Flash storage (like SSDs) is all the rage for PCs these days. And though the process isn’t going as fast as we might hope for, that storage is getting cheaper and denser all the time, creeping up in value towards conventional spinning disk hard drives. The biggest leap forward as of late has been 3D NAND flash, also known as vertical NAND or “V-NAND.” What does this mean for you? In layman’s terms, cheaper and faster storage and memory. In non-layman’s terms, well, let’s take a look.
Blizzard’s team-based first-person shooter Overwatch has quickly become one of the most popular multiplayer games on the planet. There are a lot of reasons for this: fantastic character design, tight balancing, excellent gameplay variety. But one of the nicer perks of the game is that Blizzard periodically updates the game with new content for free, including brand new playable characters (known as “Heroes” in the Overwatch lexicon). If you want to try them out before everyone else, you can do so on what’s known at the PTR server.
Most PC users understand that a power surge, blackout, or other sudden loss of electricity has the capacity to seriously hurt your computer. But exactly what one should do to protect against it gets a little fuzzier. The two most common means of protection are a standard surge protector, sometimes (wrongly) called a power strip, or an uninterruptible power supply, usually shortened to UPS. (No connection with the delivery guys in the brown shorts.)
You can’t have video games without music. Well, you can—the earliest games didn’t have music in the strictest sense, just beeps and boops. But it wasn’t long before the two became inseparably linked, and now a 150-year-old saucy Russian folk tune is known as “that song from Tetris.” Today, developers and publishers put huge amounts of time, money, and consideration into the music that foes into their games. But if you’d rather play with your own meticulously-curated local collection, there are plenty of games that are happy to let you do so.
Virtual reality is the next big thing in digital gaming…and this time it might even stick around. But one of the biggest hurdles to adoption for VR systems like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive is that, at the end of the day, you’re strapping a screen to your face and tethering yourself to a computer. Having a thick bundle of cables rip off your headset just as you’re getting into the game is a long way from the immersive future we’ve been promised.
More and more, your interactions with computers are dependent on your browser and the web at large. So it’s incredibly handy to have your browser history and settings follow you around to other computers. The various makers of your favorite browsers know this, and all of them (with one predictable exception) have built-in tools to help your web experience stay consistent.
Mechanical keyboards are all the rage computer enthusiasts and gamers. If you’ve been using a rubber dome or scissor switch keyboard for your whole life, buying a new clicky keyboard might be intimidating, to say nothing of the considerable expense. Even the cheapest models from mainstream suppliers start at around $80, and go well into the hundreds for RGB lights and programmable extras—a lot of dough to drop on something you aren’t sure you’ll like.
When Apple refreshed the venerable Mac Pro desktop in 2013, reception was mixed to say the least. While the second-gen machine’s tiny footprint and polished case (aka the “trash can”) are certainly eye-catching, and there’s an undeniable amount of engineering in its design, the official line that only the memory can be upgraded after purchase put off a lot of power users.
In addition to a brand new tier of consumer-grade processors, the Core i9 family, Intel also recently introduced the “X-series.” Here’s where things get confusing, because Core X processors don’t fit into a single line, family, or even chip architecture—it’s purely a marketing term, similar to the previous “Extreme Edition” processors that Intel offered a few years ago.
For years, Intel’s flagship Core processor series has had three performance tiers: i3, i5, and the top-of-the-line i7. But after several disappointingly small performance iterations and the looming specter of AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper processor, Intel announced a new king of the CPU hill: the Core i9.
The venerable Model M, first manufactured by IBM in the 1980s (and then licensed and sold to other companies), enjoys a hallowed space in the hearts and minds of keyboard enthusiasts. Its relatively simple-but-durable buckling spring switch mechanism has stood the test of time, literally: many keyboards from the original production runs are still functioning and being used by those who love the old-fashioned construction and feel.
Software like DVD Flick is great for burning video to DVDs, but Windows 7 actually includes built-in DVD burning software. Strangely, it’s the last time the company did so—while Windows 8 and Windows 10 can play back DVD movies, they can’t create them with a DVD burner without tools from third parties.
