Hardware Guides

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.

This reference guide is aimed to get you up-and-running swiftly with building your own computer. We've posted several articles about the general process, even pre-configured PC build lists for your ease, but this will be the first step-by-step "build a PC" guide (including a video PC building tutorial).


We've got a 15-minute video guide that gives a brief-but-comprehensive walkthrough of the system installation process. That's embedded immediately below. If you need further tips & advice or would like to check out our other pre- and post-build resources, those are also in the written part of the guide.

In this "how to build a gaming PC" tutorial, we'll walk through the process of grounding yourself (ESD-free), installing the CPU, RAM, power supply, storage, video card, and all the cabling (and other components), as well as basic testing options.

This guide is split into pre-build, assembly, and post-build sections. Keep in mind that we have already written articles on many of these topics, so the sections may be truncated and linked elsewhere for full depth.

After a suggestion from reddit user "Tangential_Diversion," we decided it'd be a good idea to do a sort-of collative post post-discussion from our reddit topics. For our regulars who might not frequent reddit's technology subsections, I frequently answer questions about new reviews, products, and PC hardware over here and here. Most recently, a thread about our Antec Kuhler 1250 dual-pump CLC review received nearly 100 comments, where I answered several questions about design and discussed the future of GN's test methodology.


This post will quickly round-up some of the Q&A from the community -- I'll also jump into some explanation of future plans for testing methodology toward the end.

GN Hardware Editor Patrick Stone recently had to purchase a DVI Dual-Link cable for high resolution output; for those unfamiliar, DVI Dual-Link cables (as opposed to Single-Link) are used for resolutions that exceed 1080p. For anyone running a high-resolution display without an HDMI or DisplayPort cable, a DVI Dual-Link cable is a requirement. They are sold in both DVI-I (digital/analog) and DVI-D (digital only) variants. Dual-Link DVI cables host an additional two columns of pins (six total pins) in the center of the DVI header, single-link cables do not have these pins. The extra pins are what enables the bandwidth of a high-resolution display.


During our search for a cable, we discovered that many manufacturers sell fake dual-link cables; that is, the pins required for dual-link are present, but the pins aren't actually wired within the cable. They're just for show. Attempting to use one on a high-resolution output simply wouldn't work. They can normally be spotted (if not through reviews) by their thinner cable housing.

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!

We've posted several articles that discuss what determines a "good motherboard for gaming," but until today, haven't had the chance to properly define what some of the more important board components do. Oscillating clock crystals, MOSFETs, chokes, the VRM, and other low-level motherboard components are defined in this post.


Judging from our forums, motherboards are one of the more nebulous components for hardware -- they all feel similar to each other, and from a specs sheet, it looks like there's not much separating one board from another. Part of this is because Intel and AMD have moved several controllers to the CPU, part is because the deeper differentiators between quality are often not listed on a product spec sheet.

After numerous questions from a large reddit thread, we've decided to start a new video/article series exploring the components on the components -- or what comprises each individual piece of hardware. Starting with the motherboard made sense.

The silicon powering modern microprocessors consumes significantly less wattage than consumer technology leading up to this point. Look back at the GTX 400 series (Fermi) for an example of this: The flagship GTX 480 was 250W, and it ran damn hot, too. NVidia acknowledged this when we toured their facilities, noting that the complaints of noise, heat, and power consumption directly impacted the development of Kepler units. To put things into perspective, the GTX Titan also draws 250W and has approximately 2.5x the transistors over the GTX 480 (7.5B vs. 3B).


Despite the overall trend toward improved power-to-performance ratios, a mid-range gaming machine can still easily pull 500W+ under full computational (CPU/GPU) load -- that's a lot of power. Even idle, without BIOS advanced power saving features configured, you could easily be resting on a couple hundred watts. Personally, I've got almost a constant system up-time, and that consumes a lot of power. In order to mitigate power consumption and the electric bill (~$20 / mo. with full up-time on my machine, dropped to $10 / mo after taking these steps), we can use modern advanced power saving states implemented by Intel and AMD.

We previously posted a series of case modding intro videos that were targeted at helping system builders break into case modding. The truth is, of course, that really getting in deep requires time and tools (and other expenses), so it's often easier to start with something else -- like installing aftermarket lighting kits.


This quick post-build guide aims to highlight some of the basic add-ons for gaming PCs after they've been built; these are items that can be installed with a screwdriver or a bit of manual work, but won't require more advanced case modding initiatives. You'll find product examples of each component type below.

The concept of a "virtual" reality has existed for decades and has nebulous origins, but the first technological steps can be pinpointed to Ivan Sutherland's head-mounted display (HMD); the device, lovingly-dubbed the Sword of Damocles for its massive size and imposing demeanor, was built in 1968 and placed the user into wireframe rooms. The term itself, "Virtual Reality," didn't even popularly exist until 1985.

Since Sutherland's pioneering innovations, the industry has had disorienting cycles of ups-and-downs for Augmented & Virtual Reality tech. There were holes in the yet-unfolding plot: Missing technology (we'd only just moved from tubes to transistors), a smaller pool of talent, and the interest and funding were primarily in medical or military-industrial fields.



The equipment that was purpose-built for those fields made tremendous technological leaps, but would by-and-large never be faced with a consumer. And, as with many technologies that started in the military, much of the early VR/AR equipment was classified.

We've previously written in great detail about the SSD development lifecycle and SSD manufacturing processes, but we've yet to delve into what really drives solid-state drives: Controllers. An SSD is effectively its own, self-contained computer-within-a-computer. It's got a CPU-equivalent in the form of a Flash Storage Processor (or Controller), complete with on-board cache, memory management, low-level firmware, and channels to the NAND Flash modules.


Because an SSD's Flash Storage Processor is effectively a specialized, purpose-built CPU, we'll limit this article to a few key, top-level aspects of controllers; we'll break the controller's numerous complex elements into several individual articles, with this one focusing on overprovisioning, write amplification factor, and video content.

Overprovisioning and Write Amplification Factor (WAF) were selected as our key topics for a few reasons: First, WAF plays a massive role in the longevity of the NAND Flash as it ages, directly impacting the usable life of the drive; second, the overprovisioned space on a drive dictates the available user space and performance. When helping our system builders select an SSD, our two most common questions have been "What's the endurance like?" and "Why is the capacity different between competing drives? Why is one 256GB and the other 240GB?" This article answers both of those questions.

Let's hit the video content first:

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