PC Gaming 101: Part 5: Gaming Monitor Buyer's guide

PC gaming is quite big in India. As games become more intense and compelling, gamers find themselves wanting the latest and greatest hardware to run these games smoothly. That being said, the majority of gamers wanting to build or upgrade their machines don’t have much of a clue, and are often at the mercy of vendors and salesmen, due to which, more often than not, they end up making the wrong decisions. This is an attempt to address this lack of information, and help all PC gamers make the best of their resources. This is PC GAMING 101.

 

If you own and regularly use a PC, you know what a minitor is. However, when it comes to gaming, not all monitors are built equally. So, what makes a monitor "good for gaming" ? (Well for starters it should connect to a device that runs videogames.) Let's have a look at the things you should look out for, while choosing a monitor for your gaming setup: 

1. Inputs 

 

Most gaming monitors these days have DisplayPort, HDMI and DVI input ports, or a combination of the three. (You can read more about display technologies and standards in Part 4, here). If you're gaming on a PC, and you want to keep things as simple as possible, you should go with DVI and DisplayPort with confidence. HDMI will work fine, unless you want the resolution to be higher than 1080P, or a refresh rate over 60Hz. HDMI 2.0 is coming out soon to address these issues. Not that HDMI inputs are totally useless though, you can use them to connect secondary gaming devices such as gaming consoles and switch between your devices as you choose. 

2. Size Matters 

Yes, a monitor's size does matter, but not for the reasons most people think it does. A larger monitor just puts a larger image in front of you, and isn't any more difficult for your graphics card to power. So you should pick a size that's comfortable for you, for the distance you want to sit from it. The spec that determines how hard it is to power the monitor, is the resolution. A 24 inch 4K monitor will be about 4 times more difficult to drive than even an 80 inch 1080P "Full HD" TV, because of the sheer number of pixels. Higher resolution monitors deliver a clearer, more "retina-like" display so resolution isn't a problem, in and of itself. It's just a factor you need to consider in your overall build/upgrade budget. 

Now that we've gone through the basics of monitors and displays, let's look at what makes a monitor "good for gaming". 

Response Time  

The rendering process of pixels on an LCD/LED display is very different from the old, tube style CRT monitors, and when the image updates, the pixels gradually shift from one colour to another. So, the slower the pixels of the monitor, the more "motion blur" or ugly streaking that you'll see behind moving objects on the screen. 

So, while buying a monitor for gaming, look for a monitor with a "Grey to Grey" response time of

8-16 milliseconds for  casual use

1-2 ms for competitive use.  

Refresh Rate 

60Hz versus 144 Hz

Expressed in Hertz, the refresh rate is the number of times an image is sent to the display, every second. If your eyes are getting more updates per second, you're getting information slightly faster than your opponent. It's a definite advantage, and the fastest monitors these days can run at upto 144 Hz, at 1080P. That means you can get screen updates upto 10 milliseconds faster than your opponent using a 60 Hz display. 

Input Lag

Now, this is a spec that most manufacturerd don't report, but is really quite important. When the CPU sends signals to the monitor, the monotor needs to translate that information into a format that the panel can understand. This processing introduces a delay which means that you could be seeing an individial frame that is anywhere from a few milliseconds later than it was output by your graphics card, all the way upto 50 milliseconds later, or more. For competitive use, look for a monitor that has an input lag of less than 10 milliseconds. But don't just take the manufacturer's word for it, LCD manufacturers are notorious for inventing completely new specifications to suit their marketing purposes. So, be sure to check out sites like Blur Busters to get the latest info and specs on gaming displays. 

Other Features

Apart from the factirs mentioned above, there are other factors to look out for as well, such as 

Now, if this guide raised more questions than it answered, or you'd just like to go hands-on and choose which specs matter for you, just check out online forums, they might really help out. 

Prev>> Part 4: Display Technologies

Next>>Part 6: Computer Cases

 

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Mechanical Keyboards: Worth the Hype?

