PC Build Blog- 2016

A month ago I built a new desktop computer for myself. I have been a PC enthusiast for years now. I’ve written a series of blog posts about the basics of getting into PC gaming before, and when my laptop began showing its age in terms of gaming performance, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and build my own PC all by myself without any help.

Parts and Justification

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Mandatory parts display “glamour shot”.

The first and in my opinion most interesting part, is finding out all the parts you need for your system. I decided that I wanted to build a no compromise 1080p gaming system. I got all my parts at micro center, a local electronics store. They had special labor day sale pricing at the time, and also matched prices with Newegg, which was really helpful, as I was able to buy all the parts that I needed, at an optimal price, without having to wait for them to arrive via mail. Another benefit was that I was able to check whether the CPU, motherboard and RAM could POST (Power On Self Test) at the store itself, and I could be sure that I didn’t have any components that were DOA. Here are the parts that I chose:

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

Type Item Price
CPU Intel Core i5-6500 3.2GHz Quad-Core Processor $197.88 @ OutletPC
Motherboard Asus H170 PRO GAMING ATX LGA1151 Motherboard $117.98 @ Newegg
Memory EVGA SuperSC 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2400 Memory
Storage Samsung 250GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $72.99 @ SuperBiiz
Storage Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $49.49 @ OutletPC
Video Card EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB 6GB SC GAMING Video Card $259.99 @ B&H
Case Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case $44.99 @ Newegg
Power Supply EVGA SuperNOVA G2 550W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $82.98 @ Newegg
Operating System Microsoft Windows 10 Home OEM 64-bit $84.88 @ OutletPC
Monitor Samsung S24D300H 24.0″ 60Hz Monitor
Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts
Total (before mail-in rebates) $956.18
Mail-in rebates -$45.00
Total $911.18

For my CPU, I decided to go with a non-overclockable variant of the i5. This allowed me to skip an aftermarket cooler for the build, and use the stock Intel cooler that came with the processor. I went for an H170 motherboard, as that kept costs down. A Z170 board would be overkill, as I’m not looking to overclock the system anyway. For storage I went with a 250GB SSD to store the Operating System (Windows 10 Professional) and some key programs, and a 1TB Hard Drive for the rest of my storage needs.

When it comes to gaming, the graphics card is one of the most important components which determines the overall gaming performance of your system. I had two choices for my intended 1080p goal- the Nvidia GTX 1060, or the Radeon RX 480. This was a tough decision because while the GTX 1060 beat the RX 480 in the benchmarks, the RX 480 has certain features that could lead to better gaming performance in the future. Features, like support for DX12, asynchronous compute and the Vulkan API that could lead to performance gains if developers took advantage of it. I decided to go with the former, because I’m most concerned with how the card performs in the present, and if I did choose the RX 480, the upgrade path would most probably be getting another one of those, and using them in Crossfire. Crossfire isn’t fully supported by all developers at the moment, and I’m not fully sold on that concept. I thought it would be better to go with a single card now, and swap it out for the single most powerful card I can get, in the future. Taking all of this into consideration, I went for the EVGA GTX 1060 SC edition, which is overclocked right out of the box and has 6GB of VRAM, has a small form factor, and was the most cost efficient variant of the 1060 that was available a the time.

For my power supply needs I went with a 550 W unit made by EVGA. For the case, I went with the Corsair 200R. I liked the minimalist look of the case, the great build quality and the front I/O that includes two USB 3.0 ports. These two parts in particular were something that addressed a greivance that I’ve had with pre-built PCs or ones assembled by third parties. They always skimped out on the power supply and case to keep costs down, going for substandard no-name components. The power supply is a key component, and getting a cheap power supply can lead to performance issues at best, and may cause damage to your system at worst. Finally, the monitor is a 24 inch 1920X1080 resolution Samsung monitor. Other peripherals included a Kailh blue switch mechanical keyboard, a wrist pad, a Steelseries Rival 100 gaming mouse, and a large desk mat.

