||This article possibly contains original research. (November 2008)|
Enthusiast computing refers to a sub-culture of personal computer users who focus on extremely high-end computers. Manufacturers of performance-oriented parts typically include an enthusiast model in their offerings. Enthusiast computers (often referred to as a "box", "build", or "rig" by their owners) commonly feature extravagant cases and high-end components, and are sometimes liquid cooled.
Although high-end computers may be bought retail in the same manner as the common computer, they are frequently built by their owners. Enthusiasts build their systems in order to produce a computer that will out-perform an opponent's computer, thereby "winning" in a contest; to simply enjoy the best images and effects a new PC game has to offer; or even simply to obtain the best possible performance at a variety of tasks.
Influence of gaming
Games have historically been the driving force behind the rapid pace of consumer hardware development. For example, The 7th Guest and Myst helped drive the adoption of CD-ROMs. Intel and AMD both incorporated instruction sets such as MMX, 3DNow!, and Streaming SIMD Extensions into their processors to support the PC's growing role as a home entertainment device.
More recently, however, other types of applications have piqued the interest of computing enthusiasts. Scientific distributed computing tools such as Folding@home, GIMPS and SETI@home or other computationally intensive chores may also push CPUs and GPUs to their limits, and may also serve as a means of competition, such as tracking how many data sets a user has completed.
An enthusiast PC implies the early adoption of new hardware, which is sold at a premium price. As an example, the video card ATI Radeon 9700 Pro was released at US$399 in 2002. Many gaming PCs support the use of multiple video cards in SLI or CrossFire, making it possible to spend thousands of dollars in graphics cards alone.
Gaming PCs use hardware accelerated video cards which offer high-end rasterisation-based rendering/image quality. The graphics card is the most important part determining the capabilities of a gaming PC. Memory capacity on 3D cards is usually at least 256 MB to 6 GB. The amount of video RAM is only important while gaming in higher resolution, as it does not directly affect performance. The type of memory used however is an important factor. Modern graphics cards use the PCI Express expansion slot. Two or more graphics cards can be used simultaneously on mainboards supporting SLI or ATI CrossFire technology, for nVidia and ATI based cards respectively. Both technologies allow for between two and four graphics cards of the same model to be used in unison to process and render an image.
|“||A well-made, top-class video card should at least adequately play all the new games for about two years, though hardcore gamers will eagerly spend the money to upgrade more often. To keep up with the technology while spending the least amount of money, waiting two years to upgrade is the most accepted compromise." - Microsoft.com||”|
While the superiority between LCD screens and CRT monitors is still debated,[by whom?] it is clear that a fast response time and high refresh rate is desired in order to display smooth motion. A framerate of 30 frames per second (FPS) is the minimum for smooth motion in a video game. As games approach 60 FPS and beyond, the difference becomes less apparent. Apart from the primary display, some enthusiasts choose to use a secondary display as well. These may include a second screen or an LCD display located on the keyboard or by itself.
Gaming PCs are usually equipped with a dedicated sound card and speakers in a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound configuration. The speaker setup or a set of quality headphones is required to enjoy the advanced sound found in most modern computer games. Sound cards have hardware accelerated technologies, such as EAX. An example is Sound Blaster X-Fi, which the Fatal1ty editions have 64 MB of onboard RAM (unmatched for a sound card) and has gaming PCs as main target demographic with its dedicated "gaming mode".
While physics cards are now available, compatibility and performance increases are still debated. Some people have experienced performance downgrades in GRAW, one of few games currently available that take advantage of additional physics hardware. Graphics card manufacturers plan on including PPUs on their chipsets and also adding a slot for a third graphics card (in addition to the usual 2 slots for SLI or Crossfire setups) to act as a PPU. At the moment, the cards are expensive and neither widely used nor widely supported in games. Recently Nvidia cards support the physics calculations that dedicated physics cards were made for.
The CPU is mainly responsible for computing physics, AI and central game processes. Modern gaming PCs use high-end processors. With the rise of multi-threaded games, multi-core processor setups will become more imperative than ever, but as of today the individual core speed is still more important than the number of cores, as the majority of current gaming software was solely written to operate on a single core. Furthermore, an ample amount of L2 Cache within the CPU, generally 4 MB or more, is recommended to reap the benefits of even faster game performance. In addition, a gaming processor should be capable of running at least the SSE3 instruction set extension, which is available in all modern CPUs.
Random access memory, or RAM, acts as a cache for non-graphical resources that games use. Gaming PCs typically have the fastest available RAM modules, with heat sinks to dissipate heat created by the high data transfer rate between the RAM and the motherboard. The fast RAM found in gaming PCs has the benefit of increased performance by having lower latency than regular RAM. RAM capacity is also an issue with gaming PCs, and usually at least 2 GB of memory is used, most, however, use 4 GB or more, depending on how many RAM slots the board can hold, and whether it supports 4 or 8 GB modules. The current maximum amount supported ( for quad-channel configuration )on consumer hardware is 64 GB, with 8 slots on some LGA 2011 motherboards, each slot supporting up to an 8 GB DIMM.
In gaming PCs, fast hard drives are very desirable. Having a faster hard drive will result in shorter loading times in games. For this reason, some gaming PCs use certain RAID setups to lower latency and increase throughput to mass storage. Since the space taken up by games is nominal compared to the total availability on modern hard drives, speed is preferred over capacity.
Recently, solid-state drives have become popular, which offer significantly higher speeds than magnetic hard drives.
