We’ve all been there – playing along quite merrily, but when the bullets really start flying and things are exploding all over the screen, the frame rate drops to a twitching crawl – and by the time it’s picked up enough for you to work out which way you’re facing, you’re already dead. Your first thought is to kill your monitor by hitting it with your keyboard. Your second is to build the ultimate gaming PC and destroy those bastards that got you in the last shoot out or hack and slash, a piece of kit that would be the bane of online opponents and the envy of PC gamers everywhere. Such objects do exist, so let’s take a look at them.
To build or not to build?
That is the question for anyone looking to invest in a new box. The advantages of buying one off the peg, so to speak, are many. First, the computer is guaranteed to work, and if it doesn’t, you can send it back and find a replacement. Second, bespoke gaming PCs often come pre-optimized, with all chips overclocked and cooled to compensate. Third, they often just look cool – the top model in Dell’s Alienware range, the Aurora R4, comes in a gnarled mechanical-organic design that lights up like a Christmas tree would in the imagination of HR Giger and don’t forget the warranty, most major manufacturers like Dell will have a 1 to 3 year warranty cycle which will keep you happy that your investment will last at least that long.
The main benefit of building your own is financial and customizational (is that a word?), and at this end of the market the price differentials can be substantial. It’s also, let’s face it… the closest thing geeks like us get to ruggedly making things work with our bare hands. Either which way, nothing stretches the innards of your computer like a high spec game, so you’d better be careful to make sure all components are up to par.
It’s traditional to start with a CPU, and it’s fair to say that Intel is very much winning this war. The top-spec is an i7-3960x 3.3GHz Extreme Edition chips pack in six cores with a 15MB cache, with a lot of room for overclocking. (Of course, this time next year there’s the new Haswell generation coming, but what do you expect? The ultimate gaming PC is the least stable of concepts.) Asus offer plenty of powerful, extensible Socket 2011 motherboards to plug the thing into – I’ve gone for the P9X79, which has four PCI-E slots (two at 16x) and 8-channel on-board audio…which we won’t be using, obviously. It also has room for 64GB RAM, but 16GB is more than enough for now.
Top-end gaming lives and dies on graphics quality – and it’s the mind-bogglingly sophisticated graphics engines on top-end games that most commonly cause your frame-rate to drop to a dispiriting crawl. NVidia’s GeForce GTX 690 chipset is currently the most overpowered option, and all available models come with a great hulking mass of cooling plates and fans to keep their two GPUs ticking over, along with an attractive 4GB of GDDR5 RAM. All this adds up to consistently high frame-rates on maxed-out settings: the game does not yet exist that can bring this baby grinding to a halt. Even the most power-hungry games, like Arkham City and Crysis 2, get close to an average 60fps according to NVidia’s own tests. It eats Starcraft 2 for breakfast, pushing 160fps.
You also need a high quality HD monitor, like BenQ’s XL2420T, is a must to justify the card. The XL2420T is designed with power gamers in mind, with dynamic brightness and contrast control, a 120Hz refresh rate to take full advantage of the GTX 690’s raw power, and a staggeringly quick 2ms response time. An industry-standard 16:9 1080p screen area rounds the package off. Other notables where the Dell Ultrasharp monitors (unless they are on sale be prepared to pay a heck of a lot more then a Benq) and the Viewsonic VX2453mh-LED and other higher end “gaming” lines of their monitors. Just remember when it comes to Monitors its all about response times (lower the number is ms the better) aspect ratio (bigger the number the better) and screen resolution/refresh rates (pretty much anything good these days does 1920×1080 resolution HD and 120hz).. there are some other monitor options out there such as glare reduction etc.. these are all playing a factor in your decision but over all for games those are the three that matter.
Visuals get all the attention in gaming, but a decent sound system is a necessity. Creative’s Sound Blaster range has been keeping me happy since the days of Doom, and the Recon3D Fatal1ty card features hardware-accelerated THX audio – along with a breakout box for minimum wire-fiddling, and all the outputs you need for a decent surround speaker system. Logitech’s Z906 5.1 set-up packs 165W into the sub and 67W into each satellite, for an unquestionably loud experience.
Ok hands down solid state hard drives are the fastest thing on the consumer market right now but lets be serious those things are freeking expensive. If you do want to go with a SSD drive you can get one of the fastest from Kingston called the HyperX 3K, a 90GB will cost you around $150 while a decent sized SSD at 450GB will cost a wonking $639. If your scared by the price its ok, there are other options out there with less cost, but you also sacrifice on a little bit of speed with the Kingston V200 series drives ($90 for 128GB, a really decent deal on sale now at memoryexpress.com). That being said if your like me you will need to still pick up another 1-2TB drive or multiples for all the other junk I have on my system I like the Western Digital Black series for that but if your building the “Ultimate PC” go for the Western Digital velociraptor.
For memory we went with the fastest RAM that was available for this mother board, We went with 16GB of the AMD Memory Performance edition PC3-10600 DDR3. Nothing much to day here except get the fastest ram your board can support and stack up on it as well, I think minimum of 8GB for a gaming rig these days is bare minimum to play the good games.
The case, the whole foundation of how your system is built, get one to small or not built with enough air flow and your systems fried. Get one with not enough LED lights and people might not take you seriously (inside gamer joke). When choosing a case you want something solid to house this beast of a rig you are building. The first and foremost you want to get something that fits your motherboard. Second and probably one of the more important issues is air flow and sound dampening. First off air flow, you need to make sure whatever case you choose will have enough air flow to keep everything in your system running cool, I say the more fans the merrier but make sure they are high efficiency low noise, I generally go with the cooler master fans or the Antec. Those video cards and CPU’s will be buzzing hot during intensive game play. Second is sound dampening, You want to make sure all that noise stays in the case as much as possible.. However we get it you probably have like 10 fans in there your going to hear something.
So you might be asking after all these requirements what’s the best case we can get? Tell you what we really, really, really like the Thermaltake Chaser Mk1, it’s a really well priced Gamer case that looks like it came right out of a space craft. The other cases we or some of our fellow gamersyndrome.com staff have used and really like are the Xigmatek Elysium and the Rosewill Thor and a lot of the Thermaltake cases where also on the list.
Power Supplies, Keyboards, Mice and all the rest.
The devil, in high-end computing, is in the details. To keep all this rig running you’ll need a serious power supply – 900W should be a minimum, and don’t skimp or your PC will shut down randomly and/or sound like a 747 engine. For this we went with a ultra powerful Antec MX35477 900W high current gamer power supply. Lastly, the point of games is to, you know.. play them – so look into decent gaming keyboards and mice. For example, Microsoft’s Sidewinder X4 can manage more simultaneous key presses than your fingers, and glows in the dark.
It should go without saying that this all represents a serious cash investment. An Aurora R4 specked up to this level will set you back the best part of $6,000, without even the speaker set, and a custom box will still leave a serious hole in your wallet. You could build two half-decent computers for the price of a GeForce 690 alone. But the bleeding edge has never been cheap – and if you have a bit of money or a kidney to spare, a top-spec gaming box is the closest approach to geek heaven available.
All said and done this rig cost a total of $5000 (with dual monitors). Not bad considering my first computer a Pentium 166MMX with a gig of ram and a 14” monitor cost me $2500 in the 90’s! .. what do you think? overboard?
Article from Gamersyndrome.com