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A gaming computer (also gaming rig and sometimes called a gaming PC) is a personal computer designed for playing computationally demanding video games. Gaming computers are very similar to conventional PCs, with the main difference being the addition of performance-oriented components such as a high-end CPU and one or more video cards. Gaming computers are often associated with enthusiast computing due to an overlap in interests. However, while a gaming PC is built to achieve performance for actual gameplay, enthusiast PCs are built to maximize performance, using games as a benchmark. The difference between the two carries a large discrepancy in the cost of the system. Whereas enthusiast PCs are high-end by definition, gaming PCs can be subdivided into low-end, mid-range, and high-end segments. Contrary to the popular misconception that PC gaming is inextricably tied to high-priced enthusiast computing, video card manufacturers earn the bulk of their revenue from their low-end and mid-range offerings.
Because of the large variety of parts that can go into a computer built to play video games, gaming computers are typically custom-made, rather than pre-assembled, either by gaming and hardware enthusiasts or by companies that specialize in producing custom gaming machines. In order to generate interest, gaming computer manufacturers that sell complete systems often produce boutique models, allowing them to compete on aesthetic design in addition to the hardware inside.
Historically, gaming computers had several distinct hardware components that set them apart from a typical PC. The push for better graphics began with color fidelity, from display systems such as CGA eventually graduating to VGA, which was adopted for the mass market. Gaming also led the push for the adoption of sound cards, a component that is now commonly integrated onto motherboards.
In the 1980s, several non-IBM PC compatible platforms gained a measure of popularity due to advanced graphics and sound capabilities, most notably the Commodore 64 and Amiga. Video game developers of the time targeted these platforms for their games, though typically they would later port their games to the more common PC and Apple platforms as well. The MSX was also popular in Japan, where it preceded the video game console revolution.
We think it would be a mistake to get anything less than a 386 clone with, at least a clock speed of 33 mhz. If possible, get a 486 clone with a faster speed. Get four megabytes of RAM and at least 100 MB on your hard disk. If you've never dealt with a C> prompt before, do yourself a favor and put Windows on the machine as your primary interface. If you're comfortable with the same DOS that you see on your friends' machines, go with DOS 5.0. Get a mouse, if you can afford it, and a sound card that is either AdLib or Soundblaster compatible. If you do win the lottery, throw in a CD-ROM, too. That's the basic game machine for today's games.
In September, the magazine replied to a reader asking for "the current '486' desktop dream machine for playing computer games":
486 66MHz DX/2 motherboard (VESA Local Bus) EISA
256K Cache RAM on motherboard
AMI BIOS (upgradable with disk)
8-16 Megabytes of 70ms or faster RAM
VESA compatible Local bus Video card with S3 (or other co-processor).
250 megabyte and up, SCSI 2 Hard Drive.
SCSI 2 host adapter with cache memory.
MPC Level 2 CD-ROM.
SoundBlaster 16 ASP w/ Roland Sound Canvas SC-7 module.
Full Thrustmaster Mark II WCS/FCS and Rudder pedals.
20" and up CAD monitor
LAN parties helped to promote the use of network cards and routers. This equipment is now commonly used by non-gamers with broadband Internet access to share the connection with multiple computers in the home. Like sound cards, network adapters are now commonly integrated on motherboards.
In modern times, the primary difference between a gaming computer and a comparable mainstream PC is the inclusion of a performance-oriented video card, which hosts a graphics processor and dedicated memory. These are generally a requirement to play modern games on the market.
Forays into physics processing have also been made, though with Nvidia's buyout of PhysX and Intel's buyout of Havok, plans are that this functionality will be combined with existing CPU or GPU technologies.
Nowadays it is becoming more and more popular for gamers to custom build their own PC geared toward gaming. Custom-building PCs allow for more budget control and easier upgradability. More often than not, it is possible to maximize performance for the best value when building a gaming rig. There are several components that must be considered when building a gaming rig, which include CPUs, memory, a motherboard, Video cards, Solid-state drives, Power supplies, and cases. It is also common for gamers who don't want to build their own computer to purchase a purpose-built Gaming PC built by certain companies or a friend willing to help.
When building a custom built gaming PC, builders usually turn to independent benchmarks to help make their hardware selection. Organizations such as AnandTech and Tom's Hardware Guide provide such benchmarks and hardware reviews. The benchmarks include ratings for PC components that are necessary to build a gaming PC. It is also crucial to consider Computer cooling, as this is required to remove the waste heat produced by gaming computer components.
A graphics card also known as a GPU is essential to any custom built gaming PC. Modern cards connect to a computer motherboard using the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCI Express or PCI-E). There are two major manufacturers when it comes to selecting a GPU for a gaming PC, AMD and NVIDIA. These companies provide GPU's which other companies design circuit boards and cooling shrouds for, making up between them the combined item known as a graphics card. While most graphics cards are designed (apart from the GPU) by the hardware vendor which sells it under their brand name, sometimes the GPU manufacturer will send out reference cards (with the PCB and cooling shroud entirely designed by the GPU manufacturer) for reviews or evaluation. Some models, like the AMD Radeon R9 290 or Nvidia GTX TITAN, are only authorized to be sold with the GPU manufacturer-designed circuit board and shroud.
Another major component that cannot be overlooked in a gaming computer is the processor, or CPU (Central Processing Unit). Again, there are two major brands when it comes to selecting a CPU, AMD and Intel. According to benchmarks conducted in 2012, the Intel Core i7 appears to have a major performance advantage over its AMD counterparts. This is no surprise as the i7 is marketed towards high-end personal computing. It is worth noting, however, that after a certain point, CPUs often have limited impact on actual gaming performance (often less than 5% in frame rates). In the world of technology, it is important to stay up to date on all the current benchmarks.
