Gaming PC upgrades that matter more than you think.

Posted: July 4, 2011 by ryanlecocq in Technology

Again I need to apologize for my tardiness finishing Alice 2.  My internet is SO SLOW and it’s taking forever to D2D it.  In the meantime, here’s another handy feature to aid you gaming.  While anyone who games knows about CPU, RAM and GPU upgrades, you would be surprised how much difference other little things can make.

Power Supply

If you’ve built a few systems, you’re probably familiar with this, but here’s a quick guide to help you choose wisely.  The toughest thing about a power supply is that most components don’t list their exact draw in watts, which is how power supplies are rated.  Some CPUs, like the Regor core Athlon 2 I just installed in Laguna’s new system require very little power while putting out a lot of throughput.  Most gaming CPUs, like Phenoms and i7s are not so frugal.  If you are running a quad or hexacore, figure you need at least 400 watts just to power the main components.  RAM takes very little power, so no matter how much you have, you don’t need to upgrade your PSU after a RAM upgrade.  SATA drives on the other hand, can use a ton of power spinning up.  If you’re running 2 or more hard drives and at least one disc drive, you might want to figure 450 watts minimum just to be sure.  Remember, that’s just the starting point for the core components, your total is still going up.

What really takes all of your power is the graphics card.  A high end gaming card like the GTX 570 or the HD 6970 can use 3-400 watts at peak operation.  Generally ATi has a reputation for lower power draw, but that also comes with less raw horsepower.  My advice would be to consider 700 watts as your starting point for building a high end gaming rig.  If you want to run 2 GPUs (which I almost never recommend unless you need multiple monitors or have a really small trouser snake) double your estimation.  The one I just put in Laguna’s system is a 580 watt, but he’s only running one hard drive, has an efficient CPU and is rocking the powerful but thrifty GeForce 9800 GTX.

That’s another thing I should mention, there are a lot of older cards like the 9800 that can easily run modern games while using half the wattage of a new card.  If you’re playing on a TV or single monitor, you can do everything a newer card can do easily with an older one.  The only real innovation in GPU tech in the last 3 series is DirectX 11.  Adds nice features, but nothing earth-shattering you’ll notice in lower resolutions.  Most of those extra pipelines and power are for additional monitors and higher resolutions.

Keep the power supply in mind for laptops too, as upgraded power cables/PSUs are usually available online.  Your stock one is probably only 120-130watts.  While 200 or 220 watts still doesn’t seem like much compared to a desktop, if you are overclocking and/or gaming on it, more is always better.

Hard Drives

One part often overlooked in the upgrade process is how fast your storage medium is.  I can’t count how many budget gaming systems I’ve seen where the money was skimped on the hard drive because it doesn’t directly relate to games.  That is just less and less true these days.  Most games do not load all at once like an old Playstation game.  They create a cache on the hard drive which is constantly loaded and drawn upon.  So the faster your hard drive, not only the faster the loading screens, but the less hiccups mid-game.  The fastest disc based drives right now are Sata III drives.  In general the fastest RPM speed is 7200 and the largest cache is 64MB.  There are 10600RPM models, but they are fairly pointless as the scream like banshees and cost more than far superior Solid State Drives.

Speaking of those, that’s what you really want for your games.  Don’t go crazy and try to replace your main drive with a ridiculously expensive SSD.  SSDs above 100GB are prohibitively expensive.  Honestly you only need it for the games you are currently playing.  Some people like loading Windows from one just so they can show off how fast it boots.  It’s a computer, not a penis, the only things that really benefit from that speed are games, for the reasons mentioned above.  Your games constantly load, so the increased speed and decreased noise will pay you back for your investment on a constant basis.

Other files like music and movies gain NO benefit.  Even original SATA is plenty fast enough to stream even 1080p (so is USB for that matter), so you will not see any increase in the quality of your media.  My recommendation would be a 64GB SSD like the one I’m installing in my lappy.  Just big enough for one MMO (RIFT is my game right now) and half a dozen other games.  You can easily change them out like your iPod selection, so unless you play more games than that in a week, you won’t need any more space.

Mouse

I’ve mentioned gaming keyboards and mice in previous articles, but I just want to emphasize the importance of the mouse specifically.  While you probably only use a dozen keys on your keyboard, your mouse is your main controller.  Shooting the gun, moving the troops or flying the plane are almost always things done with the mouse.  The more buttons you have and the more accurate the tracking, the better you will be at all of those things.

I’ve always gone cheap on mice until I bought my new laptop with a Razer Naga MMOG mouse included.  After seeing the benefit of having 0ver 20 functions, I don’t think I’ll ever game on a standard mouse again.  It truly is immensely faster to have your thumb (which uses 8 times as much brain as the rest of your hand) do most of the work.  Reaching across the keyboard is slow and inaccurate.  Even though I normally aim all of my guides at the thrifty enthusiast, I encourage you to splurge on a mouse.  Try out as many of them as you can in the store and once you fall in love with one, order it cheaper online.

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