Upgrading is an obligation of any self-respecting PC geek. It’s an affirmation of your thirst for power, a healthy rejection of the status quo. Upgrading is an acknowledgement of the fact that there’s always a way to improve your rig. You may have the funds for premium parts—lucky you. We’ll tell you exactly what those parts are. But even if your means are more modest, there are affordable parts in every major component category that can breathe new life into an aged PC.
Regardless of your financial situation, you must address some important questions before embarking on an upgrade. First, you need to honestly assess your rig’s merits. You shouldn’t waste money upgrading your PC if it still sports an AGP slot or a pre-AM2 Athlon 64 motherboard. The question you should ask yourself is whether it’s more cost effective to gut the machine and replace its primary components—motherboard, CPU, memory, and videocard—than it is to do a piecemeal retrofit. If you look at your rig and decide to build new, check out our full build-a-pc guide, but if you’re ready to proceed with an upgrade, click to find out how!
If you want to take full advantage of your PC’s audio potential, you should connect your rig to your A/V receiver and passive speakers—or a really good set of powered speakers. But accomplishing this task is often tricky, thanks to a combination of digital rights issues, proprietary surround-sound algorithms, and evolving connection standards.
Computers outfitted with Blu-ray drives and certain late-model videocards can deliver Blu-ray video over HDMI, but getting HD audio that way is another issue. An HDMI cable can carry both high-definition video and up to eight channels of high-definition audio (front left and right, front center, rear left and right, side left and right, and low-frequency effects). Blu-ray discs are typically encoded using Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, or DTS-HD Master Audio; all three of these eight-channel lossless compression codecs can deliver bit-for-bit perfect copies of the original movie soundtrack. Here lies the rub: PCs currently cannot output audio encoded in any of these formats over HDMI.
A properly outfitted PC running CyberLink’s PowerDVD 8, however, can decrypt and decompress Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD and output it as uncompressed eight-channel LPCM (linear pulse code modulation) to HDMI. However, while videocards based on newer Nvidia GPUs are outfitted with HDMI, they’re all limited to two-channel LPCM (linear pulse code modulation) audio over HDMI, and that’s only if your motherboard has a S/PDIF-out header
AMD’s RV7xx-series cards can deliver uncompressed eight-channel LPCM audio over HDMI because they route the signals over the PCI Express bus. For integrated graphics, motherboards with Nvidia’s GeForce 8300 chipsets (for AMD CPUs) and GeForce 9300 or GeForce 9400 chipsets (for Intel CPUs), and those with Intel’s G35 Express, G45 Express, and G965 Express chipsets can do it, too.
We highlight the four most common PC audio scenarios. Pick the one that fits your situation and we’ll show you the best way to integrate your PC into your home-theater system.
Diamonds might be a girl's best friend, but Sparkle's Diamonds Sputtering technology looks to cozy up to videocards in an attempt to offer better heat dissipation.
The company today announced the new technology, which it says consists of outfitting the cooling fins on videocards with a Diamond-like Carbon (DLC) membrane. According to Sparkle and its R&D team, DLC offers high heat conduction capable of dissipating heat much more effectively than copper alone.
"The diamonds do heat dissipation four times faster than copper, it relies on the phonons which is produced by the crystal lattice vibration, to bring heat to lower temperature places," Sparkle wrote in its press release. "Diamond-like Carbon can achieve both functions at the same time, that is, transferring heat to lower temperature places with both graphite metal bond and diamond insulation bond (the covalent bond)."
It gets even more technical and goes on to discuss the process of Plasma Enhanced CVD (PECVD) to plate the DLC membrane on videocards, but the end result is a 5C temperature reduction on a 9500GT, according to Sparkle. But don't hold your breath for diamond-cooled videocards any time soon. Sparkle admits the technology carries a "high" cost and is still mulling over bringing DLC to market.
With the recent release of Nvidia's GTX 285 (single GPU) and 295 (dual-GPU) videocards, ATI's performance crown has been under siege. But according to chatter around the web, the GPU maker is set to respond with a new videocard in a couple of months.
iBuyPower does their very best to sing the hymn of the bargain computer shopper, and this time they’ve managed to come out in tune. Their most recent verses are the Dragon Based Gamer HAF 91B and the Gamer Fire.