To most of us keyboards are all the same, just rows of keys, numbers and symbols that allow us to type on a computer. Keyboards are just some cheap plastic peripherals that are quite common and apart from the different branding, they’re all the same to most of us. For those who type on a regular basis as a part of their profession however, such an oversight can be harmful.  Not paying attention to the choice of keyboard puts the user at the risk of repetitive strain injuries or even carpal tunnel syndrome.

These days, there’s an interesting new trend among PC enthusiasts- Mechanical Keyboards. They’re different from standard keyboards, and some people claim that they help you type more accurately and even last longer than their normal counterparts.  Let’s take a look at this new trend, and help you decide whether you should make the switch from a normal keyboard to a mechanical one.

What’s a Mechanical Keyboard?

Switches in action

Mechanical keyboards use switches to register user input

A mechanical keyboard uses physical switches to determine when the user has pushed a key. Press a key, and the switch is pushed downwards, and that sends a signal to the PC telling it that a key has been pressed.

What’s so remarkable about that?

At a normal level, this seems like any other keyboard- you push a button, and the corresponding character appears on the screen. Think about it for a moment though, and you’ll notice that for the character to appear on the screen, you have to push the key as far downwards as it can go. That means you need to apply quite a bit of pressure on every key just to register an input. Imagine a writer, or a programmer who has to type continuously for several hours in a day. Typing for hours at a stretch can cause fatigue, and cases of computer related injuries are quite prevalent these days.

Just a normal keyboard

Standard keyboards use different membranes. Inexpensive, but they tend to cause fatigue.

The reason behind this is that most keyboards these days are composed of a set of three plastic membranes, with rubber dome-shaped switches underneath each key. Press a key, and the rubber switch pushes through a hole in the middle membrane to connect the top and bottom membranes, which creates an electrical circuit that causes the keyboard to send the input to your PC. This keyboard design is inexpensive and spill-resistant, but it doesn’t give you as much tactile or audible feedback when you press a key, and you have to press each individual key harder, which affects typing and causes fatigue much faster.

How exactly are Mechanical Keyboards different?

 

1. They feel different

When you swap your normal keyboard for a mechanical one, the first thing you’ll notice is that every key, when pressed, gives a clicking sound and a tactile response, and you don’t have to press the keys as hard as you’d have to when typing on a normal keyboard. This is one of the most important differences. Each keystroke requires much lesser pressure, and it gives you that reassuring click and feedback to tell you that the key has been pressed properly.

2. They are much louder

Mechanical keyboards tend to produce much more noise than normal keyboards, and how loud they can get depends upon the type of switches used in the keyboards as well as the typing style of the user. This may be an issue at a workplace, where co workers may hear the sound of your typing. Many people also say that it tends to drown out peoples’ voices in video calls. This is highly subjective, but an important thing to remember.

3. They are much heavier and bulkier

Mechanical keyboards tend to be much heavier and bulkier than their standard counterparts. This is good, because the added bulk and weight means that they keyboard will not slide around on a table and will stay put. But, it does affect portability, and you have to consider this factor if you constantly move your computer setup from place to place.

4. They are Expensive

All this mechanical goodness comes at a premium, though. Mechanical keyboards are much more expensive than their normal counterparts, and significantly so. Mechanical keyboards from big name brands can retail for as much as INR 5500 and even higher. In India, however, TVS manufactures a mechanical keyboard which is worth INR 1500. Despite the price difference, it’s still much more than one would pay for a standard wired or wireless keyboard.

5. They are sturdy and last longer

Mechanical keyboards, owing to their construction, tend to last much longer than regular membrane based keyboards. While most regular keyboards are rated for 5 million keystrokes, they generally last for about 2 or 3 years before needing a replacement. Mechanical keyboards on the other hand, are generally rated for 50 million keystrokes, which means that these things easily last for at least a decade. There are numerous instances of people using mechanical keyboards for more than a decade without any issues or failures. The use of switches as the input method greatly improves the longevity of mechanical keyboards and thus they offer a great value for money. 

