Every individual today owns some type of computer in their home. Every personal computer, game console, system, or utility employs computers in their mainframe. But what most people do not realize is that there is an entire culture of individuals who are dedicated to computer hardware. The progression of computer technology has created a diverse community of gamers who customize various hardware components in their PCs and has led to the development of a variety of gaming forums and websites which are used to discuss gaming hardware. This culture can be seen today as a consequence of the evolution of computer technology from the past up to the present.
The one piece technology that has had a lasting impact on the PC building community is the graphics card, the aspect of the computer that generates the game environment within the computer and projects it onto the screen. The first GPU was pioneered by Intel and was known as the "Video Graphics Controller Multimodule Board" (Swaine, 16). Although this GPU was only meant for creating basic lines and shapes, it was the first graphics card. Through the 1980s and 1990s, more advanced GPUs were created and put out on the market. It wasn't until the late nineties and early twenty-first century, after programmable shading was developed, that gamers began to start buying and upgrading their GPU much more heavily than ever before. The GPU is so important to gaming that even if the other components of the computer are subpar, if one has a decent GPU, a game still has the ability to run well. Though there are quite a few brands of graphics cards on the market, two of the most prominent ones in the gaming community are the graphics chips created by NVidia and AMD. Both are rival companies that produce top of the line graphics cards. The most powerful chips that these companies manufacture can produce up to a whopping teraflop of double-precision performance (Kingsley-Hughes). Many desktop computers on the market today have the ability to swap out the graphics card with a new one. This is an important feature for many gamers because graphics cards become outdated every year and need to be replaced so that one can run a game on the highest settings. There are also mobile versions of these graphics cards present on the market for players who desire extra portability, but they are slower and less powerful than their desktop counterparts because of the fact that they are clocked at a lower speed and contain less memory. And also unlike desktops, laptop graphics cards are usually soldered onto the motherboard that is situated inside the computer, so they cannot be swapped out. This is one of the reasons why many gamers build their own desktops or buy a very high end gaming laptop that will not be outdated any time soon. The reason why gamers do not want to upgrade their GPUs so quickly is because mid to high end graphics cards are fairly expensive. Although one can buy a low end graphics card, most gamers do not purchase them since they are outdated fairly quickly and lack the ability to play most modern games at a standard that is acceptable in the gaming community. Countless players also upload videos to social media websites such as YouTube describing how good their current GPU and setup runs a specific game. This allows gamers to choose which graphics cards they should purchase in order to efficiently run a game.
The critical component to every computer, and thus, every game, is the central processing unit. This is basically the brain of the computer in which every process is calculated. Although most games rely on the GPU, the CPU is also crucial. The first Intel chip was developed in the early seventies by Intel, once again. Today, the two companies that manufacture the bestselling processors are Intel and AMD. Intel's older lineup included its Core 2 Duo and Dual Core CPUs while its newer lineup includes its Core i series. Many experts agree that the new processors released by these companies offer great boosts in speed and overall responsiveness in normal tasks and in PC games due to their multi-core architecture (Reinders,307). The new processors that Intel has created support hyper-threading, or artificially doubling the amount of cores present on a computer, thus making normal and extreme tasks more responsive. Unlike the case with GPUs, most gamers do not upgrade their CPU often or at all. The reason for this is because a majority of CPUs are good enough to play modern games as long as the GPU is up to par. Most gamers tend to purchase a high end CPU that will usually last them for the lifetime of their current PC and then buy a new CPU when it is time to build a whole new PC. Websites such as Newegg have some of the most well-known deals on CPUs that gamers in the gaming community recommend on many online forums. They are so popular that they have actually been in conflict with normal retailers such as Best Buy due to advertising issues (Dennis). Some games, such as Assassins Creed III, require a very expensive and high level CPU to run smoothly, such as an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor. On the other hand, computer games such as World of Warcraft or League of Legends, do not require such a powerful CPU or GPU and can run fairly well on most modern computers. This is due to the fact that the makers of these games want them to be playable by anyone who owns a half decent PC in order to secure a higher player base. The higher the player base, the more profits these companies generate. They do not want players to purchase a very expensive computer in order to play the game or their game would not be very successful in the market.
