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Thursday, August 9, 2012

17 System Apps for the PC Gamer

Every "Best Actor" winner has a strong supporting cast that helps to elevate his game. When it comes to PC gaming, these apps will help you take your fragging to the next level.

CoreTemp -

CoreTemp is a super small, super useful program that monitors the load and temperature of each core of your CPU. Knowing your CPU's temperature is useful in a bunch of ways - you know whether or not the CPU fan is working correctly, you can gauge how hard a particular game is taxing your PC, and you can determine how much overclocking headroom you have. CoreTemp readings can be displayed on your taskbar or through one of the many programs that integrate CoreTemp readings into their output. I had a Logitech G15 keyboard for a while and could see my temp on the LCD screen, and right now I'm using Rainmeter to show CoreTemp data on my second monitor.


CPU-Z shows you just about everything you could want to know about your processor. Name, speed, clocks, multiplier, voltage, and much more. You can also scope out the details of your motherboard and RAM, which is especially useful when you're trying to make sure that your RAM is running at the correct speed.


CPU-Z is to CPUs as GPU-Z is to your graphics card. Clock speeds, bus speeds, temps, load percentages, etc. They added an interesting feature a few months ago that reads the "ASIC Quality" of your video card - it assigns a value based on the electrical leakage of your card that gives you an indication on the type of overclocking performance your card will be capable of.

HWMonitor -

HWMonitor pulls temperature, voltage and fan speed data from all of your hardware and displays it in one place. It gives you a good overall picture of your system - minimize it while you're playing a demanding game and check the impact it has on your system once you're done.

CrystalDiskMark, CrystalDiskInfo -

CrystalDiskInfo shows S.M.A.R.T. data from your hard drives and SSDs. CrystalDiskMark is a benchmarking tool that you can use to make sure you're getting the advertised speeds out of your storage drives.

Fraps -

Fraps has been the go-to option for video capture for a while now. I first used it back in 2004 or 2005 to record myself playing Halo PC and make a video to share with friends. You can capture images and video at different quality levels, and Fraps also includes some benchmarking options that record your FPS over a user-defined period of time. The free version is limited and (I think) watermarks your videos, but it's probably worth the money if you're looking to do a lot of video capture.

MSI Afterburner, MSI Kombustor -

Afterburner is an enthusiast video card overclocking program that is co-developed by MSI and Rivatuner. ATI and Nvidia usually limit your software overclocking capabilities to a relatively low "safe" range - Afterburner lets you bypass this limit and even increase your card's voltage if your card supports it. Obviously this has its risks, so use it at your own discretion. Kombustor is a benchmarking and stress-testing tool that goes hand in hand with Afterburner. Bump up your clocks in AB and flip over to Kombustor to test out the config.

Afterburner also has video and screenshot capabilities, so it's a viable free alternative to Fraps.

DisplayFusion -

DisplayFusion is a handy tool for those of us using multiple monitors. You can extend your taskbar to other screens in addition to setting your wallpaper on a per-monitor basis. The free version is limited compared to the full thing, but it's enough for my uses, mainly easy wallpaper management.

Rainmeter -

Rainmeter lets you do some crazy things with your desktop. If you're feeling creative and want to put in the effort you can take your standard Windows desktop and turn it into some crazy Minority Report-looking setup or give it a sleek artistic look. I use it on my second monitor to display a bunch of temperature monitors - Rainmeter has plugins for a lot of the monitoring programs listed above - as well as a calendar, clock, and weather forecast. It's super configurable, and I ended up piecing together my own little module to give me a slide-out tab with CPU and GPU temps that are readable at a quick glance while I'm gaming.

3DMark11 -

3DMark11 is a benchmarking suite that you've probably seen in every graphics card review you've ever read. It's useful to see how your hardware stacks up to everything else out there, as they have a pretty extensive public database of scores on their site.

Unigine Heaven -

According to their site, Heaven was the first DirectX 11 benchmark available. It's another tool that you'll see used in almost every video card review, and can be useful in stress-testing since it really taxes your system when the settings are cranked.

Voice - Ventrilo, Mumble, Skype, Teamspeak

Voice programs come down to a matter of personal preference and pretty much depends on who you're talking to and what programs they're using. I used Ventrilo for years playing WoW, and I'm currently using Mumble, which is an open-source alternative that is highly responsive. Skype is a VOIP client that a lot of people use for phone calls, but you can also jump into a conference call with friends. Teamspeak is probably my least favorite of the bunch - I first used it back in '05 or '06 and it didn't work the mouse button I usually use as my push-to-talk key - though I admittedly haven't used it in years.

There you go - 17 different programs that will enhance your computer's performance and ultimately improve your gaming experience. Know of a good program that I missed? Let me know in the comments.


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