The right build

Senior Technical Editor Jason Saundalkar details what companies must watch out for when building gaming PCs and notebooks.

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  August 5, 2008

Putting together a desktop PC or a notebook that's designed to run modern games isn't rocket science but it amazes me how many companies get it wrong. All too often I've tested a machine that's supposed to have been the best thing since sliced bread but the reality is that it could hardly get me to raise an eyebrow let alone blow my socks off. Ultimately, the rig in question had solid specifications with the exception of a few components that, unfortunately for the company, brought it to its virtual knees.

The most common problem when it comes to gaming desktops and notebooks is a mismatched graphics subsystem. In these cases it seems to me that the gentleman who selected the screen accompanying the desktop or notebook had no idea about what graphics card the machine would have. This as you can imagine has dire consequences on gaming performance.

You see while a 24" wide-screen desktop LCD screen, with a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, offers an excellent viewing experience in terms of size and detail (more pixels equals to more detail), you need a graphics card under the hood with enough oomph to power it. Unfortunately it seems that a number of companies don't realize this and fit any graphics card they fancy. In the 27" LCD's case, you shouldn't even bother looking at anything but one of today's top end graphics cards or, at the very least, a couple of midrange cards running in multi-GPU mode.

A gaming machine should be able to run games at a steady 30fps to produce a smooth gaming experience. Anything lower than this framerate would appear jerky to a majority of people on the planet, as 30fps is widely accepted as the figure that makes movement appear smooth to the viewer. While you may be thinking a quick fix to improve performance is to drop the resolution that you run your games at, this actually poses another problem.

When a LCD screen runs at a resolution lower than its native setting, in most cases it will produce visuals that lack crispness and sharpness. In the worst case, running the screen for prolonged periods of time at a lower resolution than its native setting will damage or destroy the LCD completely. Beyond all this, if you've spent a healthy chunk of cash on a gaming desktop or notebook, wouldn't you want it to run every game you throw at it without sacrificing on quality or resolution? I certainly would.

Another issue I've come across that absolutely ruins the gaming experience is the lack of a proper sound system in terms of speakers and an audio card. Modern games are generally developed with extremely high fidelity sound effects and music and most even offer proper positional audio.

To do these games justice, you definitely need a competent speaker set. Shipping basic stereo speakers or a low powered surround system just scream that you've not given the machine the thought it deserves and moreover, it makes the games sound flat. On the notebook front though you can't really ship a thumping 5.1 surround system you should, at the very least, include a quality set of speakers and pack in a subwoofer if your notebook is a chunky desktop replacement beast.

Feeding this speaker system is a soundcard and here too, the selection shouldn't be tempered by cost cutting. The integrated sound solutions on most motherboards and even the entry-level soundcards may provide decent audio playback when it comes to pumping out MP3s and firing off the Windows sounds but it's a completely different ballgame when it comes to games. Using a low end soundcard ensures that gamers won't be able to take advantage of immersive environmental effects and there are other consequences too.

Budget soundcards essentially save money because they skimp on processing power and rely on the machine's CPU to get the job done. This of course places an added burden on the processor and this will negatively impact gaming framerates. A big no-no then.

In the case of gaming desktops, the PC should also offer a solid degree of upgradeability. Nothing infuriates me more than finding that a $3,000 PC can't be upgraded because the motherboard lacks sufficient expansion slots or the case is physically not big enough to accept the latest video card on the market.

Building a gaming PC or notebook isn't rocket science but it is something that should be taken seriously and issues like the ones I've detailed above just don't cut the mustard in this segment.

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