PC Setup

People often ask what hardware and software I use, so I’ll keep this page up-to-date as I make system and peripheral upgrades.

Changes

Sager NP8130 Gaming Laptop

I purchased this laptop in Q4 2011, and it’s the best laptop I’ve ever owned or used by a mile. Price was $1219 USD (excluding tax and shipping). Yes I know you can get more for your money with a desktop system, but mobility is important for me. I’ve been really happy with my my laptop and would recommend Sager to anyone looking for a robust, well-designed (great heat ventilation), and streamlined laptop at an affordable price.

Here are the specs:

  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M GPU with 1.5GB GDDR5
  • Intel® Core i7-2670QM Processor (6MB L3 Cache, 2.20GHz)
  • 8GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
  • 500GB 7200rpm SATA 300 Hard Drive upgraded for $460 USD to: Crucial m4 512GB Solid State Disk Drive
  • 15.6″ Full HD LED-Backlit Display (1920 x 1080)
  • MS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit Edition

Peripherals

I switched from my laptop built-in keyboard to a  CM Storm QuickFire Rapid – Tenkeyless Mechanical Gaming Keyboard with Cherry MX Red Switches – check out my review of this excellent keyboard. The reasons I adopted a mechanical keyboard were the improved feel, responsiveness, and accuracy when gaming and to reduce EMF exposure.

For a long time, for gaming and streaming I used the affordable Plantronics Multimedia Stereo Headset (Audio 350), because it was comfortable on my head and ears and worked fine. I upgraded to the Razer Carcharias headset and while it wasn’t cheap (~$75 USD), the Carcharias is incredibly comfortable and worth the money. The Carcharias is not a wireless headset, which I prefer as I don’t like having to deal with dead batteries.

I don’t use gaming mouse or keypad peripherals, as I don’t need them per my Guide on Strafing and Keybinding. I solve the keybinds issue with software not hardware.

External Monitor

I use a Asus VS247H-P 24″ HD monitor as the display device for online games. I purchased the monitor in Q1 2012, as it was the combination of highest-rated and reasonably-priced 1080p HD monitor that I could find. I love it.

The monitor was paid for thanks to a very generous donation from Troy “Cannibaal”. Thanks man, I really appreciate all the support – financial and non-financial, that you’ve given to me. <3

This is going to sound obvious, but if you want to record footage in 1080p, you need a 1080p monitor to play on. Prior to obtaining this monitor, I was only about to record footage in 1600×900, which is between 720p and 1080p, which is why until recently my videos were 720p on YouTube. Now they’re 1080p, as they should be.

Game Footage Recording, Narration, and Editing

I capture game footage with FRAPS. In my opinion, it’s worth paying the license fee (~$37 USD) so you can record yourself playing and then review it later to identify and fix mistakes in gameplay. Of course, you need a program like FRAPS if you want to make videos of game footage. I record FRAPS footage at 30 fps in Full-size and with “Record Win7 sound” checked and in stereo.

I recommend recording to a USB hard drive, not your primary disk drive, to reduce contention by your game client and operating system when they’re trying to read/write to  your primary hard drive. The external hard drive I use is Iomega Prestige 500 GB USB 3.0 portable hard drive. This hard drive comes built-in with an encryption utility which is easy-to-use – you simply enter a password whenever you connect the drive. Any password-based encryption is hackable, but at least if my drive were ever stolen, the encryption would serve as a deterrent to their accessing my content.

For editing, I’m using Adobe Premiere Elements 10, which for me provides sufficiently robust editing capability and a not-too-steep learning curve at an affordable price. I paid $79 USD for my downloadable copy on Amazon, but if you’re patient you may be able to snag it for even cheaper since Amazon is constantly tweaking their pricing. For exporting (publishing) videos, I use MPEG-2 format at 1080p (1920 x 1080 resolution) at 29.97 framerate.

Before you ask, I can’t answer about video editing questions for Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas, or Adobe Premiere CS.

