Cheap Gaming PC Guide Part 2: Overclocking, New DX11 GPUs, KBs, Mice and 5.1 Headsets

Posted: November 13, 2010 by ryanlecocq in Features

So my first guide was aimed at first time PC builders wanting to make a cheap gaming rig.  Guide 2 assumes you’ve built your PC, learned a lot and now want to tweak and upgrade a little more for the perfect experience.  Still going with the ‘on a budget’ theme, since that’s most of us these days.

Overclocking

Most custom motherboards built in the last 5 years allow overclocking through the BIOS (accessed by holding a key, usually F10 at startup).  This can be done by increasing the frontside bus speed (multiplying everything on that circuit, CPU, RAM, motherboard USB), upping the core multiplier (only increases CPU speed) or unlocking the multiplier completely to run at any custom speed.  I would recommend finding instructions for your specific BIOS before beginning.  It’s pretty safe even when you make mistakes, because your PC will just freeze on start and not boot.  Only once have I literally lit a FSB on fire and it was on an extremely overpowered old Athlon 64.  So not in any recent years have I seen any parts permanently damaged.

Cooling and Safe Speeds:

On stock cooling a good rule of thumb is to overclock no more than 15-20% and check the temperatures.  Stock coolers are designed to support the highest speed CPU your stock MoBo can support, so don’t go too much above that.  If you have a custom air cooling setup the ceiling goes up.  Especially if you use Arctic Silver 5 thermal paste.  Custom setups can often support stable overclocks of 50-100%.  By custom I mean high flow fan, heat diffusion pipes and a high conductive surface.  Make sure you use Arctic Silver 5, not any other Arctic Silver products as all of the others take weeks to fully set.  With a full liquid cooling system your overclock ability is pretty much unlimited.  Liquid coolers lower temps across the board making high FSB speeds more feasible for a full system overclock.

FSB Tweaking in Windows (For people with store bought PCs):

If you bought a pre-made computer, like an HP or a Dell, your BIOS settings are locked.  You may have heard in the past that this makes overclocking impossible.  This is no longer true.  A utility called SetFSB allows frontside bus increase in nearly all desktops and laptops.  Unfortunately it costs $6.50, but to overclock a fully locked laptop enough to play a game you couldn’t is priceless.  Before ordering you need to find out what clock generator chip (PLL, ICC etc.) your motherboard bus uses.  On a desktop you can look up where to find it and just visually inspect and read the label.  On a laptop you may need to google it.  This works on even the most locked up of systems.  On an HP computer with a Foxconn Aloe MoBo (notoriously non-tweak-friendly) with a Phenom II 910 @2.6Ghz (notoriously non-OC-friendly) I got an increase of 15% to 2.9/3Ghz on stock cooling and it ran perfectly stable.

Get it here:

http://www13.plala.or.jp/setfsb/

New GPUs, Radeon HD6000 and nVidia GTX 500

These GPUs are the first in the newest series of DX11 GPUs.  They are not competitive as the Radeons are so far only available in the 6850 and 6870, both mid-range cards and the GeForce is only available in 580 high end models.  The point here is should you upgrade from the capable HD5000 series and GTX400 series.  The short answer is only if you were going to buy the cards they replace.  Both the ATi and the nVidia are nearly identical in performance to the models they replace from the previous series, featuring only shader optimizations for DX11 over the old card.  The memory runs at the same speeds and so do the clocks.  The last generation of cards were an important upgrade as they enable DX11, this was huge ESPECIALLY if you play World of Warcraft.  These new cards feature a minimal step forward, so if you bought one of the last gen cheap on my advice, you still did well.  No regrets.

 

Gaming Keyboards and Mice

Wired or wireless mostly  depends on your use and preference.  Wired gaming keyboards and mice are usually cheaper for the features, so if you only use at your desk you can save there.  Comfort is the most important thing, so if possible, testing in the store is good, but for ordering I recommend geeks.com, newegg.com or amazon.com.

Keyboards:

One thing to look out for is how many simultaneous key inputs it can take.  This is big because you generally hold down multiple keys when playing games.  Wired keyboards generally support more than wireless.  Also, never buy a Zboard of any kind.  I have seen them break in so many different ways.  The extra buttons and macro keys are nice, but the build quality is terrible.  As far as LCD screens go, my experience has been mixed.  It sounds nice to be able to see what macro you are using or monitor system temperatures on the fly, but the glowing backlights are annoying when on and when off are useless in the dark.  Once you have a keyboard for a week, you memorize it’s use, so looking away from the screen to do things doesn’t make sense.  Overall I would say get something comfortable, with quiet keystrokes (IMPORTANT) and good layout for programmable buttons and function keys.

Mice:

Wireless is really nice for mice, but laser or high accuracy optical is a must.  Cheap optical mice have low DPI (dots per inch, or how sensitive the mouse is).  In general the higher DPI the better.  Also if the mouse has a button to adjust DPI that is really nice.  Having to adjust in Windows so you can have your games at higher sensitivity than browsing is a pain.  Having extra buttons is a requirement.  2 extras at the thumb are nice and a squeeze button on the right side is good also.  Another little tip: Don’t get anything with shiny metallic paint of any kind!  The grinding power of your sweaty fingers will rub this metallic crap away making a slippery aluminum dust grease (kind of like Arctic Silver!) that can sabotage a late night PVP match.

 

5.1 Headsets

A surround headset can really improve your gaming.  The Turtle Beach sets available in stores are extremely overpriced and not any better than cheaply available ones online.  In general read reviews on every set.  Real surround sets will requite some kind of digital connection or will connect through USB.  So any wireless set will only have Pro-logic or simulated surround.

For headphones only, these sound and feel amazing for only $17!  Seems cheap, but functions best:

http://www.amazon.com/Cyberhome-CH-SRD-600R-6-channel-Headphones/dp/B0006688ZC/ref=pd_cp_e_0

A great headset with microphone for $45 is the Creative Labs Fatal1ty HS1000, featuring Sound Blaster 3D sound:

http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Labs-HS-1000-Fatal1ty-Technology/dp/B001EVBUSK/ref=sr_1_6?s=pc&ie=UTF8&qid=1289696540&sr=1-6

Or the GameCom 777 with Dolby 5.1 for $55:

http://www.amazon.com/Plantronics-GameCom-777-Surround-Technology/dp/B001KURYAS/ref=sr_1_4?s=pc&ie=UTF8&qid=1289696540&sr=1-4

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