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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since the creation of gaming laptops, their performance has generally been substantially lower than their desktop counterparts. Somewhat excitingly, this has been changing in recent years. The release of nVidia’s Maxwell-based mobile GPUs introduced laptops that are inching closer to the performance of their desktop brethren.
While gaming laptops generally provide worse performance-per-dollar and customization options when compared to self-built PCs, their advantages in mobility are unrivaled for traveling gamers.
It's felt like an agonizingly slow five years, but SSDs are finally affordable for most PC builds. The 2009 consumer launch saw the arrival of Intel's X25 SSD, built atop SLC architecture and priced accordingly. I remember testing some of the first X25 SSDs and the resulting stack of $1200 paperweights that had accumulated. Thankfully, things have come a long way since then. With the advent of new NAND types that can pack multiple bits into a single cell, affordability and flexibility of use have arrived to the SSD marketplace.
This year in particular has seen the rapid expansion of consumer-ready SSDs, particularly with a refresh of Crucial's budget-class SSDs, ADATA's forward positioning, and Corsair's updated Force lineup. And there's more, too -- Seagate, Samsung,
With all these choices and the beginning price-war, it's an ideal time for consumers to jump on the constant SSD sales and the rapidly collapsing price-point. This buyer's guide will introduce the best SSDs for the price in gaming and enthusiast uses, hopefully helping with tips on selecting an SSD. We're going to stay away from the high-performance / professional marketplace in this guide.
Intel has started acting a bit strangely as a result of its uncontested dominance in the mid-to-high-end marketplace; as discussed in our Z97 vs. H97 chipset comparison, this is the first Intel platform in recent memory that has expanded compatibility between CPU and chipset generations. Haswell, the Haswell Refresh, Devil's Canyon, and Broadwell are all LGA1150 socketed chips, and although there will be some incompatible 8/9-series board/CPU combos (check before buying), a lot of these will work together.
Devil's Canyon (detailed here) is yet unreleased and Broadwell still looms on the 4Q14/1Q15 horizon. Intel has released its "Haswell Refresh" CPUs in the interim, including the new i7-4790, i5-4690, and i3-4360; the CPUs are effectively replacing the i7-4771, the i5-4670, and the i3-4340 respectively. Astute readers will notice that the refreshed CPUs are each xx2x higher in number count than their championed component.
In this Intel CPU buyer's guide, we'll look at whether the Haswell Refresh CPUs are worth buying for gamers given their unique positioning between HW, Devil's Canyon, and Broadwell. We'll also talk about overclocking options and lack thereof on the i7-4790, i5-4690, and i3-4360.
First, the specs:
There were a few major PC hardware trends at CES this year; gaming monitors supporting higher resolutions and new technologies (G-Sync, FreeSync) were among those trends. While at CES 2014, we reported on nVidia's G-Sync and how it actually works, a hardware solution to decrease frame tearing and stuttering by using a variable refresh rate (rather than a fixed 60 Hz or 120 Hz solution). Technologies like G-Sync (and FreeSync) are absolutely something I can get behind -- the overall experience delivered to the gamer is far smoother and very noticeable in gameplay; visuals lose that choppiness exhibited when using a fixed refresh rate and frame tears largely vanish.
In this round-up, we'll walk through some of the best G-Sync gaming monitors of CES 2014, with a heavier focus on 1440p and 4K resolutions (though 1080p is still most prevalent). We've already written about a few of these new monitors, including ASUS' ROG and BenQ's options.
As the year nears its end and our gaming PC guides get their yearly revamp (see: CPU, video card, & case buying guides), it's time for a new Enthusiast's Holiday Gift Guide. Similar to our "What Next? Post-Build Upgrades" article, this guide explores expansion and upgrade options for your recently-completed PC build. If you've got people who don't know what to buy for your gaming PC, send 'em this way and give them some ideas.
We'll cover functional and aesthetic upgrade options in this guide. This page will be dedicated to more aesthetic-focused components; page 2 contains video cards, coolers, mechanical keyboards, mice, gaming headsets, and CPUs.
Let's get started with our Gifts for PC Gamers holiday hardware guide!