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Beginner's Guide to Gaming Computers

Updated on January 29, 2016
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Graphics

Obviously, the first thing you need to look for in a gaming laptop is the graphics card. The vast majority of non-browser games today have very high details and performance demanding visuals. Having the right graphic card can assure just how awesome your games will look. Currently, AMD’s Radeon and Nvidia’s GeForce graphics are the top rated in performance. Though GeForce is the favorite, AMD is preferred by gamers on a budget. But with these cards, you can rest assured that you will be playing your most intense games on moderate to ultra settings.

Space

Second, you need to make sure you have enough room on your computer starting with your CPU, also known as your Central Processing Unit, processor, or hard disk. You must know the minimum amount of space you will need in order to download and install your games. Today, most computers have a cheap price for 1TB (1 terabyte) of space. The X-Plane holds the record as the largest game in history at 70GB of data to install but let’s just realize that that is highly unusual for a game. Most graphically demanding online games have an average size of roughly 30-50GB. So, if you want at least five hard-core games, you’re most likely looking at a minimum of 150GB worth of space to cut out of your CPU. I find it’s always best to have at least twice the amount of space you need just to be safe; Chances are, you don’t just game but also web surf, listen to music, and write documents. You either nave that extra space or you better have a lot of USB flash drives on hand.

The other area you need space on is your RAM or Random-Access Memory. Many people confuse the term memory in computers so I’ll describe what RAM is allegorically. Pretend that a game program is a dumbbell, the CPU is your hand, and the RAM is your muscle strength. For the dumbbell to remain in your hand, you must have the adequate amount of strength it takes to hold it. Basically, if your RAM doesn’t have the minimum required space needed to run a program in your CPU, your games will run poorly or not at all. The absolute minimum RAM you can have to game is 4GB. But to run more intense games, you must have at least 6GB if you want to really enjoy the scenery.

Bottleneck

Now, some people attempt to save money by practicing “bottlenecking”. Bottlenecking is when a user compensates their CPU’s speed with their choice of graphics card. CPUs not only are the main storage area of the computer, but are in charge of how fast programs can run on. The best example would be if you suddenly used a computer fifteen years old. Take out your watch and time just how long it takes a document to open after you double-click its icon. The slower the CPU, the longer it takes for the file to open.

In some cases, if you have a great graphics card, the CPU won’t interfere with the performance of the game. But this isn’t always the case and, thus, the term bottlenecking comes about. This term basically means that one component of the computer isn’t matched properly with the rest and it causes the computer to not perform at its best. For example, if you work in a team of three at school and one person does nothing at all, the other two members have to work twice as hard for a goal they might not reach had all three worked the same amount.

Thermaltake external fan
Thermaltake external fan | Source

Cooling

Now that you’ve chosen your preferred system you need to think about how your computer maintains its temperature. Specifically speaking, I mean the fan and overall heat distribution. The best way to learn about this category is by reading reviews of gaming computers. On the average computer, the fan should only be blaring for a few seconds at a time when being pushed to perform (like when first launching a game or several programs at the same time). To understand what gaming computer is right for you, you must know whether you frequently use headphones. If you use headphones, it won’t matter how loud the fan is; you won’t hear it. But if you don’t use headphones you need to know whether the fan will always be on high in order to play the sort of games you have. Different companies build their computers to fan at different speeds depending on the power demand by a program. It is possible to change the fan levels on your computer but that’s beyond my guide.

Though the fan may be adequate for your system’s cooling, that doesn’t mean the surface of your computer is the same temperature. Depending on the position of the fan, air vents, and even the material of your keyboard you could be looking at buying a computer that literally cooks your skin. To avoid this discomfort, the best thing you can do is read reviews.and buy an external fan which plugs into a USB port and runs on the power of your computer. A fan made specifically for gaming computers can eliminate heat problems.

Feel

This is the final category that deals with nothing but customization options (this will be solely on laptops). Size, weight, touch; you need to know what you like to have the most comfortable experience. There are three default screen sizes for laptops being 14, 15, and 17 inches, roughly (though there are a few smaller and larger screens). The best way to determine which size is for you is to sit at one and see if you feel like you see everything on screen easily without squinting or leaning out of your chair to get a closer look at images in the corners.

Weight really only plays a part if you commonly travel or like to game on the go. Tank laptops like Alienware are not built with travel in mind (thus the “tank”) and are very difficult to lift. But very light laptops may not be up to par when it comes to your gaming needs regarding power. Know how much weight you can deal with in terms of frequency of travel. If you only vacation once a year, don’t worry about the weight; if you play games on the bus to work or school you don’t want to have a heavy computer pressing the blood out of your legs.

For the physical touch of a laptop you need to consider your use of the touchpad and keyboard. If you prefer to use a mouse then don’t worry about it – but if you do want to use the touchpad you need to know what feels right. Most touchpads can be programmed to touch sensitivity, whether to use multi-touch gestures, or whether to have a click option, etc. A lot of the computers today have no defined left and right mouse buttons; just a large finger pad with a short vertical line near the bottom to distinguish that there is a button sensor area (if at all). I’ve read many reviews that disapprove of this look because the pad doesn’t accurately acknowledge a tap on the button areas or that the whole pad is wobbly. But that’s up to you to decide.

The most important part of all gaming is the keyboard. Knowing which keys you use as hotkeys is vital to which computer you buy. Some companies think people don’t need the number or arrow keys to be very large for basic use. They are right. But gamers must use those keys if they don’t plan to die during their next quest. I am surprised today how many laptops have large left and right arrow keys but have the forward and back arrows squished to half the size. To me, this is just a virtual accident waiting to happen; If you’ve run to the end of a cliff and need to back up but accidentally press the forward key then you’ll quickly find yourself falling into the abyss below.

AULA backlit gaming keyboard and mouse
AULA backlit gaming keyboard and mouse | Source

Extras

And finally down to additional features (again, only about laptops). With all our technological advances, you’d be amazed how many laptops don’t come with the features I’m about to discuss. Firstly and most importantly, in my opinion, is the optic drive. For those who don’t know, the optic drive is also known as the DVD/CD drive. You will need this feature if you need to install or play games with a CD or if you plan on watching movies on your computer. And if you prefer to watch Blue-Ray discs, make sure that your optic drive can play them. If you play games at night, a keyboard backlight is a good idea. And some laptops use a special sensor so the screen may be darkened or lightened depending on the lighting of your environment, like a sophisticated way of preventing eye strain. Some people like to play their games on the big screen and, while a VGA port connection will do just fine and comes on most laptops, HDMI ports can display at a higher quality. You need to know how many and what type of USB ports you need. If you’ve followed my advice, you will have at least one of these ports designated for your external cooling fan. If you tend to connect multiple flash drives at once, you need to make a decision on just how many you will need. Two is the minimum for most companies but having extras is also a good idea if you know you’ll use them too much to the point they get loose and don’t work. Lastly, a lot of beginners will be confused when they see computers advertised with LCD and LED screens. This information is completely ignorable as both types are no different; it's the finish that you need to research. Matte finish screens are the ones popular due to reduced glare but, unlike glossy screens, the colors are substantially duller. So you must decide whether you want anti-glare or vibrant color. It's up to you.

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