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A gaming computer is a personal computer designed for playing computationally demanding video games as an alternative to a video game console. Gaming computers are very similar to conventional PCs, with the main difference being the addition of gaming-oriented components such as one or more high-end 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.
- 1 History
- 2 Custom built gaming computers
- 3 Prebuilt gaming computers
- 4 Gaming laptop computers
- 5 Home built computers
- 6 References
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, including 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. Japan also had several other popular gaming computers during the 1980s to early 1990s, including the very popular PC-88 and PC-98 as well as the powerful X68000 and FM Towns.
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.
Custom built gaming computers
By 2012 it had become increasingly popular for gamers to custom build their own PC geared toward gaming. Custom-building PCs allows 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.
Gaming computer making companies not only ensure that they use faster performing retail chipsets as opposed to the slower original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, but also follow a meticulous assembly process. Contrary to assembly line process, special attention is given here so that supreme quality and standard is maintained. These also help with the customization needs to different customers. Generally these steps are followed:
- Preparation of case
- Insertion of the motherboard
- Video card installation and power up test
- Installation of the disk drives
- Updates for the motherboard and processor
- System optimisation
- Installation of the desired software
- Cable management along with tie down
- Crucial tests including initial, diagnostics, extended, performance and usability tests.
A graphics card also known as a GPU is essential to any custom built gaming PC except in some budget end ones that utilize an Accelerated processing unit (AMD APU). 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 such as MSI and ASUS, then 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 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. Most gaming motherboards provide Overclocking ability to enhance system speeds and support high amounts of RAM.
DDR (Double Data Rate) Memory is essential for any computer system. Adding more memory allows the CPU to address more data for it to quickly access instead of reading off a comparatively slow disk drive or solid sate storage device. DDR RAM also has much lower latency than its GDDR counterpart and much lower bandwidth as the CPU relies on being able to change small amounts of data quickly. The latest standard of DDR memory is DDR4L.
GDDR (Graphical Double Data Rate) memory is required for the operation of any PCIe graphic card and is built directly onto the card itself. The amount of RAM built onto a graphic card allows the GPU to quickly access data such as textures instead of reading off of a much slower storage device. Having more GDDR memory allows the system to handle higher levels of Anti-Aliasing and more complex textures. GDDR memory has a much higher latency when compared to DDR memory but also has a much larger bandwidth thus allowing the GPU to deal with larger amounts of data at a slower rate when compared to a CPU. The latest revision of GDDR memory is GDDR5x.
Solid state drives
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. An SSD drive can be 4 or 5 times faster than a traditional HDD drive. For an SSD drive, files almost open instantly. 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.
Power supply units
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.Modular power supplies have cables that are detachable so unused cables do not create excess clutter but are often more expensive than their non-modular counterparts. Both fulfill the same purpose, but often Modular PSUs are preferred because they allow for better cable management, as they remove the issue of unused cable clutter that non-modular PSUs often have. Semi modular power supplies come with only the necessary cables fixed, while cables that are not necessarily needed are able to be detached.
Many gamers and computer enthusiasts choose to overclock their CPU(s) and GPU(s) in order to gain extra performance. The added power draw needed to overclock either processing unit often requires additional cooling to what the original equipment manufacturer shipped their product with, most notably in the case of CPUs. Two types of mainstream cooling exist, air cooling and water cooling. Air cooling, the more common of the two, uses a heat sink often in conjunction with heat pipes or vapor chambers to move heat away from the component and dissipate it into the air. Water cooling is somewhat more complex, it makes use of water blocks, radiators, pumps, tubing and optionally a reservoir. Water removes heat by running water through a block affixed to the component and then allowing the water time in the radiator in order to cool off. Fans are often used to increase a radiator's rate of heat dissipation.
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.
Prebuilt gaming computers
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.
One major drawback of buying a prebuilt gaming PC aside from the extra cost is that they are often built with a very powerful CPU, but with a relatively weak graphics card. This results in a "gaming" PC that performs poorly in gaming for the price paid. Most games today do not benefit much from having a very powerful CPU with more than 4 core and hyper-threading, but benefits greatly with a more powerful graphics card.
Gaming laptop computers
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.
The introduction of the NVIDIA GTX 900M series of mobile GPUs in late 2014 represented a significant advancement from the previous 800M series, lessening the gap with desktop systems and making gaming laptops a more viable alternative to desktop PCs.
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, Razer Inc. Blade and Alienware X51.
Home built computers
With personal computers becoming more and more popular every day, more people are opting for a self-built tailored-to-work PC. With available parts from companies such as Intel, AMD and NVidia, it has become quite easy and cost effective to assemble an optimally functioning computer. This gives customers the ability to buy only what they will use or want, rather than spending money on a pre-built PC with components that may or may not be useful to one specific consumer. Building a PC at home is also advantageous if the PC is built for specific jobs, such as data processing and 3D developing. Though time consuming and risky, this is an alternative to buying a prebuilt computer from a vendor. There are pros and cons to homebuilt computers and they are not for everyone.
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