Build it on a budget: A $500 workhorse PC

You may remember well over a year ago when we first introduced a budget build guide for DIY PC builders, and it’s long overdue for a refresh. Computer components have come a long way since then, and Intel recently launched their new 4th-generation Core Haswell chips.

As I mentioned in last year’s guide, not everyone needs an end-all tricked out custom PC with water cooling and all the bells and whistles. You most likely just want a computer that can get work done. This budget system will be great for most everyday tasks, as well as more slightly intensive activities like some gaming, streaming movies and music, and editing photos and home movies.


This budget build assumes that you already have a mouse, keyboard, and a monitor lying around to use with your new system, and that you’ll only need the basic components to get up and running. I’ll also only be listing off my recommended parts, so if you don’t know how to build a computer but want to learn, Lifehacker has a great guide that’s perfect for the computer-building novice. With that said, let’s get to it.

Case and PSU

Thermaltake V3 Black Edition ATX Mid-Tower with 430W Power Supply – $60

We decided to go a bit more expensive with the case and power supply bundle this time around, and we think the upgrade is worth it. The Thermaltake case is way better looking than the Rosewell that we chose last time, and the 430W power supply should be more than enough to handle anything with this machine.


MSI B85M-P33 Motherboard – $65

It’s a low-cost motherboard, but it has all the bell and whistles that you’d need; SATA III, USB 3.0, six total USB ports, and both DVI and VGA connectors. Plus, MSI is a good brand that we trust.


Intel Core i3-4130 3.4GHz Dual-Core Processor – $130

This is Intel’s latest 4th-generation Haswell chip, and with 3.4GHz of dual-coreness, it’ll be speedy enough to breeze through most tasks you throw at it. The 4130 is one of Intel’s slowest Haswell chips, so it certainly won’t be as fast as other options, but for a budget build, this will be pretty solid.


Intel HD Graphics 4400

We didn’t include a dedicated graphics card, mostly because we’re trying to keep this build around $500, but the 4400 integrated graphics that come with the Core i3 CPU are actually pretty solid. They won’t be able to play any of the more graphic-intensive AAA titles, but HD video playback will be flawless and casual gamers will still be able to enjoy their selection of games.


G.Skill Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 – $72

While we chose 4GB as the sweet spot with the last time we picked out a budget build, we feel that 8GB is now the new norm. Any more than that would be mostly unnecessary unless you plan on rendering a lot of HD video and such.

Hard Drive

Western Digital WD Blue 1TB SATA III Hard Drive – $75

WDC-Caviar-BlueHard drive prices have gone down tremendously since our last budget build, so we decided to go with a 1TB drive this time around. We feel that this is an ample amount of storage for those who have a lot of photos, music, movies, etc., but it’s also not too much storage that you wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Of course, you can never really have too much storage, so feel free to bump it up to 2TB if need be. You can usually find some pretty good deals on high-capacity hard drives.

Optical Drive

Asus 24x DVD Burner – $20

This one’s pretty simple and easy; find a 24x DVD burner and buy it. They’re stupidly cheap and there’s no reason not to get one.

Operating System

Windows 7 Home Premium – $100

Yeah, we know that Windows 8 has been out for almost a year, but we’re still sticklers for Windows 7. However, if you really want Windows 8, it’s the same price as its predecessor. You can also get a copy of Linux for free, allowing to spend that saved $100 on upgrading other components.

Total Cost: $522

That final price doesn’t account for shipping, so you’ll want to make sure you set aside some cash for the guys at UPS or FedEx, but if you can find the parts at an online store with free shipping, then all the more power to you.

Obviously, don’t take my word for everything I suggested here. I know everyone has their own opinions on components. If you have any questions about your own budget build, you can leave a comment below or you can visit the many online resources available to you. Tom’s Hardware Forums is just one place that can provide you with a lot helpful feedback.

Image Credit: kodomut

Game review: Eufloria HD is a relaxing, ambient strategy game

When most people think about strategy games, they probably imagine scenarios pitting orcs against humans, or the U.S. versus the U.S.S.R, or maybe the Vasari versus the Advent. What they probably don’t think of is space battles between rival groups of plants, but that’s the premise of Eufloria HD, a real-time strategy(RTS) game recently ported to iOS from the PC platform.

The idea sounds like it would be goofy and over-the-top, something in the vein of Plants-vs-Zombies, but by using a minimalistic, pastel themed design and a subtle plot, indie developers Alex May, Rudolf Kremers, and Brian Grainger created a game that’s artful and relaxing.


Eufloria’s strategy elements are straightforward, making it a good option for players who are new to the RTS genre. In each level of the game, the player is put in control of a home-base asteroid inhabited by seedlings. These seedlings can be used to create trees that in turn produce more seedlings or to do battle against the seedlings of other asteroids.

