In addition to what's in your box, exterior peripherals are equally important for a proper gaming experience.
Not necessarily a peripheral in the traditional sense, some companies that specialise in gaming PCs like to make their cases a little more aesthetically pleasing than normal. While this does not have an impact on the way you play games, some people make a hobby out of modifying their case with windows, LCD lights and other setups. This is not a big concern for most people, but if you take your PC to LANs (events where many people bring their PCs to network up and play games) then the look of your PC may be important.
For many people, the monitor is one of the most important parts of their computer. It is the vessel through which you view the thousands of dollars you've spent on your system already, so it's logical to buy a decent one. While it won't actually improve your game play much, playing a modern game with all the settings cranked up on a 19 inch screen is a great experience.
The main choice is between LCD and CRT. Originally LCDs suffered from a "ghosting" effect, where fast movements in game would lead to a blurring that made it difficult to see. This was particularly evident in first person shooters and other fast paced games. Thus, CRT monitors have been the favourite amongst gamers.
Recent LCD technology however, has drastically reduced the response time of the monitors. Now you can buy 12ms (millisecond) or 8ms LCD screens which have virtually no blurring. A few things to note about LCDs
- They have a wider viewing area than CRTs (a 19 inch LCD is bigger than a 19 inch CRT.)
- They are easier on the eyes.
- They are lighter, which is a big factor if you go to a lot of LANs.
- With DVI input you can avoid any loss of quality when converting from analog to digital (as is popular with CRTs.)
- There are still some minor ghosting issues (not enough to really be noticeable).
- They have a native resolution (which means you must play in that resolution to get the best image quality); this is typically 1280x1024, which is not small by anyone's standards.
At this stage of development it comes down to personal preference. The LCD ghosting is all but gone from modern monitors, but if you go down that road be sure the monitor the computer comes with has an adequate response time for gaming (12ms minimum, 8ms preferred). LCD is definitely the technology of the future, but at the moment the differences are quite negligible. CRTs however can be bought cheaper than LCDs, so if you are on a tight budget that is probably the way to go.
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Mouse and mouse pad
A greatly underestimated part of your gaming setup, many games rely on quick mouse reflexes and accurate responses, so a quality mouse is crucial. Regardless of whether you're shooting down enemies or quickly managing large numbers of troops, a good quality mouse will improve your game play dramatically. Optical mice have basically taken over from ball mice, with technology having developed to the point where they are skip-free on all but the lightest, shiniest surfaces. They work by having a tiny camera that takes hundreds of pictures of the surface and uses them to work out how far the mouse has moved.
There are a number of choices in this market, ranging from laser mice to wireless mice. Many wireless mice suffer from response problems which are not noticeable during everyday office applications, but can become a pain when gaming. More recent developments seem to have this under control, but it is worth asking to test the mouse you wish to buy, just in case.
Pay attention to the DPI of the mouse you are getting, as that indicates the quality of the camera present and the number of shots it takes. The higher the number, the more accurate the mouse is. Some gaming mice have as high as 2000 DPI, while basic desktop opticals clock in at a mere 200 or 400. Typically a good quality mouse will set you back $80-$100, and will last several years if kept in good condition.
To go with your mouse you need a good quality mousepad. While you may think the $2 pad that came with a game is a suitable surface to play on, many game enthusiasts would tell you differently. There are a number of well known gaming pads, ranging from cloth through to glass, metal and plastic. Some are specially created by professional gamers, others by individual companies that focus on gaming mice and accessories. Do a little research and find the surface that is right for you.
The quality of your keyboard is much less of a factor. As long as it is comfortable and functional it won't really have an impact upon how you play. There are several gaming specific keyboards available, but they are generally acknowledged as being inferior to a regular setup, as their layout is unwieldy and in attempting to enhance gaming options become useless for anything else. There are also several wireless keyboards, which are a viable consideration if you are trying to minimise your cords. There are a few known problems with response times (as with wireless mice) so try to use one before you buy it if taking this path.
While many home PC users enjoy the surround sound associated with a speaker setup, competitive gamers swear by headphones as their preferred audio source. As with sound cards, the importance of the sound depends on the type of games you play. With first person shooters for example, the ability to precisely locate the source of a sound is enhanced by the use of headphones and you can achieve the sort of immersion that comes from an expensive speaker setup for a fraction of the cost.
They are also very useful if you attend a lot of LANs, as speakers are prohibited at such events. Similarly, living with other people or in a small space, you can play your games as loud as you want without worrying about disturbing your room mates.
Most computers will not come with headphones as standard so it will be something you have to pursue as an extra or from a different company. You can get a good pair of headphones for around $80-$100, but the quality continues to increase the more you spend. If you enjoy listening to music while you game, spending a little more for a better listening experience can be well worth it.
If you are looking at pre-packaged systems, one thing to do before buying is price the individual components to get a rough idea of what you are paying for. A quality gaming PC will never be cheap, with a full budget system setting you back around $2000. For a high end experience you will be looking at over $3000, with extremes available for over $5000-$6000.
That said some companies may place an exorbitant premium on their systems simply for the job of piecing them together. If you check the rough market price of the individual components that make up your package you will get a rough idea of what you should be paying and any great disparities will become obvious.