Assembling the PC

Once I had all the parts, it was time to put them all together. This was the part I was most apprehensive about at first. Assembling a computer seemed like it would be a difficult and time consuming task that requires a lot of specialized tools. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. All I needed was a Phillips #2 head screwdriver, and some patience. I watched plenty of PC build video guides on YouTube to get an idea of best practices and some tips. I would recommend watching Carey Holzman’s videos, as he goes into a lot of detail and answers a lot of questions that others generally take for granted.

Once I verified that the key components did POST, I went about preparing the case. All the screws and bits required to assemble the PC were given inside the case itself, and the hard drives and SSDs didn’t need any tooling to be mounted on to the case. Mounting the drives onto the case was as simple as sliding them into the mounting points until a “click” sound was heard, that signified that they were in place. I fastened them onto the case using the provided screws just for good measure.

Installing the power supply was quite straightforward. I simply had to make sure the power supply was oriented correctly and then had to mount it on to the case.

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Possibly the most time consuming task was to install the motherboard on to the case. After I had installed the CPU with its fan, and the RAM on the motherboard, I had to put the motherboard’s IO shield in to the case. As it is a friction lock and not mounted by screws, it gets tricky at times. An improperly mounted IO shield could lead to certain ports not being properly accessible. Once the IO shield is mounted, you have to make sure that the holes on the motherboard align with the mounting points and standoffs on the case. Once they line up, you also have to make sure the ports on the motherboard line up with the IO shield.

I had to reinstall the IO shield a couple of times before it fit properly, but once it was properly installed, the rest of the process went quite smoothly. After aligning the motherboard, it was just a matter of using the proper screws to mount the motherboard on to the case.

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Installing the graphics card into the PCI slot was also quite simple.

 

Wiring and wire management is another key part of the building process. Although it is easy to route all the wires through the closest routing holes is easy, at times the easiest wire routing option was not the best one in terms of wire management. Thankfully the case provided ample routing holes to route the wires through, which helped spread out the wires rather than causing a giant mess. Wiring the case components required me to refer to the manual. Thankfully, all the wires were labeled. The wires to and from the power supply were also labeled and not reversible, so finding the right wires and the right orientation for the wires was quite simple. For the drives, the angled SATA cables were a godsend.

Installing the Operating System and Drivers

When I installed all the components and went into the UEFI/BIOS for the first time, I couldn’t find the USB drive as an option under boot devices. After messing around with all the options it was a hard restart that did the trick. Once the USB drive was detected, the Windows install went quite smoothly. I ran into another hiccup when I realized that I had to install all the drivers. I managed to use my laptop to download all the required drivers which included the drivers for the Ethernet and the graphics card, which I installed on to the PC using a flash drive.

To install the rest of the basic software, I used Ninite. It’s a great tool that lets you select the software you want, and creates a custom installer that installs all the software you want in one go. I decided to go with LibreOffice for my office suite, and Foxit Reader for reading PDFs. No flash player, no Java, no Adobe Reader.

I then tweaked my preferences for windows which included removing all the hideous app advertisements on the start menu. This video proved to be a great reference.

Final Thoughts

Building my own PC turned out to be a very fun experience, and when I was done assembling and configuring it, I was left wanting to do it all over again. I learned a lot, right from researching for parts, to troubleshooting while building the PC and installing the components. In many ways, the actual process of connecting the physical components was like building Lego- all the pieces were labeled and they fit together precisely. Some things like wire management required some thought. Thankfully, it was not too much of a hassle and the side panel didn’t require any excessive force to shut.

Building my own PC has always been a desire of mine for a long time, and I am glad I was able to put aside my apprehension and build one for myself, all by myself.

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PC GAMING 101 Part 7: Do-It-Yourself versus Pre-Built – Build or Buy?

When it comes to PCs, you can either build one yourself, or get a pre-built PC from a manufacturer, or a specialized PC assembling “boutique”. Let’s have a look at all the options available, and the pros and cons of each of them:

Pre-Built PCs

Pre Built PCs are the ones that manufacturers like Dell or Acer make. If you’re inexperienced and don’t know how to build your own PC, and do not want to take any risks, a pre-built PC is what you should look into.