How Mechanical Keyboards affect typing:

The longer you use mechanical keyboards, the more apparent the changes in your typing style will be. Mechanical keyboard users tend to use much lesser pressure while typing, and that leads to much lesser fatigue, and a significantly faster typing speed. This may not be a big deal for light users, but for professionals like writers, bloggers or programmers, this can prove to be significant as typing requires lesser energy, fatigue doesn’t set in as soon as it would on a normal keyboard and more typing gets done in a shorter time frame.

Should you get one? 

So finally, whether a mechanical keyboard is worth the added expense or not, is up to you. If you’re a person that types continuously for hours on end, or are into gaming, these keyboards offer a significant advantage over the standard keyboards. One thing is certain, though: once you begin using a mechanical keyboard, there is no way you’ll feel like using a standard keyboard ever again! 

What are your thoughts on mechanical keyboards? Do you want one? Do you have one? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! 

PC Gaming 101: Part 4: Display Tech Explained

PC gaming is quite big in India. As games become more intense and compelling, gamers find themselves wanting the latest and greatest hardware to run these games smoothly. That being said, the majority of gamers wanting to build or upgrade their machines don’t have much of a clue, and are often at the mercy of vendors and salesmen, due to which, more often than not, they end up making the wrong decisions. This is an attempt to address this lack of information, and help all PC gamers make the best of their resources. This is PC GAMING 101.

When building or upgrading a PC, it’s essential to know what kinds of display outputs it supports. The issue here is there’s no single standard display technology and thus it’s easy to get confused due to the different standards. On the back of your PC or Graphics Card you’ll see a host of different connectors. Let’s see the difference between these different connectors and what kind of display technology you should invest in depending on your needs:

1. VGA

The standard "blue cable" VGA
The standard "blue cable" VGA

 

 

 

 

The oldest standard in existence, Visual Graphics Array or VGA was first introduced in 1987. This is what usually what comes to mind when someone mentions “display cable”. The standard blue colored 15 pin connector in its typical trapezoid shape, VGA cables carry analog signals and thus the signal quality greatly depends on the quality of the cable. This standard is actually obsolete, and there’s a limit to the resolution VGA cables can support. However, there are a whole lot of Analog monitors and projectors out there, especially in India where VGA is used in most scenarios. If you're

 

 

 

VGA ports are synonymous with "PC Display"
VGA ports are synonymous with "PC Display"

 

a gamer, and you're rocking a VGA display, it’s probably time for you to invest in a better display, as in the future; higher end Graphics Cards and Gaming PCs will not be compatible. Even today, you'll have to search a lot to find a Graphics card with VGA output. You can always use a VGA adapter, but unless you really can’t upgrade, it’s better to move away from the now seemingly stone-age VGA.

 

2. DVI

The different kinds of DVI connectors
The different kinds of DVI connectors

The current reigning champion of display outputs, DVI, or Digital Visual Interface is one of the most ubiquitous successors to VGA. DVI comes in different flavors, Namely DVI-D (digital only), DVI-A (analog only), DVI-I (digital and analog). However, DVI-D is what you’ll most probably find and use. DVI marks the beginning of Digital signals being used in Display technology, and offers good compatibility with the older VGA standard, with DVI to VGA adaptors available very easily (for use with DVI-A and DVI-I ).

