PC upgrade woes

Ever since AMD released their latest line of ‘Zen” CPUs, the CPU landscape has never looked so exciting in a long time. With competition from the red camp, Intel is now upping its game in pushing forward the release schedule of their latest ‘Coffeelake” CPU, the 8th Generation of new CPU from Intel that is rumoured to launch in the 5th of October. Consumer now have a myriad of CPU choices from both the blue and red team. And both of them are offering, or will be offering excellent CPUs at every segment of the PC market. Anything from the most budget conscious consumer, to the PC enthusiasts, or someone who wants the best of the best to maximise their productivity.

That has led to some upgrade woes for me. With so many choices, I am faced with so many issues in choosing the ideal parts for my next build and making sure that they all play nicely without any hardware, software or even physical conflicts with one another, especially when you are actually building a new rig from scratch. With so many offerings, all clamouring for your attention, it is very difficult to separate the signal from the noise.

One good way to do that, is to question yourself critcally; what would be the ultimate use of your upcoming PC rig? What will it ultimately be used for, for most of the time that it is switched on?

Suprisingly, I haven’t been able to answer that question myself, despite the fact that no matter how I use my new gaming rig, there will always be a build that is suited for it.

I play games on my PC. That is the primary use when building a gaming rig. Sounds straightforward. Get a decent performance CPU (no need to get the highest end model with the highest core count or clockspeed) and invest more of your money to getting a good GPU that will get decent framerates at maximum setting over a 1440p resolution screen. That is my set up at the end of the day.

However that is another use of my PC, one that does not involve gaming, but rather, involves donating idle computing time to useful causes through Boinc. Boinc is a platform that allows users to pick a project from a list, (scientific or otherwise) and donate your computer’s processing power (either from the CPU or GPU, or both at the same time), to help people in cruching mathematically complex data for useful causes. It could be as noble as climate change model modelling, chemistry and protein-protein interaction modelling, or to a more benign project like searching for signal out in space for intelligent life (SETI) to a downright hobbyist type like finding the largest prime number.

And so I find donating my spare processing power for the benefit of mankind to be a noble cause. Afterall, it’s easy to set up. Just download Boinc, and choose a project that you think is interesting to you and you are well on your way to potentially contributing meaningfully to society, all while sitting on your desk behind your monitor.

Therefore, having a more powerful PC would greatly help in the cause. That is where the conflict arises. I don’t need a powerful PC to enjoy my games, and yet, I want to build a rather powerful one, because I find using Boinc and crunching scientific data for good a cause to be fun.

So which is it, to spend more on a more powerful rig, or simply save money and get a decent specced gaming rig?

My idea of a power rig involves multicore CPUs with adequate cooling (preferably water cooled) and at least 2 powerful graphics card. But adding just another graphics card costs a lot of money and will definintely increase your overall budget on a PC considerably. Do I want to walk down that path.

And thus, this is my source of my dilemma. I simply cannot decide. Of course, there are other smaller problems when it comes to upgrading your PC. Do you salvage parts from your previous PC, or do you sell off the entire rig? What parts can I salvage? Do I want to start from scratch and create something different? Or do I want to stick to largely the same build but just some beefier parts? Each has it’s own pros and cons.

Personally, I want to upgrade. I really do. It’s just a matter or which path to choose and then sticking to that path and commit myself in choosing the correct parts that would bring me the greatest benefit without breaking the bank. And once I am on that path, I must not regret that decision. It is hard to know where I will go. I have never dont a PC upgrade before. I don’t know what are some of the considerations when making an upgrade. For example, is it more feasible to sell the entire rig and start from scratch, or is it better to sell off certain parts and salvaging others to add to my new rig? How do I go about doing it efficiently and effectively?

I still love my rig. It still performs extremely well. Given a choice to upgrade one component, I would most definitely go with the graphics card. I do fancy a shiny new GTX 1080ti. It’s overkill for gaming over 1440p, but at least with a 1080ti, number crunching would be faster by a slight margin, and when it comes to GPUs, one can always bring it forward to whatever future gaming rigs you are going to build.