The goal of most levels is to take control of the asteroids in the area by defeating rival seedling groups. There are a few levels that switch this formula up by requiring you to protect specific asteroids or produce a certain number of seedlings, but there’s not much variance in gameplay and it’s one of the few criticisms I have of the game. There were very few scenarios that couldn’t be won by just producing a large army of seedlings and overwhelming the enemy.

The Wonder of Life
“The human reproductive cycle” or “Seedlings at war”

There are a few variants of defensive trees and offensive seedlings that can be produced but they don’t have a tremendous effect on the course of the game and in many cases can be ignored. For those that aren’t fans of the sometimes overwhelming number of upgrade options found in more complex strategy games like Command & Conquer this is probably a plus.

At times I found myself missing that type of gameplay depth, but paired with the simple aesthetics of the game the limited options seem to fit. This is a game that you can relax with and not worry so much about the repercussions of the technology research path you chose for your army.

Eufloria contains both a story mode and a skirmish(challenge) mode. Progress in the game’s story unlocks new skirmish challenges. These skirmish levels add replay value to the game and in some cases a little more challenge for those who are looking for it.

Availability & pricing

Eufloria HD is available on both iPhone and iPad through the App Store for $4.99  and the PC for $14.99 through Steam. It is also part of Humble Bundle 4 for Android with pre-release versions available for Android, Mac, and Linux.

Final thoughts

Although the strategy is basic, Eufloria ultimately won me over due to how well the touch interface was implemented – it’s intuitive and fun to use. It’s also a rare type of strategy game that’s easy to jump into and out of, letting you relax on the couch without having to commit to an extended play-session.

I’m honestly not a fan of the game on the PC. There are just too many better, more interesting options like Starcraft if I’m going to be sitting at a desk, but it works well as a touch/mobile game and that’s the platform I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in taking the plunge.

How to build a custom computer, Part 1: Getting Started

Today we look at big and bulky desktop PCs like they are a thing of the past. Our mobile devices pack huge amounts of processing power and they manage to squeeze that into very small formats. Consoles are taking over gaming, but a good desktop PC can still turn heads.

Origin PC Custom Gaming Desktop
Origin PC Custom Gaming Desktop

There are many companies that provide “custom” gaming desktops and so forth, but there are some tips you can apply to any desktop PC. Before you invest money into any solution like this, ask yourself what you will use it for mostly. A very basic configuration can cost way under $500 and will still play HD content, provide you with ample storage and many other great ways to make your time worthwhile.

If you are looking for a solid workstation or a beastly gaming machine, things get a lot more difficult.

There are a couple of rules that you can keep in mind for any of the above mentioned choices:

  • Upgrades – you want your system to support the latest upgrades for as long as possible; a good motherboard is the key to do just that
  • Chassis – invest in a good computer chassis since this will last you for ages; this also influences cooling, wire management and what hardware you can fit into it
  • Power Supply – get a certified power supply with ample wattage; a home office/ multimedia PC will do just fine with a 450 Watt power supply but if you want some gaming, go for a 600 Watt PSU as a minimum
  • Storage – do not go overboard here; despite the massive storage needs today’s multimedia files have and the massive amount of space games take up, there is no point in investing in a lot of storage from the start; save the money since you can add more later
  • Memory – you can always get more later and 8 GB (2x 4GB kits) are quite cheap and provide you with ample performance

Building a desktop PC isn’t difficult either. Buying the components and assembling the system yourself is very easy and you could finish one easily in one day. Most of these ready-built machines have that added to the price tag, so you can save some money there. Not only that, but you will have the pride of running your own system.

If you are unsure about the entire process, worry not since companies like AVA Direct even offer barebones or DIY systems for just a few dollars. Getting a good desktop PC off the ground can be fun, cheap and rewarding. To help you with the entire process, I will be posting a small series covering all the important aspects of building a PC from scratch.

Build it on a Budget: A sub-$500 get-work-done rig

Look, not every computer you build has to be a tricked-out gaming rig with flashing LEDs and a complete water-cooling system. Some of us just need a machine that we can use to get work done in an efficient manner. This is where my heavily thought-out budget build comes into play. And we’re not talking about really cheap APU crap — we’re going all-out Intel 2nd-gen Core i3 that will even have enough room for some expandability in the future, all for under $500.

This budget system will serve you well for most everyday tasks, as well as other more slightly intensive activities like some gaming, streaming movies and music from the web, and even bigger projects like editing photos and home movies.

This build assumes that you already have a mouse, keyboard, and monitor lying around to use with your new system and that you’ll only need the basic components to get up and running. Also, I’m assuming off-the-bat that you already know how to build a computer from scratch, but if you don’t (and there’s no need to be ashamed), Lifehacker has a great guide that’s perfect for the computer-building novice.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the components that will make up this sub-$500 workhorse.

The Case and Power Supply: Rosewill R103A Mid-Tower Case w/ 350W Power Supply – $39.99

The R103A isn’t an Antec Twelve Hundred by any means, but it certainly will get the job done, and the included 350-watt power supply will give us more than enough juice to power our budget build.

