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7 free programs every PC gamer needs – PCWorld

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PC gaming is fun, versatile, and chock full of snazzy utility software tailored to supercharge your experience. That said, there’s plenty of bulky, frustrating utilities out there too. Fear not! After years of playing around with all sorts of tools during intense gaming sessions, we’ve identified the best sidekick utilities for PC gamers. Who knows—they may even help you snag another win in your score column!
If you need to bring a bit more firepower to your online frag sessions, be sure to check out our round ups of the best CPUs for gaming and the best graphics cards, too.
Let’s start with the basics: Altering and monitoring your game hardware performance. MSI Afterburner is a free utility that works with both Nvidia and AMD graphics cards and allows you to keep tabs on the vital stats for your hardware.
Thiago Trevisan/IDG
Afterburner lets you see your GPU clock speed, temperatures, fan speed, and even how many frames per second you’re getting in-game. You can conveniently configure it to show up on-screen while you’re playing. Feeling adventurous? It will allow you to overclock and adjust power limits, too.
MSI Afterburner offers tremendous utility. You’ll be able to monitor performance changes depending on the graphics settings you tweak. You’ll also be able to make airflow adjustments in your case depending on thermal readings. Want to put a beefy GPU in a mini ITX case? No problem—you can custom adjust power and GPU clocks to improve efficiency. (Check this benchmarking article out for further suggestions on testing your rig)
Communication is vital for gamers playing online, be it team games or even competitive solo matches. Discord is the ultimate evolution of voice, text, and video chat that augments your gaming experience. Need to communicate with your teammates in Call of Duty? How about organize a tournament amongst many friends? Discord will allow you to do this, and much more.
Discord
It doesn’t stop there – how about Discord channels that update you on hardware availability? Many boutique PC builders have such a community where users can share experiences, lead times, and hardware advice. There are even channels specifically tailored to help you find that elusive piece of hardware, like new GPUs when they restock!  
Discord does have a slightly steeper learning curve compared to traditional social media apps, but it is a powerful tool once you’re comfortable navigating through the various communities and chat rooms. Our beginner’s guide to Discord can help get you started.
Thiago Trevisan/IDG
What’s the first piece of software a gamer usually installs? You probably guessed right! It’s Steam, the massive online library for buying and storing your games. There are other similar online shops out there, but Steam is the most expansive and the one most beloved by gamers. Here is where you’ll find the latest titles, and keep your library updated. The best part is that it’s easy to use and consolidates your games—and friends—in one place. It also has a great older game library, and plenty of user feedback to help you make a decision on what to play next.
We’ve all been there. You have Steam open, ready to download the newest game. The problem: It’s massive and your rig is running low on space. The solution: WinDirStat, a free utility that allows you to deep clean the space on your PC. Simply uninstalling a piece of software is often not enough. With WinDirStat, you can chase down remnants of old installs and other space-hogging files that are taking up precious space, giving you more room for the newest mega monster game downloads. It also gives you visual indications and a tree map of your storage situation, making it more easy and enjoyable to use.
OBS Studio is a fantastic, free to use screen recorder that has tremendous value for gamers and streamers alike. Want to video record your awesome game performance and share it with the world? OBS will do it, giving you many options. You can even stream live! While OBS Studio does not have the deep community structure and features of Discord, it excels at screen recording, though it has a steeper learning curve than the recording tools built into Windows or your graphics card’s software. Speaking of…
Thiago Trevisan/IDG
Don’t forget the utilities from Nvidia and AMD! They not only allow you to grab the latest driver updates, but they’re also full of useful features. You can automatically overclock your graphics card with Nvidia GeForce Experience or AMD Radeon Software, and even optimize game settings too. Each also offers Afterburner-esque hardware monitoring tools, and Radeon Software can track your total hours played in each game. Those are just the tip of the iceberg though. Your GPU utilities serve as useful companions in your gaming toolbox!
Reshade is free utility that lets you get deep into customization of the graphics and post processing in your games. You know those drool-worthy in-game screenshots you often see shared on social media? ReShade often powers the extra eye candy behind them. Game modding is a vibrant community, ranging from custom worlds to utilities like this that allow you to create the visual settings that you want. This is what makes PC gaming great – endless versatility.
Thiago Trevisan/IDG
ReShade’s not rocket science, but it’s also not for novice users. It’s a great utility for folks looking to get better-looking games with the hardware that they currently have. You’ll tinker with resolution, anti-aliasing, and other visual niceties. Be prepared to solve problems as they arise, as many games will differ and often presets found online will need your own custom settings.  
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GTA Online's weekly update brings another new vehicle from The Contract – PCGamesN

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It’s Thursday, GTA fans, and you know what that means. GTA Online‘s weekly update is here, and while Rockstar Games hasn’t put the official notes on the Newswire just yet, players have dipped into Los Santos to see what’s new this week.
