Friday, May 20, 2022

RX 550 How a bad value gpu might just be my all time favourite

Quick recap about my cunning plan to overcome the GPU apocalypse last year: We bought a prebuilt Dell with an RTX 3060ti for my wife who is not a gamer. I Took the 3060ti for my gaming machine and put a GTX 1050ti into the Dell. The 1050ti is plenty powerful enough to drive the three monitors my wife uses for work and content creation.  This plan hit a roadblock when it turned out that 1050ti caused intermittent crashes in my wife's machine often during important conference calls. 

Trying to diagnose a problem that randomly occurs once in about 24 hours is incredibly frustrating. I wasn't even sure that the 1050ti was the problem because it worked fine in my PC. The 3060ti itself was not completely immune to crashes but they were much less frequent,  less than one per week. Google threw up a few posts from other users who had similar frustrating crashes with that model of Dell when a graphics card is fitted. The only reliable solution suggested was to remove the GPU and use integrated Intel graphics. Unfortunately that solution won't work for my wife because the integrated graphics are not able to drive the three displays she works with (two monitors and a drawing tablet). [Aside: Intel UHD graphics can drive three displays with display port daisy chaining but our displays don't support that]. 

So I was left in a quandary. I was reluctant to throw money at it and buy another GPU because there was no guarantee that would solve the issue and prices are still inflated. However one thing niggled at me. The internet posters who experienced similar problems were all using Nvidia graphics cards. Some even had success using different Nvidia drivers (I tried that but it didn't work for me). Could it be that there is a specific incompatibility with Nvidia and that an AMD card would solve the problem? I still didn't feel like spending hundreds of euro to test this hypothesis but then I spotted the AMD RX550 on sale in CEX for €80. This is a ridiculous price to pay for a second hand entry level card that cost less than that new four years ago. However after several weeks of frustration I was willing to risk that amount in the hope of a solution and importantly the RX 550 is capable of driving three monitors unlike the similarly priced Nvidia GTX 1030. 

To cut a long story short I bought one and fitted it. I actually spent €10 more for the 4Gb model with some idea that it would have better longevity. It has been running without crashes for about two weeks now. It is too early to say the problem is completely fixed but I can say that the RX 550 is at least as stable as the 3060ti and things are looking promising. 

Intermittent problems are the worst because they are hard to track down and fix. Having an annoying intermittent problem in my own machine would be bad enough. Having one in my wife's machine when she needs it every day and relies on me to keep it running for her was very frustrating. As long as this overpriced, underpowered RX 550 keeps running stably for her I am happy to call it my favourite graphics card ever. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Updated Personal Video Card History

 Back in 2014 I wrote this post cataloging the gaming GPUs I have used over the years. Its been eight years so I think it is time I did an update. 


2014 GTX970.  At €310 this represented a step up in what I previously paid for graphics cards. Partly this came from me being a bit older and willing to spend a bit more money on my hobby but also it reflects the fact that gaming in general and PC gaming in particular was getting more expensive. For many years 30 frame per second  was considered playable while 60 frames per second at 1080p was held up as the holy grail of performance. By 2014 however the envelope of desirable performance was being pushed hard on multiple fronts: 4k gaming, ultra high frame rates and even virtual reality demanded significantly higher levels of CPU and GPU performance.  The €310 GTX 970 was only the entry level of the "enthusiast end" but it still managed to deliver high quality gaming at good framerates for the next few years  years. 

When I first looked to looked to replace my GTX 970 a couple of years later the demand from crypto currency mining had pushed prices beyond what I was comfortable to pay. I opted to buy a new adaptive sync monitor instead. Adaptive sync solves the jerkiness that happens when a graphics card is no longer able to keep up with the frame rate of a conventional fixed frequency monitor. My Dell 2417DG with Gsync allowed me to enjoy a smooth gaming experience in 2017 even though my GTX 970 was no longer able to deliver a solid 60 frames per second at 1440p in new titles such as Battlefield 1 and Total War Warhammer. 

