How to Use an External Sound Card

Although not as common as internal sound cards and integrated audio chipsets, external sound cards offer a mobile audio option that can be used with multiple computer systems on the fly. The specifications of external sound cards vary, although all of them feature at least one speaker jack and one microphone jack. Some external sound cards support 5.1 surround-sound or 7.1 surround-sound speaker configurations. While most external sound cards interface with the computer via a USB port, some plug into laptop’s PC card or ExpressCard slots.

Install the Card

  • Turn on your computer.
  • Remove the cap or cover that protects the sound card’s port adapter if applicable.
  • Insert the external sound card into a matching port, such as a USB, PC card or ExpressCard port, or connect the device to its USB cable, then insert the other end of the cable into the USB port.
  • Allow Windows opportunity to detect new hardware and to install the card.
  • Insert the driver and software installation disc included with the sound card, or run the installation program included on the device if applicable.
  • Install the drivers and custom software for your external sound card by following the on-screen prompts.
  • Connect headphones, speakers or a microphone to the card.

Adjust Sound Settings in Windows 7 and Windows Vista

  • Click “Start.” Type “sound” (without quotes) in the “Search” text field. Click “Sound.”
  • Find and right-click your external sound card. Click “Enable” if this menu option is available.
  • Right-click your external sound card again. Click “Test.” Proceed if the sound is too low.
  • Double-click your external sound card. Click the “Levels” tab. Slide the “Sound output” bar to the right to increase the sound or to the left to decrease the sound.
  • Click “Apply,” then “OK.”

Adjust Sound Settings in Windows 7 and Windows Vista

  • Click “Start,” then “Control Panel.” Click “Classic View” in the left column if applicable.
  • Double-click “Sound and Audio Devices.”
  • Click the “Audio” tab. Select your external sound card as your “Default device” in the “Sound playback” and “Sound recording” (if applicable) drop-down menus.
  • Click “Volume.” Slide the volume controls up or down to adjust the volume.
  • Click “Apply,” then “OK.”

 

How we test graphics cards and others we tested

Games are rarely bottlenecked by your CPU, but dozens of games every year will push your graphics card to its limits. It’s the component you’ll want to upgrade most frequently (though if you buy the right card, it should last you at least two years), and likely the part you’ll spend the most money on. On a practical budget, it’s critical to find the graphics card with the best ratio of price to performance. That’s why our recommendation for the best graphics card is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970.

At $330 (~£215), Nvidia’s GTX 970 is a killer card, outperforming cards released in 2013 that cost $100-$200 more. It’s overclockable, quiet, and efficient in its power usage. Most importantly, it’s able to run most of 2014’s most demanding games at 60 frames per second, 1080p, and ultra settings. It’s the best card for the price.

The GTX 970 is the card we’d recommend to most—but not all—PC gamers. Maybe you’ve got cash to burn, and need a card that can run games at 4K resolution. Or maybe you’re trying to build a dirt-cheap gaming PC with an even cheaper graphics card. Our graphics card guide includes three picks for budget, mid-range, and crazy-high-end gaming PCs.

Testing graphics cards

Our graphics card recommendations are based on our own benchmarks and testing, as well as research into the reviews and testing done by other sites. Along with Maximum PC, we have benchmark data for a range of Nvidia and AMD graphics cards, including the GTX 980, Nvidia 700 series, AMD R9 290X, and more.

What makes the best graphics card? For PC gamers, it’s a balance of price and performance. The graphics card must be able to run demanding games at high framerates and settings at 1080p, the resolution most gamers still use. It shouldn’t cost more than other cards with comparable performance. The card should be fast enough to still perform respectably two years later, even if it can’t run everything at max settings.

Graphics performance isn’t the only consideration. The quality of game drivers and other software features supported by the card are important. The card’s noise level, power draw and temperature matter, too.

Competitors

We decided the Nvidia GTX 970 was the best graphics card for most gamers after benchmarking the newest GTX 970 and 980 and comparing those numbers to other cards we’ve benchmarked, including their closest competitors: the AMD R9 290X, R9295X2, Nvidia GTX 780 and 780 Ti. And those are hardly the only cards we considered. We looked at past testing data, comparing numbers from our own testing, Maximum PC’s benchmarking, and data from Tom’s Hardware, Anandtech, and elsewhere.

AMD’s R9 290X outperforms the GTX 970 at 4K, but it’s $150 to $200 more expensive. Amazingly, the GTX 970 turns in better scores at 1600p despite its much lower price.

AMD’s R9295X and the Titan-Z are definitely more powerful cards, but they’re also incredibly expensive–$1000 and $3000, respectively, for dual-GPU single cards. The 970 is absolutely a more efficent card, and a much better price/performance pick for 1080p or even 1600p gaming.

Nvidia knows the 900 series is a game-changer, which is why they’ve discontinued the GTX 770, 780 and 780 Ti. The new cards deliver better performance at a lower price.

The GTX 980 is the only card we’d currently consider recommending over the 970, but you don’t get nearly as much for the price as you do with the 970.