The motherboard is the component inside of every computer that brings all the hardware together. It manages the input and output connections. Motherboards come in different form factors, or physical sizes. The most common form factors are ATX, mATX, and Mini-ITX. Gaming machines typically use ATX motherboards, as their size allows for greater future expansion.
Memory is essential to system performance. Adding more memory will increase system performance. The most current type of memory is DDR3 SDRAM (double data rate type three synchronous dynamic random access memory). Compared to the older DDR2 SDRAM, the DDR3 has higher bandwidth performance, can transfer data over two times faster, and consumes less power. The DDR4 SDRAM which is not released yet is reported to have even faster data transfer rates, with a per-pin data rate of 1.6 GT/s to an initial maximum of 3.2 GT/s.
Solid-state drives (SSD) are a newer form of data storage which is gaining in popularity. The more common and traditional hard disk drive (HDD) is still the more widely used, but many gaming enthusiasts are turning to SSDs in favor of the advantages they offer over HDDs. Unlike HDDs, SSDs have no moving mechanical parts, meaning they are less susceptible to shock and also run silently. SSDs also offer faster access time, as HDDs require time in order for the moving parts to speed up to operating specifications. This means with an SSD, booting up a system and launching programs take less time. SSDs will increase the performance of a system by how often the game accesses the drive in order load items from the game such as levels and textures. However, SSDs cost much more than HDDs do per gigabyte, meaning in terms of pure capacity, they are not as cost effective. They also currently offer a lower common maximum capacity than HDDs.
Although occasionally overlooked, the power supply unit (PSU) is still an important component to consider. The wattage needed to run a system is dependent on the hardware, so often a PSU calculator is used to determine the wattage needed. In addition, future upgrades to a gaming rig will possibly require more power, and PSUs lose power as they age, so it is often a good idea to buy a PSU that has the capability of lasting through several years and upgrades. The PSU must also be compatible with the other hardware pieces.
There are two types of PSUs, modular PSUs (MPSU) and non-modular PSUs. Non-modular PSUs come with fixed cables, meaning unused ones will be left unconnected. Both fulfill the same purpose, but often MPSUs are preferred because they allow for better cable management, as they remove the issue of unused cable clutter that non-modular PSUs often have.
Due to the common issue of multiple video card configurations many gamers overclock their CPUs to enhance performance. With the CPU running hotter due to overclocking, cooling systems are the logical remedy. Taking place of a simple fan and heat-sink a liquid cooling system is a quiet and more effective solution.
Choosing a computer case involves several considerations. For one, there is a large range of sizes. A larger gaming rig will allow for future upgrades. The case must also be compatible with the motherboard's form factor. Because games are oftentimes demanding on a system, one of the most important factors of choosing a case is cooling. In order to avoid the risk of overheating hardware, a computer case with good airflow and a quality fan will go a long way in ensuring proper cooling. Other additional features such as fan speed controllers, filters for dust management, and clear side panels are all useful as well. Custom-building allows a builder to personalize their case if they so desire for aesthetic purposes. There are many designs for computer cases so the builder can choose to their liking.
While many "advanced" gamers build their gaming PCs themselves, some choose to go with prebuilt or custom-built gaming PCs. These PCs can often be more expensive than building one's own, with higher premiums attached to high-end brands with varying levels of customer service. Different companies offer varying degrees of customization, some almost as much as building it oneself. There are however, drawbacks to building one's own computer. Assembling a computer means being personally responsible for any problems that may arise, both during the assembly phase, and after it is in regular use. Instead of using a single technical support hotline to cover the entire system, often one will have to deal with individual component manufacturers.
Due to the wide inconsistencies in after-purchase support from component manufactures, trying to get support can be a daunting task for even the most patient of people. Customer support is a major reason why even extreme gaming enthusiasts may look to a system integrator for their custom PC builds. There are many positive aspects in choosing to build one's own system, such as no longer being tied to specific configurations. Pricing on individual components is often better, and thus can save quite a lot of money on a comparable pre-built system. Warranties are often included with the price of each individual piece of hardware when building a PC, whereas a prebuilt PC's warranty may cost an additional fee or may be as little as 1 or 2 years for the entire system. Those who choose to build their own PC often seek help from an online community or forum in the absence of a consumer helpline.
Gaming laptops are the mobile equivalent of gaming desktops and are usually more expensive than their desktop counterparts. Currently, most gaming laptops feature more power efficient versions of high end desktop graphics cards, which nevertheless still significantly drain the battery, and necessitate more advanced cooling systems. One recent development by NVIDIA is SLI for laptops. Generally, gaming laptops are not considered "rigs" as the term can also refer to the physical size of the system. Modern gaming laptops can achieve respectable game performance, but never quite match desktops in a class to class comparison, and most do not feature upgradeable graphics cards.
Due to the relatively small size that the hardware has to fit in, cooling the heat intensive components is a major problem affecting the performance of such laptops, usually causing degraded value for money performance wise. Attempts at using the same performance hardware as desktops usually end in a decreased clock frequency of graphics chips to reduce heat, causing the poor value for money.
A newer approach in the gaming PC industry is to create small form factor desktops that are more compact and easier to transport than a normal full sized system. Examples include the Falcon Northwest FragBox and Alienware X51.