The significant new addition this time is a fresh set of wheels. The Obey I-Wagen is now available to purchase from Southern San Andreas Super Autos for $1,720,000 in-game currency. Rockstar introduced the electric four-door mid-size crossover SUV to GTA Online as part of The Contract update, so you may have seen it already if you’ve been doing some work for Franklin.
If you’re looking to raise some dosh this week, though, you’ll want to keep an eye out for Simeon’s contact missions as they’re paying out triple the usual rewards. Meanwhile, the South Central Leak investigation mission and Hardest Target adversary mode pay double the bonuses if you fancy a change of pace. The former is one of the missions from The Contract update, while the latter is a two-team mode where one member from each team starts with more armour.
This week, the GTA podium car is the Declasse Drift Tampa, while the GTA Prize Ride is the Karin Calico GTF, which you can snag by placing first in pursuit races for five days in a row.
Here are all of the discounts:
40% Off
– Itali GTB ($713,400)
– Itali GTB Custom ($297,000)
– Vectre ($1,249,500 – $937,125)
30% Off
– Stun Gun ($262,500)
– Compact EMP Launcher ($278,250)
Misc
– Old & New Music available on Radio Los Santos & West Coast Classics#GTAOnline
— Tez2 (@TezFunz2) January 20, 2022

For more open-world PC games, you can follow that link.
Get involved in the conversation by heading over to our Facebook and Instagram pages. To stay up to date with the latest PC gaming guides, news, and reviews, follow PCGamesN on Twitter and Steam News Hub, or download our free app for Overwolf.
Iain Harris Deputy news editor
Published: Jan 20, 2022
When not wrangling the news, Iain can be found tootling through Eorzea searching for Final Fantasy XIV’s hottest new looks. Has bylines all over, including: Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, Esports News UK, VG24/7, and PocketGamer.Biz. Please don’t ask him how much he spent to get Xiao in Genshin Impact.

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Microsoft to Buy Activision Blizzard for Nearly $70 Billion – The New York Times

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Karen WeiseAndrew Ross SorkinKellen Browning and
SEATTLE — Microsoft plans to buy the powerhouse but troubled video game company Activision Blizzard for nearly $70 billion, its biggest deal ever and one that places a major bet that people will be spending more and more time in the digital world.
The blockbuster acquisition, announced on Tuesday, would catapult the company into a leading spot in the $175 billion gaming industry. Games on virtually every kind of device, from bulky consoles to smartphones, have gained even greater popularity during the pandemic. Technology companies are swarming around the industry, looking for a bigger share of attention and money from the world’s three billion gamers.
In an industry driven by big franchises, Activision makes some of the most popular titles, including Call of Duty and Candy Crush. Yet the company has been roiled in recent months by an employee revolt over accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Microsoft framed the deal as strengthening the company’s hand in the so-called metaverse, the nascent world of virtual and augmented reality. The metaverse has attracted huge amounts of investment and talent, though so far is more of a buzzword than a thriving business. Facebook renamed its parent company to Meta late last year to underscore its commitment.
But the focus on the futuristic metaverse belies the significance of the deal in the present: The acquisition helps Microsoft gain on its rival Sony in the long-running battle for gamers’ attentions and wallets by offering top titles. It also helps the software giant stay ahead of powerful newer competitors in gaming, like Amazon and Google.
Phil Spencer, the chief executive of Microsoft’s gaming business, said that whatever the metaverse may end up being, “gaming will be at the forefront of making that mainstream.” For now, he said, the acquisition is about gaining a stronghold in mobile gaming, where Microsoft barely competes, and a studio that produces hugely popular games. He called Call of Duty “one of the amazing entertainment franchises on the planet.”
Federal regulators may raise concerns about the acquisition, as Democrats and Republicans alike have pushed to limit the power of technology giants. On Tuesday, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission announced a new effort to broaden how they should determine if deals are anticompetitive.
Microsoft is valued at more than $2.3 trillion, second only to Apple. The takeover of Activision would make Microsoft the world’s third-largest gaming company by revenue, behind Tencent and Sony, the company said. Microsoft now makes Xbox consoles and owns studios that produce hits like Minecraft.
The game industry has been consolidating rapidly. A force behind that — and one that could grab the attention of regulators — is the arms race for exclusive content. Microsoft sometimes makes the games it owns available only on its own devices, such as its Xbox console, and unavailable on those made by competitors, like Sony’s PlayStation.
When asked whether Activision games like Call of Duty would become exclusive to Xbox, Mr. Spencer would say only that “our goal is to allow the content to reach as many players as possible.”
