By Humanity 31 Comments
Upgrading PC's is something I generally dislike doing. I've been building computers for years ever since my older brother got me into it. To this day I cringe when thinking of putting together those boxes in 1999 or so, with all the different compatibility errors and incredulous solutions like moving something a dimm slot over to get your whole setup to finally stop spitting out those ear mangling error codes. Those who bemoan Windows 10 should spend a week being forced to build anything under ME or 2000, what a nightmare.
As a child I wasn't a big console gamer because my parents despised video games professing them to be a huge waste of time (and they weren't wrong!), so naturally we never really had any in the house. This is partly why I have absolutely no fondness for Zelda, or Mario or a number of other classics held in high regard that I simply didn't get a chance to sit down with for any serious amount of time. Sure I played some console games in my youth - Contra quite literally changed my life and blew my mind the first time I saw it in action - but it was the PC that opened the doors to gaming for me under the thinly disguised veil of being an educational companion for schoolwork.
When people talk about their childhood gaming moments in terms of Metroid or Link to the Past, I think of Stunts or Hexen. Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Rise of the Triad. Adventure titles like Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road or the more esoteric Bureau 13. Playing Prince of Persia at my friends house or collecting jewels in Commander Keen. I recall running a 25 ft long ethernet cable with my brother between our rooms so we could cooperatively stomp out the AI in StarCraft. Those were the golden days of gaming for me. That is when I fell in love with Fallout and Fallout 2, thinking I must be a huge fan of RPG's only to later painfully discover those games to be very unique gems in a vast pool of fantasy driven adventures with Dungeons and Dragons rulesets that confused and irritated me. It's where I spent hours crafting hospitals and dungeons, rollercoasters and flying fortresses in Stratosphere: Conquest of the Skies. Basically, great times that shaped how I think about games today. They were my Gerstmann callbacks, the titles that I think of when I mention "classic" gaming.
Alas with the love of PC Gaming came a price - keeping afloat on the ever changing tides of the hardware curve required capital. You had to steadily dump money into your machine or the tide was going to pull you away from the golden shores of high performance and into the sad, open waters of minimal specs where similar individuals paddled in place, watching those beautiful games back on shore get further and further from your reach. Back then it was a lot more dire to get left behind as many titles didn't just perform poorly, they would quite often refuse to run at all unless you met their lofty requirements. I'm not even sure how I did it as a young kid, but somehow I stayed afloat and continued to enjoy awesome graphics, nuanced gameplay and smooth performance, oftentimes looking down at console offerings with a bewildered ignorance: how could people play that stuff?
As the years went on a few things came together to form the perfect storm that changed my stance completely. First of all my patience in keeping up with the rat race started waning as college and two jobs began eating away every free moment I had and having to pay for the roof over my head as well as the food I ate cut drastically into my gaming budget. Second, PC games entered the blightful phase of shoddy ports that weren't optimized, had a ton of issues and continued to rob me of my free hours as I spent more time troubleshooting various crashes on Lycos than actually playing the games themselves (damn you Slave Zero!). The third nail in the coffin was that as PC game quality dwindled and innovation came to a standstill, console games started getting pretty darn good. The first console I bought after my Pegasus from the early 90's was a Playstation 1. One of the first games I played on it was Metal Gear Solid. Here was a game that felt every bit as nuanced as the PC titles I was used to, but on it's own terms. Let me show you the power of my mind, snarled Psycho Mantis and proceeded to make me burst out laughing. You know, these consoles are alright..
Fast forward to the 360 and I had all but completely abandoned the PC. The ease of buying a disc and simply playing the game was something I was able to sacrifice a lot of inherent computer fidelity for that I'd grown accustomed to over the years. My first FPS played with a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard - and over the years I had cut my teeth on Counter Strike and Battlefield 1942 with the trusty carpal tunnel inducing WASD setup - was BioShock, possibly the worst choice for such a drastic transition seeing as Rapture might be an incredibly atmospheric world, but the shooting was never the highlight of that franchise. Then came later games that continued to fuel my gaming needs and helping me become a proper console player. Dead Space, one of my favorite franchises to date showed me how great third person shooters could be. Modern Warfare showed me that console shooters had the potential to be fast and frantic. GRID and Dirt games showed me how fun a driving game could be with analog sticks instead of the tried and true clickity clackety turning on a keyboard.