There is more to computer gaming than just the CPU and GPU. Storage and RAM also play a role. Many gaming enthusiasts prefer to use SSDs, or solid state drives, just to install games. These drives do not use physical components but rather flash memory that that is several times faster than a traditional hard drive (Chen, 6). These drives can potentially cut loading times in half for many games. This can be important in many games where the loading times are very long, such as Deus Ex Human Revolution. Some gamers just buy these drives exclusively to install PC games, since they are expensive in larger size specifications. RAM is not too important in the gaming realm since it is just random access memory, and as per its definition, it's only used to access parts of the game and it is not directly used to generate the environments and character models. Many gaming enthusiasts also pay attention to the keyboard and mouse they use to play games. Games such Starcraft and World of Warcraft require a significant amount of "hotkeying", or assigning certain abilities to specific keys on the keyboard or mouse. If a gamer does not use hotkeys, they are at a disadvantage compared to everyone who does utilize them. Only certain types of mice have keys on the side that are programmable hotkeys. These are usually more expensive than normal mice and have a much better grip that is molded to fit a human hand, right or left, depending on the individual. Alongside a mouse, a gamer also needs a fine keyboard. The best types of keyboards on the market are mechanical keyboards. One example of a mechanical keyboard is the Razor Blackwidow. Not only do mechanical keyboards help gamers type more rapidly and more precisely, they last much longer than the average keyboard that consumers normally purchase (Miller). This is because they use actual, physical switches underneath the keys to determine if an individual has pressed a key. The signal is then transmitted to the computer that you have pressed the key. This gives a more audible and tactile response which normal keyboards that have rubber membranes underneath, lack. Many gamers prefer this type of keyboard because it improves their game and is generally more responsive in-game than a normal keyboard. This is why many gamers who own mechanical keyboards and programmable mice fare much better in MMORPGS. A component that many normal consumers overlook is the monitor, but gamers do not. Monitors come in various shapes and sizes, but the best ones are obviously the ones with the highest resolutions. Contrast ratio, the difference between the lightest and darkest part of an image, also matters. The reason for this is because when one encounters an area in a game in which the lighting is low, the monitor can provide the player with many fine details that would otherwise be missing in a display that does not have a high contrast ratio. Some games such as Dead Space, which has numerous environments filled with low lighting and dark rooms, look much sharper and are more enjoyable to play on a screen with a greater contrast ratio. Televisions usually have high contrast ratios and some gamers connect their PCs with them through an HDMI cable. While there were many types of TVs in the past that were similar in quality, experts agree that the best type of TV on the market right now is the LED. The reason for this is their ridiculously high contrast ratio coupled with their energy efficient design (Anandan). Many individuals in the gaming community testify to the superior picture quality of a PC that it is connected to a TV than a normal console due to the superior hardware within the PC.
How can one measure how smoothly a game runs while it is being played? Frames per second, or frame rate, is that measure. PC gamers occasionally use programs in order to measure frames per second. An example of one of these programs is FRAPS, which displays the frame rate of a game in the top left corner and monitors it in real time. Frame rate is more important in some games than others. In fighting games, such as Devil May Cry 4, frame rate is very important because the character is fighting multiple enemies and every swing of the sword can be the difference between life and death in the game. In games such as Starcraft, frame rate is less important since the game doesn't rely on too many fast motions with the character models. In general, frame rate is crucial to games that rely on the fluidity of motion, such as fighting games and action adventure games. Many console games are limited to 30 frames per second, although a few games, mostly re-mastered versions of the previous generation, run at 60 frames per second. Most gamers in the gaming community assert that to smoothly play a game, 30 frames per second is a requirement. 60 frames, however, is more lifelike and realistic, and is the standard PC gamers aim for. If the frame rate is below that, the user begins to experience slowdown, which in the gaming community is known as "lag" (Ware,4). This is one of the many reasons why numerous gamers prefer gaming on the PC rather than gaming on a console. On a console, you are limited to outdated hardware, whereas on a PC you can upgrade to the latest hardware. An interesting item to note here is that game developers are always going to develop games for consoles, so any decent laptop or desktop that was released after a current console has the ability to play a modern game to some extent.