Microsoft has been hunting for ways to spend its immense cash reserve — more than $130 billion — to expand its consumer business. It has looked at acquiring the booming social network TikTok and the popular chat app Discord.
In Activision, which faces accusations that senior executives ignored sexual harassment and discrimination, Microsoft found a target under stress. The allegations have weighed on Activision, with its shares falling 27 percent since California sued the company in July over the claims.
The game maker’s shares rose more than 25 percent in trading on Tuesday. Microsoft’s shares fell by 2 percent.
The transaction may be seen as a victory for Bobby Kotick, Activision’s longtime chief executive, whom some critics had sought to force out over the controversy. Mr. Kotick negotiated a big premium for investors — Microsoft is paying $95 a share, roughly 45 percent above his company’s stock price before the announcement, though only slightly more than the trading price before the scandal broke.
Mr. Kotick will stay in his role until the deal is complete. Then the expectation is that he will step down as chief executive, though he could move into an advisory role, according to two people with knowledge of his plans, who would speak only anonymously because the talks were private.
The controversy at Activision began last summer when a California employment agency sued the company over accusations of fostering a toxic workplace culture in which women were routinely sexually harassed and discriminated against. In the ensuing months, employees staged protests, launched social media campaigns and called for executives to resign.
Some top leaders at Activision did leave, including J. Allen Brack, the head of the Blizzard Entertainment subsidiary, and the company pledged $250 million toward increasing employee diversity and said it would strengthen anti-harassment policies. But when The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Mr. Kotick had known for years about accusations of harassment against employees and in some cases had not taken action, calls for his resignation only grew.
Doing a deal with Activision is something of an about-face for Microsoft, which as recently as November was questioning the company’s culture. In an email to Xbox employees that was earlier reported on by Bloomberg and confirmed by the company, Mr. Spencer wrote in November that he was “disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions” at Activision. On Tuesday, he appeared alongside Mr. Kotick to praise the deal, and Mr. Kotick said that he felt the two companies had “similar values and think about our cultures similarly.”
Mr. Spencer said Microsoft “sat down with Bobby and the team and looked at the plan that they have in place,” adding that company culture was always a work in progress. “We are very supportive of the progress that he and the team are making.”
Current and former Activision employees who have been leading the efforts to get the company to reform its culture did not think the purchase was likely to prompt change in the short term, especially because the sale may face a long review from regulators.
The origins. The word “metaverse” describes a fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
An expanding universe. The metaverse appears to have gained momentum during the online-everything shift of the pandemic. The term today refers to a variety of experiences, environments and assets that exist in the virtual space.
Some examples. Video games in which players can build their own worlds have metaverse tendencies, as does most social media. If you own a non-fungible token, virtual-reality headset or some cryptocurrency, you’re also part of the metaversal experience.
How big Tech is shifting. Facebook staked its claim to the metaverse last year, after shipping 10 million of its virtual-reality headsets and announcing it had renamed itself Meta. Google, Microsoft and Apple have all been working on metaverse-related technology.
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
The deal could take 12 to 18 months to close, Mr. Spencer said.
“We will continue to fight for improvement and stress proper employee representation,” said Jessica Gonzalez, a former Activision employee and one of the organizers of the ABetterABK activist movement. She added that “this doesn’t change anything.”
Game companies, flush with cash since the pandemic increased the industry’s profits, have been consolidating rapidly. The previous record for the biggest merger in the game industry was set just last week, when Take-Two Interactive, the creator of games like Grand Theft Auto, announced plans to buy the mobile game publisher Zynga for more than $11 billion.
Last year, Electronic Arts and Take-Two engaged in a bidding war over Codemasters, a racing game company that eventually went to EA for $1.2 billion. Microsoft made another splashy purchase in 2020 when it bought ZeniMax Media and its slate of gaming studios for $7.5 billion.
Activision itself was the product of serial deal-making by Mr. Kotick over decades, rolling up smaller game studios. It took shape in its current form when Activision — then known primarily for producing titles for traditional gaming consoles — agreed to combine with the gaming unit of France’s Vivendi to expand into multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft.
Activision later bought King, the European gaming company behind Candy Crush, to expand into mobile games. King produced $1 billion in operating profit during the latest 12-month period.
“Scale truly is a tremendous benefit in the world of gaming,” said Hope Cochran, King’s former chief financial officer, who is now a managing director at Madrona Venture Group. “You want to build a community, and you need enough people to build it.”
Activision’s gaming efforts are facing headwinds. Players panned the most recent Call of Duty release, and releases of titles like Diablo and Overwatch have been delayed. Still, Activision remains quite profitable, reporting $639 million in profit in its most recent quarter.