Future testing

The Nvidia GTX 970 is the best graphics card for gaming for the forseeable future, but this is a fast-changing field. Dramatic price cuts often happen every few months, and Nvidia and AMD are always out to one-up each other. AMD will soon have new cards, or price cuts that make its cards more competitive against the GTX 970. We’ll be updating this guide in the future as new cards are released and the graphics field continues to change.

The best budget graphics card

Nvidia’s GTX 970 is such a good deal around the $330 range, it’s hard to recommend a budget graphics card in remotely the same price range. Why spend $250 or $300 on a decent mainstream card when you can spend just a bit more on an incredible price/performance value? For an affordable card, we want to drop down to around the $200 mark, and that’s where AMD’s refreshed R9 380 card wins the day.

The R9 380 is essentially last year’s R9 285, with the same GPU, but some tweaks under the hood to power management, increased clock and memory clock speeds to slightly increase performance. More importantly, the R9 380 dropped the R9 285’s price down to $200, and you can probably find one even cheaper than that. Our current budget card recommendation is the VisionTek R9 380 at a bargain price of $175, but if you’re willing to spend a bit more, the Sapphire R9 380 4GB is a better option. More on that in a sec.

RADEON R9 380 SPECS

Stream processors: 1792
Core clock: 970 MHz
Memory clock: 2GB/4GB GDDR5 at 1375/1425 MHz
Memory bandwidth: 182.4 GB/s
Outputs: DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4a, 2x dual-link DVI.

The R9 380 isn’t quite as cheap as our previous favorite, the R9 270X, but it delivers significantly better gaming performance while coming close to the price. It’s capable of delivering over 30 frames per second in Grand Theft Auto 5 at 1080p, 40+ fps in Shadow of Mordor and well over 60 fps in BioShock Infinite, all at ultra settings. Pretty damn good for a $200 card.

The biggest drawback of the R9 380 (and other similarly priced low-end graphics cards) is its 2GB of VRAM. 4GB would be much better for today’s demanding games and would help the longevity of the card. There actually is a 4GB variant of the R9 380, but typically price at $240. We would’ve liked to see the 4GB of VRAM in the $200 model.

Thankfully, Sapphire’s R9 380 4GB card saves the day. If you’re willing to spend $220, you’ll get a card that can dabble with 2560×1440 resolutions (though at lowered settings) and is easily capable of gaming at 1080p. It’s definitely still a 1080p card first and foremost, but 4GB of VRAM will give you plenty of memory for games with demanding high resolution textures.

AMD’s drivers and software aren’t as robust or up-to-date as Nvidia’s, but the AMD control center does, at least, make it very easy to overclock their cards. Since the R9 380 is already clocked up over its predecessor, the R9 285, just don’t expect to get too much of an overclock out of it.

The best graphics card for 4K gaming

4K gaming is here. It’s expensive. It’s demanding. It’s not quite practical just yet. But you can do it. And to do it well, you’re going to need a hell of a graphics card. We’ll always advocate the best single-GPU solution for gaming when possible—it eliminates a number of issues and complications that can pop up with SLI and CrossFire setups—and that’s why our new recommendation for the best 4K graphics card is the Nvidia 980 Ti.

Why the 980 Ti? Because at $650, it delivers nearly all of the performance of the $1000 Titan X, but half of the VRAM. The thing is, the Titan X is such a monster, that leaves the 980 Ti with an ample 6GB of GDDR5 memory to play with—more than enough for 4K gaming, even with some seriously big texture files to deal with. And compared to SLI GTX 970s and 980s, the 980 Ti fares well, too.

Here’s what we wrote in our review: “On average, 970 SLI is only 5-10 percent faster than the 980 Ti, but depending on the game it may be as much as 20 percent faster…or 15 percent slower. For such a small overall gain in performance, we’d take the 980 Ti. The added VRAM will likely prove more beneficial with time, with several newer releases already using more than 4GB VRAM at maximum quality and high resolutions, and it leaves the door open to 980 Ti SLI in the future.”

A pair of 980s will offer better performance, but that will also cost you in the vicinity of $1000, whereas a single GTX 980 Ti is much cheaper and eliminates dual-GPU issues. A pair of 290X cards in CrossFire is a cheaper solution that can deliver 5-20 percent better performance than a single 980 Ti, but two of those cards will draw far more power and be noisier than a single 980 Ti.

There is one new, close competitor for the 4K gaming mantle, and that’s AMD’s R9 Fury X. It’s a powerful card that nearly matches the 980 Ti in performance. The Fury X also makes great strides over AMD’s last-gen cards in noise and power consumption, rivaling Nvidia’s quiet, power efficient cards. But in our testing, the 980 Ti had a couple advantages. It regularly eked out a small 5-10 percent performance advantage over the Fury X. It’s currently far more overclockable, to the tune of 15-20 percent, while the AMD Fury X can’t even hold a 10 percent overclock stable.

And the big one: the 980 Ti has 2GB more memory, which we’re already seeing games start to use at 4K resolution. The Fury X’s 4GB of memory could be a serious limiting factor for high-end games in 2016 and beyond.

That’s why the 980 Ti is overall the best card for 4K gaming. But keep in mind that even a single 980 Ti won’t be able to give you a completely consistent 60 fps framerate at 4K if you have to run everything on Ultra. Tweak a few settings and you’ll be sure to stay over 30 fps in demanding games like GTA 5 and The Witcher 3, and even reach 60 fps in plenty of games that aren’t on the bleeding edge.