The HAF 91B will feature Phenom II X4 CPU 920 processor, 4GB DDR2, 500GB HDD, an ATI 512MB Radeon HD 3850, and will run you about $999. The Fire runs along the same lines, featuring a Phenom II X4 940 CPU, 750GB HDD, and the rest of the hardware essentially the same for $1,439.
If you’re looking for a new gaming rig on the cheap, don’t hesitate to check these two out. On paper, they look to be mighty steady choices.
In what's sure to appeal to pandas, ninjas, and environmentalists who just can't go green enough, DBL Distributing LLC has partnered with Micro Innovations to release a full lineup of bamboo computer accessories. Why bamboo, you ask?
DBL points out that bamboo is a natural resource that's easily harvested and replenished with almost no impact to the earth. Switching to bamboo cuts back on carbon dioxide gasses, and DBL says it can be harvested in 3-5 years instead of the 10-50 years it takes to harvest most soft and hard woods.
"There is a high demand for environmentally friendly products," states Tim Coakley, Senior VP of Merchandising for DBL. "Research suggests that customers will pay a higher price for 'green' products and technology. Micro Innovations has developed a great new eco-friendly product line-up that is stylish and speaks to an under saturated market of people who seek eco-friendly innovative technology."
Starting in April, DBL will begin selling Micro Innovations' EcoSmart Bamboo computer keyboard and mouse for an unspecified price. Shortly after, DBL will add Bamboo speakers, webcam, 4-port USB hub, media card reader, and USB keyboard, also at unspecified price points.
Earlier this week Lite-On announced a new line of internal DVD writers it says will be the fastest on the market with a 24X rated write speed. The new drives will come in three different versions, with all three sporting Lite-On's SmartErase data erasing feature. Lite-On's fastest model, the iHAS624, will be the only one to come with the company's LabelTag feature, which allows users to create label tags on the data side of the disc.
"PLDS is proud to manufacture the fastest 24X writers in the market, especially with included technologies such as LabelTag," said Christine Hsing, Marketing Manager at PLDS. "LabelTag provides a cost-effective and flexible method for professional disc labeling, a great solution for today’s busy professional, and people on-the-go."
Lite-On says that users can still add data after using its LabelTag technology, which works on any standard recordable media. Two of the drives -- the iHAP424 and iHAS624 -- will also support LightScribe.
The iHAS324 with SmartErase will be available in March, the iHAP424 with SmarErase and Lightscribe by the end of March, and the iHAS624 with SmartEarase, LightScribe, and LabelTag by mid-May. No word yet on pricing.
After a lengthy standoff that ultimately punished the consumer rather than each other, Intel and Nvidia recently came to an agreement over using Nvidia's SLI technology on Intel chipset-based motherboards, specifically the Core i7 friendly X58. And now for the first time, Intel has licensed SLI for use on its own DX58SO "Smackover" motherboard.
"The addition of Nvidia SLI technology to the Intel DX58SO motherboard has been a welcome addition," said Clem Russo, VP and GM of Channel Desktop Platform Group at Intel. "The pairing of our new Core i7 processors on our Extreme Series motherboard and Nvidia GeForce graphics has resulted in some of the world's fastest consumer gaming PC platforms. For playing any of today's hottest PC titles, this is one awesome combination that our customers have been asking for."
Nvidia says the DX58SO supports any combination of GeForce GPUs, including support for quad-SLI, which will come as a boon to Smackover owners who have been lusing over Nvidia's new dual-GPU GeForce GTX 295 videocard.
Toshiba, always one to bolster their numbers, has added the A10-S3511 and M10-S3411 notebooks to their Tecera line of laptops!
Both of these have a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600, 2GB DDR2 and a 160GB HDD under the hood. And, to help seal the deal they’ve included a built-in webcam, WiFi, Bluetooth, their own EasyGuard technology, a 3-hour battery, and they bring it to you all on Windows Vista Business with a possible downgrade to XP Professional.
The main differences are aesthetic, though the hard drives are different speeds. The A10 has a 15.4-inch WSXGA+ screen, Nvidia Quadro NVS and a 7200rpm drive and costs $1,249. The M10 has a slightly smaller 14.1-inch TFT LCD, integrated Intel GM45 graphics and a 5400rpm drive and costs only $1,100.