Advantages of a Pre-Built PC:

 

1. An all encompassing warranty

A preassembled workstation from a company will have a warranty that covers all parts. That means if your computer fails, the company will work with you until the offending part is found. Individual components always come with a warranty, but some people just do not want the additional hassle involved in diagnosing the problem and dealing with it.

2. Simplicity and Support

Some people are not tech savvy and simply want their system to work right away, with little or no setup time. If something doesn’t work, they want someone they can call for help, like customer service.

Boutique System Builders

 

This is the option that lies in between a Pre-Built and a DIY system, and is for the kinds of people that want a higher level of customization on their system, like water cooling or hot-swap capabilities that big system vendors generally don’t provide. They provide a higher level of customization and you have more of a say in what components go into your system. You can choose this option if you want a higher level of customization, but can’t be bothered with building the system by yourself. Do remember, these boutique builders do have their profit margins.

Another option is buying components from vendors, either online or from stores, and having them assemble the PC for you at an additional cost. The difference between this and a boutique is that you need to know exactly which components you want, and you know exactly how much the assembly costs. Remember to factor in costs of logistics and getting the assembled PC shipped/delivered to your place once it’s done.

 

Do It Yourself

 

Ever since the early days, users have had the option of assembling their own PCs. Building a PC yourself has its share of advantages and disadvantages, and although there are many people out there who prefer building their own PCs so that they can customize the specs according to their requirements, you really need to know what you’re doing.

 

Advantages of Building a PC:

 

1. It’s Cheaper to Build

If you do things on your own, you will certainly cut down the cost of middleman, which in turn will help you save money on assembling as well as testing. The more powerful your intended desktop computer will be, the more likely you will be able to save money by building your own. This becomes significant when you consider higher-end PCs or Workstations, as Manufacturers or Boutiques will have a considerable markup.

2.  You get exactly what you want

Pre-Built PCs come in a pre-determined configuration, which is because the manufacturer selects it based on what’s the easiest to assemble on a large scale. This means that you either pay for things that you don’t want, or you don’t get the things that you want despite paying for it. Also, there’s no guarantee that the components used in all the machines are the same.  The manufacturer may switch suppliers due to availability, costs, etc which means that two of the exact same models of computers can have very different parts.

3. No Bloat Ware 

Computer manufacturers often install software on their machines in an effort to differentiate themselves from their competition. What really happens is that there is extra junk on your desktop that you can ignore, deal with, or uninstall. This takes time and effort. When you create your own machine, the only software installed is what you install.

4. Upgrade as and when you want

When it comes to upgrading your PC, if you’ve built it yourself it means you know which part or parts to swap out for new ones, and how to do it.

5. Experience

Building a computer gives you a lot of experience. The physical putting-together-of-everything phase, while also educational, doesn’t compare to the research you’ll do when building a computer. If you care about what’s going into your CPU, you’ll learn all the terminology and what does what in a computer. It’s pretty useful. And of course, the actual building is fun too. And even if you fry your motherboard, you’ll get to learn what NOT to do afterwards!

 

Disadvantages of Building a PC:

 

1. It’s more difficult

There is of course a fair share of difficulty involved in building your own computer. You may have to face your share of challenges, especially if you are not familiar with setting up computers. Picking out the parts to build a computer system from can be an extremely frustrating process. This is particularly true if you are not familiar with the technology and are building your first computer.

2. No All-Encompassing Warranty

All computer parts have the risk of failing. It doesn’t matter which company made them or which company installed them. Parts will fail. A preassembled workstation from a company will have a warranty that covers all parts. That means if your computer fails, the company will work with you until the offending part is found. Individual hardware vendors will not work with your computer as a whole unit.

3. Incompatibility Issues

You have to worry about sizes, compatible components, wattages, etc. If you don’t research things properly, you could end up with parts that don’t work well together or maybe won’t even fit into the case that you have selected.