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Happy one-year anniversary gaming rig!

Exactly one year ago today, I completed building my first ever gaming rig. I was an increadible experience. I learnt a lot PC gaming rigs and how to build one. It was a journey I started months ago before actually acquiring the parts. But once I did, it was a journey I enjoyed tremendously.

One year on, and I still love my gaming rig to death. It has served me well this past year without any problems whatsoever to either the hardware or software. I must have done my homework properly. Everything works fine.

I plan to keep using this as long as I can. However I have plans to build a new one. A bigger and better one. I have the confidence to really build the rig of my dreams, one that requires to graphics card with a water-cooled build. I will upgrade once Nvidia announces a new generation of graphics card sometime next year. But for now, I have no plans to change, upgrade to build a totally new rig. I am going to continue using my current set up as much as I can.

 

I finally completed Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect Andromeda was released sometime in March of 2017. It’s August as of this writing. I took nearly 6 months to complete Mass Effect Andromeda.

Mass Effect Andromeda was one of the most anticipated video game. When it was first announced, I was beyond excited. For Bioware to bring the beloved Mass Effect franchise back to life was a bold move for them to make. After releasing three rock solid games that formed the Mass Effect Trilogy, it was certainly a tall order to meet or even exceed the standards and quality set by the first three games.

So when it finally came out, I was ecstatic. But flash forward 6 months later and it is only now that I finally get to complete the game. So why did it took so long for me to play the game in its entirety from start to finish?

Sad to say, the game fell short of expectations. When it was first launched, the game felt hugely unpolished. Numerous bugs, terrible facial and lip sync animations. It felt like a beta. Although animations can be improved through subsequent patches, (and thankfully it was improved) it is the story that ultimately fell short. The main character, Ryder, was a little two dimensional and boring. Your squadmates are no better, featuring very bland backstories and flat personalities (maybe with the exception of Peebee). At the end of the day, you don’t feel invested in spending time doing any of their character related missions or make any extra effort to gain their loyalty and unlock higher level skill set for you to level them up.

Gameplay was not bad. I had fun. Action sequences were intense and I am thankful for that. If the characters were boring and the gameplay was no better, the game would have tanked. The reviews would have come back panning the game. Bioware really came close in releasing its first ever flop. That would have been embarrassing for Bioware, masters in RPG, storytelling and world building to release an RPG that sucked for the very first time. It would have marred the entire Mass Effect franchise with the release of Mass Effect Andromeda. Generally, taking the game in its entirety. There are good moments within the story and robust gameplay mechanism. Bioware had the opportunity to truly create an epic RPG storyline within the Mass Effect universe. But it decided to squander it away.   Bioware had a blank slate to come up with a killer storyline on a new galaxy (Andromeda, instead of the Milky Way where Shepard and the rest of humanity reside in the first three games) but it squandered it away. Bioware had the opportunity to bring back that sense of discovery and exploration for gamers to experience on a totally new galaxy but it decided to squander it away. Bioware had the opportunity to run wild on a totally new set of alien species and all of its intrigues and unique characters on a new galaxy but it chose to introduce just one main alien species, the Angara (two if you consider the Kett, the bad aliens you have to fight against). In other words, Bioware missed on a lot of opportunities to elevate the franchise on a whole new level and bring a new generation of gamers to the Mass Effect universe.

Looking back, I enjoyed the game. But the reason it took me so long to finish is that I feel at times, the game to be very inconsistent in terms of the pacing and plot progression. So it was inevitable that I take long breaks before firing up the game and continue slugging it out and forcing myself to bring the game’s plot forward bit by bit over time.

MASSEFFECT-ANDROMEDA-2

 

All AMD build?