The Motherboard: ASUS P8H61-M LE/CSM Micro ATX Motherboard – $70.99

Asus is certainly a trusted name in motherboards and the P8H61-M is no exception. It’s a budget board that will serve you well throughout the life of your machine. It sports six USB ports, four SATA ports, a PCI Express slot (for a future graphics card), and DVI and VGA ports for the integrated graphics.

The Processor: Intel Core i3-2105 3.1GHz Dual-Core Processor – $134.99

I went with Intel for this budget build, but you’re free to substitute in AMD if you choose. However, the Core i3-2105 is quite a bang for the buck. The 3.1GHz dual-core chip is a solid processor that will certainly be able to keep up with most tasks you throw at it, and the HD 3000 integrated graphics will play most basic games that you’ll want (From my experience, the HD 3000 graphics play Portal 2 without a hiccup).

The RAM: Crucial 4GB DDR3 1333 Dual Channel RAM – $27.99

4GB is the sweet spot for memory in most budget builds, but it’s so cheap nowadays that you’re free to upgrade to 8GB if you so choose, just be aware that the motherboard I chose only has two DIMM slots, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem here — 2x4GB memory kits are very common.

The Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Blue 320GB Hard Drive – $74.99

Unlike RAM, hard drives are ridiculously expensive right now, but prices should go back down to normal before year’s end. I obviously would have gone with a larger hard drive if the budget was a little higher, but 320GB is enough room for the main system files, all of your programs, and a selection of media files.

The Optical Drive: Samsung 22x DVD Burner – $16.99

Selecting an optical drive is pretty simple and they’re really cheap: Just select something that works for your needs, but because of the low prices, there’s no reason not to go for an all-out DVD burner just ’cause.

The OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit – $99.99

A bulk of the price for the budget build is from the operating system. I chose Windows 7 by default since that’s what most of you will probably run, but feel free to save yourself $100 and use Linux or try your hands at a Hackintosh with a $30-copy of Mac OS X Lion.

Total price of the budget build: $465.93


As you can see, we have a bit of room to work with as far as our $500 budget. There’s $34.07 left over. That’s not a lot of money, but you could use it to upgrade the hard drive to a higher capacity or double the amount of RAM like I mentioned earlier.

Obviously, don’t take my word for everything I suggested here. I know everyone has their own opinions on what should have been included and excluded. Also, don’t feel obligated to use only Newegg/Amazon to buy your components. Feel free to use another e-tailer, especially if you can find the components cheaper there.

If you have any questions about your own budget build, you can leave a comment below or you can visit the many online resources available to you. Tom’s Hardware Forums is just one place that can provide you with a lot helpful feedback.

Image Credit: Iwan Gabovitch

How to give your computer a good spring cleaning this year

It’s that time of year, folks! The weather is changing and that means it’s time to do some spring cleaning on your computer at home. If you’re like the millions of computer owners out there, you most likely haven’t run malware scans in months and there’s probably random, unused files just sitting their collecting dust and taking up space. Your desktop is probably cluttered with random icons and your media files are most likely strewn all over the place.

All of this can wreak havoc on your machine’s speed and agility, but I’ll be listing off some tips and techniques for getting your PC back to how it should be.

Note: This guide is mostly geared towards novice computer users. However, I mention different tools and apps that still might be helpful for the geeks, and it also won’t hurt if you print this page out right now and lay it on a relative’s computer desk.

Delete Temporary Files

Files that are out of sight are definitely out of mind. Most likely your computer has tons of unused temp files just sitting there doing nothing. CCleaner is my favorite tool for cleaning up the unnecessary clutter. It’s extremely user-friendly and even if you don’t know what all the settings are, CCleaner automatically selects what is recommended, so all you have to do is press the big green button.

You’ll notice that CCleaner has a feature that will clean your PC’s registry, but it’s not necessary to utilize it. A lot of users think that cleaning up the clutter in the registry will increase your PC’s performance, but it actually doesn’t affect it all that much and you won’t notice a huge difference. Plus, messing around with the registry is pretty risky business anyway; one wrongly deleted registry file and your PC could start having some issues.


Get rid of any programs that you no longer use. That nifty greeting card creator that you used to make your Mom’s birthday card two years ago isn’t going to delete itself. For Windows XP, simply navigate to Start>Control Panel>Add or Remove Programs. For Vista and 7, go to Start>Control Panel>Programs and Features. For Mac OS X, Simply drag-and-drop an application from the Applications folder to the Trash.

Deleting any unwanted programs you might have will most likely free up a lot hard disk space that you never knew you had. CCleaner can also delete any of your unwanted programs, and I personally believe that it does a better job at it than the Windows method. If you’re not sure what something is, it’s best to just leave it alone and not delete it, but a simple Google search will most likely let you know what it is and what it does.

