Sean McCann is the Senior Product Manager at Bigfoot Networks, a man who understands what it takes to create a true gaming computer. In a WarCry exclusive, Sean gives insight into what it takes to make the ultimate online gaming rig.

The Rise of the Online Gaming PC: Optimized for the Skilled, Competitive Gamer

By Sean McCann, Sr. Product Marketing Mgr, Bigfoot Networks

Much has been written about declining PC sales, which are expected to fall four percent this year (source: iSuppli). Meanwhile, the online gaming PC and peripheral market, fueled by the 300 million online PC gamers worldwide who continue to spend, is predicted to experience healthy growth. According to the PC Gaming Alliance, online gaming is the fastest growing segment of the gaming industry, accounting for $4.8 billion dollars in revenue, nearly double the worldwide retail sales for PC games in 2008.

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The immersive experience that online gaming offers users certainly contributes to that sector’s success, allowing gamers to chat, text and communicate with other players in real-time, at all times. How does the online gaming PC differ from the traditional model? Computer manufacturers such as Dell and Alienware have already introduced PCs optimized for online gaming. Other vendors are beginning to introduce mice, keyboards, headsets, network cards and other devices designed specifically for online gaming.

What are the essential components of an online gaming PC and how can gamers “game-optimize” their PC for online gaming? We begin with the biggest philosophical difference between “gaming PCs” and “online gaming PCs.” Basically, the gaming PC rewards you for dollars spent while the online gaming PC rewards you for your skill.

The online gaming PC is built with competition in mind. While it does share some core objectives with a gaming PC – fast graphics to get the best refresh rates possible, a decent processor to handle the load of modern games, high performance hard drives and RAM – the similarities end there.

Most importantly, the online gaming PC, unlike the gaming PC, focuses on getting input from the user, to the computer, to the network in the most efficient and smoothest way possible. Additionally, because the vast majority of popular online games don’t push graphics loads as high as they previously did, an online gaming PC typically makes sacrifices in the graphics department.

Since online gaming is inherently social,PCs must be built so that gamers can easily haul systems to LAN parties and guild meet-ups. Whether it’s a handle, a smaller case, or something else, an online gaming PC should be designed with portability in mind.

So how can you optimize your PC for online gaming?

First, consider your surroundings. If you’re going to game for hours at a time, the environment of your gaming space is just as important as your PC. No matter how far in “the zone” you may be, the room temperature and the comfort of your chair will take a toll on your body. You don’t want to roll away from a raid at 3:30 am only to limp, sweaty and drained, to the couch because you’re too sore to make it to bed.

Then, consider your input devices. Your mouse and keyboard are taking the brunt of your physical exertion. Are they cheap plastic or durable composites? Do they fit your hand and offer familiar, comfortable control surfaces? SteelSeries mice, with their metal-impregnated shells and fabric-wrapped cords, bring the fit and finish that is usually reserved for high-end automotive furnishings to the lowly mouse, and have an internal processor to amplify your already decent skills. Likewise, say what you will about the extra buttons, but with the one-two punch of programmable macro keys and an extra display, the Logitech G-Series Gaming Keyboards provide more input and output options than a regular keyboard ever dreamed of.

Another key fact is the monitor. Your style may vary, but many gamers are willing to sacrifice size for quality. An ultra-fine dot-pitch in a 17″ LCD is a noticeable improvement over a blobby 20″ LCD any day. When looking for a monitor, ask yourself: “Can I look at this all day? And night? And can I still hold up my end of the raid?” You’ll find that bigger is not always better, especially when you have to lug it over to your buddy’s LAN party in his garage.

We assume with graphics that fast is good. But in the case of the online gaming PC, you have to consider heat and noise. Are those extra 15 frames-per-second really worth the heat that’s pumping out of the back and sides of your system? Consider a well-established brand for your graphics card that you know has decent cooling and quiet sound. Your ears will reward you.

Speaking of ears, try as they might, the headphone and soundcard combination will never be topped. Many gamers consider Creative Labs the standard sound cards that deliver the full EAX experience. The sound quality is vitally important, especially for competitive gamers. With that said, the competition deserves a nod here for the ear goggles you might need. My preference is true surround headphones, which have speakers that sit at the rear of the ear cup. Sure, Creative can make a two-ear image sound like surround, but you’ll find that many games aren’t that subtle – they don’t take advantage of the nuanced effects Creative can fully produce to make a true aural image for your brain. Instead, a set of headphones like the Razer Barracuda HP-1 can let you know when the bad guy really is behind you.

Competitive online gamers know that networks do their best to mess up data and that games work best when data runs smoothly from the server, through the network, to the client, to the user, and all the way back again. A true online gaming network card like the Killer Xeno Pro from EVGA recognizes that standard Internet traffic is fine for YouTube and Skype, but could be improved for games. By bypassing the Windows Network Stack, using its GameDetect technology to identify and accelerate game data straight to the game when it needs it, and offloading networking chores from the CPU, the Killer Xeno Pro gives gamers less lag and smoother, more responsive online gameplay.

The fact is that PC gaming is moving online, yet we still tend to evaluate gaming PCs using the same criteria we did in 1998: CPU speed and GPU performance. But whether FPS or MMO is your poison, the traditional gaming PC rig won’t cut it for gaming online. To maximize their gaming, gamers must optimize their PC online to enjoy a truly immersive, lag-free experience.

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