AMD’s Excavator CPU, DDR4 memory debut in embedded markets

AMD-EmbeddedWhen AMD, Intel, or Nvidia launch new hardware, they almost always focus on the high-end of the consumer market. Low-end parts and server/workstation solutions typically follow at later dates. This time around, however, AMD is shaking things up and introducing support for DDR4 in a new embedded SoC, codenamed Merlin Falcon. The new chip leverages the Excavator CPU and the same basic silicon as AMD’s Carrizo, but with additional validation and testing for the embedded market, including support for its L2 cache and RAM.

AMD-Embedded2

According to the company’s BIOS and Kernel Developer’s Guide for Excavator-class parts (Family 15h Models 60h-6Fh), Carrizo was designed to support either DDR3 or DDR4 in the same unified northbridge. This raises the question of why the company is only rolling out DDR4 support in the embedded market? According to Colin Cureton, senior manager of AMD’s embedded product management team, it comes down to lifecycle support and Carrizo / Carrizo-L’s market position. Embedded hardware is typically expected to operate for at least five years, with 7-9 years being relatively common. Right now, the consumer market is still mostly based on DDR3, but that will change over the next few years as DDR4 productions and clock speeds ramp up. If you’re buying hardware today and want cheap RAM four years from now, DDR4 makes more sense.

The other reason AMD stuck with DDR3 for Carrizo was to make it easier for OEMs to design flexible systems. Carrizo andCarrizo-L now share a common form factor, a substantially overlapping power envelope, and use the same kind of memory. Carrizo-L, however, is based on AMD’s Puma+ CPU core, which is basically the Jaguar core from 2013 with a few additional changes and power tweaks. Since that chip doesn’t support DDR4, AMD opted to stick with DDR3 across its mobile and desktop stack.

We should note it’s not clear how much additional benefit AMD would have actually gotten from DDR4 in any case. While more bandwidth is broadly better for integrated GPUs, our Kaveri tests when that chip was launched indicated that it’s not an absolute. We saw better performance with lower-latency DDR3-2133 than high-latency DDR3-2400. It’s possible that the power envelopes AMD wanted to sell into and the cost premiums attached to DDR4, it simply didn’t make sense to bring a DDR4 Carrizo to market — at least not yet. With Zen delayed to 2017, it’s possible we could see such a part next year.

When AMD built Carrizo, it focused on making the chip smaller and on cutting its overall power consumption. Those are traits that should serve Merlin Falcon well, as shown in the slide below:

AMD-Embedded5

The older solution required two separate chips and was 1.92mm tall; the new package can limbo into a minimum height of just 1.62mm. The total chip area for the older two-chip solution was 1528 mm sq, while Merlin Falcon is just 1073mm sq.Like AMD’s full desktop parts, Merlin Falcon will include full support for HSA and can leverage a complete Linux open-source stack. All of the typical features of Carrizo’s integrated GPU, including multiple display-outs, hardware decode support for H.264 and H.265, and HSA 1.0 support are also included. The SKUs themselves are shown below:

AMD-Embedded3

There aren’t many surprises here. Like AMD’s mobile Carrizo, Merlin Falcon focuses on the 12-25W power envelope, with chips available in dual and quad-core configurations, as well as a CPU-only version of the core with somewhat higher clocks. Overall performance is covered on the next slide — like Carrizo, Merlin Falcon is far more power efficient within the same TDP envelope than Kaveri was.

AMD-Embedded4

In the graph above, the blue lines are Merlin Falcon products while the single grey line is AMD’s previous Hierofalcon SoC. AMD’s measured performance in CoreMark is fairly competitive with Intel’s 15W Core i3 and Core i5 processors, but whether or not Coremark maps well to embedded workloads isn’t a question we’ve spent much time studying. Overall, AMD wants to position these devices as suitable for pachinko systems, lottery terminals, communications infrastructure, medical imaging devices (where HSA’s capabilities could come in handy) and security and retail signage.

Unfortunately, AMD wasn’t able to point to any major customer announcements for these products, but that’s not uncommon in the embedded space. Embedded hardware, by its very nature, tends to be invisible. At the same time, given AMD’s overall financial condition, the company needs every scrap of sales revenue it can find — we’ve asked for details on any upcoming wins or new customers and will update this story if we hear back.

10 things you should do when building a new PC

Oftentimes, the only way to get what you really want out of a new computer is to build it yourself. Although there is nothing inherently difficult about building a PC, there are a number of considerations you need to take into account before you begin ordering the parts. This article outlines 10 such considerations.

1: Decide what is really important to you

Even though computer hardware prices have dropped dramatically over the last few years, it is still possible to spend several thousand dollars building a PC. Assuming that you want to keep the total cost reasonable, stop and think about how the computer will be used. This will help you best determine how to allocate your budget. For example, if the computer is going to be used as a gaming machine, you might choose to spend a good part of your budget on a high-end video card or two. On the other hand, if the computer will serve as a virtualization host, you might be better off spending the money on extra memory.