Because DVI is both backwards and forwards compatible using easy to use adapters, it's very convenient
Because DVI is both backwards and forwards compatible using easy to use adapters, it's very convenient

Most graphics cards come with multiple DVI connectors, and most modern displays have DVI support out of the box. DVI offers higher data rates, support for higher resolutions, and is found in all competent displays and Graphics cards of today. There are two kinds of DVI connectors- single link and dual link. Single link DVI connectors allow you to support a display of 1920×1200 at 60Hz, whereas dual link allows you to support up to either 2560×1600 at 60 Hz (30 inch monitor resolution) or 1920×1200 at 120Hz (for 3D gaming). The absence of analog technology means you're no longer tied down by the cable quality, and unless you're running monitors at a very long distance, any standard cable can get you optimal image quality using DVI. Also, it’s very easy to convert it into other standards, older or newer- all you need is an adapter. However, it’s also getting old now the race for the next generation of high-resolution display technology has begun, and the time when DVI becomes a thing of the past is not too far away.

3. HDMI

HDMI is the new, ubiquitous standard
HDMI is the new, ubiquitous standard

As spoken of before, the next generation of high-resolution display technology is upon us, and HDMI or High Definition Multimedia Interface is at the forefront of it. HDMI is basically designed to be a replacement for existing analog video standards. This standard was put together by a lot of big name companies working together, and it comes in different formats and port sizes as well although the standard type-A HDMI cable is used in most TVs and Monitors. It offers uncompressed digital audio and video data in a TV or PC video format. The rise in prominence of HD Televisions and with the “Full HD” moniker being thrown about a lot these days means HDMI is getting a huge push in terms of marketing, and it surely is a competent standard. It’s not exactly a PC display standard, but If you're investing in an HD monitor for your PC it will definitely have HDMI support. The image quality and signal is at most times identical to DVI. It has backward compatibility with DVI, and the connector is much more compact. Currently in version 2.0, HDMI offers a wide gamut of features including support for good old S-RGB, Ethernet, HD- ready Blu-ray or 3D ready TVs, and even 4K resolution at 60 FPS.

4. DisplayPort

DisplayPort- the newest entrant in the Display Interface scenario
DisplayPort- the newest entrant in the Display Interface scenario

The newest of the standards out there, DisplayPort is royalty free, which means that while there’s a royalty behind every HDMI cable that’s produced, DisplayPort based interfaces are free to manufacture without any such royalties which has made it quite lucrative for manufacturers to use. The DisplayPort connectors are surely the easiest to use of the lot- they do away with the old-school screw locking system in VGA, and aren't as insecure as the non-locking HDMI connectors, which are known to disconnect easily due to it. It also offers support for resolution even higher than HDMI, a maximum of 3840×2160 at 60 Hz. Manufacturers have begun to include DisplayPort interfaces in the latest Graphics Cards, and it surely seems like a promising prospect for the future. However, the main issue with DisplayPort is that it isn't compatible with any other display standard, i.e. there aren't any easy to use adapters available that can convert DisplayPort to any other current standard. DisplayPort has two sizes- the standard and mini DisplayPort. Manufacturers often use mini DisplayPort as it takes up much lesser space on the Output Interface of the card, thus making multi-display structures running off the same video card possible.

HDMI vs DisplayPort

So, you’re looking to be on the absolute bleeding edge of display technology and want the latest and greatest display at the highest possible resolution. That narrows down your search to HDMI and DisplayPort. Which standard should you invest in?

When to use HDMI: If you’re looking at a setup that is basically a single screen, running at 1920*1200, and the display is not at much of a distance from the video output, you’re better off using an HDMI cable system. It’s ubiquitous, easy to use and will offer great image quality. However, the lack of a locking mechanism in the HDMI port means that at longer distances the cable has chances of getting loose or coming off entirely.

When to use DisplayPort: If you're one of those gamers that have multiple displays daisy chained in a single system or you want to run a really high-resolution on a gigantic monitor, you're better off using DisplayPort. Also, at higher distances, the secure locking mechanism of DisplayPort means that you're sure of the cable staying put. You can use an HDMI cable for this too, but it’s much easier to connect monitors in multiple mini DisplayPorts than connecting them through an HDMI interface.

For more information about this often ignored aspect of PC gaming, be sure to check out the Wikipedia page of the respective standards for all the technical specs.

