Articles & Editorials: Hardware Guide #1

With Generals coming in less than 8 months, most of us die-hard C&C fans are going to need a hefty upgrade of our PCs if we plan on playing. That’s right, that 450MHz PIII overclocked to 600 MHZ just isn’t going to cut it anymore. So for the next few months, I’ll be keeping you up-to-date on the latest developments in the computer hardware world, and give you some suggestions on the components you’ll need for the ultimate Gamerz PC.

Processors

For years, Intel ruled the processor market. But in the last couple years, AMD took off, providing gamers with processors more powerful, and more affordable, than the Pentium. The battle continues to rage on today, and while Intel leads in the megahertz race, AMD continues to deal it a blow with the ability to do more with less power. AMD no longer refers to its processors by megahertz or gigahertz. Instead, it gives it a performance rating. The latest version of the Athlon XP, AMD’s flagship product, is defined as 2100+. This means that despite having only a 1.733 GHz speed, it is able to perform equal, if not better, than a Pentium 4 at 2.1 GHz. And that is at less than half the price!. Since the induction of the Northwood core for the Pentium, it has been able to push itself ahead of the Athlon XP, but it still needs at least a 400 MHz clock speed advantage. So, AMD is definitely the way to go when it comes to processors. They perform better and are cheaper than Pentium 4’s. The only concern is heating, but as long as you install a good heatsink/fan, and do it properly, it won’t be an issue.

Motherboards

Since AMD is the king of processors, I’ll only go over AMD mobo’s. If you want to spend the extra $200-300 for a P4, you can find mainboard information for it at Tom’s Hardware Guide. There are several manufacturer’s that build chipsets for your motherboard, but only two really stand out. The VIA chipset is a very solid choice, that gives you fast memory bandwidth and such things as an optional RAID controller. There is also a version offering integrated sound, but the quality is nowhere near what you get from a Soundblaster card. The latest verson, the KT333, allows you to use PC-2700 DDR RAM, giving you extra memory bandwidth and speed. The other chipset, Nvidia’s nForce, offers more extra features, but benchmarks about the same as the VIA chipset. The advantage to the nForce is that is sports an integrated Geforce2 MX GPU. So if you are going to blow most of your cash on your processor and mobo, you’ll at least a half-decent video option while you save for that shiny new G4. The nForce also has an integrated ethernet adapter, as well as a dolby-digital integrated sound card. This sound card gives about the same quality as a Soundblaster, and uses less CPU for the processing. The only disadvantage is that it doesn’t have support for some of the new features offered by the Audigy, but that’s a whole ‘nother section in itself ;). As for a manufacturer, I recommend Asus. They cost a little more, but they have great support and really reliable boards.

Video Cards

In video cards, there are really only two choices, Geforce or Radeon. Honestly, I’d wait for DirectX9 in September before purchasing a new video card. There will be a whole new slug of features offered by DX9 that won’t be supported by the G4 or Radeon, and so new lines of cards are slated for release shortly after DX9. Rumor has it that all games be released for the holiday season are going to be able to use these new features, so Generals will probably look and play alot better on a DX9 card than on a Geforce 4 or Radeon. But if you really want a card now, the Geforce 4 Ti4200 is the best bet. Performing almost as good as its big brother, the 4600, the 4200 is about $200 cheaper, beats the pants off the Radeon 8500, has better drivers, and is able to use all DX8’s features.

Sound Cards

Yeah, sure….there are other sound card manufacturers, but Soundblaster is beats them all. The new Audigy is spectacular. Despite some minor issues during installation on my system (damn Compaq software!!), it sounds great and offers features that you can expect to see integrated into upcoming games. They seem more geared to FPS, though, so don’t expect to see them on Generals. One other thing, Creative software tends to take over your system, so try to install just the drivers. While we are on the topic of sound, let’s talk speakers. If you don’t have some extra cash to spend on good speakers, Creative’s Inspire 5.1 will give you decent surround sound for games at a reasonable price. If you are an audiophile like myself, however, Logitech’s Z-560 set or Klipsch Promedia 4.1 are the speakers of choice. The Logitech set is cheaper, but doesn’t sound quite as natural as the Klipsch speakers. Both are 4.1, meaning the have 4 satellites and a subwoofer, and both have 400W of power to them. I own the Klipsh, and the bass is sufficient to rock the entire house, with it set at only about 60%. It’ll cost you, though, so decide in advance what you want for sound.

Cooling

I can’t really recommend a good air cooling system for your computer, because I’m not buying one for my new PC. If you can’t afford what I’m going to tell you about, head here for AMD approved heatsinks. For, well, quite abit more money than those heatsinks, we have the ultimate PC cooling system. Brought to us by Koolance, this case does it all. It uses liquid to keep your entire PC cool, with mounts for CPU, GPU, Chipset, and Hard Drive coolers. Because it uses liquid, there is virtually no noise, and the PC rarely gets higher than 10 degrees C above room temperature. There are three large fans on top of the case that turn smoothly and silently to help cool the liquid as it passes through dissipator, and it also has a temperature monitor built in as well. And as long as you assemble it carefully, you won’t have to worry about the liquid spilling onto your components and causing catastrophic meltdown ;).

System Specs

Alright, here’s the specifications for a mid-range computer and a dream computer. There won’t be prices on there, because I’m Canadian and our prices are different than the US and NZ and so on. You can print out these specs and take them to your local parts retailer for an estimate.

Mid-Range

  • Athlon XP 2100+ w/ Volcano 7 heatsink
  • Asus A7N266-E
  • 512MB PC2100 DDR RAM
  • 40GB 7200rpm Seagate HDD
  • LG 16x10x40 CD-RW drive
  • Creative Inspire 5.1 Speakers
  • Notes: The A7N266-E is the nForce mobo. For a mid-range system, you can use the onboard G2MX for video, onboard 3D sound, and onboard ethernet adapter.

Dream System

  • Athlon XP 2100+ w/ Koolance case, CPU Cooler, GPU Cooler, Chipset Cooler, HD Cooler
  • Asus A7V333
  • 1.5GB PC2700 DDR RAM
  • Dual 80GB 7200 rpm Seagate HDDs
  • Toshiba 16×48 DVD-ROM
  • LG 32x10x40 CD-RW
  • Geforce 4 Ti4200
  • Soundblaster Audigy
  • Linksys 10/100 PCI Ethernet adapter
  • Klipsch Promedia 4.1
  • Notes: Asus and Visiontek have yet to ship their Geforce 4 Ti4200’s, so you’ll have to wait awhile if you want one. The Asus version will be more expensive, but have more extras like video capture and VR glasses. Try to buy the Soundblaster OEM. If you get the Gamer version, you’ll be paying more for just a couple of old games bundled in.

There you have it, CNCNZ.com’s first hardware guide. Keep in mind this is the first, so I would love comments and suggestions. If you think you strained a nerd muscle hearing all this techno-weenie babble, send me any questions you may have. I’d be happy to clarify anything for you. Enjoy your gaming!

Articles & Editorials Index

eXTReMe Tracker