“What’s all this then?” I hear the Hexites cry.
Well, this, my fellow techno-ninjarists, is, or at least will be, a complete, up-to-date guide to correctly (in our collective opinions, of course) assembling the parts needed to build a modern, powerful, fast, gaming PC. A sort of Highway Code for the kind of person who normally would ask the spotty herbert you find in (rather amazingly) paid employment inside the fetid swamp that is the local PC World store, if he knows anything about graphics cards.
Now, we know that aforementioned spotty herbert would point to the Radeon 8500, reasonably priced at 19 jazillion pounds, and alas, another technophobe has been done by the giant, seething corporation. A bit like the plot of Half Life II really, but without the head crabs.
Of course, I’m not qualified to spew forth my opinions on everything there is to have an opinion on, when it comes to constructing a modern gaming rig. I own one, and I built it, but that just gives me a small orange box to stand on; I know, as this is HEXUS, where all the big nobs hang around, that there are people out there whose knowledge of this subject, if converted to a fully representative box size, would dwarf my small orange box. They are probably more like the boxes a new fridge comes in, or something.
So this will be a ‘living document’. What I’ve written here is just the bed-rock, you might think rather ignorant and badly informed bed-rock, but if that is how you feel, you can change it, by verbally tarmacing over the bed-rock. Sounds like fun, yes?
The HEXUS Technical Hardware and Overclocking mods, namely Kezzy boy, Agent and Ferral, all have my full permission to edit (Both in its form as a transitive verb and a noun), change, delete, fix, re-write, metamorphose and even geld, should someone call for it, the text of the thread.
They will, along with myself of course, change it so that it represents the collective majority opinion of the Hardware and Overclocking forum using masses. This thread will, hopefully, become a seething mass of opinionated folk, radiating their opinions for all to see. We wont change anything just because one person thinks so, but should enough people say ‘Vaul you utterly ignorant cretin, what you’ve said there is complete mush’, then we’ll blank the entry, or the offending part of the entry, and replace it.
It will be replaced (for the hard of thinking who are still trying to ‘get’ the idea) by what seems to be the majority opinion of you lot. So, if, for instance, you think that it was ill-judged of me to recommend that you use Branston Pickle in place of Artic Silver 5 on some of the larger aluminium Heatsinks, then you say so, and when enough of you point out this glaring, tasty pickle based error, I, or another Hardware Mod will change it.
And what will we change it to? That’s right chaps – to what you lot think it should be changed to. Amazing, huh? And to think we have the Ancient Greeks to thank for the concept. What did they know about the advantages of DDR2 over DDR? Nothing, that’s what.
Eventually, in the fullness of time (depending on how arsed you lot can be to contribute to the best run, friendliest, and most professional tech forums on the web, basically) it will fully represent what we think. Of course, as it’s a living document, it will continue to change – at the moment most gamers would recommend AMD CPUs, but in 6 months, or a year, who knows what we’ll be recommending?
If several of us disagree on the best choice of a certain component, you have a place to make your case and get the entry changed. Why should you care? Well, HEXUS exists because we care about this sort of stuff, this forum exists for the same reason, and we like to bang on and on and on about this bit of hardware and that new tech, for the same reason.
And when some soulless husk next arrives on the forums, fresh from having his or her wallet atomised at the local PC World store, we can tell them to scan the pages of this document, keep the collected information within the confines of their mind, and never again shall they fall prey to the SATA cable that seems to have got its price tag replaced with one that should have been stuck on the new Mercedes S-Class.
So, lets hear what you’ve got to say lads (and ladies, of course). Rip into my opinions like the fat one who used to be in Emmerdale into a packet of chocolate Hob Nobs. Of course, if you agree with what I’ve laughably presented as my informed opinion, then say so as well. If a recommendation or general snippet of information seems to be getting universal agreement, it won’t be removed if a few people disagree.
That’s how this is going to work – enough people say its wrong, and it’ll be changed quicker than David Blunkets nanny can get a visa. Enough people agree, and like Tony Blair, its going nowhere, no matter how much it annoys you.
Democracy my people. It’s what you’d expect from HEXUS.
So, without further unintelligible witterings from yours truly, I present to you the rough, unedited, still got the label on, virgin text. I want it ravaged, I want it changed, and I want it now. So let everyone know what you think people.
“Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a flaming Q-Tec.”
In a gaming rig, as in all self-built PCs, by far the most important single item is the Power Supply Unit (PSU). Whilst an incorrect choice of RAM, Graphics Card or Motherboard might lead to disappointing performance, a poor choice of PSU can lead to a completely ruined rig. You must not scrimp on the PSU; everything in your rig, all those lovely, expensive items will be directly connected to it, take their required power from it, and are very likely to be damaged should the PSU malfunction in any way.
Reputation is everything with PSUs, when choosing one you should make use of your chosen search engine, as well as the search function on your favourite Tech site (Which is Hexus of course ), and it will become apparent that some brands of PSU have a reputation for damaging the PC they are in, or at least being unstable and generally not in anyway worth the few pounds saving over a unit from a trusted manufacturer.