Prev>> Part 3: Be a Smart Buyer

 

PC gaming 101: Part 3: Be a Smart Buyer

PC gaming is quite big in India. As games become more intense and compelling, gamers find themselves wanting the latest and greatest hardware to run these games smoothly. That being said, the majority of gamers wanting to build or upgrade their machines don’t have much of a clue, and are often at the mercy of vendors and salesmen, due to which, more often than not, they end up making the wrong decisions. This is an attempt to address this lack of information, and help all PC gamers make the best of their resources. This is PC GAMING 101.

 

 

The “More RAM equals better Graphics card” Myth

An age-old trick of most Indian video card vendors is the whole “it’s got more video memory” trick. Most people don't really understand the specifics of video cards, and end up getting duped by vendors who convince them that a card with more video memory (or video RAM) is better or “superior” to a card with less RAM.

ramNO

First of all, just because a GPU has more video RAM doesn’t make it a better or a faster GPU.

Simply speaking, GPU video memory these days is either DDR2 or DDR3, just like RAM. DDR2 memory is the cheaper of the two. DDR3 is newer and faster.  Vendors usually just mention the amount of video memory on the card, and not what type of memory it is. So, a card with 1.5 GB of DDR3 memory may actually perform better than a card with 2GB of DDR2 memory, despite the latter having “more RAM”.  Knowing the type of memory is thus equally important.

 

 

“Most people are uninformed and salesmen easily dupe them. A salesman once tried convincing me that a card with 2GB of RAM was superior to a card that cost thrice as much but had lesser, but DDR3 RAM! These people are unscrupulous, and take advantage of the average buyer’s ignorance.”

says Kartik Iyer, a PC gamer. Don’t get fooled by vendors who try to sell you cards by telling you that it’s got more RAM.

That being said, if you’re assembling a PC and you want to future-proof it, the rate at which the system requirements of PC games are going higher, cards with 1GB of video RAM or less won't cut it for much longer.  So, for a future-proof PC that'll last you for two or three more years, try getting a card that’s got a video memory of 1GB or more, but be sure to check the type of memory present in it.

It’s not just Nvidia and AMD Radeon

When it comes to graphics card brands, most of us know the two major brands- Nvidia, and AMD Radeon. So it’s just a matter of which one of these to choose, right?

It’s not that simple.

Nvidia and AMD Radeon do manufacture cards themselves, but there are also many other manufacturers who simply use the card designs, slap their own names on them and sell them. Thus there are two main categories of cards- Reference and Non Reference.

A reference style GPU usually means that the card is presented as the GPU maker had intended (Nvidia and AMD). this includes everything from the PCB, layout of the components and the heatsink/fan.

A non-reference card is when the card manufacturers (like Gigabyte, Asus, MSI, Sapphire and Zotac, to name a few)  make changes that deviate from the original design. These changes can be something like a better heatsink/fan design, overclocking, changes to the PCB or any other changes that they see fit to make.

Reference versus Non-Reference cards

Reference cards are always in-line with the specifications provided by the main companies, and have a certain level of quality about them. However, manufacturers often prefer to tweak the stock settings like the processor speeds, cooling systems etc. to differentiate themselves from the market. Hence for a particular model number you might find various different "editions", like "gaming edition" or "extreme edition" and so on, which offer some level of customizability in terms of things like Overclocking and Cooling. However, although these non reference models offer some improvement over the basic reference design, some companies often use cheap components and manufacturing methods to keep costs low. Rishi Alwani, PC gamer and occasional game reviewer says:

“Don’t buy Zotac! The prices are low but there’s no real guarantee that your card will run for long. I’ve used Zotac cards in PC builds before and I ended up replacing them due to faults and malfunctions, so be careful while getting low-cost cards!”

All in all, you'll need to do quite a bit of research and comparison to get the best card, and the best deal.

