Hardware Guides

Known for having the coolest-sounding naming scheme in computing, chipsets operate at the core of every build we do here at GN -- by this point, all of you know the basics: P67 is good, Z68 is better, X79 (SB-E) is expensive; the 970 is good, the 990X is great, and AM3+'s 990FX is expensive (sort of). Great, so we have an idea of what to get relative to other chipsets, but that doesn't mean much. That's about as useful as knowing "DDR3 is better than DDR2," without truly knowing why. It's brochure knowledge.


As we did with our GPU dictionary and SSD dictionary, this chipset guide will help explain what, exactly, a chipset is responsible for and what you should look for in future editions. This helps keep everyone on the cutting edge as new technology is announced and, better still, helps you actually understand what is needed, not just recommended.

We talk about bottlenecks in high-end, performance-centric gaming and development rigs all the time: the HDD vs. SSD chokepoint, AMD vs. NVIDIA graphics chips, and CPU disparities in our gaming build guides. One thing we often don't mention, though, is Internet speed -- and it makes perfect sense to talk about: Gaming is centered around performance, and even if you build one of our monstrous dev setups, none of that will matter in a multiplayer or team environment if pinched throughput or throttled speeds are at play.

Pando Networks, an analytical network performance and benchmarking firm -- funded in part by Intel -- recently released a study including the fastest and slowest average 'download speeds' in the US for 2011, getting down to city granularities. Here's a map we've created with the top fastest cities in the US for average download rates; it's important to state that these are only averages, which don't accurately reflect overall fastest and slowest speeds. If you have an evil ISP, as many of us do, you may see slower speeds than those listed. Similarly, those with particularly effective or forward-thinking ISPs may see faster rates.


Computer hardware has been watered-down into a marketing game of bigger numbers, new, obscure specifications, and unexplained benchmark ratings, generally leaving consumers to fend for themselves. As we did in our GPU Dictionary, we'll break-down the very basics of SSD specs and take a look at how, on the top-level, SSDs work. Understanding how to read SSD specs is easy: As a consumer, there's no reason to read through pages-upon-pages of white papers to understand how electron tunneling works (but it is really cool) solely to buy a solid state drive, but there are a few primary numbers you should be concerned with (and a few to ignore).

Solid State Drives have been on our minds since the flooding in Thailand offset spindle-based prices, so let's delve into what to look for in one. As an add-on, I'd recommend also looking at our guide that discusses SSDs and gaming.


Active air cooling can hold its own as extremely efficient when utilized to its fullest potential -- in fact, in many instances, it's often more cost-to-temperature effective to use case fans instead of liquid cooling. Maybe a future article with benchmarks? This portion of our 'The Basics of Case Fans' guide covers the differences in case fan bearings, sleeve vs. ball bearings, "fluid" (hydro) dynamic, and we'll briefly touch on magnetic bearings.


Part one of this guide can be found here: Case Fan Placement Theory
Part two of this guide can be found here: Quieter Gaming and Case Fan Size

psu-thermaltakeIt's time to put that bastard Clippy to work. If you've been wondering where he found work after Office no longer had a need for him, it's here: Testing power supplies.

After our video on how to replace a CPU heatsink fan, I immediately went to work on the next video: We'll be testing a PSU without plugging it into anything else today. You can simulate a connection by using a paperclip to bridge the green and one of the black wires in the 20+4 pin connector. Watch the video for full details.

Video Guide: Replace a CPU Heatsink Cooling Fan

By Published February 29, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Our very first video hardware guide is here! Huzzah! The overwhelming response from the community has pushed us in a new direction to start producing quality videos in accompaniment with our amazing articles, so here's the first 'test' video to check out lighting, format, and overall flow.

In this basic case modding guide -- and I mean very basic -- we look at how to replace an aftermarket CPU heatsink cooling fan on a Tuniq Tower 120 Extreme with a new fan (mostly for longevity and LED purposes). It's very easy and requires only one thing: A screwdriver. Get those nerd muscles ready to sweat! Here's the guide:

As hardware and gaming enthusiasts, it's easy to acknowledge the sheer amount of complexity behind the continual stability exhibited by high-end gaming CPUs and components. The basics of processing technology advance in pendulous, perfectly-timed swings with each passing iteration of Intel and AMD's respective flagship models; enthusiasts can certainly appreciate the level of performance gained with, for example, the institution of Sandy Bridge architecture, or to go old-school, the implementation of hyperthreading on P4 CPUs. Even in non-CPU examples, the evolution of SSDs and their usefulness is worthy of mention, albeit somewhat ignored. It's something we experience every day: The changes of these technologies are instantly visible through virtue of playing games and using applications.

So the engineering behind each chip is appreciated -- but the manufacturing process (2 - 3 months), the development process (a full 2 - 2.5 years), and the unbelievable level of science behind the two in combination are hardly noticed when reading up on budget gaming rigs or explaining the functionality to newcomers. All of this comes down to one question: Where and how are CPUs made? We'll answer the latter in an extensive series, but the rest remains below...

cpu-fab-location-mapSeveral other factories exist. Fab32 is also in Arizona and manufactures modern chips, Fab42 is up-and-coming.
Click to enlarge.

With all of the builds that we pump out here at GN, like our excellent $558 build i3-2120 gaming build, we've had a lot of you ask how we manage to consistently pick out unique deals. As part of our "How to Build a Gaming PC" guide, this article covers the "cutting corners" aspect of PC building. As much as we'd like to lay claim to some sort of book of secrets about hardware, it's truly as simple as knowing our way around websites, knowing what old hardware can be recycle/salvaged/cannibalized from an old PC, and finding creative methods to hack the price.


Building a gaming computer is exceedingly easy: If you can use a screwdriver, have at least one thumb and a couple of bucks, and can read, you're already off to a great start. It can be intimidating when looking at all the options for gaming PCs and figuring out if X is compatible with Y, if you should get an SSD, the differences between a 7950 and 7970, NVIDIA vs. AMD/ATI, and so forth, but it's actually quite simple once we define our requirements in this first part of our multi-part First PC Build Guide for Noobs.


Future installments of this guide will look at "where to start" when shopping, if you'd like to build budget PCs in the manner that we do, how to pick a CPU, video card differences, and anything else that gets asked of us. Write a comment below or post on our hardware forums if you have questions!

When you really start getting elbow-deep into PC building and specs -- much deeper than our recent budget PC builds have gone -- it's easy to get overwhelmed by all the acronyms and terminology used by white papers and specification sheets. Our previous video card guide looked at the pros and cons of AMD vs. NVIDIA for gaming, but this one is (relatively) universal and can be applied to almost all aspects of graphics processing technology. This "GPU Dictionary" explains the difference between memory clocks and core clocks, shader specs, what a ROP is, and some other basic (and fun) GPU phrases.


Similar to our surprisingly in-depth case fan guide, this GPU dictionary is outlined in such a way that it will retain relevance through time, so - for the most part - you won't have to worry about re-learning anything.

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