The 2008 Guide to Gaming PC Specs
PC gaming is always going forward. While a new console generation takes years to arrive, PC hardware evolves in much faster cycles, with new generation of hardware popping up every 6 to 12 months. Vendors naturally want to sell you their latest and greatest toys - preferably every six months - but if you are a gamer that purchases a computer based on what games actually need, there is actually little reason to follow a six month upgrade cycle. In addition to the hardware cycles, the PC side has the software development mixing things up: Windows Vista and DirectX 10 have been around for a while now, but do you really need DX10? What about Vista? What do games really need from a PC today? And how does the future look? We try to answer these questions, and give practical suggestions outlining a gaming PC worth buying today.
First, I must immediately state that this article does not take into account the possibilities of overclocking - that's a whole different subject and would require a separate, and lengthy, article. My personal opinion on the whole subject is that while it's a fun hobby, for day-to-day use you want a rock solid system that Just Works(tm). You should buy fast enough hardware so you don't need to overclock it just to get the performance you need. Extra speed for free is always a good thing, but in my opinion having to waste an evening trying to sort out why the system has suddenly decided to start bluescreening, only to find out that that "stable" overclock wasn't... it's just not worth it.
A fast CPU, with a midrange graphics card, is all World of Warcraft really needs - an oddity among games today.
This article is also a general view of the situation based on how most games perform today - there are always exceptions, and if your computer usage is limited to just one or two specific games (or applications), you should definitely find specific information about them before making any purchase decisions. A good example would be World of Warcraft - it is an anomaly among games today by being a CPU-limited game when played with any reasonably modern video card. While recent patches added some multithreading support, overall performance is mostly dictated by the speed of a single CPU core. So if your gaming is 99% World of Warcraft, some of the conclusions of this article would not apply.
I'm also limiting the subject to just the base unit, leaving out displays, keyboards, mouses, speakers and other bits that do not affect the measurable performance. CRTs may have gone to hang out with the dinosaurs, but just considering flat panel TFT displays, with all the different display technologies and related image quality issues, is such a complex subject that it would require a whole different article to cover it. In general, when buying a TFT display, you get what you pay for - exceptionally good image quality at high resolution tends to be expensive.
Trends from 2007
When you look at the system requirements printed on game boxes these days, they tend to be all over the place. While they are almost always technically true, they tend to bend the truth in several ways. The obvious first problem is that the "minimum requirements" are set expecting you to play at the absolute minimum settings - and the quality of the presentation at the minimum level varies from game to game. Another common "gotcha" is the fact that PC games can be played in different resolutions. 1600x1200 dis 2033 play has over six times as many pixels to fill as a 640x480 display, and this is a huge difference when considering what hardware you need to play a game.
YouGamers and our Game-o-Meter exists in part to try and tackle this very issue - reporting on the actual system requirements of games we review, so our readers could buy games knowing that they are playable and look acceptable on their system, instead of just barely starting up at 640x480 block-o-vision with every setting at minimum.
So, how was 2007? How did the PC game technology and the hardware requirements evolve and what are the trends for 2008? A complex question, but we'll take a shot at it based on our real world experience in trying to navigate the complexities of PC gaming - and we throw in some suggestions on what you should look for when upgrading or replacing your gaming system.
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