Research- make an informed choice

Research is essential before buying graphics cards, as y’all already know. The problem lies in the fact that there are so many sites on the internet that offer conflicting, confusing and even sometimes misleading information. Here’s a list of websites you should go to for your researching needs:

1. Anandtech: A website dedicated to tech reviews, both hardware and software. Great for reading reviews.

2. GPUreview: Dedicated to graphics cards. Offers a neat comparison tool that allows you to compare two cards side by side, and look at each individual specification.

3. HardOCP: Great website that offers reviews and news about the latest computer hardware.

 

Think of the System as a whole

When buying a card, make sure that the card you buy is right for your system.  A low powered GPU might act as a bottleneck for a system with a powerful CPU, and a high-powered GPU on a lower end system might be a waste of money. Jayesh M, a PC enthusiast says:

“Make sure your system is correct. If you buy a GTX 660 but got a powerful i7 processor, you are wasting your system potential, or vice versa.”

While buying a card, it’s also prudent to know the resolution of your display. If you have a display that’s 1920X1080 aka an HD display, spending more than 20k on graphics equipment is a waste of money, says Rishi.

Now that we’ve gone through what’s needed to buy smart, we will go into the details of some often ignored but important things- starting with Display technology. Stay tuned folks!

Follow Rishi on twitter: https://twitter.com/slackerninja

Rishi's blog: http://slackerninja.com/

Follow Jayesh on twitter: https://twitter.com/jayesh

(Logo credits: Jui Pandya)

Prev>> Part 2: Knowing What You Want

Next>> Part 4: Display Technology Explained

 

PC gaming 101: Part 2: Knowing what you want

PC gaming is quite big in India. As games become more intense and compelling, gamers find themselves wanting the latest and greatest hardware to run these games smoothly. That being said, the majority of gamers wanting to build or upgrade their machines don’t have much of a clue, and are often at the mercy of vendors and salesmen, due to which, more often than not, they end up making the wrong decisions. This is an attempt to address this lack of information, and help all PC gamers make the best of their resources. This is PC GAMING 101.

 

Now that we’ve talked about knowing your initial configuration and the PSU, let’s talk about one of the most important component in a gaming PC- the Graphics Processing Unit, or the GPU.

If you’re a PC gamer, you’ve most probably heard the term “GPU”. Commonly called “graphics cards” here in India, every gamer wants the best GPU they can get. But, with a lot of buzzwords and marketing fluff being thrown about these days, it’s easy to get totally confused and lose your way. Here are the things a person wanting to buy a GPU must remember to make the best and most informed choice:

 

Select a Graphics card based on your usage

The first thing that needs to be considered while buying a graphics card is what the system is going to be used for.  This is because there are different kinds of video cards available for different types of users. The cards built for gaming have gaming specific feature sets and hardware, and gamers should be just fine with the usual Nvidia and ATI offerings. However, if the system is to be used for other tasks such as video editing, video recording and 3D modeling, you might want to consider investing in a card that’s specifically designed with these tasks in mind, like the Nvidia Quadro or the ATI FireGL series. But that’s a totally different feature set, a totally different price range and a totally different kind of usage scenario from gaming.

So, bottom line: Gaming: GeForce/Radeon Workstation applications: Quadro/FireGL

Differences between Workstation and Gaming Graphics Cards

You can in fact, use a gaming graphics card for workstation applications- but the gaming card won’t do the processing as fast as a dedicated workstation card would. The math involved in 3D modeling, video rendering and other such content creation is quite different from what’s involved in gaming. So although on the surface a gaming card may appear to have similar or even superior specs than a workstation card, the latter is designed specifically for such CAD applications. So you’re better off getting a workstation card if you’re into digital content creation, as these cards are optimized to run those types of algorithms, that kind of software, and you’ll be able to get work done faster.

 

 

In part 3, we'll go further into the details of what the things that every PC gamer should know before purchasing a graphics card.