I know from experience that there are a core of manufacturers out there who’s PSUs you can trust absolutely, when installing in even the most expensively constructed gaming rig. Companies like Enermax, Tagan, ThermalTake, OCZ and Antec, who’s PSUs are always constructed to the highest standards are always worth considering over lesser rivals. Don’t think you’ll have to make do with a boring grey box to get that reliability either, the Coolergiant range from Enermax combines superb polish gold styling with the expected Enermax reliability, so it’s a great choice for a case with a side window, where you might want your PSU to look good as well as doing its job.
As for how powerful a unit you need, a modern gaming PC, with a powerful CPU, GPU, multiple Hard Drives, a Sound Card, etc, will need a reasonably powerful unit to keep everything running 100% stable – again, here is where the quality of your PSU is of more importance than anything else. A 350w PSU from a quality manufacturer will be much more capable of supplying a stable, clean, safe supply of power to your PCs internal devices than a 600w model from a lesser supplier. I have had a complete gaming rig, with overclocked GPU and CPU running very happily on an Antec SmartBlue 350w.
In simple terms, the rating of the PSU, no matter how high, is meaningless if the PSUs rails cannot supply the current and remain stable at all times. I myself learnt the hard way on this, and went through 2 Abit NF7-S Motherboards and a Sapphire Radeon 9800pro, when I built my first gaming system, before sourcing the problem to the cheap PSU that came with my case. Once bitten, twice shy. Now, even if it eats into my budget, I always look to a small core of PSU makers for my Power Supply. To avoid molten silicon woes, I urge you to do the same.
1) Never cut corners with your choice of PSU. Use only those models that come from tried and tested manufacturers.
2) Don’t be fooled by high power ratings on cheaper PSUs, it is very much the ability of the PSU to supply clean, stable power to your components, not the peek rating, which on cheaper PSUs will be unachievable anyway.
3) Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever buy a cheap PSU. Ever. Never ever. Not in a month of Sundays. Not even once in a Blue Moon. Never.
Cheap as Chips - 360W ThermalTake Dual Fan PSU. £35
The Sweet Spot - 380W Enermax Coolergiant AX Series v1.3. £50
Pricey Perfection - 480W Enermax Coolergiant AX Series v2. £70
“Attention Kiddies – ATi rules, Nvidia rules. Now shush.”
As this is a gaming rig, there is a core of internal components, such as the CPU, RAM and of course the Graphics Card that are going to be of the utmost importance. A gaming rig without a well chosen graphics card is, like 5 chavs in a Nova, going nowhere fast. Recently, the two major players in the graphics card market, namely ATi and Nvidia, both released new flagship and entry level cards, with ATi hoping to maintain the lead most people agree they had with the previous generation of cards.
At the top end of the scale we have the X800XT-PE and X800pro cards from ATi, in direct competition with the 6800Ultra and 6800GT offerings from Nvidia. For absolute performance, it is difficult to say who the overall leader now is. Firstly, if you own any of the 4 top cards at the moment, you are hardly likely to find the gaming performance disappointing in any way.
The X800 cards are still slightly faster when playing games using DirectX and the 6800 cards are still slightly faster when playing games using OpenGL. What is certain, is that Nvidia have closed the performance gap that they needed to close in DirectX, as it wasn’t that long ago that the then-flagship ATi card, the 9800pro, was outperforming the then-flagship 5900Ultra by 40% in some DirectX games. Back then the 9800pro was the obvious choice for a performance graphics card.
Now, with the new cards blowing the previous pace-setters out of the water, the 9800pro is now firmly the best value for money mid-range card available. A 9800pro will still give amazing performance in the latest games, will overclock well, and can be had relatively cheap. As for the new performance cards, I think the Nvidia 6800GT is the shining light of the 4. It’s aggressively priced, overclocks to Ultra speeds and beyond, more often than not, and performs brilliantly.
ATi have very recently launched the new X850XT-PE, which despite being only a very slightly tweaked X800, is enough to give ATi the overall performance lead at the moment. With the recent spate of big gaming releases such as Doom III and Half Life II, there is a tendency to believe the hype, and purchase the card that plays the ‘hot’ game of the moment the best, even if that is only a few frames per second advantage. The simple situation is, unlike perhaps a year ago, you cannot really go wrong with any of the top cards on the market at the moment, and you also have a very obvious choice for a great performing entry level card, which is still more than capable of providing you with a fantastically enjoyable gaming experience in the newer resource hogging games.
1) The new flagship cards have opened up a large performance gap over the previous high-end cards. If you have deep enough pockets, they are going to give you a premium gaming experience, but for a premium price.
2) Due to the large performance gap, the price of the last generation of cards has dropped fast; this makes the current entry level cards fantastic value for money.
3) ATi and Nvidia are, for the most part, exactly equal in the current performance race; there will always be slight advantages and disadvantages, but price and availability should be your priority, not over obsessing on every benchmark test on every game. There are no X800 or 6800 card owners who are not happy with their purchase at the moment.
Cheap as Chips - 128Mb MSI Radeon 9800Pro. £140
The Sweet Spot - 128Mb Asus V9999GT-TD 6800GT. £210
Pricy Perfection - 256MB Gigabyte GV ATI X800XT. £300