2: Plan for the future

Computers evolve at a feverish pace, and there is no way to future-proof your hardware. The eventual obsolescence of your computer is a sad fact of life, no matter how high end the machine might be today. One thing you can do to help extend the lifespan of your new computer is to purchase a high-end system board. The system board as the one component that arguably limits your computer more than anything else. For example, your system board limits the total amount of memory that can be installed on the computer and dictates the system’s CPU architecture. Spending a little bit extra on a system board now might make it easier to upgrade your computer down the road.

3: Don’t skimp on the fans

One lesson I have learned the hard way is that heat kills. If a computer gets too hot, the heat can damage the CPU. This can be an issue for almost any PC, but the problem of heat dissipation comes more pronounced on higher-end systems because they generally produce more heat. Consider the problem of heat dissipation when you’re designing your new system. Be sure to plan for an adequate number of fans and maybe even some liquid cooling.

4: Determine up front if you will need any extra connectors

While I am on the subject of cooling, I want to mention that it is important to determine up front how you will power the cooling fans. Many of the cooling fans that are available today are designed to attach to a four-pin Molex connector (normally used for powering legacy disk types). However, some of the newer fans use a PWM connector instead. These fans are designed to plug directly into the system board, which can monitor the fan’s rotational speed. While this might sound good in theory, system boards have a limited number of fan connectors.

For example, I recently built several new systems. The case I used had four fans installed, but my system board had connectors for only three fans (plus the CPU fan). As a result, I had to order an adapter for each machine that would allow me to plug the fan into a disk power connector.

5: Perform periodic maintenance

As previously mentioned, higher-end systems need plenty of fans to keep the internal components cool. However, installing lots of fans alone isn’t enough. It’s also necessary to do some periodic maintenance to make sure that the fans are doing their jobs.

To give you a more concrete example, I have a fairly high-end PC that has nine case fans. The problem is that the computer sits underneath my desk, relatively obscured from sight. A few months ago, the computer’s air intake became clogged with dust. This prevented the nine fans from moving enough air, and the computer overheated as a result. My failure to keep the air intake clean resulted in having to purchase a new processor.

As a side note, it is also a good idea to periodically make sure that the fans installed in your new computer are actually working. Many of the case fans on the market are cheaply made and sometimes stop working.

6: Choose power supplies carefully

When picking out a power supply for your new computer, you should first make sure that the power supply delivers adequate wattage to power the computer. Unlike the days of old, however, wattage should not be your only consideration.

You also need to consider the types of connectors provided by the power supply. A basic, low-end PC will probably be fine using a power supply that provides only system board and disk connectors. But higher-end systems may require that certain components be powered directly by the power supply. For example, some AMD video cards require a 850 watt (or higher) power supply with two 150 watt eight-pin and two 75 watt six-pin PCI Express power connectors.

Another concern with regard to your power supply is the length of the power cables. If you ‘re building the PC in a large, full-tower case, you may find that some disk power cables are simply too short to reach all of the drive bays.

7: Shop around for the best price on memory

When I was shopping for parts to build my latest PC, I noticed that memory prices were all over the place. I compared prices with three online vendors and found that one vendor’s price for memory was double that of the lowest-priced vendor for exactly the same product. It goes without saying that different vendors will often have different prices, but I was really surprised by just how drastic the price differences were for memory.

8: Don’t buy more case than you need

When building a computer, it can be tempting to spend a few extra bucks and get a case that is flashy and eye-catching. Sometimes, though, the higher-end cases could end up being overkill. For example, I recently found a case that had 15 Internal drive bays. But a case like that would seriously been overkill since I was planning to install only six drives.

9: Verify that your case has the appropriate USB headers

When picking out a case, you should also make sure that it has the appropriate USB headers. Most of the newer system boards have a connection for USB 3.0 headers. The physical design of this port prevents the connection of USB 2.0 headers. So it’s important to look for a case that fully supports USB 3.0.

10: Have a plan for cable management

Finally, make sure that you have a plan for cable management. The more components you install in a computer, the more cables you’ll generally have to deal with. For instance, every drive requires a data cable and a power cable, and you might also need power cables for things like case fans and video cards. All those cables can get messy — and a clutter of cables can restrict airflow through the case, resulting in excessive heat. Develop a plan for keeping the cables neat and tidy before you start building.

Types of Motherboard: All That You Need to Know

A motherboard is the heart of a computer. It is the main printed circuit board present in the computers which holds the main electronic components of the system like the central processing unit and memory and also provides the connectors for other important peripherals. A motherboard is a large system in itself which contains a number of subsystems like the processor and other components. The basic function for which a motherboard is used in a computer is that it holds the important electronic components of the system including the memory and central processing unit and helps in establishing some sort of bridged connection between other internal components of the system. This well written article about the parts and functions of a motherboard will give you more information about all the important parts of a motherboard and the functions performed by these parts in proper detail.

The understanding of the components and functions of a motherboard is also important if you want to be able to design your own computer. As the motherboard is the most important part of a computer system, understanding its components and working properly is very important to be able to design and build your own computer. This course about how to build a computer will help you in understanding the importance of a motherboard in a computer system and will provide you with all the information about building your very own computer system.

Here we are going to study about the different types of motherboard which are available. We will discuss each of these types in detail and will see how all these are different from each other. Let us now start our discussion about the different types of motherboard.

