Last week we talked about how to spruce up your PC to deal with high-end games like "No-One Lives Forever" and the like, and as promised, this week we are going to be addressing storage, sound systems and monitors, the other major elements of your setup. We might even have time to check out other disposables like mice, mats and keyboards too!
Although many people look upon hard-drives as lumps of metal with lots of data inside them, they are actually pretty complex beasts, coming in all shapes, sizes and formats. Most common is the IDE system - most motherboards have a simple little black connector which you plug a ribbon from your hard-drive into. SCSI is a similar format, but much faster, and requires an extra controller card, but is plugged in in very much the same way. From there most hard-drives now come with a utility to format and prepare your disk for storage, and if it's an older disk you can always use FDisk or a similar utility to partition it. There's a lot of babble about setting drive up as master, slaves, dishwashers etc, but in reality it's a simple matter of moving a little rubber jumper from one set of pins to another; nothing dangerous or even awkward. The question of where you money should be spent this Christmas is fairly easy to answer too. If you're looking for a high performance hard-drive to act as your main boot disk, both IBM and Seagate offer affordable solutions; the Deskstar 75GXP and the Barracuda II respectively. The IBM is quite expensive, but of a very high build quality, and comes in 30Gb, 45Gb, 60Gb and 75Gb flavours. The most cost-effective being the 45Gb at about £160 all in. The Barracuda II performs well and comes in a perhaps more realistic 20Gb size at about £100. If you plan to buy for storage space more than speed, you'd best be looking at Maxtor's range of DiamondMax drives. The 60Gb drive is less than £200 - a real bargain, and the 80Gb has just hit the market to boot. While these drives are slightly slower in the grand scheme of things, with a drive meant principally for storing files it isn't all that important, and probably favourable to a drive which takes a couple of seconds to spin up to full speed. Options:-
Although some would argue that one pair of speakers is very much the same as any other, the wealth of difference to be found between one £10 set from PC World and a quality pair from someone like Videologic is truly remarkable. In particular the Sirocco Spirits set, which gives you two big pounding speakers which can be nicely positioned for loud music, and their slightly more expensive Digitheatre DTS set, which we heartily recommend to anyone seeking a good set for DVD playback. At the other end of the scale, Creative's performance sets are very impressive value for money. The company bought out Cambridge Soundworks, an exceptional talent, a couple of years back, and since then their product line has been nothing but spectacular in this field. The speakers in question, the FPS2000 Digital Surround Speakers are available for as little as £50 from some companies. In the sound card department there's plenty to go round as well. Creative's ever popular Soundblaster Live! series still outsells most of the rest of the market, with only Videologic's SonicFury really doing any better. With a great software package though, it really excels. If you have slightly more cash to spend, you might like to go for the Soundblaster Live! Platinum however. With its extra front panel outputs it really trounces much of the opposition. It does cost just shy of £150, but it is top of the market at the moment. Couple that with some good speakers and you will notice the difference. It's surprisingly audible, even if you think the crumby monitor huggers that came with your PC are doing a fair job. Treat yourself, or get a relative to do it! Options:-
This is an area this writer has had to give a lot of thought to recently after a slight accident involving a rather weak desk and a rather heavy 19" monitor. At the moment there are lots of options available to potential buyers, with flat panels, regular CRT monitors and now CRT monitors with flat displays courtesy of Sony's Trinitron tubing and the like. Our personal favourite here is the Iiyama range of VisionMasters. The Pro 450, a 19" CRT with a flat display, is a remarkable piece of engineering and with quite a reasonable price tag. We had a chance to check one of these out a while ago, and it boasts a lot of features. Dual inputs allow people to use more than one system with the same monitor - if for instance you use a gaming system and a portable used for work, and a detachable base with extra USB ports and the like is available separately. The higher end Iiyama is a 22" model with many of the same perks, and costs about £700. An excellent idea if you need a lot or desktop space. Elsewhere, 15" monitors are now so cheap that many people don't stock them any more, but companies like Belinea do a fine line in cheap 17" and 19" rounded displays. The 10 60 30 is a 19" rounded display that costs approximately £250 including VAT. As for flat panels, it's an expensive business. TFT analogue displays come in at about a £650 starting price, and the larger displays can cost as much as £2400. Oh, and if you can't stop throwing money around, you can order a 42" WideNix Plasma Monitor, costing £5200. That would certainly be quite a Christmas present. Options:-
Odds and Sods
So you've just about blown all of your Christmas bonus money on hardware upgrades - what's left? Well although graphics cards, processors and monitors are good for improving the state of your games, if you want to see your performance improve, you had better make sure you have a decent set of controllers. Best for the job is an optical mouse, a good, firm keyboard and some sort of precision mousing surface. The mice can vary in their effectiveness, but personal favourites here at EuroGamer are the Logitech MouseMan Optical, and Intel's IntelliMouse Explorer. In our rigorous tests however, the former has outlasted the latter by some considerable length of time. As for mousing surfaces; while some claim that they are pointless when using an optical mouse, we disagree. The Logitech and Explorer are both well at home on an Everglide Giganta or a Ratpad, both of which cost between £10 and £20. If you need something to help improve your rail aim, there's nothing better. Options:-