2017 GTX 1080. In November of 2017 I eventually tired of waiting for the GPU market to recover and bought a second hand GTX1080  for €460. At the time I thought this was outrageous but given what happened later it feels like a bargain in hindsight. The GTX 1080 was a genuine high end card and freed me from performance worries for several years. I spent a lot of time playing Total War Warhammer 1 and 2 in those years which looked very nice on decent hardware but the card was able to still able to deliver enjoyable experiences in graphic intensive 2019 games like Control and Metro Exodus. 

In the normal course of events I would probably have replaced the GTX 1080 with one of the newer RTX cards some time in 2020 but there was nothing normal about 2020. The global Covid 19 pandemic caused massive disruption in global supply chains. With many people trying to work from home just about every type of PC component was in short supply. It took me several months to get a reliable web cam for my desktop PC. The GPU market took this to another level however with supply side shortages being compounded by increased demand from a resurgent cryptocurrency mining sector. For the next two years it was impossible to buy a GPU at anything near recommended retail price. Scalpers sold any gaming capable card for 200-300% of retail price and miners happily paid that knowing they could earn it back with crypto. I paid €460 for a high end GTX1080 card in 2017 and felt it was expensive. The spiritual descendent of that card,  the RTX 3080, released in September 2020 with a RRP of $699. For most of 2021 however the actual street price of the card was over $1600. Nvidia themselves even tried to cash in in January 2022 by releasing a slight refresh of the RTX 3080 at a significantly higher RRP of $999. 

Thankfully my GTX 1080 was still able to handle any game I wanted to play but after five years I really wanted to upgrade it. 

January 2022 RTX 3060ti. I am reconciled to having to pay considerably more  for gaming hardware for the next while but I am still not willing to pay 2 to 3 times RRP for a card. A seemingly fortuitous circumstance came about however which offered an opportunity for me to get my hands on a new GPU without paying the scalpers. My wife needed a new PC for her own use.  She is not a gamer but she is an enthusiastic photographer and needs a fairly powerful and flexible machine to support this. Rather than build her a custom machine we bought a Dell OptiPlex with a powerful i7 processor and enough slots and ports to fit the accessories she needs (2 monitors, Wacom tablet, Several internal disk drives, external hard drives, screen calibration tool, external card readers etc. The Dell also came with an RTX 3060ti graphics card. We paid €1300 for the PC and the street price of the RTX3060ti was €800 at the time so this was a pretty good deal. 

Did I mention that my wife is not a gamer? Anyway to cut a long story short the RTX 3060ti ended up in my gaming PC while my wife was happy with an old GTX 1050ti I had picked up along the way. The RTX 3060ti is a mid range card in theory but is still a significant upgrade over my old GTX 1080 and supports new technologies such as DLSS and Ray tracing. I even managed to sell my GTX 1080 for €435 which is rather impressive for a five year old card. 


April 2022 GTX 1050ti. It would be nice if the story ended at that but sadly there is another twist in the tale. My wife's new PC started crashing intermittently. Every few days it would just hang and would need to be rebooted. It was one of those infuriating problems that was infrequent enough to be very hard to track down but still just frequent enough to be a nuisance. An entire week could go by without a problem and then it would hang several days in a row. Dell's own diagnostic suite is quite thorough but they do no long term testing and found nothing wrong. I started a campaign to try and nail down the problem. Firstly I determined that if I left the machine running for ten hours or more it would more than likely hang regardless of what software was running. With this in mind I tried swapping out components to see if I could narrow down the source of the crash. Swapping the ram from my machine to my wife's machine seemed to run well for about a day but then the machine (my wife's) finally crashed. Ram is not the problem. A couple of days ago I replaced the GTX 1050ti with the original RTX 3060ti. The Dell  machine has been running for over 48 hours now with no sign of it crashing. On the other hand the GTX 1050ti has been running in my own PC for a similar period and it hasn't crashed either. It is still a bit early to draw a definitive conclusion but perhaps there is some marginal incompatibility between the GTX 1050ti and the Dell. I did come across a similar situation about twenty years ago when a particular graphics card crashed in a particular mother board despite the fact that both worked fine with other parts. I will leave the test running for  at least a week before I declare the problem officially solved. 