In the past couple of days, there has been a deluge of information regarding AMD’s new product offering from the CPU and GPU departments. The latest monster of a cpu, Threadripper was launched to much fanfare and I really dig the review kits AMD distributed to all major influential tech reviewers on YouTube. The review kit they received was really badass! AMD also announced their new Vega GPUs for the mainstream market and so far things are looking really promising for AMD. I have heard nothing but praises for AMD from the tech community, especially when it comes to really listening to feedback and acting on that feedback to give customers what they truly want from AMD.

Which got me wondering now about my future gaming rig. And all AMD build seems an interesting prospect. It would be doubtful for me to get the Threadripper lineup of CPUs. Those are overkill, but the Ryzen 5 or even the Ryzen 7 series is competitively priced against Intel’s CPU offerings. Having an 8-core, 16-thread CPU is a bonus. Definitely still overkill, but nice to have.

As for GPUs, I’m reserving judgment over them. Vega is an interesting product, but I am more interested in what Nvidia has to offer next year. Honestly, I am still a Nvidia fan, and their recent 10 series GPUs are nothing to scoff about. But one thing is for sure, and that it I will go for multi GPU set up for my next build. I am aiming to get 2 enthusiast level GPUs to be included in my future build. More power! It could be possible that I could go for an AMD CPU coupled with a pair of Nvidia GPUs in my future builds.

By the way, in about 15 days or so, my current Dark Rage build will be official one year old! Time truly flies! It doesn’t feel like a year has passed. At. All. But believe it or not, a full year will soon pass since I first built my new gaming PC. It is still going strong and I have made zero upgrades to the PC since then. I just love my PC to death. I imposed a moratorium on PC upgrades for 2017 and I have kept to my end of the bargain. Reason being is that I personally feel a waste of money to make incremental upgrades to my current PC, when I can use that money and more as I save up to build an even bigger and better PC in the future, hopefully sometime in 2018.

Built my second Gaming Rig (for a friend)

Today, I have successfully built another gaming rig for a friend of mine. It was hugely satisfying. I advised him on how and where to get the various parts for his new gaming PC and for how much. We set off on one of the weekend a few weeks ago getting those parts, from Sim Lim Square, Carousell sellers and online through Lazada and Amazon.

The end result; a powerful gaming PC featuring Geforce GTX 1070 graphics card from EVGA, Asus B150M Plus motherboard, 16 GB Ram, an Intel Core I5 6600 Skylake processor, all housed in a beautiful Corsair Carbide Air 240 black case. It is actually quite nice once everything is put into place. The only thing that I hope he would add are a couple of LED strips around the insides of the case to truly showcase the art that we just built. And perhaps some nice sleeved power cables for the graphics card. But all in all, its a beautiful beast and priced reasonably too. His gaming rig specs are very similar to mine and it came just shy of SGD2000, excluding monitor. Here are the full specs:

Intel Core i5 6600 Skylake CPU at 3.2Ghz

Asus B150M Plus Micro ATX motherboard

Corsair Vengence LPX DDR4 16GB RAM (2x8GB)

Cryorig C7 CPU Cooler

Toshiba OCZ 480GB SSD

Toshiba 1TB HDD 7200RPM

EVGA Geforce GTX 1070 SC

Corsair Carbide Air 240

Superflower 600W fully modular PSU (Gold Rating)

 

The final piece that fell into palce was the graphics card. We ordered from amazon about 2 weeks ago and it finally arrived on time today. I called him to come over to my house to put the finishing touches before bringing it back to his house to set it up with his new desk and monitor. Yeah, he even bought a new desk for his PC, alongside keyboard and mouse. He was using his old gaming laptop for work and gaming for the past 3 years or so and it was time for an upgrade.

I am glad he approached me to help with his gaming rig. Like I said, I truly enjoyed building one. To see it come to life was hugely satisfying. And again, I gained alot of experience building the second gaming rig. It not only reinforces my knowledge of building a PC but learnt a few new tips and tricks along the way, especially when you are building on a totally difference PC case, with its own design flaws to overcome.

