Saturday, November 29, 2014

Extending the life of my gaming PC

Update here: http://mindbendingpuzzles.blogspot.ie/2014/12/extending-life-of-my-gaming-pc-update.html

Further update here: http://mindbendingpuzzles.blogspot.ie/2014/12/pc-update-3-ssd-caching-software.html

Yet another update: http://mindbendingpuzzles.blogspot.ie/2014/12/pc-update-final-piece-of-puzzle.html

I realised it was time to upgrade my gaming PC when I read the minimum specifications for Far Cry 4:
  • Win7 64bit
  • Intel i5-750
  • 4Gb Ram
  • Radeon HD5850 1Gb 
I have a marginally faster i5-760 but otherwise this describes my PC perfectly. 

Very few games have such steep system requirements yet but I suspect that FarCry 4 and the even more demanding Assassin's Creed Unity may be the fore runners of a new wave of hardware hungry games. For the last few years system requirements have been held artificially low by the need to support last gen consoles and the 32 bit memory limit. Now Xbox one and PS 4 are firmly established and the 32 bit limit has been breached. So it is time to upgrade.

There is a problem however. Windows 10 is expected to be released in late 2015. Everything I hear about Win 10 suggests it will be a significant improvement over the current Win 8 particularly for gamers. I don't want to take the chance of building a new Windows 8 machine today and finding it obsolete when Win 10 comes out so I have decided to put off a full upgrade until then. 

In lieu of a full upgrade I have decided to see if I can extend the life of my current rig by spending a few euro on it. My budget is €400 which has a similar purchasing power to $400 in USA once sales taxes are taken into consideration.  

€400 is a non trivial amount of money so I would like some of it to be spent on things that will still be useful in a new PC later in the year. This brings me face to face with the first dilemma of the computer upgrader. Just as in other areas of commerce you tend to get what you pay for and high quality parts cost more but usually have a longer life than cheap ones. The rapid pace of progress in computer hardware however invariably means you will be able to get even better parts for less money in a few months time. Buying a cheap part to tide you over for a few months can be optimum strategy in such a deflationary environment.

Here are my thoughts about the various aspects of my gaming machine: 

CPU & Motherboard: These will have to stay as is. Any change to CPU would require a new mother board, new memory and probably a new Windows license. Luckily most modern games are far less CPU dependent that they are GPU dependent.  Tom's CPU hierarchy Puts my 760 in a fairly respectable third rung from the top suggesting that it isn't all that far behind. I am also pretty good at housekeeping and maintenance so I can often get better than average performance out of the kit I have. The i5-760 stays.

RAM: 4Gb ram doesn't really cut it any more. Assassins Creed Unity needs a minimum of 6Gb. However given my decision to stick with my existing motherboard that means that any new memory I buy today may well be incompatible or under specced  for a new rig built later this year. For this reason I have decided to go cheap on ram. I bought an extra 4Gb of PC3-10700 for just €25.

Disk Drives: I am still using old spinning drives and I long for the responsiveness of a modern SSD. I gave strong consideration to a 256GB SSD for around €100. Unfortunately I have almost 2 Tb of games stored on conventional hard disks so while such a small disk could be used for windows to make my machine feel a lot more responsive it was unlikely to do much for my gaming. The price of SSDs is falling and maybe I will be able to get a much bigger SSD drive later this year at a reasonable price. In the meantime I have opted for a €40 Sandisk Readycache. According to reviews this should give me much of the responsiveness of an SSD without having to reconfigure my existing drive structure. Better still it will cache all drives so it may even benefit may games stored on conventional disks. It is hard to say whether or not it will still be useful in a new machine built next year. I think that depends on how quickly the price of SSDs falls. If can can replace my conventional drives entirely then the cache becomes unnecessary but if I still need to use spinning drives for bulk storage then the cache will still be useful.

Graphics Card: I always intended that the bulk of my budget would go on a new graphics card because I know that will have the most impact on gaming performance. I have decided to go with an Nvidia GTX 970 based card which will set me back about €300. This is a modern high end GPU that should give excellent performance for some time to come. AMD Radeons like the R9 290 offer slightly better bang for buck performance but the Nvidia card has some important advantages. It is designed to be compatible with DirectX 12 which should help when Windows 10 comes out. Another major point is that the GTX970 is a smaller card with a lower (only 150W) power requirement which means I don't need to upgrade my PSU or case.

PSU and Case: I have a good Jeantech 500W PSU in an old but reliable Antech Sonata case. Unfortunately modern graphics card have become bigger and more power hungry so I was concerned that PSU and case would need to be upgraded. Happily the GTX 9xx family bucks that trend and will fit nicely in my existing rig,

Monitor: I have two monitors on my PC at present but the one I game on is a Samsung 226BW. This is a 22" screen with resolution of 1680x1050. It is tempting to consider an upgrade to a more modern  true HD display. However the DPI of my existing screen is almost identical to that of a 24" 1080P display so that upgrade wouldn't give a noticeable increase in quality and anything more is outside of my budget. The monitor stays.

Peripherals: I am an advocate of spending money on good peripherals to enhance one's gaming experience but I am very happy with my current setup: Logitech G19 keyboard, Logitech G300 mouse, 2x Xbox 360 controllers, Creative Gigaworks T20 speakers and supremely comfortable  Sennheiser HD 555 headphones. No need to replace any of those yet.


1 comment:

Janu Rou said...

Very nice and helpful information has been given in this article. I like the way you explain the things. Keep posting. Thanks..
Laptop deals