So where does this leave me? I sold my GTX 1080 so if it turns out that my wife really needs the RTX 3060ti then I am left gaming on the GTX 1050ti for the foreseeable future. GPU prices are falling slowly so I expect to be able to pick up a new card at a reasonable price by the Autumn. In the meantime I will soldier on. The main games I am playing at the moment are Slay the Spire, Monster Train and Borderlands 3. None of these need high end graphics. To be honest I will be happy to have solved my wife's problem. 

Back in 2014 I plotted my GPU history on Toms Hardware GPU Hierarchy chart. I have tried to do the same on the latest version below. You can't directly compare this chart with the previous version but one point of reference that Tom's Hardware give is the legacy GFlops list. The HD 5850 I got in 2011  delivered  2,088 Gflops. In 2014 I replaced it with a GTX 970 rated 3,920 Gflops. My recent RTX 3060ti had 16,197 Gflops but the GTX 1050ti I am currently reduced to is only 2,138 Gflops. I have stepped back 11 years. The image below is based on tomhardware.com GPU hierarchy 2022 see original here: https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gpu-hierarchy,4388.html









Saturday, March 19, 2022

Trying to cut down on subscription services

I remember a time when people used to buy media content by the piece. You bought  a book, record, video or game and brought it home to keep forever. I have no great nostalgia for those times because content was expensive and the selection was limited. The advent of the internet and digital distribution shook things up and for a brief few years a lot of people thought that they could just keep downloading everything for free. Nowadays however we are firmly in the age of the subscription service where you can have access to a large selection of titles for a relatively modest subscription fee as long as you keep paying month by month. Subscription services have become utterly dominant in music and video and there are some very compelling offerings in video games and books now too. 

These subscription services appear to offer an unbeatable value proposition. The monthly fee offers an enormous library of content and this fee is often less than you would have to pay for a single piece of content under the old buy it to own it model. Nevertheless all the subs add up and I find myself continuing to subscribe on a "just in case" basis to services even if I amn't really using them. The time has come to review what I am subscribed to and to prune those we don't really need. 

Here is a list of my current subscriptions and my thought son whether or not I should cancel them: 

1. Netflix family subscription €17.99/month. This is alot pricier than it used to be and neither I nor my wife watched it much but my kids do and I would probably face mutiny if I tried to cancel this one.

2. Spotify family subscription €17.99/month. This is our main source of music for the entire household. I consider this good value and want to keep it.

3. Amazon Prime £7.99 per month. I have never done the numbers on this to see if it is worth it but it does give a lot of benefits for a low fee: Free Amazon shipping for me and my wife on family plan. Prime video and also some free books on kindle. 

4. Express VPN $12.95/month : Bought a while back to allow us to watch a show that wasn't available in this country. I think I will cancel this one until we need it again. 

5. Youtube Premium €11.99/month: This is a luxury that I treated myself to about a year ago.  It offer Youtube music. youtube without ads and also some premium Youtube content. To be honest I can't remember what Youtube with ads is like. I am going to pause this one for a month to see if I can live without it. 

6. Xbox game pass ultimate €12.99/month: I recently upgraded to ultimate so I can avail of cloud gaming. This offers an awesome library of games and I use this a lot. 

7. Humble Choice Monthly $11.99/month: Alas poor Humble has fallen a long way from the glory days of 2015. I have stayed subscribed even though I rarely play any games from the service. They have recently removed the golden handcuffs which kept long time subscribers hooked on a cheaper monthly fee. I am going to review this on a month by month basis based on the games they offer. 

