Moratorium on PC upgrades for 2017.

As 2016 comes to a close, I am in the process of writing up my new year resolutions for 2017. One of the goals involved meeting my financial goals for next year. I am going to list two main financial goals, one of which is a milestone goal, meaning that if I achieve my first goal, then I will go on to achieve my second one. But the first one must be fulfilled at all cost. In order to achieve the second one, I will need to be more aggressive in my savings on a monthly basis.

That means, the best way possible to achieve it is to impose a moratorium on any PC upgrades for 2017. Let’s face it, I just built my first DIY PC less than 4 months ago. Its a great gaming rig. I am still watching those YouTube videos, and reading about all the new PC peripherals for the past few months. I even created a parts list for my next imaginary build that I would do if I were to upgrade my PC in PCPartspicker. All these costs a lot of money. And to be a rational person, its logical to think that there is no need for me to upgrade my PC anytime soon. I am using the latest Intel processor (until Kaby Lake chips for PCs are out in the coming months, which doesnt make a different in terms of performance improvements). I am using Nvidia’s new GPU, the Pascal, 10xx series, which will last me years technically. And just about everything else is just new and performing just as intended.

If I really really want to uprade, it would make more sense to fully utilise my current gaming rig till it breaks or underpeforms to my basic expectations. Either that, or I will wait till a newer generation of graphics cards are released to make the upgrade a little more worthwhile. It will take at least 2018 for the new generation GPUs to come out at the very earliest to make any meaningful upgrades. Which means that it would be wise to ban myself from doing any drastic, ad-hoc upgrades to my current PC and just spend a little more in getting a whole new one further down the road instead.

And that is what I am going to do. Unless something breaks and needs a replacement (which is unlikely, and even then I am covered by all the various warranties in each component) I am not going to spend unnecesarily on hardware upgrades. Even if its just a change in the case fans, or modifications to the aesthestics, its a no no for me. I am going to embrace my gaming rig wholeheartedly. Appreciate its strengths and accept its flaws (which in my eyes, there arent any). Because at the end of the day, it makes more sense to save that money and go all out in my next gaming rig, and I really mean all out. I am talking about RGB fans, LED strips, tempered glass panels, custom cables, dual GPUs, M.2 NVME SSDs and AIO coolers, with a ‘K’series chip. I am serious about it, and it will take some serious money to go all out on that rig. 2018 would be the earliest I would upgrade or overhaul my PC. I am going to keep my word.

Adieu Macbook Pro.

For years I have always wanted a Macbook Pro. What started out as an experiment, plungin myself into the whole Mac OS ecosystem many years ago starting with the Mac Mini, slowly evolved into something more powerful, more mobile to the Macbook Air. As my needs changes over the years, so does the products that are required to meet my needs.

The Mac Mini and Macbook Air are both excellent computing devices. It was the first time I felt that art and technology can coexist peacefully. Something so beautiful can be at the same time be so practical. And the design philosophy behind those two products have no equals. And for many years I believed that.

The new Macbook Pro that was recently released violently shifted my paradigm. No doubt, Apple continues to release excellently designed products. Sleek, and minimalistic with a keen eye in the tiniest detail. But sadly, the new Macbook Pros were unable to meet my needs, much less my budget. There are criticisms to the new models, and they are all valid in my opinions. Things like the lack of ports, the absurd use of mutiple dongles, the questionable usefulness of a TouchBar, and the overall price increase of those new models were all aspects that were very much criticised.

And it was from then on that it made me realise that it is time for me to depart from the MacOS ecosystem and embrace Microsoft Windows once again.

It took me a while to come to grasp, especially in finding a worthy replacement to my aging MacBook Air. Actually, I would have been fine without a laptop. I am having loads of fun with my DIY gaming rig. But because I am going back to school, I forsee that I would need a portable laptop for school assignments and also work from time to time. But buying a whopping S$3000 on a MacBook Pro, just for my part-time studies is just too much for me. It was hard initially to change my perception on the overall quality of Windows laptop. For a long while, I have held to the belief that Windows laptop are far inferior than what Mac as to offer. This actually remains true. When it comes to design, nothing beats the MacBook Pro. Design wise, it is still widely lauded and a benchmark for all other laptop to aspire to. Thinner, longer battery life, powerful. And it is only recently that certain models from certain laptop companies are slowly hitting that benchmarks. They are not exact copies of the MacBook Pro or Air counterparts, but they are close in achieving the feel and look of Mac laptops that many people just love.

So I had to spend time to have a close look at what the market was offering. It was tedious to go through so many different Windows laptop. A majority of them were still very inferior. But a handful of them was quite well design.

But the tricky part was to find a good balance between finding a Windows ultrabook that is relatively thin, light, with long battery life and packing a fairly powerful CPU without bursting my budget.

It is only then I came across the Lenovo Thinkpad 13. Out in the wild, during my search, came up Lenovo. Lenovo, best known for business laptops. Chunky by design on most models, nothing worth lauding about. Its just a business laptop. Black, plastic, nothing to wow at. But I had to be realistic here. I had to find the perfect balance between price, weight and performance. Thinkpad 13 was the best I could find. And a good find it was. At just S$930, this laptop actually pack quite a punch. Intel Core i5 Skylake, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM, 13inch IPS display, all day battery life. A middling spec of a computer but at a terrific price. The best aspect about the Thinkpad13 (and for most of Lenovo’s laptops) is the keyboard. Its an absolute joy to type on. Great travel distance and just the right size and distance between keys, typing on the keyboard is both accurate and fast. I dont think I have used a more comfortable keyboard on a laptop before.