AT Motherboard

An AT motherboard is a motherboard which has dimensions of the order of some hundred millimeters, big enough to be unable to fit in mini desktops. The dimensions of this motherboard make it difficult for the new drives to get installed. The concept of six pin plugs and sockets is used so as to work as the power connectors for this type of motherboards.

The hard to distinguish power connector sockets make it difficult for many users to easily make the proper connections and thus leading to the damage of the device.

Produced in the mid 80’s, this motherboard lasted a good span from the Pentium p5 to the times when Pentium 2 had been started to be used.

ATX Motherboard

Advanced technology extended, or popularly known as the ATX, are the motherboards which were produced by the Intel in mid 90’s as an improvement from the previously working motherboards such as AT.

This type of motherboards differ from their AT counterparts in the way that these motherboards allow the interchangeability of the connected parts. Moreover the dimensions of this motherboard are smaller than the AT motherboards and thus proper place for the drive bays is also allowed.

Some good changes were also made to the connector system of the board. The AT motherboards had a keyboard connector and on the back plates extra slots were provided for various add-ons.

LPX Motherboard

The low profile extension motherboards, better known as LPX motherboards, were created after the AT boards in the 90’s.

The major difference between these and previous boards is that the input and output ports in these boards are present at the back of the system. This concept proved to be beneficial and was also adopted by the AT boards in their newer versions. The use of a riser card was also made for the placement of some more slots. But these riser cards also posed a problem that the air flow was not  proper.

Also, some low quality LPX boards didn’t even have real AGP slot and simply connected to the PCI bus. All these unfavored aspects led to the extinction of this motherboard system and was succeeded by the NLX.

BTX Motherboard

BTX stands for Balanced Technology extended.

BTX was developed to reduce or avoid some of the issues that came up while using latest technologies. Newer technologies often demand more power and they also release more heat when implemented on motherboards in accordance with the circa-1996 ATX specification. The ATX standard and the BTX standard, both were proposed by Intel. The further development of BTX retail products was canceled in September 2006 by Intel after the acceptance of Intel’s decision to focus again on low-power CPUs after suffering issues such as scaling and thermal with the Pentium 4.

The first company to use, or to be precise, implement BTX was Gateway Inc, followed by Dell and MPC. Apple’s MacPro uses only some of the elements of the BTX design system but it is not BTX compliant. This type of motherboard has some improvements over previous technologies:

  • Low-profile – With the larger demand for ever-smaller systems, a redesigned backplane that shaves inches off the height requirements is a benefit to system integrators and enterprises which use rack mounts or blade servers.
  • Thermal design – The BTX design provides a straighter path of airflow with lesser difficulties, which results in better overall cooling capabilities. Instead of a dedicated cooling fan, a large 12 cm case-fan is mounted, that draws its air directly from outside the computer and then cools the CPU through an air duct. Another feature of BTX is the vertical mounting of the motherboard on the left-hand side. This kind of feature results in the graphics card heat sink or fan facing upwards, rather than in the direction of the adjacent expansion card.
  • Structural design – The BTX standard specifies distinct locations for hardware mounting points and hence reduces latency between key components. It also reduces the physical strain imposed on the motherboard by heat sinks, capacitors and other components which are dealing with electrical and thermal regulation.

Pico BTX Motherboard

Pico BTX is a motherboard form factor that is meant to manufacture even smaller size BTX standard. This is smaller than many current “micro” sized motherboards, hence the name “Pico” has been used. These motherboards share a common top half with the other sizes in the BTX line, but they support only one or two expansion slots, designed for half-height or riser-card applications.

In the initial stages of usage, the ATX and BTX motherboards were so analogous that moving a BTX motherboard to an ATX case was possible and vice-versa. At later stages, the BTX form factor had a large modification which was done by turning it into a mirror image of the ATX standard. Technically speaking, BTX motherboards are ‘left side-right’ when compared to ATX and not upside-down as before. This means they are mounted on the opposite side of the case. Various computer cases for instance, the Cooler Master Series (Stackers) were released to support a wide range of motherboard standards such as ATX, BTX, Mini-ATX and so on, in order to simplify motherboard development without buying a new case; however, all connector and slot standards are identical, including PCI(e) cards, processors, RAM, hard drives, etc.

BTX power supply units can be exchanged with latest ATX12V units, but not with older ATX power supplies that don’t have the extra 4-pin 12V connector.

Mini ITX Motherboard

Mini-ITX is a 17 × 17 cm (6.7 × 6.7 in) low-power motherboard form factor. It was designed by VIA Technologies in year 2001. These are largely used in small form factor (SFF) computer systems. Mini-ITX boards can also be cooled easily because of their low power consumption architecture. Such an architecture makes them widely useful for home theater PC systems or systems where fan noise can diminish the quality or worth of cinema experience. The four mounting holes in a Mini-ITX board line up with the four holes in ATX specification motherboards, and the locations of the back plate and expansion slot are the same. Although, one of the holes used was optional in earlier versions of the ATX. Hence, Mini-ITX boards can be used in places which are designed for ATX, micro-ATX and other ATX variants if required.