On many internet forums, such as the popular gaming site GameFaqs, gamers discuss gaming hardware. They post details ranging from the frame rate they achieve with their "rig", or gaming setup, to the cheapest SSD available on the market. There is quite a large community of gamers who discuss computer specifications, or "specs", in relation to gaming. It is interesting to note that gamers in these communities who have a better rig than others tend to use it as bragging rights and put it as their "signature" on message boards. Some individuals complain about how their PC is not able to run a game and are mocked by arrogant gamers who say things like "buy a new PC" or "you can't run anything with that ancient thing." A significant amount of gamers like to "max out" their collection of computer games. "Max out" is a colloquial term that refers to the ability of a computer to run a game with all of its settings at maximum smoothly, that is, at around sixty frames per second. The settings in game can range from the resolution the game can run at, which the number of vertical and horizontal lines come together to create the picture, to the anti-aliasing, which is a fancy term for the reduction of jagged edges in the polygons within the game. The resolution most modern games run at is HD, or high definition, which is defined as one that provides "twice the vertical resolution of present television standards" (Gittenger). Games that run in high definition resolutions are more taxing on the internals of a computer. This is why many console games do not run at 1080p and instead 720p, even though the latter is technically considered to be an HD resolution. Another feature that players can control is the amount and detail of the shadows present in the game. Shadows are another feature that can reduce performance on low end machines due to their demanding nature. Players on gaming forums suggest which settings to turn down to get the optimal playing experience and which settings affect frame rate the most. This allows others gamers who play the game with similar hardware to tweak their settings in game and therefore get a much smoother gaming experience. This feedback is important in the gaming community since some settings drastically reduce frame rate and do not increase visual quality substantially.
A substantial amount of gamers in the gaming community and online forums tend to "overclock" their hardware in order to secure a higher frame rate and boost performance in games. Overclocking is basically turning up the core clock and memory clock of either the GPU or CPU in order to enhance the power of either piece of hardware. The manufacturer did not intend for people to do this, but in the gaming community, many individuals do so anyway. Gamers mostly overclock their graphics cards and tend to overclock their CPU less, as the graphics card is more important to securing a higher frame rate. There are many specific guides online for every type of graphics card and the settings that are best used for the specific overclock one is trying to achieve. Free programs online have the ability to overclock your graphics card, an example being EVGA Precision (Gordon). This program in particular overclocks Nvidia cards and has a simple interface that is easy to use for most gamers. If an overclock is done right, it has the ability to boost frame rate by more fifteen frames per second, a feat that is sometimes equivalent to purchasing a higher end graphics card. This illustrates the reason why many gamers overclock their hardware. Overclocking has its negatives too, however. The extra clock speed results in greater temperatures within the GPU or CPU and has the ability to damage the internal hardware components. This is most apparent on a laptop and is the reason why many gamers purchase cooling pads. Sites such as Amazon have reviews that the gaming community has written on the best types of cooling pads for certain laptops that keep internal temperatures low and stable. Gamers on Gamefaqs and Neoseeker post their overclock settings that allowed them to achieve the most stable internal temperature in their PC. This exemplifies the extent to which gamers rely on these gaming websites in order to get the most out of their gaming setup.
Ultimately, the acceleration of computer hardware has led to the advent of a community of gamers who construct and develop their own PCs while discussing and comparing gaming hardware and software online. It is interesting to note that while the PC is the most powerful platform available today, many developers tend to give preference to the console versions of games, due to the fact that they have a higher player base and are less susceptible to piracy. It comes as no surprise then that there is greater fan base for console gaming than there is for PC gaming and the reason why game developers do not port many games to the PC. Will developers begin to develop more seriously and copiously for the PC platform in the near future and affect these gaming communities that have developed around gaming hardware? Only time will tell.
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