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141. Gaming on the computer

By Andrew D. Wright

Between consoles and personal computers, gaming has never been more popular. With strong plotlines and production values, famous name actors and top-tier soundtracks, games are becoming the new movies.

Playing games on the personal computer has several advantages over console gaming. There are more titles, a greater ability to customize the game experience and you can upgrade both hardware and software as time goes by to improve the game experience.

When purchasing a game, be sure to check the system requirements to make sure you can run the game properly. You'll need to know some things about your computer, typically the type and speed of your computer's processor, the amount of memory and free disk space on the computer, the operating system and the type of video card.

Freeware programs CPU-Z and GPU-Z put this information and more in an easy-to-read format. CPU (Central Processing Unit) is your computer's processor and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is the processor on your video card.

Users running Windows XP should make sure their version of Microsoft DirectX is current. DirectX is used to display graphics and play game sounds. DirectX 9.0c is the latest version for Windows XP and earlier. It's updated with security patches and bugfixes every few months. For reasons of its own, Microsoft makes finding this update on their website difficult and requires Windows to be validated to download it.

Users with Windows Vista are running DirectX version 10; Vista Service Pack 1 users run version 10.1. Unlike earlier versions of Windows, DirectX updates are automatic for Vista users.

For the purposes of game playing, Vista-only DirectX 10 enhances visuals like water and smoke effects, making them appear more realistic.

Video cards are cheaper than ever and very good video cards can be bought for $200 and under. Most video card processors are made by one of two companies, NVidia and AMD-ATI. NVidia has had some recent well-publicized manufacturing issues resulting in much higher than normal failure rates for their video cards so at the time of this writing AMD-ATI video cards are probably a better bet.

It is a very good idea to stay on top of driver updates for your video card. Driver updates offer bugfixes and frequently significant performance boosts. Both major manufacturers release new drivers monthly.

Sound is an important part of video gaming. It's worth investing in a sound card that can support surround sound if there is not one on the computer already. Good quality 5.1 surround sound speakers for a computer can be had locally for around $60. Properly set up and supported, gaming with surround sound is very immersive: it's always nice to hear something coming up behind you before it gets you.

Two terms that often come up with gaming are framerate and latency. Framerate is how many frames per second a video card can produce. More frames per second means more natural, fluid movement. Framerate can be increased by lowering a game's resolution so there is less detail on the screen and by turning off the eye candy - things like realistic shadows and reflections - in the game's Options menu.

Latency is a term that comes up with networked games. When you hear latency, think delay. The lower the latency, the better. Latency is usually measured in milliseconds and most game servers will have a problem with latency higher than three or four hundred milliseconds. Latency comes from your internet connection. If you are not soaking up your connection with a lot of downloads and still have a high latency, try connecting to a game server nearer to you.


Microsoft DirectX 9 Updates for Windows (free):


CPU-Z (free):


GPU-Z (free):


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Originally published 24 October 2008


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