The Mini-ITX form factor has location for one expansion slot, pertaining to a standard 33 MHz 5V 32-bit PCI slot. However, often case designs use riser cards and some even have two-slot riser cards, even when the two-slot riser cards are not usable with all the boards. A few boards based around non-x86 processors have a 3.3V PCI slot, and the Mini-ITX 2.0 (2008) boards have a PCI-express ×16 slot. Such boards are not used with the standard PCI riser cards supplied with cases.

Now that you know how to choose your motherboard you can also build your dream PC using it. Every PC requires an operating system and you can check out this interesting blog post on choosing the right operating system for your PC.This article provides a detailed outline of two of the most popular operating systems, Linux and Windows, allowing you to determine which will suite your needs better. However, if you want to learn more about these operating systems before making a choice, check out this online course for an in-depth introduction to Linux or this online course if you want to master Windows 8.

Another important aspect about using the proper motherboard for your computer is that it affects the speed of the computer system. A good motherboard, which will be properly compatible with the components of a computer system, will enhance the speed of the computer, while a motherboard which is not compatible with the components of a computer system will negatively affect the speed of the system. This course about how to speed up your computer will give you a better understanding about the role a motherboard plays in the efficient and high speed working of a computer system and will give you important information about the ways to improve the speed of your computer.

PC build guide: recommended mid-range gaming PC

Pc Build Guide Mid Range Recommended Header

It’s amazing to look back at ads from the 80s and 90s and see what kind of PC hardware you could get for $2000. Technology marches on, PC parts become exponentially more powerful, and everything gets cheaper. Today you can build a high-performance budget gaming PC for less than $700. But we’d recommend most PC gamers spend a bit more to get a far more powerful, more future-proof machine. For about $1300, I think you can build an amazing gaming rig that will last at least four years without an upgrade. And I know just the parts that you should use.

This is PC Gamer’s guide to building the best mid-range PC money can buy. Really, this is the rig we’d recommend to the majority of PC gamers. It’s powerful and built to last, but not extravagant. The parts are reliable, high quality, and will get you close to the performance of a much more expensive rig. There are no compromises here, just smart choices.

With this rig, I expect you to be able to play most of today’s most demanding games on ultra settings, at 1080p and 60fps. You’ll probably be able to handle most of those games at 1440p, too. And three years from now, when games have even stiffer graphics requirements, this rig will still have the power to handle them on high or medium settings (especially with a bit of overclocking).

Update 10/2/2015: We’ve refreshed our build guide with a new motherboard, CPU and RAM with the release of Intel’s Skylake platform.

Build Week Banner Thin

Here are the parts I recommend for a great gaming build for anyone. And, naturally, you can tweak this build to suit your needs, and save a few bucks by ditching the DVD drive or buying a smaller HDD. Scroll down below the chart for the reasoning behind each part choice, and a few different case recommendations for sizes, styles, and prices.


Component type Recommended component Price
Processor Intel Core i5-6600k $260 (£215)
Motherboard Asus Z170 Pro Gaming $162 (£110)
Memory Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR4 2400 (8GB) $55
Graphics card MSI GTX 970 4G $335 (£270)
Power supply Corsair CX600M 600 watt 80 Plus Bronze $65 (£61)
Primary storage Samsung 850 EVO 250GB $98 (£74)
Secondary storage Western Digital Black 2TB WD2003FZEX $125 (£96)
CPU cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $35 (£25)
Disc drive Asus 24x DVD-RW $21 (£14)
Cases NZXT S340 (see below for more) $70 (£57)
$1226

Mid-range Pc - Intel Core I5 6600k

Processor: Intel Core i5-6600K

Price: $260 on Newegg (£215)

Ever since the Sandy Bridge Core i5-2500K in 2011, Intel’s i5 processor has been the perfect sweet spot for gaming. It’s reasonably priced, highly overclockable, and for gaming, not much different from the more expensive Core i7. Since most games are more GPU intensive than CPU intensive, an i5 processor is exactly the right amount of muscle you need.

An overclocked i5 can handily tackle some of gaming’s most demanding CPU tasks, like running the Dolphin GameCube/Wii emulator. It’s also a great all-around processor for normal PC usage. The new Skylake i5-6600K isn’t a major performance boost over its predecessor, but we recommend using Skylake if you’re building a new PC, as the new platform includes more PCIe lanes and support for much faster storage that will be important down the line.

Mid Range Pc Asus Z170 Pro Gaming

Motherboard: Asus Z170 Pro Gaming

Price: $162 on Newegg (£110)

Motherboards are a nightmare to shop for: there are so many, with such a broad range in prices, it’s difficult to identify the features that are important and how much you should be paying. You can easily spend $300 on a motherboard, but you don’t need to. The Asus Z170 Pro Gaming includes most of the important features of Asus’ high-end boards that matter for gaming, at a lower price. It’s the latest iteration of our favorite gaming motherboard.

At $160, the ASUS Z97-A is well-reviewed by buyers, offers plenty of overclocking potential, and has Asus’ typically powerful and easy-to-use UEFI BIOS. It includes an important M.2 port rated for PCIe x4 speed, as well as two PCIe x6 lanes for a dual-GPU setup. In another nice bit of future-proofing, it includes two USB 3.1 ports.