8. Sky TV €38.42: This is a standard satellite TV service that also comes with a library of content that can be watched online. I feel it is bad value but it is also kind of an essential add on for the family TV. It brings together a lot of stuff into one place including broadcast TV channels and on demand TV. It is also the only legal way to watch HBO content in Ireland due to bullshit exclusive licensing deals. 


So I am currently paying about €132 per month on subscription services. To be fair a lot of these (Netflix, Spotify, Sky and Prime) are being shared by up to four people. Regardless I am going to try and take a more critical look at what I am subscribed to going forward. Youtube Premium and Express VPN are getting the chop straight away. I will keep Humble for this month because they have Mass Effect Legendary edition which I want but after that I will review it month by month. 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

My AM4 Ryzen Gaming PC has Reached it Final Form

In 2017 I switched from Intel to the new (at the time)  AMD AM4 Ryzen platform and started completely from scratch with all new components in a new case. I still think of it as my 2017 rig even though almost every  component has been upgraded since. Nevertheless like the Ship of Theseus it retains its essential identity as  my "2017 Computer" and is likely to do so until the next time I build a new PC from scratch. Yesterday I replaced the Ryzen 5 3600 CPU with a rather unnecessary Ryzen 7 5800x for no better reason than spotting one at a decent price on a local trading site. This change is somewhat significant because it probably marks the end of the upgrade path for this rig. The AM4 socket has reached end of the line with the 5000 series and any further upgrade would be prohibitively expensive for very little gain. The rig in its current state has plenty of horsepower to see me through the next couple of years until I am ready to start again from scratch with a new platform. 

Given that the machine reached its final form I think it is a good time to reflect on the changes it went through along the way to get here: 

Parts that have changed

Motherboard has been upgraded once (MSI B350 -> Gigabyte X470). Enables the use of more recent Ryzen CPUS also has better memory support and more sata ports. 

CPU has been upgraded three times Ryzen 5 1600 -> Ryzen 5 3600 -> Ryzen 7 5800x. Faster CPUS.  why not. The 8 core Ryzen 7 is not really better than a 6 core Ryzen 5 for gaming but modern consoles have 8 cores so future games may benefit from more cores. 

Ram has been upgraded once  2x8Gb 3200MHz -> 2x16Gb 3200MHz. I am not really sure why I felt this was necessary. I do multi task a lot and often have many programmes open at once, so more ram can only help. 

Graphics Card has been upgraded from GTX 970 -> GTX 1080 -> RTX 3060ti  This is the most important component for gaming. In an ideal world I would have liked an RTX 3070 or even 3080 but the current crazy GPU market means they are impossible to get at any sensible price. I only got the 3060ti thanks to an arrangement where a non gaming family member got a new Dell PC while I took the graphics card from it. 

Main SSD has changed from A 500Gb Sata SSD to an 500Gb M2 Samsung 970 EVO M2 SSD. Hmm... 1Tb SSDs are pretty cheap now. Perhaps I am not finished upgrading just yet. 

HDD has been upgraded from 1x2Tb to 1x4 Tb. I actually had an earlier disk that I swapped out because it was too noisy. My last 2 drives have been Western Digital Green and they run quietly.

Main Monitor has been upgraded from Dell 24" 1440p to MSI 27" 1440p. My current MAG274QRD-QD has beautiful vivid colours and supports Freesync as well as Gsync so I am not stuck with Nvidia GPUS. 

Various second and occasional third monitors have been added. I currently have a second dsiplay (19" Dell) and a Wacom tablet attached for work purposes. 

Webcam has been added thanks to Covid. Initially Trust 720p and now Razer 1080p. I am not delighted with the Rzer Kyo pro despite many reviews touting it as an excellent web cam. I have had several issues with it and I think the drivers are unstable. 

Mouse has changed from Logitech G300 to Logitech G502 Hero. A wired mouse is a bit less convenient but the increased responsiveness is well worth it for gaming. 

Game controller has changed from wired Xbox 360 to Wireless Xbox One controller. I still have the old controller for occasional co-op with my wife. 