Mr. Kotick characterized the deal as a calculation that Activision did not have the tools to keep up with big tech companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Tencent in the rapidly evolving gaming landscape.
“We realized it was going to be an increasingly competitive world with resources that we just didn’t have,” he said.
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Intel’s Flagship ARC Alchemist Gaming Graphics Card With 32 Xe Cores Spotted: On Par With NVIDIA RTX 3070 Ti, Up To 2.1 GHz Clocks – Wccftech

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A brand new entry of Intel’s flagship ARC Alchemist Gaming graphics card has been spotted within the SiSoftware Sandra database.
The Intel ARC Alchemist graphics cards for desktop PCs are scheduled for a launch in the coming months. Despite being so close to launch, Intel hasn’t shared a lot of info regarding product specs, names, and performance although they had several opportunities to do so with the most recent one being CES 2022. Instead, Intel decided to announce that 50+ desktop and notebook systems from its partners will be ready for launch.
Intel warns users to NOT overclock their non-K Alder Lake CPUs, cites “Damaging”
With that said, a brand new entry of Intel’s flagship ARC Alchemist graphics card based on the Xe-HPG architecture has been leaked within the SiSoftware Sandra database. The new entry is for the 32 Xe SKU (DG2-512) which features 4096 ALUs and a clock speed of up to 2.10 GHz. There’s also 4 MB of L2 cache and the GPU most likely features 16 GB of GDDR6 memory configured along a 256-bit wide bus interface. It’s easy to tell that this is still an engineering sample considering that it has no official branding attached to it whereas the ARC A380 has already shown up in SANDRA with its naming scheme.
As for performance, the Intel ARC Alchemist flagship graphics card scored up to 9017 Mpix/s which is slightly above the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Ti that scored 8369.51 Mpix/s. The AMD Radeon RX 6800 scores 10,607.29 Mpix/s in the same benchmark while the Radeon RX 6700 XT scores 7910.91 Mpix/s. The Intel ARC A380 scored 2956.10 Mpix/s. So we know that the flagship is over 3 times more powerful than the entry-level DG2-128 graphics card which should be correct considering it packs 4 times more cores.
Here’s Everything We Know About Intel’s ARC Alchemist Graphics Lineup
Intel will have at least three configurations of ARC Alchemist GPUs ready for launch in Q1 2022. These will include two configurations based on the top 512 EU die and one configuration based on the 128 EU die. Although there are more GPU configs that we have seen in leaks, it looks like those may be used in future products though that cannot be confirmed. So let’s start with the top-end configuration.
Intel Xe-HPG 512 EU ARC Alchemist Graphics Card
Intel Next-Gen Xeon CPU Rumors: 10nm Emerald Rapids, 7nm Granite Rapids, 5nm Diamond Rapids Detailed, Up To 144 Lion Cove Cores by 2025
The top Alchemist 512 EU (32 Xe Cores) variant has just one configuration listed so far and that utilizes the full die with 4096 cores, 256-bit bus interface, and up to 16 GB GDDR6 memory featuring a 16 Gbps clock though 18 Gbps cannot be ruled out as per the rumor.
The Alchemist 512 EU chip is expected to measure at around 396mm2 which makes it bigger than the AMD RDNA 2 and NVIDIA Ampere offerings. The Alchemist -512 GPU will come in the BGA-2660 package which measures 37.5mm x 43mm. NVIDIA’s Ampere GA104 measures 392mm2 which means that the flagship Alchemist chip is comparable in size while the Navi 22 GPU measures 336mm2 or around 60mm2 less. This isn’t the final die size of the chip but it should be very close.
NVIDIA packs in tensor cores and much bigger RT/FP32 cores in its chips while AMD RDNA 2 chips pack a single ray accelerator unit per CU and Infinity Cache. Intel will also have dedicated hardware onboard its Alchemist GPUs for Raytracing & AI-assisted super-sampling tech.
The Xe-HPG Alchemist 512 EU chip is suggested to feature clocks of around 2.2 – 2.5 GHz though we don’t know if these are the average clocks or the maximum boost clocks. Let’s assume that it’s the max clock speed and in that case, the card would deliver up to 18.5 TFLOPs FP32 compute which is  40% more than the RX 6700 XT but 9% lower than the NVIDIA RTX 3070.
Also, it is stated that Intel’s initial TDP target was 225-250W but that’s been upped to around 275W now. We can expect a 300W variant with dual 8-pin connectors too if Intel wants to push its clocks even further. In either case, we can expect the final model to rock an 8+6 pin connector config, The reference model is also going to look very much like the drone marketing shot Intel put out during the ARC branding reveal. That reference design was leaked a while back by MLID too. There’re also talks about a custom lineup being worked upon by Intel’s AIB partners.
News Source: TUM_APISAK
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