Organize, Organize, Organize

I believe this is a key component to having a clean PC and ultimately a clutter-free mind. Organizing all your files and maintaining your frequently accessed folders is not only essential to having a clean machine, but also makes it easier for you to find stuff in the future. It’s also said that removing the tons of files and icons on your Mac desktop can speed it up a bit.

There are several tools that automate the organizing process like Hazel for Mac and Belvedere for Windows, but I personally like to organize manually. I put all of my music in the Music folder, all of my movies in the Movies folder, and all of my docs in the Documents folder. Sure, it takes longer and can be monotonous at times, but at least I know where I’m putting all of my files, and seeing where I put all of them helps me remember where they are for future reference.

Update Those Relics

Some of your programs most likely have an auto-update feature or give you a notification when a new version is available for download, but not all have these handy features or it’s even possible that auto-updates are turned off. Back when I ran Windows, I used FileHippo’s Update Checker to make sure all of my programs and drivers were up to date. What it does is check what programs and hardware your PC has installed and then checks its own online database of programs and drivers to see if it has a newer version than what you’re running. After it finishes checking, it’ll send you to FileHippo’s website where you’ll be presented with a list of all the programs and drivers you need to update, along with a handy download link for each.

For Mac users, a good alternative to FileHippo’s Update Checker is AppFresh.

As for updating Windows itself, most users have auto-updates enabled, so that’s not too much of a problem, but if you’re not sure what your update settings are, you can simply navigate to Start>Control Panel>Automatic Updates in Windows XP and Start>Control Panel>Windows Update>Change Settings in Vista and 7. I personally tell Windows to notify me of updates, but let me choose when to download and install them.

Mac OS X users can go up to the top-left corner and click on the apple icon, then click Software Update. From there, Apple will automatically search for system updates that need installed.

Shun Your PC of All Evil

We’ve all heard the V word before (“virus” for those who didn’t catch on). While it’s more than likely that you’ll know if you have a virus simply by the way you’re PC is acting up, several other forms of maliciousness are a different story. These little fellas can stake out on your PC for weeks before you even notice. Viruses and other malware alike, there are numerous programs out there that are great at getting the job done. You should definitely have an anti-virus program running at all times in the background. AVG offers a free version of their anti-virus program that’s just as great as the other programs that you usually would pay for.

Microsoft’s own Security Essentials is another free solution that can get the job done, but of course, the number one preventive measure for a malware-free computer is simply safe web browsing and common sense.

Defrag Your Hard Drive…Or Not?

Defragmentation is basically the process of squishing all data on your hard drive together into a tight space, that way seek times are reduced. With older operating systems, like Windows XP, it was pretty much required to defragment your hard drive every once in a while, but today’s operating systems do it automatically. The same goes for solid state drives. SSDs don’t need to be defragged, whether it’s on an older OS or newer. However, do make sure TRIM is enabled on your SSD if you’re running Windows 7.

If you happen to still be using Windows XP and need to defrag, go with a free, third-party program like Defraggler. It does a way better job than Windows’ built-in defrag utility.


So there you have it. You should now be staring at a refreshed computer that has been given quite an internal makeover. If you have any questions or other suggestions for spring cleaning a computer, please feel free to leave a comment.

Image Credit: awjmfotos

6 myths about the PC vs. Mac debate

The PC vs. Mac wars just need to die. They’re stupid and pointless. They accomplish absolutely nothing but just more back-and-forth shouting, and the same exact arguments come up every time, making the PC vs. Mac flamewar one giant cliche.

Here are six arguments that come up in every PC vs. Mac debate that are complete myth and have absolutely no merit.

“Macs can’t play games!”

Yup, they can actually. The Portal series runs great on a Mac and so does Civilization IV, Bioshock, and numerous other grade-A games thanks to Steam. Even on the low-end Macs that only have integrated graphics, these games coast along fairly well.

I will say, though, that PC has and will probably always have more titles available than the Mac, but the number of games available for Mac machines is growing and will always grow from this point on.

“PCs are slow, they always crash, and get viruses!”

I’m not sure what PC you’re using, but within the past five or so years that I’ve owned my PC, not once has it gotten a virus or crashed. I also never considered it “slow.” That’s mostly because I took care of my PC and knew how to use it. It’s just like a vehicle: If you know how to use it and take good care of it, it will perform admirably. However, if you never change the oil, expect only problems to arise.

Aside from regular maintenance (on a Mac too, not just PC), you should expect the occasional failure of hardware. It shouldn’t happen, but it just does. And it’ll happen with both PCs and Macs.

Whenever a Microsoft hater spells the company name with a “$” (Micro$oft)

So, I’m pretty sure you’re not aware that Apple is the most valuable company in the world and has more cash reserves than the Federal Government. Microsoft’s money-making ways don’t even come close to Apple’s.

Apple’s “stupid” one-button mice and “not-that-much-better” trackpads

I will admit that Apple’s one-button mouse from a few years ago (the Mighty Mouse) was pretty crappy. Like…really crappy, but they’ve come a long way since then with the Magic Mouse and glass trackpads thanks to the implementation of multitouch.

