Already known for their aesthetic appeal, gaming systems require special attention to practical engineering principles to ensure their stability and performance. They also must be cost-effective. All three principles are key to maximizing both profit and customer satisfaction.
Heat dissipation is perhaps the most important design point in building a gaming system. The most cost-effective way to design a cooler system is to choose a case with good airflow, assisted by front and rear fans. A case with built-in fans for the drive bays saves money that otherwise would be spent on fan-equipped drive heat sinks. Multiple fans also allow the option of using a steel cabinet over a more-expensive, less-colorful brushed aluminum case.
All the fans used on the cabinet, the processor and the motherboard ICs should be ball-bearing fans. Though these fans cost a little more than sleeve-bearing fans, they offer much greater reliability. Sleeve-bearing fans are likely to fail early in the life of a particularly hot system.
While there are many options to dress up a gaming system, as a rule custom-system builders should stick to using options that perform a useful dual role, which is more cost-effective. An active hard-drive heat sink is a good example. These units usually can enhance system appearance with a temperature display while providing much-needed cooling for a hard drive. That's a preferable investment to a display that does not enhance system stability.
Power-supply selection is also important for stability and cooling. Supplies with double fans--intake and output fans--increase the cubic feet per minute of airflow through the system and over some of its hottest components, namely the processor and power supply internals.
The power supply wattage, too, should be on the high side, at least 300 watts. Even though a system--including a gaming system--rarely draws that much power, the additional wattage allows the power supply to draw more current to maintain output voltage when utility voltage sags. That enhances system stability and reduces the likelihood of a hard-to-diagnose problem that might be related to a room's utility voltage, instead of anything internal to the PC.
Gaming systems usually are equipped with more memory than is required to run any game. While 512 Mbytes is fine for most games, more memory can be justified if a customer will use the system for hosting games--particularly if the customer is a member of a large clan or hosts many maps simultaneously.
Providing aesthetic pluses also can be done cost-effectively. Internal lighting and side-view panels are popular, and both can be done well while also constraining costs. Side panels can be purchased as part of a cabinet or added after-market using a kit.
Whichever method the system builder chooses will depend on the cost of labor, the look sought by the customer and the price of a prepackaged custom solution. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here, but system builders should consider their labor cost, cabinet price and customer needs when making the decision.
JOHN YACONO is technical editor of Digital Connect.