For recording narration, I use a Blue Snowball microphone (~$65 USD) with a Shure pop filter (~$35 USD). A pop filter improves recording quality by reducing consonants that have popping sounds such as words that start with “p” or “b”. If you’re going to bother getting a good mic, you should invest in a pop filter as well.

Webcam Recording and Streaming Hardware

If you plan on doing on-camera recording at your computer, e.g. for vlogging / hosting / streaming, I strongly recommend getting a 1080p webcam, so that you have the max HD quality available.

In July 2012, I purchased a Logitech 1080p C920 webcam for $80 USD, and the webcam rocks. It comes with software for recording for the webcam that is super easy to use. Before that I was using the Logitech 720p C310 webcam, but the footage it recorded in 720p looked grainy. If you can afford it, the C920 is the way to go.

For hosting on GAMEBREAKER shows, I use a high-quality condenser microphone, the Samson SE10 earset condenser microphone (~$100 USD). It may be overkill for what you’re doing, but Gary Gannon raves about it, because it’s a professional microphone in audio quality and appearance. Some people use their Snowball microphone or equivalent for hosting. For some reason I can’t get the Samson SE10 to work well with narrated recordings with Adobe Premiere Elements 10, and I haven’t bothered to sort it out.

Streaming Software and Considerations

First of all, let me debunk a myth. In terms of streaming, your video card is not the bottleneck. Video card is absolutely critical for framerate while playing a game.. The two bottlenecks for streaming are: 1. computer CPU, and 2. your upload bandwith. Streaming software captures your frames in and pumps them to the streaming server in real-time, and this is both CPU-intensive and upload bandwidth-intensive.

I use XSplit to stream, and it’s pretty much the de facto software that streamers use because it’s that good.

Kevin Miller (@jorrel56) was kind enough to give me an XSplit upgrade for free, thanks man :)

Here’s my XSplit config:

  • Video Encoding
    • Quality: 10
    • VBV Max Bitrate (kbps): 1600
    • VBV Buffer (kbit) 1600
  • Audio Encoding
    • 44.100 KHz 16 bit stereo
    • Bitrate: 128000

We’re using DSL at the moment and I’ve found that a 1600 VBV Max Bitrate is sufficient to provide solid streaming quality, but you should set your VBV Max Bitrate as high as possible. A general rule of thumb is that the sum of your VBV Max Bitrate and Audio Bitrate should not exceed 80% of your sustained upload bandwidth. You want to reserve at least 500 kbps of upload bandwidth so that your game doesn’t experience data throughput lag – i.e. you want to leave room in the pipe for your game client to talk to the game server.

The default audio on XSplit is too low and the audio will sound tinny and distorted until you bump it up as I did.

irljasmine has a nice writeup on stream setup, so if you are looking for more information, check that out.

I also use an open-source chat program, X-Chat 2, for reading the real-time comments from other players. Twitch is setup so that you can connect to the chat room on your channel with 3rd party software.

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15 comments on “PC Setup
  1. Trey says:

    Ed- did you have to download any codecs to make the Fraps AVIs work in Premiere? I just started playing around with fraps and lightworks/quicktime but neither is handling the fraps video.

    • taugrim says:

      Trey :

      Ed- did you have to download any codecs to make the Fraps AVIs work in Premiere? I just started playing around with fraps and lightworks/quicktime but neither is handling the fraps video.

      No, Premiere Elements 10 worked with AVI out of the box.

    • Trey says:

      A program like Virtual Dub seems to be a work around but it requires a half speed render to convert the file.

    • TOP says:

      Do you have the CCCP (Combined Community Codec Pack)? On windows machines if provides almost every codex I’ve ever needed. Still can’t watch my dxtory vids on my fiancée’s MBP since there’s no good QuickTime codec for it.

      • Trey says:

        Try Perian 1.2.3

      • taugrim says:

        TOP :

        Do you have the CCCP (Combined Community Codec Pack)? On windows machines if provides almost every codex I’ve ever needed. Still can’t watch my dxtory vids on my fiancée’s MBP since there’s no good QuickTime codec for it.