The trackpad on the MacBook is simply nothing like a standard PC trackpad. That sounds really subjective at first and most PC users will say, “It can’t be that much better than my HP’s trackpad.” However, it really is. MacBook trackpads are configurable to almost an excessive degree thanks to multitouch and utilities like BetterTouchTool. I can click, right-click, middle-click, scroll, two, three, or four-finger swipe in four different directions, pinch-zoom, expand, rotate, two-finger tap, three-finger tap, and four-finger tap. That’s just the tip of iceberg, really. There are a ton of other gestures that I can do, all with a flat surface and one single button.

“OS X just simply runs better than Windows”

This sort of goes back to the second myth, but the latest OS X (10.7) does not run better than the latest Windows (7) and vice versa. This argument did have some merit a few years ago when Windows actually wasn’t that great, but today both OSes perform fairly equally. They both have their strong advantages that make each unique, but they also have their own tiny, albeit annoying quirks that make you want to pull your hair out.

“Macs are way overpriced!”

I saved this one for last because it’s probably the most-known and most-used argument of all. A lot of Apple haters like to play the overpriced card and say they could get a PC with the same specs for way less. While it is possible to find a PC that’s cheaper on average, that doesn’t mean Macs are overpriced by any means.

However, the price gap between PCs and Macs is shrinking, especially with the direction that the industry is going with Ultrabooks and the MacBook Air (in fact, there’s hardly a price difference in that category). Eventually, the overpriced argument will be obsolete. I think that’s because PC manufacturers are now starting to add their own “Apple tax” to their new Ultrabooks because “if Apple can sell their thin-and-light laptop for that much, why can’t we?”


When it comes down to it, it’s all about preference. Some people like  PCs because they like Windows and they’re cheaper overall, and others like Macs because they’re aesthetically pleasing and come with a richer user experience you won’t find elsewhere. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, which makes them unique in their own ways. I’m both a PC and Mac guy because I couldn’t tell you straight up which one is better. I like both very much and I think they each have great things going for them.

CES 2012: Day 1 Recap – Acer, OLPC, and Lenovo

The first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2012 is under wraps. Overall, it was quieter than what it will likely be later today. Acer and Lenovo held the only press events, but there were certainly some bits and pieces that were revealed throughout the day that are worthy for a spot in today’s recap.


Acer announced what they claim is the “world’s thinnest ultrabook.” The 13.3-inch Aspire S5 is a mere 15mm at its thickest point and weighs just under three pounds. It comes packing with HDMI, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports. The S5 can also be woken up from a smartphone and can immediately log into email and social network accounts. Specs are still something of an unknown, although we do know that it will run an Intel Core processor and it’s coming in the second quarter of this year.

Acer also announced another ultrabook model dubbed the Aspire Timeline Ultra. These will measure in at 20mm thick and will come in 14- and 15-inch variants. This laptop will run some type of Intel Core i processor and sport HDMI and USB 3.0 ports. The Timeline Ultra will ship sometime during Q1 2012.

Acer is also getting into the cloud business with their new service called AcerCloud. It’s pretty much the same concept as Apple’s iCloud, as in it “securely connects all personal smart devices for anytime, anywhere access.” It’s almost too close to iCloud, in fact. The graphic explaining the service is almost identical to Apple’s. In any case, AcerCloud will be out Q2 2012.

Lastly, Acer finished up their presser with a teaser of their next-gen, quad-core Iconia Tab A700. It’ll have a native 1080p display and be powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip clocked at 1.3 GHz with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on board.

OLPC (One Laptop Per Child)

The makers behind the XO laptop for underprivileged children came out with their own tablet. Just like the laptop, it’s a cheap, educational tablet made for children who live in poor parts of the world. It has an 8-inch display and comes with both a USB port and micro USB port. On the inside of the tablet, there’s a Marvell Armada PXA618 SoC processor and a battery that will deliver between 8-10 hours of juice.

It’s obviously not going to outperform the iPad or any other mainstream tablet for that matter, but for a $100 target price that the company wants to meet, it’s certainly not a bad device. However, you won’t be able to buy one of these yourself. They’re only sold to specific countries in bulk.


Lenovo unveiled their own transforming tablet/laptop device to take on Asus’s Transformer. It’s called the IdeaTab S2 and is equipped with Android Ice Cream Sandwich. It runs on a Qualcomm 1.5GHz dual-core processor and has up to 64GB of storage. It weighs in at just under 1.3 pounds and is just 8.7mm thick. For now, the S2 will only be released in China, with a worldwide release coming later.

They also announced the K91 Smart TV that runs on Ice Cream Sandwich and has a 55-inch (or 42-inch) 3D-ready, LED-backlit, 240Hz display. A 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor powers the software and has a built-in 5 megapixel webcam for video calling. The K91 is also a China exclusive, but no word on a worldwide or U.S. release.