The Bottom-line

It all depends what the computer is for. Usually, if you are spending less than Rs. 50,000 on a computer, or just want a simple desktop system, then I recommend a prebuilt, simply because you get a copy of windows already packaged with it and also the hassle of building it yourself if you are a first time builder may not be worth the slightly better overall quality of the components. Manufacturers are able to get discounts because they buy things in bulk. In addition to this, the budget market is extremely competitive which means it is often cheaper to buy a basic computer for just browsing the web and doing productivity software than it is to build one yourself.

However, when it comes to building a High-end system, a workstation or a gaming PC, building one yourself is the way to go.  All it takes is research and the willingness to put the things together, and it offers immense satisfaction and also experience and know-how. You can build one tailored to suit your exact needs, right down to the aesthetics.

It comes down to what you need, how much it will cost, and if you are willing to put in the time. If you are willing, then you can get exactly what you need and potentially save money in the long term. But don’t overlook the potential hassle and time you might have to put into building it.

In the next part of PC Gaming 101, I’ll talk about some valuable resources that you should use while researching and building your PC.

 

PC Gaming 101: Part 6: Cases

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.

Getting the right case or cabinet for your gaming PC is an unnecessarily complicated thing to do. The way computer cases are classified has changed over time. Once upon a time, it depended upon how many 5.25 inch bays the case had. Then, the classification was based on the overall height of the case. These days, those classifications are like guidelines as opposed to actual standards. The traditional size categories are shown below: 

Source: Tom's Hardware

Source: Tom’s Hardware

Full Towers are like the SUVs of the computer case world. They can have 5 or more 5.25 inch external drive bays, they range in height from 22 to 27 inches and they always support full size ATX, almost always support EATX, and at times even the not-so-standard XL-ATX as well. The funny thing about full towers is that apart from accepting more drive expansion, providing better cooling for hot running, inefficient setups like running 4-way graphics configurations, and having extra space for superfluous stuff like custom liquid cooling loops, they don't bring much to the table in terms of performance over Mid Tower cases. But they do tend to be easier to work with if you've got big hands, and the top bays are easier to reach when the case is sitting on your floor. All in all, Full Tower cases are more like luxury items than must-haves.

Mid Towers are the most common cases for custom builders, have 3 to 4 external expansion bays, stand 17 to 21 inches tall, and almost always hold a full size ATX motherboard. But, they don't have a lot of extra space for drives and what not. Expect to find 6 to 8 Hard Drive mounts in a typical Mid Tower, and enough cooling and space to comfortably handle 2 graphics cards in crossfire/SLI.  

Computer Case form factors- Full Tower (Extreme right) Small Form Factor (Center), Horizontal Desktop (Bottom Center), Mid Tower (Extreme Left)

Computer Case form factors- Full Tower (Extreme right) Small Form Factor (Center), Horizontal Desktop (Bottom Center), Mid Tower (Extreme Left)

Mini Towers are a great compromise between size and expansion. They have 1 or 2 external bays, stand 14 to 16 inches tall, and can host an mATX motherboard usually. They are nearly as versatile as mid-towers in applications ranging from office workhorses to high-end liquid-cooled SLI-powered gaming monsters because of their less-imposing profile and easier transportability. Most Mini Towers are suitable for use with only a single graphics card with adequate cooling while some may be okay for two. 

Anything taller than 27 inches is called a Super/Ultra Tower , and a case whose size can be modified by stacking components on top of each other, for, say, cooling options or drive mounting, is called a Mod Tower. Desktop or Horizontal desktop cases are not exactly towers, they are slightly different, and they used to be the dominant case size once upon a time but now they are more of a niche, and they come in various sizes, from tiny ones that are so small they need an external power brick, to huge ones that can hold server class motherboards and large RAID arrays of hard drives. 

Small Form Factor or SFF can come in almost any shape, from cubes to equal sided desktops to normal towers, but the one thing that they generally have in common is the support for a mini ITX motherboard max, with minimal drive mounting options and only sometimes support a graphics card, only one of them max. Cube Cases are called so, because of their roughly cubical size, and are available in a wide variety of configurations. 

There's other stuff out there, but these are the main form factors available today. 

Prev>> Part 5: Gaming Monitors

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

 

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