 

(Logo Credits: Jui Pandya)

Prev>> Part 1: Initial Configuration and the PSU

Next>> Part 3: Be a Smart Buyer

PC Gaming 101: Part 1: Initial Configuration and the PSU

PC gaming is quite big in India. As games become more intense and compelling, gamers find themselves wanting the latest and greatest hardware to run these games smoothly. That being said, the majority of gamers wanting to build or upgrade their machines don’t have much of a clue, and are often at the mercy of vendors and salesmen, due to which, more often than not, they end up making the wrong decisions. This is an attempt to address this lack of information, and help all PC gamers make the best of their resources. This is PC GAMING 101.

 

 

If you’re a PC gamer, you’ve most probably heard the term “GPU”. Commonly called “graphics cards” here in India, every gamer wants the best GPU they can get. But, with a lot of buzzwords and marketing fluff being thrown about these days, it’s easy to get totally confused and lose your way. Here are the things a person wanting to buy a GPU must remember to make the best and most informed choice:

 

Know your PC Configuration

When looking to upgrade your PC, it is absolutely essential to know the specifications and configuration of your PC.  This is a seemingly obvious but often overlooked step.  With some amount of looking up, one should be able to find out specifications like the model number of the motherboard, amount and type of RAM, existing cooling system (cooling fans etc) and the CPU cabinet. However, one of the most important things that must not be overlooked is the Power Supply Unit, or PSU.

The PSU

The power supply unit is the component of the PC which converts the power from the outlet, into usable power that drives all the different parts inside the computer. From a PC gamer’s point of view, what’s important is knowing the power rating. The power rating is mentioned on the PSU itself, and one just needs to open the CPU cabinet to take a look at it. The PSU looks like this:

psu_1280

 

And the voltage ratings can be found on the sticker on one side:

psuSticker

 

The different columns under “voltage” are called “rails”, and one must note the power output for each rail along with the maximum power output. Why this matters is, GPUs generally have certain voltage requirements, which if aren't met, might cause serious issues, malfunctioning or may lead to the system not working at all. “Knowing the power supply requirements is essential. I had my graphics card lying idle for a year because it needed a better power supply” says Kartik Iyer, an avid PC gamer.

So be sure to check if the wattage of your PSU matches the recommended PSU wattage specified by the vendor. (Note: the recommended wattage is for the entire system and not just the GPU, so be sure to calculate the power requirement of the whole system) .

Here’s a handy tool that will help you to calculate the total power requirements for your system.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we'll talk about getting the right GPU for your usage.

(Logo Credits: Jui Pandya)

Next>> Part 2: Knowing What You Want

Smartphone Battles of 2014- Hype, Disappointments and an Unexpected(?) Winner!

The mobile tech annual release cycle is in full swing, and with CES and MWC out of the way, we have now seen most OEMs announce and launch their flagships for 2014 (with the notable exceptions being Apple and LG). The embargoes have lifted, the blast of buzz has come and gone, and the length and breadth of the internet is stocked full of articles, editorials and blog posts. Comment threads have burst into activity with haters and defenders, and now lay dormant for the most part. It’s around this time that the tech press says that “The dust has settled”, but I beg to differ. As from how I see it, none of the top OEMs- be it Samsung, Sony or HTC have kicked up any dust in the first place. 

It’s the time of year when the tech enthusiasts of the world begin forming their opinions about their choice of “Best Flagship of 2014”. A glut of video reviews, unboxings, hands-ons, benchmarks… everything is following the pattern we’ve all come to know of and whether you love it or loathe it- all this talk does affect us in some way. 

This year though, I grew weary of this mobile tech release cycle right from the start. All the leaks, the speculation, and the discussions pointed to yearly refreshes in hardware with some gimmicks slapped on as an afterthought, and in that respect, each and every major OEM so far has followed the trend, so to speak. There were many who hoped for something unexpected, but those hopes were crushed soon enough, and I don’t expect LG or Apple to break the mold, either. 