I hope I have more opportunities in the future to build future gaming rigs and I am more than happy to provide advice on what kind of gaming rigs would be suitable for one’s needs.

 

 

 

Tipping point

I am at a tipping point where I am very close to buying all the parts needed to build my very own DIY PC. I think I can safely say that the tipping point for that decision came about when I impulsively bought 2 EVGA GTX 1070 SC Gaming ACX 3.0 GPU at a relatively competitive price on Amazon. I saw a good deal on the website and decided to try my luck to buy and sell it here locally. Firstly, Singapore doesn’t sell EVGA GPUs. There is no official distributor for EVGA GPUs. But (and its a big but) EVGA GPUs are covered by an international warranty and they have pretty detailed RMA instruction from their official website should there be a need to return a defective GPU back to the manufacturer. Coupled with these two factors and on top of the fact that GPUs sold in the US are generally much cheaper, I decided to try my luck to buy 2 of those and hopefully make a tiny profit selling it back on the local market here. And if they do sell well, I might buy several more in the near future. I don’t need to make huge markups, just enough to cover the initial cost and pocket some little extra cash. Nothing lavish.

Personally, I love the EVGA GPU design. I think they have the best heatsink and fan design among the other GPU vendors. It is simple, angular, with little to none of the copper of nickel plated heatsink pipes protruding on the sides of the GPU. Their designs and colours are not too flashy either, but they do come with a very prominent LED-backed wording panel that displayed the EVGA brand and type of GPU that you are using. This is especially prominent if you have CPU case with a clear side, allowing you to show off your new GPU.

But that aside, the very fact that I purchased those 2 GPUs may have tipped my decision in building a DIY PC of my own. I actually spent close to SGD 1.5k just like that. In addition to the GPUs, I also bought 2, 480GB SSD, from OCZ, a subsidiary of Toshiba. Again, after much research, retail prices of SSDs here were surprisingly very expensive. And the variety of SSD brands and models were surprisingly thin. The SSD I bought is suitable for entry level, budget conscious users, like me, who wishes to just simply instal and boot up my OS and use it as a day to day storage device in my PC build. I realised that I did not need extra performance or speed in terms of read and write speeds. SSDs are naturally much faster than traditional hard drive. So unless I am using my PC to move large files, process thousands of images or various 4K video files all at once, I wouldn’t be able to notice any substantial improvements in a more professional grade SSD than what I would ultimately use for my PC, just a simple decent one for a fraction of the cost. This cost savings would then allow me to invest in other parts of the PC that I may find it more useful.

I have spent months researching about all the PC parts that are needed for my newly built DIY PC. I have reached a point where I know in detail most parts, devices and peripherals that would suit my needs and the variety of choices present in front of me. I know what to look out for in terms of cross compatibilities, and I now have the knowledge and technical know-how to confidently build my own PC and even make informed choices on which parts are the best for my current needs. The choices are endless, the permutations of parts you can select are infinite. But looking harder and studying the technical aspect of each computer part, all boils down to just a handful of items that not only be useful for me, but comes at just the right price. Everything else is just noise. At the end of the day, its not about investing in the best in the system, but investing in a system and suits you best.

Right now I have multiple builds written down in great detail, down to the exact costs that is going to take to build on. And I have even created multiple builds based on my numerous needs and wants. From HTPC setup, to mini ITX builds, each with various components mixed and matched (like I said, the permutations to mix and match are endless), each with its own set of pros and cons. But looking closer, a number of parts listed in those builds don’t differ much and that, by setting a budget and listing down your needs, you simply have to set your mind to listing the components you need to just a handful of them.

I have just listed my final build for my PC. I have already purchased some of the components listed online and should arrive in the later half of August. As for the rest that I intend to buy locally, there is no rush. I should be able able to start building my PC towards the end of August. I will post my final build soon and perhaps show pictures of all my purchases in future updates.