Lenovo is also stepping into the smartphone market, announcing the S2. It’s really nothing special (even Lenovo admits that), since it only runs on Android 2.3, but Lenovo says it’s great for enterprise use since it has a secure kernel. The phone is already being made available to China customers for $400. No word on a U.S. release.

Other Fun Stuff

– It’s confirmed that Samsung’s newest device, the Galaxy Note (which looks to be a mix between a phone and tablet), will be headed to AT&T. We’ll hear more about the device in Samsung’s presser later today.

– Parrot, makers of the A.R. Drone, unveiled the 2.0 version of their remote-controlled quadricopter. This time around, the learning curve is much easier and on top of the updated build quality, the A.R. Drone 2.0 now records 720p footage.

Keep your eye on Techerator for more CES 2012 coverage throughout the week!

Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Build a Gaming PC Edition

This year I decided to use my holiday wish-list to build an entire desktop PC. I mean, as long as a majority of the parts needed to build a high performance machine are gifted to me over the holidays, in the end all of them can be combined for the common goal of playing Skyrim for 100+ hours with the maximum refresh rate and graphics settings.

So from one PC gamer to another, here are a few essential and non-essential recommendations to build a high-end gaming machine. Let the PC gaming rig wish-list begin.

CPU / Motherboard

The year 2011 showed the world some great processors (most notably Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture and AMD’s Bulldozer), and it should not be difficult to pick out one for the list that satisfies all your gaming needs (as well as your Secret Santa’s budget).

1. Intel Core i7-2600K or Intel i5-2500K CPU ($220-$320)

This is where it all begins

According to this article by Tom’s Hardware, Intel has the best CPUs around for $200-$300. In the article, the quad-core i5-2500K is recommended for its lower cost and 3.3 GHz clock frequency with the Sandy Bridge architecture, but the i7-2600K gets a step ahead with its 3.4 GHz processing speed and by having hyper-threading technology (essentially making it 8 cores instead of 4) as well as an integrated memory controller that quickens the access rate of the DDR3 RAM.

In the end, the only noticeable difference here is price ($220 for the i5, $320 for the i7), so don’t immediately jump on the Core i7 train if you don’t think the family will fork out the extra $100.

2. EVGA Z68 Motherboard ($299)

Once the CPU is picked out, be sure to then find an appropriate motherboard suitable for the architecture. This EVGA board was chosen not only because it has the right socket for the Core i5 and i7 (the LGA 1155), but mostly because it has six PCI-Express 2.0 slots. That’s right, six. That means that technically you could put six video graphics cards in parallel and run them simultaneously. Furthermore, it allows for DDR3 Memory with speeds up to 2133 MHz (which is fast, by the way) and plenty of SATA/RAID connectivity.

Sounds like a bit overkill for the wish-list? Then I guess the ASUS P8Z68 would work as well. That one is under $300 and comes with just two PCI-Express 3.0 slots for graphics cards.

Graphics Card / Memory

Speaking of graphic video cards, there are lots of beautiful options to choose from this 2011 season and each one has its share of pros and cons (see: Tom’s Hardware for more research). But most notably, here are two options from both ends of the arena.

3. GeForce GTX580 or Radeon HD 6950 ($269-$499)

Two graphics card options; two different prices. The GeForce GTX580 is from EVGA and comes with 1.5GB of video memory and a 772 MHz clock, while the Radeon HD 6950 is from HIS and comes with 2GB of memory and an 840MHz core clock. Both allow for DirectX 11, 2560 x 1600 screen resolution, and at least three DVI/HDMI ports for output.

So why the price difference? Well the GTX 580 is SLI capable, meaning that it can be run in parallel with a similar device (like a second or third GTX580) and share the graphics processing power. How crazy is that? The only issue there is that if one wanted to run two at a time, that means that at least $1000 would have to be spent to achieve this goal. So maybe save one of them for next year.

4. G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB DDR3 Memory 2100MHz ($50-60)

Nowadays, memory comes in sticks of two and runs with DDR3 from 1300 MHz to 2100 MHz. These G.Skill Ripjaws (really, they are called that) are at 8 GHz and can run up to 2133 MHz. And they’re not $300, which is a pretty nice change from the other items on our wish-list.

Since the motherboards I’ve recommended in this article come equipped with four DDR3 dual channel slots, up to 16GB of memory is possible.

Power Supply / Drives

Now that the brains of the gaming PC have been chosen and added to the wish-list, the next step is to pick the other internal organs that complete the base computing components.

5. Corsair 750W Power Supply ($90)

This is the component that will give your future Frankenstein PC life, so don’t be stingy on the wattage or the price when adding this one to the list. This 750W beauty by Corsair linked above is an acceptable option for giving juice to the overpowered components, but if you’re feeling the need to go overboard the 950W option goes for just $150. That’s almost a thousand watts of gaming power!

