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Looking at PC Gaming Requirements for Your Home Network

6 of 6 in Series: The Essentials of Home Network Gaming

PC gaming for home networks is considered to be on the cutting edge among gaming enthusiasts. Some important PC gaming requirements consist of hardware components such as the video card, processor and memory, sound, and game controllers. Although you can get started with PC gaming on any PC (or Mac), if you’re a hardcore gamer, you’re going to need more bells and whistles.

If you’ve got a specific game in mind, look on the box (or the game developer’s Web site) for minimum requirements. Every manufacturer will list a set of minimum requirements and most will also provide an optimum configuration for best performance.

Video cards for PC gaming

PC games use the most powerful high-resolution graphics technology available, which is why they are so appealing to gaming enthusiasts. But to experience those incredible graphics, you’ll need an equally powerful high-resolution video card. The video card in your PC affects the overall quality of your gaming experience: what games you can play, how they look, and how well they run.

Generally speaking there are two types of video graphics cards:

  • Integrated graphics: These are video cards that are built into the motherboard of a computer (most often in a notebook computers, but also in less expensive desktop computers) and use a portion of the computer’s main RAM (random access memory) for video processing. These cards are typically less powerful and less suited for hardcore gaming. If your computer has integrated graphics, there’s likely no way to upgrade it.

  • Discrete graphics: These are separate cards, connected to the PC’s motherboard via the PCI Express or other bus, with their own video RAM or memory. You’ll know you have this if your PC’s specs say something like NVIDIA GeForce or ATI Radeon.

In most desktop computers (those with discrete graphics), it’s possible to upgrade your video card when your gaming requirements require you to do so or when newer, bigger, and better cards become available. In laptop computers, this typically isn’t possible.

There are hundreds of video cards available on the market, with manufacturers continuously bringing out new models and new variants of existing models. In general, you should look for features such as:

  • Lots of memory: For casual gaming, at least 256MB (512MB is better); for hardcore gaming, look for at least a gigabyte of memory.

  • DirectX support: DirectX is Microsoft’s graphics technology for Windows. DirectX 11 is the latest version, and you should look for a card that supports this version if your games require it.

  • Clock speeds: You can find measurements of the memory bus, the core bus speed of the card, and the shader (the CPU within the graphics card). In these cases, a bigger number means a faster card, compared to a similar card with lower numbers.

In the end, even if you know all of the stats, it's hard to really compare video cards just by the numbers. Your best bet is to look on the Web, on sites like Tom’s Hardware, and look for actual tests of the cards on games you’re interested in playing.

Processor and memory for PC gaming

A fast processor and lots of memory is important for more than just gaming. The processor and memory affects the overall speed and performance of your PC. Most newer PCs now have multiple-core processors and at least 2 gigabytes (GB) of memory. (4GB is increasingly becoming the minimum and 8 or more GB of memory is probably a good range.)

Processors are usually not the bottleneck in PC game performance. You’ll typically get a bigger performance lift by investing in a better video card or more memory rather than a faster processor.

If you want to do some serious gaming, you should consider a PC with one of Intel or AMD’s latest CPUs. In the case of Intel, this means a processor from the Core family (Core i3, i5, and i7); for AMD, this means a processor from the Phenom and Phenom II product lines. For more casual gaming, Intel’s older Core 2 Duo or AMD’s Athlon processors are more than suitable.

Sound for PC gaming

Of course, having awesome graphics is only part of the complete PC gaming experience. You can’t play realistic explosions and DVD-quality soundtracks through a PC speaker! You’ll need to invest in a good multimedia sound card and some surround-sound speakers to get the most out of your gaming PC.

For most folks, the sound cards built into any PC is good enough for gaming purposes, but if you’re interested in hooking your gaming PC into a surround-sound system, you might wish to choose a PC (or upgrade an existing one) with a gaming-specific card that plugs into the PC’s PCI Express bus. You can find such cards from manufacturers such as Creative Labs or ASUS for $50 to $100.

Game controllers

Most PC games can be played with a mouse and keyboard, but who wants to drive a Ferrari or fly a stealth fighter using the up-, down-, left- and right-arrow keys? There are lots of cool joysticks, steering wheels, and other gadgets that you can connect to your PC to provide a more complete gaming experience. Most gaming controllers connect to your PC via a USB cable, but you can also find Bluetooth wireless controllers.

Often times, PC games are configured to work with both a standard keyboard and mouse combination and with some sort of controller. Luckily, most controllers work with Microsoft’s Windows Human Interface Device specifications, which the games themselves also utilize. In most cases, you simply need to connect your controller to your PC, install any drivers that came with it, and then configure the settings within your game to let it know you’re using a controller.

Check out CBS Interactive’s GameSpot and IGN Entertainment’s GameSpy for expert opinions and advice about the best PC gaming hardware.

Beyond the hardware components mentioned here, connecting your gaming PC to your home network is really no different than connecting any other PC on your network. You can set up a wired or wireless connection and start playing!

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