I've always kept my PC moderately up to date so that when some exclusive came along I'd be able to give it a shot. Lately though, both pricing and ease of play has been shifting back towards computer games. One of the final straws was Hitman for me, a game I've grown to enjoy quite a bit. The load times and performance on the PS4 where I initially bought the Intro Pack played an incredibly detrimental role in my enjoyment of the product. Here is a game where I want to experiment, I want to test the boundaries, and in order to do that I need to load a save quite often - a painfully slow process on my base PS4. Dishonored 2, my favorite game of 2016, ran incredibly poorly at times with a chugging framerate that made me question how the game made it to market at times. The argument that "these games are optimized for the hardware so you have consistent performance" started to really ring hollow. More and more titles started coming out ridden with bugs, with poor performance, and overall issues that sometimes - like in the case of Skyrim on PS3 - simply never got resolved. My whole reason for switching to the console ecosystem started to fall apart, and now with the release of the PS4 PRO it has basically shattered to pieces. A better version of the same generation of consoles? Games that run better on one than the other? And these games have been already performing quite poorly as of late.. so am I to buy for another whole console simply to get back to that baseline performance? I just didn't know anymore.
So here we are!
It was time for another update, and when updating your PC why take half steps - you should always go full Gerstmann.
I combed through some forums, got up to speed on some new-aged terminology, and set out to build a whole new PC from the ground up.
Noise was one of my major complaints as my previous computer would sound like a jet engine when playing any game, thanks to the wonderful Radeon R9 card I had in there. The Noctua fan was overkill for my needs as I wasn't going to overclock to CPU just yet, but it ensures longevity for the time when I would want to crank up those cores. If I had an i6700 the processor choice would be a huge waste of money as the i7 line did little to innovate on their predecessor, but coming from an AMD based bulldozer cpu this was a great leap forward, and one of the best chips out on the market right now (as far as I could tell anyway!) I wanted to get G.Skill Tridents but there was a good deal on the Hyper X so I took the hit and got the slightly slower ram.
The videocard was obviously the most expensive but a good investment for years to come.
I had no idea Power Supplies came in swanky pouches like this these days and it really made me laugh when I opened it up. It seemed like something a pimp might carry in the backseat of his cadillac for some reason. I was going to go with a Corsair power supply but Seasonic has a pretty great reputation and it offered both modular cable design and no-fan-spinning when working under load. Sadly it doesn't have the platinum rating as the original Corsair iHX I had chosen out, but Gold will do just as well in a pinch.
The Noctua fan is a NH 14 model, and is quite big! Thankfully the chatter online was true in that installation of Austria's finest is incredibly simple, even for someone who hasn't touched modern coolers in years. (My previous build had the cooler already set on the CPU and the motherboard for which I was incredibly thankful)
Not this time though! This time I had to place the CPU into the socket myself and then attach this hunk of metal on top. In all honesty my hands got a little shaky as I fumbled to place the small square into the ASUS easy-snap-on-thing and then heard a rather unhealthy cracking noise as I closed the game firmly shut and bolted it down. If I messed things up it would be quite apparent later on..
I then proceeded to check out the latest and greatest techniques for applying thermal paste, a topic on which there is an endless amount of discussion raging on as we speak. Ultimately I settled on the tried and true 4-5mm bead in the very center. Should work just fine and a lot of people, including the fine folk at Noctua, recommend this method.
What I absolutely did not miss is the mess that comes along with building a PC, and how things can spiral out of control if you don't keep them in check. It's good form to cleanup as you go along, but having been out of the game for quite a while I let the habit slide and ended up with a mountain of parts, screws, boxes and plastic packets strewn all over the place. Also not being the young man I once was, despite taking precautions to work at a desk instead of hunched over the components on the ground, my back was still killing me after all was said and done.
But finish I did, and to my overwhelming joy Windows 10 handled the whole process smooth as butter. A quick verification of my installation that simply required me to log into my account and indicate that I had a "serious hardware change" recently and my Digital License smoothly transferred over. I know! I know! You should do a clean install upon changing hardware.. but listen, I'm tired and this works, so hey I'll cut some corners. Also this installation of windows is actually quite fresh, with nary a program on it apart from Steam and Photoshop. If driver conflicts arise I'll deal with them using the good ol' wipe method, but until then, I'm happy to just have things working.
PC is running smooth as silk and I can barely tell it's on when I'm simply surfing the web. Playing Hitman on all things Ultra wasn't honestly the life defining experience I thought it might be, but it's nice to not have to worry about detail settings for the foreseeable future.
Either way thanks for reading. I'm happy to have a fully upgraded and up to date computer once more. I'm ready to join the ranks of the worst PC snobs out there, being disgusted at games running under anything less than 120FPS and loudly proclaiming how I don't even know what a console is much less that I would actually own such a thing. (Of course secretly I'll be continuing to play Titanfall 2 on my PS4 and anticipating Horizon Zero Dawn in a month, because no matter how awesome it is to boast about your killer frames, it's a lot more awesome to simply play great games no matter where they appear..)