Mid Range Pc Crucial Ballistix Sport Ddr4

Memory: Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR4 2400 (8GB)

Price: $55 on Amazon

DDR4 prices are thankfully dropping quickly these days, and it won’t be long before those prices match DDR3. The Ballistix from Crucial are an easy choice: they’re fast, cheap, and low profile enough to sneak under a chunky air cooler.

According to my research into RAM speed ( here’s a great article on Anandtech), faster speeds and memory timings aren’t that important, especially for gaming. You’re not going to see much of a framerate difference as a result of RAM speeds. In fact, you probably won’t see any difference at all. RAM speed makes more of a difference in other PC tasks, but Anandtech’s bottom-line advice is pretty simple: more RAM is a better upgrade than faster RAM, and RAM faster than 1600 MHz makes a small but meaningful difference.

While you could make the jump up to 16GB and see a bit better performance in heavy duty applications like Adobe Premiere, for gaming, it’s not going to make much of a difference. Some recent testing has shown how little difference 4GB, 8GB and 16GB of RAM actually makes on gaming performance.

UK readers: This exact kit isn’t available in 8GB in the UK, but you can grab similar G.Skill Ripjaws V Series for for £53 on Amazon.co.uk.

Msi Gtx 970 Graphics Card

Graphics card: MSI GTX 970 4G

Price: $335 on Amazon (£270)

There’s still a lot of controversy around the GTX 970. Nvidia messed up and gave out incorrect information about the card, and it took several months for the divide between 3.5GB of VRAM and a slower 500MB to come to light. Despite the controversy, the MSI GTX 970 is still the best price/performance graphics card on the market. It’s fast, incredibly overclockable, and should handily deliver 1080p, 60 fps gaming for the next few years.

And there’s a reason why the memory issue didn’t show up in positive initial reviews of the card like ours: you have to go far out of your way, and run the card at resolutions/settings it’s not really capable of handling, to spot any issues with its memory management. If you’re still suspicious/confused about the 970’s performance, read Digital Foundry’s excellent breakdown of the controversy. It’s a great, informative read.

Now, why the MSI GTX 970 4G over other alternatives? Simply put, it’s a great card: quiet, very overclockable, and much cheaper than other 970 options.

I recommend the 970 over any other currently available card for price/performance, but if you’ve sworn off Nvidia, the Radeon R9 290X is the only close option. It’s much louder, and far more power-hungry, than the GTX 970, but you can get close to the same performance for the price.

Midrange Corsair Cx600m

Power Supply: Corsair CX600M 600 watt 80 Plus Bronze

Price: $65 on Newegg (£61)

How much power do you need for a gaming PC? Nvidia’s latest graphics cards are more power efficient than ever, but if you overclock your graphics card and CPU, you could easily be using 400 watts of power. A 600 watt power supply offers plenty of headroom for lost power (with a 80 Plus Bronze rating, a PSU is at least 82% efficient) and even a more power-hungry graphics card down the road.

I recommend Corsair’s power supplies for their reliability, and the CX600M model in particular because it’s modular. You can certainly find a cheaper power supply that offers as much juice, but modular power supplies are far nicer to build with. They leave you with fewer cables to deal with and let you plug in exactly what you need for your rig.

Midrange Samsung 850 Evo

Primary storage: Samsung 850 EVO 250GB

Price: $98 on Amazon (£74)

Now that it’s come down in price a bit, Samsung’s 850 EVO is a great buy for a fast, affordable SSD. On sequential R/W speeds it pushes the SATA standard to its limit, and on random R/W it puts up substantially better numbers than last year’s competition, the Crucial MX100 and Samsung 840 EVO. For $115, the 850 EVO is worth it.

If you know you’ll want more SSD space, you can upgrade to the 500GB model for $190.

Midrange Western Digital Black Hdd

Secondary storage: Western Digital Black 2TB WD2003FZEX

Price: $125 on Amazon (£96)

This is an optional addition to your primary SSD, but it’s one I expect most modern PC owners will want. Unless your PC is for games, and nothing but games, you’re probably going to want storage space for music, personal photos, movies, PC Gamer fan letter drafts, and all sorts of other files. You may also want to keep most games installed than you have room for on a 250GB SSD. Spinning disk HDDs still have a place in today’s PCs, since they’re so dang cheap.

The Western Digital Black is the HDD I’d recommend to anyone installing applications on the HDD. It’s considerably faster than a WD Green drive. While I wouldn’t recommend it for storing games where load times really matter (an MMO like Guild Wars 2 or a giant game like Battlefield), smaller, quick-loading indie games will be just as playable on a HDD as they are on an SSD. The speed of the Black drive gives you plenty of storage, still at a good price, without poor performance.

Budgetpc Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo

CPU cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Price: $35 on Newegg (£25)

The Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is our recommendation for a budget CPU cooler, and it’s our recommendation for a mid-range CPU cooler, too. Why? It’s just that good. It’ll give you plenty of cooling for a heavy overclock, it’s extremely cheap, and it’s easy to install. It’s far better and cooling, and quieter, than a stock Intel cooler. It’s the easiest choice of any part on this list.

The cooler is also $35 on Amazon with Prime shipping, if you’d prefer to buy it there.