6. Hard Disk Drive ($119-$249)

Right now, hard drives are not that cheap. So for the sake of the wish-list as a whole, a 500 GB drive at 7200 RPM is a good starter at a slightly reasonable price of $119. Western Digital still seem to be the king of the hill in terms of reliability and operating speeds, so any one of their Caviar Black, Blue, or Green products would be sufficient for one’s wish-list.

7. LG DVD/Blu Ray Drive ($65)

This is no-brainer for computer components: If you buy a PC game, most likely you will have to insert a disk of some sort to install/play it (unless one has jumped onto the digital download bandwagon). So when building your new PC, it wouldn’t hurt to add the Blu Ray reader/burner drive option to the holiday list just in case that whole digital streaming revolution doesn’t pan out.

Peripherals / Externals

Now that the internals have been selected, it is time to add the external inputs to the list as well. These recommendations are a bit fuzzier than the others, mainly because the price of these components will depend on how much your Secret Santa feels like spending on you (case in point, an optical mouse can be as cheap as $7 and a keyboard as inexpensive as $5).

This looks 'shopped. I can tell by the pixels

8. A Good LCD Monitor or Two ($190 each)

For a couple hundred bucks each, one can get their monitoring set up quite nicely. The LCD monitor shown in the picture above is a standard 23″ monitor with a 1920 x 1080 screen resolution and DVI/HDMI ports. Just don’t stare too long at it, you may hurt your eyes.

9. Gaming Keyboard ($9-$199), 10. Optical Mouse ($12-$69), 11. Audio Speakers ($20-$49)

In reality, these are going to be based on your personal preferences. Once again, for the sake of the list I would recommend going cheap on these so that money can be spent on the more crucial components, but if you’re curious as to what might be “cool” and “extreme” for your PC, here are some options.

For a keyboard, the $110 AZIO Levetron Mech4 seems to be right up the alley of gamers with its mechanical keys, modular design, and anti-ghost technology. For a mouse, try out the $69 Corsair Vengence M60, designed with a special “sniper” button and FPS gaming in mind. And finally, for a simple audio speaker bundle try out the $45 Creative Inspire T3130 speakers with 2.1 watts of acoustic harmony.

12. Computer Case ($40-$300)

Keep your computer from running around naked. Buy a tower for it.

Finally, let’s pick a computer case to drop all these gifts into. Again, this choice is entirely based on preference. Pick a case that suits your personal likes and dislikes (preferably medium to large to fit all these beastly components) and add it to your wish-list. The Antec Nine Hundred mid-size case for $99 is not a bad choice in terms of space and affordability.

Grand Total

So now, here’s the brilliance of this combinational theory. Since your family and friends will be buying your components individually, they can expect to spend around $100 to $400 for just one gift. But once all the computer gifts come together, you end up with a single PC gaming work horse at a total cost of about (let’s see here…carry the one, subtract the two, divide by the sales tax): $1500 to $2400. So just think, the bigger your family is, the more they can spread this cost over all your gifts!

One other thing to note is the factor of un-gifted gifts. It is a known fact that during the holidays, we don’t always get what we want. But the beauty of the theory is that even though you may get only 7 out of the 12 computer component items I mentioned, those 7 are still bundled to a common goal and value, so you still feel like you accomplished something with your wish-list. Let’s see Aunt Edna’s knitted socks gift do that.

So PC gamers, if you’re in the market for a serious new platform this holiday season, be sure to put my theory to work. What could possibly go wrong?*

*Actual results may vary, things might actually go wrong.

Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Gamer’s Edition

Temperatures are slowly creeping towards sub-zero. Radio stations and malls everywhere are switching on the holiday music. Pine trees and other decorations are going up all over the world. And once again millions of people are procrastinating on their holiday shopping.

Lucky for you, gamers are an easy bunch to buy gifts for. Skip the throngs of mad shoppers and harried store clerks and order everything online!

While buying the games themselves may be simple, deciding which ones specifically can be a bit trickier. To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of recently released, universally acclaimed games which almost anyone should be able to find some joy in.

Let’s get started!

PC: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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Dragons. A word that evokes images of majestic, fearsome, flying creatures. And in Skyrim you get to stab them in the face.

Skyrim is the fifth installment in the incredibly popular Elder Scrolls series. The Elder Scrolls games are all about freedom, and Skyrim proves to be no exception. Once past the relatively brief introductory quest you’re free to roam the province of Skyrim’s roughly 16 square miles of digital land mass. Exploration is encouraged, with dungeons littering the landscape and NPCs just aching to hand out quests. It’s pretty much expected that on your way to finish one quest your journal will fill up with five new ones.

Five years have passed since the release of the last game in the Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion, and it shows. Skyrim is packed with tons of little details that will continue to surprise you. Not to mention it looks gorgeous. With high-end hardware and a bit of tweaking you can capture some pretty amazing looking screenshots, but even on default settings with middling hardware you’ll often catch yourself staring in awe at Skyrim’s beautiful landscapes.

