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Hardware Guides

Our coverage of last year's best PC enclosures has remained some of our most popular content to date, and as is CES tradition, we're updating the coverage for 2015. The previous years have gone through trends of mini-ITX / SFF boxes (the Steam Box craze, now dying down) and larger, enthusiast-priced boxes. This year's CES trends saw a lull from major case manufacturers like Corsair, Cooler Master (reeling from a lawsuit by Asetek), and NZXT, but welcomed budget-friendly enclosures and high-end works of art. Users seeking more mid-range enclosures will be left waiting a while longer, it seems.

As a part of our new website design – pending completion before CES – we've set forth on a mission to define several aspects of GPU technology with greater specificity than we've done previously. One of these aspects is texture fill-rate (or filter rate) and the role of the TMU, or Texture Mapping Units.

When listing GPU specifications, we often enumerate the clockrate and TMU count, among other specs. These two items are directly related to one another, each used to extrapolate the “texture filter rate” of the GPU. The terms “Texture Fill-Rate” and “Texture Filter Rate” can be used interchangeably. For demonstration purposes, here is a specifications table for the GTX 980 (just because it's recent):

This article topic stems from a recent reader email. Our inquisitive reader was curious as to the nature of variable clock speeds, primarily asking about why GPUs (specifically nVidia's) would sometimes log slower clock speeds than the overclock settings; similarly, speeds are occasionally reported higher than even what a user OC reflects.

Variable clock speeds stem from boost settings available on both AMD and nVidia architecture, but each company's version differs in execution. This brief post will focus on nVidia Boost 2.0 and why it throttles clock speeds in some environments. None of this is news at this point, but it's worth demystifying.

We've often remarked that naming structures and product branding can be a confusing space, especially when looking at things like ASUS' motherboards. Western Digital's hard drives follow a somewhat standardized branding scheme of “black is best,” then the company uses “blue,” “green,” and “red” for its other HDD options.

Today, we'll compare the WD Blue vs. WD Black and Green hard drives, then let you know which one is “best” for gaming purposes. These are the drives we're primarily looking at:

ibm-backplateIBM Model M metal backplate. Source: Geek Hack.

One of the reasons the IBM Model M – one the most widely-used original mechanical keyboards – is regarded so highly is its high, durable build quality. The durability stems from its steel backplate, used for mounting the mechanical switches; similarly, high-end mechanical keyboards of today often use metal backplates for switch mounting. While metal backplate mounting is widespread in mechanical keyboards, other materials -- such as plastic and PCB -- are also used to mount switches, with each having their own advantages.

Today, we’re looking at keyboard backplates and comparing metal vs. plastic and PCB options.

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Many aspects of the hardware industry are cut-and-dry facts that are easy to understand -- X GPU gets 40 FPS while Y GPU gets 60, for instance. One item that is largely ignored, in part due to its complicated and over-marketed nature, is monitors. Contrast ratio, input delay, response time, pixel pitch, and resolution are all important aspects of monitors, but aren’t always well understood by consumers. On top of this, marketing speak from competing vendors has inflated some specifications to a point of being entirely useless as a unit of comparison.

Due to this, monitor selection can be intimidating or overwhelming. For this reason, we’ve pulled together the best gaming monitors for our 2014 monitor buyer’s guide, including 1080, 1440p, and 4K displays.

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We're working our way through all of the major system components and peripherals, hopefully providing easy-to-use buyer's guides for the best components of 2014. Our most recent buyer's guides covered top-performing gaming video cards, mechanical keyboards, and gaming laptops.

This next guide focuses on the best Intel & AMD gaming CPUs on the market, ranging from ultra-budget (~$100) options to high-end semi-production solutions (~$300). Consider following our gaming motherboard buyer's guide to accompany any CPU purchases.

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Having completed our mechanical keyboard & gaming motherboard buyer's guides, we're now moving on to the gaming world's most critical component: Video cards. This video card buyer's guide looks at the best GPUs for gaming at various budgets, starting at $100 and rising up to the $600 flagships. Then again, you could build the $300 ultra-budget APU-powered machine we posted.

AMD and nVidia have recently been embattled in price wars, most clearly highlighted by the GTX 760's price-drop to $200 and the R9 270's drop to $135, both powerful GPUs that launched at significantly higher price points. This price war has influenced several other graphics solutions currently on the market, ensuring a prime buying period for those building new PCs.

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Back when computers were becoming commonplace in business, mechanical keyboards such as the IBM Model M, were common. The Model M uses springs that buckle under pressure to complete a circuit, allowing for a letter to be typed. For the way the springs function, they are aptly named “buckling springs.”

Then, the rubber dome was invented.

The rubber dome is literally a dome of rubber that, when depressed, completes a circuit and causes a letter to be typed. While these seem to be very similar, they differ substantially in feel and design. Buckling springs allow for faster, more tactile and loud clicky-clack typing. Despite the advantages of a buckling spring, rubber domes are much cheaper to produce, so now rubber domes are by far the most common switch used in keyboards.

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Motherboard selection is mercifully less intimidating than picking a laptop for gaming. With boards, we can establish a set of criteria and narrow down the selection immediately to something more manageable; lower prices than other components also make selection somewhat easier to mentally justify. Our criteria for motherboard selection typically includes consideration of socket type, form factor, ability to overclock, and chipset

We've previously published chipset guides for both AMD's latest chipsets and Intel's Haswell chipsets, each of which shows the differentiating features between various inter-platform options. This buyer's guide looks at the best gaming motherboards for Intel's Haswell and Devil's Canyon processors, then AMD's FM2+ platform. AM3+ is not considered in this guide, given its age and our decision to abandon the platform in PC build guides. We've also opted to exclude X99 motherboards from this guide, given the added complexity and entirely different architecture.

We'll start with tables, then cover the things to look for in a motherboard, and then move on to our selections for this season.

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