While typical computers, including high-end systems, tend to use wireless connections to connect to other computers as well as a router, gaming PCs often use Ethernet cables for the fastest and most reliable connection possible. Also, some companies sell dedicated network cards to reduce lag and increase the performance of multiplayer. A dial-up Internet connection is not an acceptable solution due to the very high latency (~400ms is common). Mobile broadband connections can also cause the same undesirable effects as dial-up connections, but can be considered less substantial, with latencies ranging 150ms and upwards (Less than 100 is recommended for a first-person shooter).
There are many hardware interfaces designed specifically for gaming and while sometimes used with less powerful PCs, they are most often observed with gaming PCs. Such interfaces include keyboards and mice built for gaming (these typically include additional keys or buttons for game-related functions as well as LCD-screens, higher sensitivity (mouse), better aderency[clarification needed] (keyboard/mouse) and less/more friction depending on the user's needs), joysticks, gamepads, steering wheels, PC-compatible airplane gauges and panels, etc. A keyboard and mouse is the preferred method for most games, giving the best speed and accuracy. It should be noted that touch screens are rarely used for PC gaming at this point. "Haptic feedback" commonly known as force feedback, allows for greater immersion into the games played. While there are no keyboards that support haptic feedback, some mice and most forms of game controllers do.
Case, power supply, cooling, and other case accessories
As well as the computing components themselves, case and related accessories often form a target for enthusiast attention, for functional and aesthetic reasons.
- Computer power supplies may be selected for very high quality electrical stability and performance, so that the high speed electronics reliant on them will not suffer from irregularities or disruption, and so that high power processors and graphics cards can be properly supplied with the often high levels of current needed. Power supply reviews for enthusiasts may, for example, take apart the item to identify the exact manufacturers of components, the types and sources of capacitors or power regulation circuitry involved, the quality of PCB soldering, and the calibre of any wiring.
- Quiet computing is a specialist aspect of enthusiast activity, whereby the user aims to ensure the computer runs very quietly, with the goal of enjoyable ambience. Fans, hard drives, and any other noisy components may be selected for their acoustic properties, and then mounted in ways that dampen vibration and provide acoustic isolation.
- Cooling systems may received careful attention, both to ensure high quality airflow and reduced operating temperatures under heavy workloads or intense activity, to support overclocking, and as part of quiet computing as well.
- Computer cases, especially of gaming computers, are often selected with care, for their aesthetic and functional value. Functionally, the case must be able to provide cooling for high-end, possibly overclocked components, and have room for expansion and customization. Aesthetically, case modding usually includes features that show off the creator's intent: clear sides to reveal the internal components and layout, which may be adorned with LEDs, images on the graphics cards or power supply units.
Performance and benchmarks
As a general guideline, enthusiast PCs must achieve high scores on 3D benchmarks such as 3DMark when it is first built or upgraded. Enthusiasts who know how to overclock sometimes do so to prolong the usefulness of their hardware. The highest results are always and by far achieved by overclocking.
However, synthetic benchmark results rarely equate to real application performance, as measured by framerate. The framerate is measured in frames per second, which refers to the number of times the video card recalculates the image shown on screen. While frame rates above 30 FPS (standard NTSC framerate) become increasingly difficult to distinguish with the human eye, enthusiast PCs with a multi-video card setup often boast framerates in excess of 100 FPS. To maintain a challenge, the standard for comparison is constantly refreshed with new games and higher detail settings.
Overclocking is used by enthusiasts to achieve component or system performance that exceeds the manufacturer's stated or "official" specification. Overclocking is such a big part of enthusiast culture that popular and widely respected websites such as Anandtech and Tom's Hardware often include overclocking as part of a review. Hardware manufacturers release high-end components that facilitate overclocking. Examples include CPUs with unlocked multipliers, oversized heatsinks or water cooling, and motherboards with user-configurable voltages and incremental bus speeds.
Some system builders and part manufacturers now offer factory overclocking, which is covered under warranty. Alternatively a manufacturer or user may seek individual components that overclock, in order to buy a cheaper product that will prove to run to a higher quality product's standard.
There are significant hazards to be aware of, when overclocking a computer. At a mundane level some components will not work under too high a demand, and the computer will not work then until the overclocked demands are reduced or mitigated. More seriously, some components are capable of being damaged or destroyed by increased heat or voltages which routinely form part of overclocking, if the user is reckless or uninformed, and therefore caution and some level of prior understanding is needed.
In particular, overclocked CPUs (central processing units) generally run hotter than normal, and components such as CPUs, memory controllers, graphics cards and RAM may require higher voltages to produce higher performance. The higher voltage is given out as increased heat, and can stress the electrical channels of the components as well, and this can cause damage, degradation, or fatal failure. In response to this problem, heat sink manufacturers[which?] have implemented innovative solutions in air-cooling primarily based on the incorporation of heat pipe technologies coupled with large-finned tower heat sinks. Alternatively many gaming PCs utilize watercooling as a means of dissipating additional heat from overclocked components.
Watercooling is able to provide heat dissipation that is superior to air-cooled heatsinks. The watercooling system can be configured to be either far superior to air-cooling but at the cost of being as noisy, or even more noisy than high-end air cooling (due to large, fast, loud fans used on the radiator); or it can be configured to be about as effective, or even a bit more effective than high-end air-cooling, but far less noisy (usually by utilizing large radiators coupled with slow and quiet 120 mm fans, and quiet, yet powerful pumps.)
- 25 Awe Inspiring Custom Computer Case Mods, 2008/05, The Hottest Gadgets
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