Midrange Asus Dvd Drive

Disc drive: Asus 24x DVD-RW

Price: $21 on Amazon (£14)

Do you need one? Do you want one? What the hell. This one costs $21, and it’s probably not going to break. You’re only going to put about three DVDs in it a year.

NEW PC OR NEW MOTHERBOARD

If you don’t want to spend big bucks on a new PC, consider upgrading your old system’s motherboard and CPU. This can boost the machine’s performance and give you access to the latest technologies. It can also save you hundreds of dollars.

What you won’t get is a new hard drive, optical drive, or operating system, though the new motherboard gives you the option of upgrading these components later. When you do it yourself, you choose the make, model, and cost that serve you best, rather than settling for what’s preloaded in an off-the-shelf machine.

For as little as $200 to $350, you can purchase a motherboard with a new Pentium 4 or Athlon processor and 512MB of RAM. (Visit this link to check the latest motherboard prices.) That’s hundreds of dollars less than the retail cost of a midrange PC that supports AGP 8X graphics cards, Serial ATA drives, and the other advanced features that your new motherboard is likely to offer.
Motherboard Buyers Guide

Size matters: Most desktop PCs sold in the last few years conform to the ATX form factor (as do most motherboards), but not all do. Many small or ultrabudget systems are based on other designs, and some PCs from HP/Compaq, IBM, and other big-name vendors aren’t ATX-compatible. Refer to your computer’s documentation to see if the new motherboard will fit inside its case.

Find the right CPU: The optimal combination of CPU price and performance may lead you to early versions of Athlon XP and Pentium 4 processors: Retail boxed versions of 1- to 2-GHz AMD Athlon XP processors cost less than $100, while Pentium 4 processors running at comparable speeds are less than $130. OEM versions of both (that’s minus the fancy box, the cooling fan, and sometimes a warranty) may be priced considerably lower. Avoid older Pentium 4 processors with 256KB of L2 cache. CPUs with 512KB cache are faster and well worth the small added expense.

Be picky: Steer clear of no-name vendors and buy from established manufacturers only.

Pay for power: Your old PC’s power supply may not have enough wattage or may lack the 12-volt amperage needed to run some Pentium 4 and Athlon motherboards. Check the new motherboard’s requirements against the specs on your power supply. If in doubt, buy a power supply that generates 300 watts or more,

Faster is better: A motherboard’s frontside bus speed is the rate at which data moves between the CPU and RAM. FSB speed can have a greater effect on overall system performance than listed CPU speed, which is a multiple of the FSB speed. The faster the FSB, the better.

Get it all: Your new motherboard needs PCI slots and USB ports, two UltraATA/100 connectors, parallel and serial ports (if you use these), and at least two DIMM slots for RAM (DDR RAM is best). For a little extra money, you can get Serial ATA, ethernet, RAID, FireWire, Wi-Fi, and other advanced features.

Sight and sound off: Some low-cost motherboards have sound and graphics functions built in. The quality of these integrated functions is often marginal. Make sure that any built-in sound and graphics can be disabled, and that separate audio and graphics boards can be added.

Minimize Your Mousing

For people in a hurry, every unnecessary mouse movement is an aggravation. Windows 2000, Me, and XP let you set the pointer to automatically move to commonly used buttons in dialog boxes. Click Start, Settings, Control Panel (or Start, Control Panel in XP), and click or double-click Mouse (choose “Printers and Other Hardware” first if you’re in XP’s Categories view, or “View all Control Panel options” if you’re in Me’s “commonly used” view). Now select Pointer Options, check the box labeled “Automatically move pointer to the default button in a dialog box” (the option’s wording varies slightly in Windows 2000), and click OK.

Intel’s New Core M CPU: Everything You Need to Know

macbook core m

Things are finally heating up for Intel’s cool-running processor, with Apple utilizing a 1.1 and 1.3GHz dual-core versions in its latest, and first fanless, MacBook. Intel company first announced its Core M CPU at Computex Taipei in June, providing few details but touting the platform’s ability to power a new generation of fanless tablets and 2-in-1 laptops. Manufacturers such as Lenovo and Dell have announced products based on Core M.

Intel Core M

The first CPU based on Intel’s next-generation, 14nm Broadwell architecture, Core M operates at a TDP (Thermal Design Power) of just 4.5 watts, which compares very favorably to the previous “Haswell” notebook CPUs, which have TDPs ranging from 11.5 watts for a low-end Core i5 or Celeron to 57 watts for a quad-core, Core i7. Having lower TDP means not only longer battery life, but less heat to dissipate. With Core M, the TDP is low enough that hardware vendors can use passive cooling methods instead of fans.

TDP from 1st Gen Core to Core M

Going fanless allows manufacturers to build thinner devices that make less noise. For example, the latest MacBook half an inch thick; the second-generation Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is just .38 inches thick, compared to its .46-inch, Core i5-powered predecessor. Where the original Helix’s keyboard dock had a hinge with dual fans built-in, the new Ultrabook Keyboard has not even one fan. Last year’s model lasted just 5 hours and 48 minutes when detached from its dock, but the Lenovo promises 8 hours of endurance from the Core M-powered Helix.