While I’ve been disappointed by new releases in the mobile tech space for quite some time now, there are times when I really feel like I want a certain device. This phenomenon was very prevalent when I first began following the tech space closely back in 2010. Back then the space was quite different in many ways, android was laggy, processors were beginning to go dual core, and feature phones made up a major chunk of the user base. It was then when I was truly enamored by the Asus Transformer. The design, the specs and the laptop-tablet hybrid form factor really wowed me. Then came the Galaxy S2 in 2011. Since that time though, due to increased coverage, more detailed leaks and the simple face that a lot more people now carried smartphones, annual releases just seemed all too evolutionary. Beefier specs, bigger screens, more ostentatious gimmicks and crazy amounts of marketing- “true innovation” seemed to be lost somewhere in the midst of all this. 

MWC happened this year, and an insane amount of coverage followed it. But amidst all the devices that were announced and launched there, there was one that really caught my attention- the Yotaphone. And after a long time, I felt truly enamored by a device once more. That’s right, my top pick for smartphone of the year, the one to trounce them all, the one I really, really want- the Yotaphone 2014. 

To me, this device brings the best hardware together with the most useful “marquee feature”. The device packs beefy specifications and a good design- but the real story is about what’s at the back- a a multi-touch, color, e-ink display. 

I’ve been using a smartphone for more than two years now, and I know the things people have to deal with when using a smartphone day in and day out. One of the most important considerations though, are battery life, and outdoor visibility. 

Phones these days come with battery packs much beefier than the lowly 1500 MAH battery my device uses, but the battery life situation is more or less the same- upto a day’s worth of moderate to heavy use on a single charge. No matter which phone you have, you’re going to need to plug it into a charging socket daily if you use your phone extensively and want to keep using it. Check the battery usage stats on your device, and you’ll see that the display (screen on time) amounts for a major chunk of the power consumption, and it doesn’t matter whether its an LCD or an AMOLED panel, the more you keep the display powered on, the more battery it’s going to consume.  

Another thing smartphone users have to deal with is poor outdoor visibility. If its too bright outside, you’re going to have a hard time trying to look at your phone’s display, and you’ll find yourself shielding it with your hands making it an overall cumbersome experience. 

The Yotaphone’s secondary e-ink display does away with both those problems very elegantly. For the uninitiated, E-ink displays use a fusion of chemistry, physics and electronics to provide an easily readable display that consumes very less power. One of the most important differences between generic displays and an E-ink display is that while normal displays use backlight to project images, E-ink displays use the ambient light of the surroundings, reflecting it back into your eyes. 

Secondly, E-ink displays don’t need a continuous power supply to work. The display uses special pigments that turn white or black based on an applied positive or negative electric field. Moreover, the new Yotaphone has a color E-ink display rather than a standard black and white one found on eBook readers, allowing for much more functionality. 

The addition of this secondary display also helps outdoor visibility as it has a “matte finish” and no backlight, thus mimicking the look of ink on paper. 

E-ink technology consumes less power, is easier to read and has a longer shelf life than traditional LCD/AMOLED displays. However it’s the secondary screen for a reason- E-ink displays in their current incarnation lack the vibrancy and sheer color gamut that other backlit displays provide. Low light visibility is also another factor. All these factors notwithstanding, an E-ink display can really come in handy when the phone is low on battery and you want to continue working, for example if you’re using maps to navigate. Also, it allows you to get a screen shot of the primary display, and view it even when the phone is switched off- a truly welcome, functional feature with many practical uses. 

A secondary E-ink display at the back of a phone is a good thing. But a secondary E-ink display that supports multi touch and has more colors than just black and white? That just knocks it out of the ball park for me.

The Yotaphone may not have the latest in fingerprint recognition, or heart rate monitors, it may not have the dust and immersion resistance ratings or a glut of gimmicks backed by a marketing machine or the latest in image sensing, but what it brings to the table is a practical and highly useful, truly innovative blend of hardware and software, with the end user kept in mind. 

 

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