Skyrim is without a doubt one of the best games released this year, and pretty much anyone will be able to find dozens of hours of entertainment within its wintry borders.

Note: While the PC is probably the premiere platform to own Skyrim on, it is also available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. If your giftee’s PC isn’t powerful enough to play Skyrim, or if you aren’t sure, it’s still certainly worth playing on either of the other two platforms.

Alternate suggestions:

Minecraft (again)
Bastion (also available on Xbox 360)
Battlefield 3 (also available on Xbox 360 and PS3)

Xbox 360: Forza Motorsport 4

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Like last year’s Gran Turismo 5, Forza Motorsport 4 attempts to bring the expensive and dangerous sport of car racing into your living room in as realistic a fashion as possible, and for the most part it succeeds.

Similar to its predecessors, most of your time in Forza 4 will be spent in its extensive career mode, traveling the globe, winning races, and building up your impressive stable of cars. Forza 4 boasts an impressive roster of more than 500 fully modeled cars, so you’ll have your hands full trying to collect them all.

If you happen to own the Kinect add-on you’ll see some integration with that as well. Ditch the controller completely and steer with just your hands (I’m guessing it’s just as uncomfortable as it sounds), or use it to augment your existing experience and let it translate your head movements while still using traditional controls.

Forza 4 also features an in-depth paint job editor. Now you can finally own that My Little Pony themed Lamborghini Gallardo you’ve always wanted!

Alternate suggestions:

Batman: Arkham City (also available on PC and PS3)
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition
Saints Row: The Third (also available on PC and PS3)

Playstation 3: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

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Drake’s Deception has you once again stepping into the shoes of Indiana Jon… I mean, Nathan Drake, as he circles the globe searching for some lost treasure or other. Along the way you’ll encounter the usual baddies out to kill you, scale crumbling walls, and generally experience the action and explosions of a standard Michael Bay film. The Uncharted series might be getting a bit formulaic at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

At its core the Uncharted series is a cover-based third person shooter, but there are some other gameplay elements like hand-to-hand combat and stealth sections that help to break up the monotony of shooting people in the face. While I may a joke about Uncharted’s striking similarities to Indiana Jones, there really isn’t anything wrong with that. Drake’s Deception perfectly captures that wonderful Indiana Jones-y feeling of adventure and intrigue.

Alternate suggestions:

Resistance 3
Dark Souls (also available on Xbox 360)
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (also available on Xbox 360)

Wii: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

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The Legend of Zelda is one the longest running currently active video game series, and holds a special place in many gamer’s hearts. Skyward Sword manages to shake up the traditional Zelda formula a bit, but many people are calling it the best game in the series since Ocarina of Time.

The biggest departure from previous Legend of Zelda games is how Skyward Sword controls. It requires the Wii MotionPlus controller add-on, and instead of just wildly flailing your arms to swing Link’s sword like you might have done in Twilight Princess, in Skyward Sword your arm movements are mapped directly to Link’s movements on-screen. Enemies in Skyward Sword are designed in such a way that you usually have hit them in a certain manner to do damage.

With its charming art style and top-notch gameplay, Skyward Sword makes an excellent gift for anyone on your list, regardless of their age.

Alternate suggestion:

Super Mario Galaxy 2


There you have it, four games that any gamer would be happy to find under the Christmas tree. If you have any additional suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Image credit: tsmall

Use a Gamepad for Any PC Game with Xpadder

I play a lot of video games on my Xbox 360, but occasionally I’ll switch things up and buy something to enjoy on my PC. Recently I picked up both Fallout 3 and New Vegas on sale, but I was disappointed to find they didn’t support my Logitech F310 USB gamepad. This isn’t a big issue for people who prefer keyboard and mouse for first-person shooters, but I’ve spent so much time on my XBOX that I prefer to have a controller in my hands.

A bit of searching led me to XPadder, a free piece of software that allows you to simulate your keyboard and mouse with a gamepad. Essentially, XPadder allows you to pair keyboard or mouse actions with the button presses and joystick movement of your gamepad.

XPadder button profile

The ability to make and save profiles for specific games makes XPadder a handy tool for hardcore gamers that have very particular button arrangements that work for them. In fact, the XPadder forums allow gamers to share their custom button profiles with others, which is very convenient for those that don’t feel like messing with button configurations and would rather get to the game. The customization of the profiles can go deep, even allowing you to adjust mouse sensitivity and multi-button pushes, so choose your pre-made profiles wisely. I was impressed to find that one pre-made Fallout profile had been setup to work with rumble force feedback. Righteous.

XPadder is a nifty tool for making your gamepad work with any game, but it’s also fun (though impractical) to use it as a keyboard/mouse replacement. Try setting it up to work with your Internet browser, and you may be on to something if you can get around the “no keyboard input” problem. Give XPadder a try with NES/SNES emulators for an authentic feel to old school gaming.

The uses for this software are extensive, so give it a whirl; I bet you won’t regret it.