From the Kenosha News on 10-30-05

     Video is king on customized gaming computers

     Last week, we talked about computers for the "average user." The week, we focus on computers for gaming. If you have someone in your house who wants to play games such as Call of Duty 2, Half-Life 2, etc. on his/her computer, that computer needs some special capabilities.

     Unlike last week's advice to buy a very standard computer, gamers can often benefit from a customized or made-to-order PC. There are even companies – like Alienware - that specialize in building gaming PCs. A gaming PC is almost always a desktop since they can handle more RAM, faster processors, and superior video. A desktop is also more expandable, allowing you to upgrade specific components as needed. Also, gaming computers should run Windows since most games are written specifically for Windows.

     The most important component of the gaming computer is the video card. Since video games have "video-like" graphics, they require a lot of power. A cutting edge video card will use PCI-Express, costing anywhere from $300-$500, making it the most expensive component of a gaming PC. Be sure you have a PCI-Express capable motherboard. AGP-based cards are still available but will soon be obsolete.

     Processor speed and RAM are also crucial. Look at the hardware requirements on the back of the box for the games you want to run. An average amount of RAM is 1GB; 2GB is preferred. A 2.5 GHz or faster processor is a must. If you have a fast video card, a 3GHz processor is needed to prevent your processor from becoming a bottleneck.

     Ethernet and a high-speed internet connection are crucial if you're going to play games on-line. The speed at which you communicate with the on-line game server (sending information to the serve and receiving it back – one round trip) is called latency and sometimes referred to as "ping." The goal is to have a latency of below 100ms, which generally requires cable access or higher-end DSL.

     Game developers have begun to utilize DVD disks to distribute games since they hold as much as about 6 CDs, so get a DVD drive. Your hard drive should hold at least 100 GB, since games are becoming larger, with some using a whopping 10 GB of space.

     Ultimately, you'll end up spending at least twice as much on a gaming computer as you would for a basic computer for word processing, spreadsheets, and e-mail. Some gamers even like to customize the computer's case with glowing lights and other options reminiscent of customized cars. If you don't have experience building PCs, it is suggested that you buy from a trusted manufacturer. However, if you have the skills and wish to build your own without the middle man, carries all the components needed to build your own PC. Before you do this, be sure you know how everything connects together, like which type of slots each component needs on the motherboard.

     The technical portions of this article were mostly written by my son Ken, a senior at Tremper High School who not only plays computer games but studies German and history, participates in yearbook and drama club, and is working toward the rank of Eagle Scout with Troop 538.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 10-30-05