Headphones have changed from Sennheiser HD555 to Sennheiser HD598SE. I am not an audiophile but I do love a nice set of cans and these Sennheisers mange to strike the balance between high sound quality and prolonged comfort. The 555's still sounded great when I replaced them but the plastic furniture had cracked and they were held together with duct tape.  

I removed an internal  DVD writer and I now have an external USB DVD drive for the rare occasion I need to use DVDs. I have a large collection of older games on DVD but nowadays is is often easier to get a digital download version from GOG complete with all necessary patches than to try and get a DVD install to work. 


Parts that have remained the Same since 2017

A white Fractal Design R5 case. No glass panel. No visible rgb. It hides under my desk. 

A Corsair RM650 PSU. It supplies power. 

A 64GB Sandisk sata SSD configured as a Disk Cache for the HDD. I discovered SSD caching back in the days when SSDs were very expensive and I couldn't afford a big one.  The first time you load up a programme you have to wait for the HDD but once it is in the SSD cache it feels like it is on SSD. Caching allows me to store most of my games on large HDD and still get decent loading times. I have used Primocache caching software for years and I am generally happy with it. Occasionally it can cause hiccups but a manual flush of the cache usually solves it. 

A Coolermaster Hyper 212 Evo CPU cooler. The industry standard budget friendly cooler. It isn't as quiet as I would like but I have never gotten around to looking for something better. 

Parts that date from further back than the  2017 upgrade

An absurd Logiteh G19 keyboard complete with customisable 2.5" screen. This is aging but beloved and there is nothing like it available any more. Most of the time I just use the screen for a clock but I sometimes get it to display a roll of photos from whatever game I am playing. It brings joy to my heart when I discover a game which still supports the screen. The last game I remember supporting it was Duke Nukem Forever. 

Creative Labs Gigaworks T20 speakers. I went through a succession of 4.1 and 5.1 speakers back in the 2000's  before finally coming to the conclusion that a good quality set of stereo speakers was a better idea. In deference to my housemates I generally wear headphones when gaming anyway. 

Windows License. I bought a Windows 7 home license in 2010 and have ported it from rig to rig ever since. I availed of the free upgrades to Windows 10 and most recently Windows 11 but it is still the same license. 





Monday, January 10, 2022

Can PC Gaming Survive the Great GPU Crysis of 2020-2022?

 I am writing this in early January 2022 and it is almost two years since we first heard about SARS Covid 19,  the virus which caused a pandemic that has wracked the globe in multiple waves since then. Notwithstanding the fact that there are far more serious implications of a life threatening pandemic than its impact on a hobby I still think it would be appropriate to write a few words about how the last couple of years have affected PC gaming. 

To misquote Dickens it has been the best of times and the worst of times to be a PC gamer. Virus halting lockdowns forced many to look to digital entertainment and gaming of all types thrived. Of course we all headed outdoors as soon as restrictions lifted but I think the bounce in new players and the increased respectability of gaming as a leisure activity brought about will have lasting consequences. Despite a number of Covid related delays we have also been lucky enough to enjoy many fantastic game releases over the last two years and not having to commute to work has allowed us more time to explore the great titles of the past. The PC gaming space has been particularly favoured by developments in the game distribution.  Epic continues to hand out free games to everyone and Microsoft game pass for PC remains an incredible deal including hundreds of games including day one releases for a tenner a month. I am somewhat suspicious of what the end game of these moves is but nevertheless I am determined to enjoy the benefits while they last. Another significant development is that Sony has started to release some PlayStation Exclusives for PC. It is only a trickle as yet but this is surely a great sign for the future. So we have had lots of great games to play on PC and lots of people with the desire and the time to play them. What could go wrong? 

