs, powerful GPUs, RAID arrays, SLI or Crossfire, etc). Gaming itself isn't as stressful on a PC's components. Most games are only a single or dual threaded and they don't even come close to 100% utilization on CPU cores.

Posted on 2009-06-19 08:24:24

If you don't install a cooling device, even hitting the power button will dramatically reduce the life of the PC :)

Posted on 2009-06-19 10:44:07
mike pyne

Hi PCC-Jon,
Thanks for giving such awareness. I had never used cooling device for PC. Can you recommend some best PC cooling device.


Posted on 2009-07-06 06:02:56
mike pyne

Hi cccmd,
The design meant for cooling CPU and cooler both are different. According to Jon we need to externally install cooling device or else make the PC environment cool by switching to AC.


Posted on 2009-07-15 01:10:52

Don't know if the poster still comes to the forum, but comparing his question to some of mine and the way I (sometimes don't) think, I think he was unaware that ALL processors are provided with cooling. I think he was confused by the upgrades, and thought for gaming you had to add a cooler.

Posted on 2009-08-30 17:20:27

Actually Mike, it looks like I misunderstood what you meant. I only meant that a CPU cooler needs to be installed, which I'm sure you already knew.

Posted on 2009-07-15 11:03:34

here's a maybe not so quick question.

I'm very close to deciding on a new computer and I'm not sure whether to choose a core i7 or core 2 quad (or duo) build.

I bought my last computer from you guys and have been very satisfied. I've had it for 5 years now and I can't play the new games now so it's upgrade time. I'm looking to keep this new computer for a similar time frame, with a probable gpu upgrade in a few years.

Which CPU would you guys recommend going forward. Sure the Core 2 duo stuff is cheaper right now and performs great but it 3 years, am I gonna be feeling the hurt when all the new games are built to use quad cores?

What's gonna get me the most longevity?

Posted on 2009-08-18 12:04:24

Core i7, hands down (for gaming). Now, here is the second half of that question - which you might not have known about: "Socket 1366 or 1156?"

The current i7s are using the socket 1366 platform, which has come down a lot in price but is still more expensive than the mainstream Core 2 line. However, next month Intel's P55 chipset and socket 1156 are coming - for the price-conscious that might be a better choice, as it will house Core i7 processors (and their little brothers, the i5 and i3). The main difference between the two sockets is going to be the memory setup: 1366 uses triple-channel memory, while 1156 will be dual-channel. For gaming, though, that should make very little difference. If you can wait a few weeks I think I would aim for the upcoming socket to maximize your return on investment and longevity!

Posted on 2009-08-18 12:09:03

And that completes the question I asked about the new chipset in the other thread. Thank you very much for being so fast with that response.

While i'm trying to be price conscious, I don't want to be too stingy. I haven't been able to play a newly released game for a while now and I don't want to have that situation again for a long time. Do you think that the choosing 1366 versus 1156 will make a difference in that regard?

Sorry if I'm asking an incredibly broad question.

Posted on 2009-08-18 12:35:37

It is hard to guess what the next generation of game titles will need, but historically memory bandwidth has not been a limiting factor in that area. Latency can be a bottleneck for some games, so I would make sure to get lower-latency memory if possible (like the HyperX we carry from Kingston), but pure memory speed usually makes little difference.

When socket 1156 gets closer to launch there should be performance comparisons on many of the major hardware websites - AnandTech, TomsHardware, etc - that will shed more light on the new chips and how they work relative to the established socket 1366 models.

Posted on 2009-08-18 12:44:01

I recently entertained such decisions before I placed an order with Puget. Even though I know the p55 chipset and socket 1156 CPus are due in early September, I went ahead and chose the 1366 CPUs. I did so because it is a mature platform these days. The boards have been out for awhile and BIOS revisions are minor. Plus builders are comfortable with these boards and chipsets. The performance between the two should be minor, but it does seem the new CPUs will have a lot of overclocking headroom. Time will tell with that. Certainly you will be able to get a machine with Intel's i7 architecture for a bit cheaper with the new socket as the memory will be dual-channel and the boards less pricey. Intel has stated they will continue support of both sockets.

Posted on 2009-08-18 13:51:37

When socket 1156 gets closer to launch there should be performance comparisons on many of the major hardware websites - AnandTech, TomsHardware, etc - that will shed more light on the new chips and how they work relative to the established socket 1366 models.

I'm gonna have to wait for that then because after a day of reading as much as I can my head is ready to explode.

Though if I'm this conflicted over what I'm going to put in the computer, it probably means that I'm buying too close to the edge and I should take a step back in tech and price.

Posted on 2009-08-19 07:48:52

We don't have pricing info yet, but I'm hoping that the new socket 1156 stuff comes out at the same price as current Core 2 products - so that while you may be buying 'close to the edge' you shouldn't be spending more than you would on older tech.

Posted on 2009-08-19 10:48:30