        Interesting.

        I haven’t installed the codecs, but most of the content I consume is on YouTube or some other hosted site (e.g. NetFlix) so there is no codec issue.

        • Trey says:

          Well, you are skipping the codec that many others are facing by staying in windows and going right into Premiere. For me to work with Fraps in Final Cut I have to convert it to Quicktime somehow and that is hard….

          FWIW My highly knowledgable IT guy at work (Thx Edgar!) actually advised against using Perian. He says it can actually create problems for Mac based machines and Quicktime in particular. AVI is just a format which is very foreign to QT and mac based systems.

          I’ve been demoing the free version of Camtasia and really liking it. Its UI seems to heavily mirror the Avid / FCP setup but with a ton of easy to use transitions and effects. The pay version if a full $300 though, so I need to check out premiere and compare. Camtasia also has its own video capture options to avoid the fraps codec.

  2. Duane says:

    Kudos to you Ed. I personally use gaming periphs but I always try and advise to people that it isn’t a must and you can play at the highest levels without them. It’s all in the binds I tell them. Some have taken it to heart others.. not so much. Good write-up as usual Ed. Thanks for your presence in the gaming community. We can never have enough people like you. Keep it up!

    • taugrim says:

      Duane :

      Kudos to you Ed. I personally use gaming periphs but I always try and advise to people that it isn’t a must and you can play at the highest levels without them. It’s all in the binds I tell them. Some have taken it to heart others.. not so much. Good write-up as usual Ed. Thanks for your presence in the gaming community. We can never have enough people like you. Keep it up!

      Thanks!

      As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with using gaming hardware, and for some games it’s incredibly helpful.

      The main issue I have is that people use gaming hardware to fix a software problem – i.e. they are using the default horribad keybinds and then turn to a hardware solution to solve it.

  3. Logic says:

    Might of missed it but how do you stream games in xsplit? Do you use dxtory to capture it from the camera or just game source from xsplit?

    • taugrim says:

      Logic :

      Might of missed it but how do you stream games in xsplit? Do you use dxtory to capture it from the camera or just game source from xsplit?

      XSplit allows you to pick areas of your monitor or other media to stream.

      So I create an area that is the size of my display, and the game client happens to be in that display, so that is what is streamed.

  4. taugrim says:

    Recently I upgraded to the Razer Carcharias headset and while it wasn’t cheap (~$75 USD), the Carcharias is incredibly comfortable and worth the money. The Carcharias is not a wireless headset, which I prefer as I don’t like having to deal with dead batteries.

  5. Bart says:

    Hi Ed, I’ve been watching your past swtor videos. I noticed that you are using a dual monitor setup with the game taking up one monitor (I’m assuming your main monitor) and your chat software + whatever voice comms on the other (your laptop screen?). My question is, how did you get full screen apps (primarily games) to launch and run on the secondary monitor? Or do you have to switch it to primary every time?

    I’m asking because I’m trying to get a similar setup to work. I want the games to run on my secondary monitor so I can still access the desktop on my primary without having to alt-tab.

    • taugrim says:

      Bart :

      Hi Ed, I’ve been watching your past swtor videos. I noticed that you are using a dual monitor setup with the game taking up one monitor (I’m assuming your main monitor) and your chat software + whatever voice comms on the other (your laptop screen?). My question is, how did you get full screen apps (primarily games) to launch and run on the secondary monitor? Or do you have to switch it to primary every time?

      My monitor is the #1 (primary) and my laptop screen is #2 (secondary).

      Apps launch by default on #1. And I run games in windowed fullscreen so that I can tab over to other apps (e.g. Mumble, web browser) and not cause the game to minimize.

  6. taugrim says:

    Just upgraded to a Crucial m4 Solid State Drive and it’s been an amazing upgrade :)

    Once you go SSD you don’t go back.

    Framerate improved by ~10 on average but more importantly my computer responsiveness is better overall.

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