Unfortunately at the very moment when it should have been the best time in history to get into PC games it has been virtually impossible to build or buy a gaming PC for a decent price. Almost all gaming hardware has been in critically short supply at various times over the pandemic but the shortage that has hit hardest and lasted the longest is the desperate lack of GPU availability.  Covid has hit the global supply chain for almost all technology products but the GPU market has  experienced an increased demand both for gaming and for cryptocurrency mining. Miners are prepared to pay high prices knowing they will earn their money back so the only way for gamers to get a new GPU is to buy one on the grey market for as much as three times the recommended retail price. Even six year old cards like the GTX1060 are selling second hand for more than their original price. 

I am lucky enough that the GTX 1080 I bought in 2017 is still able to deliver mid range gaming performance today. I can afford to wait out the shortage a while yet but I am worried about the longer term affect these ongoing shortages will have. PC gaming has always been as much about the hardware as the games themselves. Even though very few of us can afford to drop €1000s on the latest greatest hardware we still get great pleasure from carefully choosing parts that fit our own budget.  Multiply all those costs by three however and the hobby no longer makes sense. Bad and all though the situation is for existing gamers at least we have some hardware to game on. The situation is completely impossible for anyone trying to get into PC gaming. I regularly see posts on reddit from newcomers looking for advice on building their first gaming PC. In the past such a post would have warmed my heart and I and many others would happily have given advice based on our experience. Today unfortunately the best advice I can give is: "Unless you are very rich or very lucky don't bother."  This situation has persisted for almost two years and there is no sign of it letting up in the near future. Can a hobby survive if it actively deters new entrants from joining for more than two years? 

Of course if someone wants to game  they will also struggle to get to get a next gen gaming console which have also been hit by pandemic related shortages but that doesn't give me any solace. The more games and the more gamers the better in my opinion. In fact I would happily advise a budding gamer to buy a PlayStation 5 or Xbox series X available today at 50% markup on the grey market rather than pay twice that price for a GPU that could deliver comparable gaming performance (not including the cost of the rest of the PC). Perhaps I can take some solace from the fact that gaming laptops are still available with modern GPUs at relatively uninflated prices, probably because they are no use for crypto mining.  I know that many PC gamers enjoy gaming on a laptop for portability and convenience but laptops are not suitable for those who enjoy the building and upgrading side of the hobby. They also give significantly lower performance than comparably specified desktops. Another avenue is to buy a pre-built machine from the likes of Dell or HP. Those giants have used their buying power to ensure that they can still offer machines with high end GPUs at somewhat sensible prices. Unfortunately those machines often have proprietary features which make future upgrades difficult. The final route is to build a machine  machine without a gpu or with an older gpu in the hopes of upgrading it later when prices return to normality. This is actually the best route for someone who wants to get into the PC building side of the hobby but it must be frustrating to put together  a new machine knowing that its  performance will be terribly limited due to integrated graphics or an obsolete GPU. 

So how will this all turn out? While the pandemic persists all normal rules are set aside but I am optimistic that 2022 will make a big difference. Covid is unlikely to go away but the world will  hopefully learn to live with it and supply chains be restored. I am also somewhat selfishly hoping for the crypto currency bubble to burst because I know from 2017/2018 experience that that would lead to a flood of cheap second hand graphics cards hitting the market. Sensible miners don't over overclock their cards because that costs them money in electricity bills. I would happily buy an ex mining card. The fans are the most likely component to fail from 24/7 operation but fans can be replaced fairly cheaply. On the other hand if some normality doesn't return to the GPU pricing market this year I am very worried about the future of PC gaming or at least the "build your own" part of it. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

You know you are a PC gamer when ...

 I am currently playing FTL:Multiverse. This is a massive overhaul mod of the 2012 kickstarter hit FTL. The mod is enormous. It massively expands on every aspect of the game with many new races, new weapons, new ships, new mission content and a massive amount of new lore to support it all.

I am really enjoying multiverse and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed FTL but that isn't really the point of my post. Instead I want to briefly comment on the process of acquiring and installing the mod. First off you need to have the original FTL game of course but then you need to find three separate packages from three separate modding teams. The packages need to be unzipped and installed in the FTL install folder on your machine. Then you need to un-patch your installed FTL to an earlier version to ensure compatibility with one of the key packages. Then you need to use the mod manager (one of the three packages) to locate and install the multiverse mod file itself. This step is complicated slightly by the fact that the mod manager looks for .ftl files by default but the multiverse mod comes in a .zip file. 