Computer monitors are fairly simple, in use if not in actual construction: plug ’em in, turn ’em on, look at your computer stuff on the brighter part. But misleadingly easy as they might seem, there’s a lot of stuff going on inside that blank plastic case…and a lot of stuff that can go wrong.
Microsoft’s Surface Pen, included on most of its first-party Surface machines, is one of the nicer options as far as modern touch screen styluses go. The latter version of the Pen, introduced with the Surface Pro 3 and subsequent models, includes a few customization options that weren’t present before. Here’s how you access them.
To the surprise of many, Windows has remained dominant as personal computers shift more and more to tablets and touch screen interfaces. And to the consternation of Microsoft, Google’s Chrome browser remains the dominant software on desktops (including laptops and Windows-powered tablets), despite some touch screen tools that are a bit lacking versus Chrome on Android phones and tablets.
Steam Greenlight was a grand experiment in support for independent PC game developers: a cheap and easy way for creators to get access to the world’s biggest game distribution platform. Unfortunately, it was also a grand failure—for every successfully “greenlit” game that would go on to be a hit, like Stardew Valley or Broforce, it seemed like dozens and dozens of poorly-made and generally undesirable titles got through, many of which were incomplete or cobbled-together from pre-bought assets.
Windows is designed to be almost universal in its support of PC accessories, particularly USB-based add-ons like external hard drives, flash drives, game controllers, webcams, microphones, and other peripherals. Most things work out-of-the-box thanks to pre-loaded drivers, but occasionally a gadget will still give you the dreaded “USB device not recognized” error.
Cloud storage is the dream of the post-PC, mobile-focused tech world…but we’re not quite there yet. There’s a limit to what you can get for free, especially if you go with one of the major services. Here’s an exhaustive list of all the cloud storage and photo services we could find across the web that have at least some free storage options. Use them all at once to save a million Steam games, or just find the best one with the biggest bucket for your most important files.
Mechanical keyboards are all the rage among gamers and writers. Most people who try them love the increased response and tactility of mechanical switches… and some people really, really like them. Communities like Reddit’s /r/MechanicalKeyboards board and the GeekHack forum are great places to really dig into the myriad options and technologies available to enthusiasts—but they’re not very easy to understand for beginners.
Windows is the home of PC gaming, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use a little bit of remodeling. Here are some handy tools to make your gaming life a little easier.
RAM is one of the most essential parts of your desktop computer, and it’s also one of the quickest and easiest parts to upgrade. Modern RAM modules are incredibly simple to use, so it’s rare that something goes wrong in installation…but then when something does go wrong, it gets frustrating quickly. If your computer or operating system doesn’t recognize the RAM you’re using, here’s what you need to do to find the problem.
Back in the days of the iPod, the future of digital music looked like a more convenient, a la carte version of the past: customers could buy single tracks for relatively little money, but the paradigm was still about owning music that you then managed yourself. With the advent of smartphones and always-on connections, the streaming service reigns supreme. Now you can pay a monthly fee (or listen to advertising) for an all-you-can-eat selection of millions of songs.
Photoshop is a fantastically complicated raster image editor, and it’s possible to lose yourself in hours of work when you’re editing photos. But if you do a lot of little tasks and then later realize you’d rather go back, you can only hit Crtl+Alt+Z so many times before you hit the limit in Photoshop’s history panel. Fortunately, it’s really easy to add extra states for history, so you can go back and forth through your artistic progress to your heart’s content.
When you’re assembling a new computer (or upgrading an old one), the motherboard and CPU have a few extra considerations that you need to keep in mind. First, they’re the most restrictive parts to pair: only a relative few processors will fit with your motherboard’s specific socket type. And second, the motherboard selection itself is going to determine a lot of the core capability and direction of your PC build.
PC gaming is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, but most people still use their machines as utilitarian web and email access points rather than a platform for video games. But even if your computer has all the graphical power of a sedated hamster, there are plenty of great options for gaming.