The mod has grown very popular so there are  helpful posts to be found on reddit and elsewhere which talk you through the process step by step. To be truthful it is pretty straightforward to anyone who is familiar with modding PC games but I am also sure that the process would be intimidatingly cryptic to non techie gamers. 

The bizarre thing is that once you go through the modding process the mod itself is enormously polished. It is supported a by a large online community and there are helpful guides and a discord channel. 

Having gone through the process I can't help thinking this is so typical of PC gaming. You often have to go through pain involving hardware or software just to get a game you want running but if you are prepared to put in that effort then the reward can be the best gaming experience possible. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Is Easy really better than Free?

Many years ago a friend explained to me why Apple's Itunes music store was a huge success despite the fact that (at the time) there were many ways to acquire digital music for free. Apple realised, he explained, that for most people "Easy is better than free". 

The power of that concept has been proven by Apple and other companies over and over since then but my inner nerd has never been fully comfortable with it. The cost of "Easy" is rarely just financial, invariably you must also sacrifice some functionality as well. 

Most recently this point has been brought home to me once again through the world of TV providers (cable companies). 

First a bit of background: Ireland is a small country with only a small number of free to air TV channels  so most people rely on additional cable, satellite, aerial or internet based services to extend the selection and in particular to access the large range of channels available in the much bigger neighbouring market in the UK. There is an array of options that vary widely in cost, content selection, ease of use and indeed legality. 

In our house we  pay a monthly subscription for a well known satellite TV service. Even though many of the younger generation have dispensed entirely with broadcast TV this satellite provider is still the market leader. Most of the several hundred channels it provides could be freely accessed with a generic satellite receiver that incurred no monthly fee. It does provide some premium channels but services like  Netflix and Amazon prime which subscribe to anyway are worthy alternatives to those premium channels at a lower overall cost.  So why do we and many others still pay every month? 

One answer is that this provider has tied up some popular content with exclusivity agreements but to be honest I think the real answer is their interface is acknowledged to be the slickest and easiest to use on the market. One simple interface allows you to search broadcast channels, on demand channels, recorded shows etc. A simple voice command will record an entire series for you. They even include Netflix, Prime and YouTube on their system so one remote can control everything. 

Easy is better than Free. It annoys me  that I  could cobble together a home grown system (combining satellite receiver / recorder and streaming services) that would provide the same content at a much lower cost but I realise that this would not be a popular solution for the rest of the family so I put up with it.  I even put up with the fact that they often pay over the odds to buy or rent a movie from the included store when I know they could get it cheaper from a different provider. 

Our satellite provider is not cheap and knows how to charge for every possible extra. Easy is not cheap.  There is also a price to be paid in functionality. There are many channels that are available from our satellite dish that do not appear in the standard lists with this service. You can find them via obscure sub menu options that allow manual channel selection but you cannot add them to the menu in any convenient way. In fact you can't really customise the interface at all. It includes some subscription content providers but not all of them Notably it does not allow anyone who will sell or rent you a movie in competition with their own overpriced store. Perhaps the most annoying thing of all though is that there is no way to filter the selection to just the channels and services in your current package. Indeed it will only alert you to the fact that something is not included in your package after you try to play it and then it will nag you to increase your subscription in order to view it. There is one series that I am currently watching that is not available on out main TV through the set top box but which is inexplicably available on the companion app on my computer. I don't know why and it won't tell me why although it does offer to charge me more whenever I try to watch it on the wrong device. 

RX 550 How a bad value gpu might just be my all time favourite

Quick recap about my cunning plan to overcome the GPU apocalypse last year: We bought a prebuilt Dell with an RTX 3060ti for my wife who is ...