So there you have it. It looks like a laptop from the 90s, but at least it’s cheap, reliable, sturdy enough to bring around in your bag, respectable battery life and just works.

I think Lenovo has opened my eyes to the possibilities that other laptop makers can be just as good when it comes to designing terrific laptops. I also came to realise that there are laptops out there that ticked all the right boxes for your needs, and it need not have to be expensive at all.

 

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.

 

 

 

In The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt, patience is key to total enjoyment.

I played Witcher 3 Wild Hunt on the PS4. I never completed the game. I loved the game, but for some reason, I have never had the energy or the drive to complete the game. I would start the game with great enthusiasm, but that enthusiasm fades away the longer I play. I restarted the game the second time several months later, starting from the very beginning, but that effort failed as well.

Now that I have a gaming rig, I impulsively set out to buy Witcher 3 Wild Hunt on Steam. It was a waste of money, especially when I have the exact same copy on the PS4, and it gives gamers the almost exact experience regardless of whether you play on the PC or the PS4. I literally had 2 copies of the same game.

But I went on with it and bought the PC version. As a consolation, I bought it when it was on sale, so at least there is some reason to justify purchasing the game a second time round, however weak that reason is.

So I fired up the game but before actually starting, I told myself explicitly; I am going to complete the game no matter what, do all side missions as I possibly can and I am going to take my time doing it. That last part of the statement was important. I never knew how important it is in contributing to the overall positive experience of playing Witcher 3. Taking my time playing the game, being patient, listening to every dialogue from the beginning to the end, without skipping and reading all letters, books and mission briefs. If I am going to take 10 hours to complete a string of missions from one storyline, so be it.

And what a difference does that make! For the first time in my life of playing The Witcher 3, I actually enjoyed the game by orders of magnitude. I finally understood the feeling of total immersion in the Witcher 3 universe. Apart from the superior graphics on the PC versus the console (which I must admit is a contributing factor in giving me a better gaming experience, because, let’s face it, playing Witcher 3 at ultra settings, everything looks so so pretty), being patient with the game pays great dividends. You appreciate the story being told in the game. You become more emotionally attached to the characters in the game, you understood their intentions, back stories and predicaments. The NPCs personality became three dimensional and for the first time I fully appreciated the amount of effort put up by the developers, designers, writers and voice actors in making the world of Witcher 3 fully immersive, rich and dynamic. No longer have I read ahead of the dialogue and skipping it. I understood more fully the missions, and tasks at hand and most importantly, the consequences of my actions while playing Witcher 3.

I am pretty confident that I would clock at more than 200 hours in this game and I am very excited to complete Witcher 3 from the beginning to the end, and to top it off, even clear the DLCs that have been released since then. The DLCs add hours upon hours to the core game and I am going to conquer them all.

 

 

I just love Steam sale. 

When games on Steam go on sale, they really do go on sale. I’m talking about prices of video games, some of them new and recent, others, critically acclaimed classics slashed to as much as 90% off! 

Like recently, Steam held a Warner Brothers games division sale, slashing titles from the Lego and Batman franchise by as much as 75 off the usual price. The popular Batman Arkham franchise, consisting of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and Arkham Origins, was just 5 dollars each! I quickly swept all three games in addition to the recent Arkham Knight at 13 dollars. All in all, I bought 4 full games for less than 30 dollars! 

It’s a deal that cannot be missed. Simply irresistible, especially when you know that these are the games you will play eventually when you done with the other titles that you are currently playing. So no harm waiting patiently, adding those games to your wish list and then snapping them up when a sale is on. Just gotta love games on Steam. 

So right now while my pc rig is fairly new, and my games collection relatively sparse, I have no qualms about purchasing and downloading multiple games at one go. Hell, I might eventually face a problem a friend of mine did a long time ago; too many games, too little time to play them all! 

The Roccat Sova Gaming Lapboard

So now that I have my gaming rig set up and running, you may not realise that I am actually playing on a 42 inch full HD LCD TV. I have a couch in the room, in addition to the TV. I used the TV to play games on the PS4. Consoles and TVs go together, but what about PC gaming rigs and TVs?  Its a common set up. More common that you think. However, there has never been an elegant solution with regards to using a keyboard and mouse on a couch for living room gaming (in my case, its in my room).

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Introducing the Roccat Sova Gaming Lapboard. I preordered the Roccat Sova about a month ago and it started shipping sometime in the third week of August. It arrived just in time,  a couple of days after I finished building my rig. I still had to wait a couple of days though and while waiting, I had to use a spare keyboard and mouse to install Windows 10 and update all relevant drivers. When the lapboard arrived, the first thing I noticed was how huge the package was. The Roccat Sova is essentially a ten-keyless keyboard built into a plastic frame with a wrist rest and a built-in mousepad. Essentially, this lapboard is built such that the whole thing rests on your lap, so that you can play video games on the couch. Anyone who preordered the Roccat Sova were given a Rovvat Kova mouse for free, which is a sweet deal, considering that the whole lapboard setup is not cheap to begin with. This sweet combo immediately sets you up for couch gaming without additional purchases to complete the set up.

So far I am loving it. I never thought that gaming lapboards would work. The Roccat Sova doesnt feel heavy at all, yet not too light as to skimp on plastic. Despite weighing more that 3 kilograms, its size spreads the weight around so it doesnt feel too heavy on your lap. It has 4 cushions underneath the gaming lapboard for your lap to rest on, making it comfortable for long gaming sessions. You can even remove the cushions and underneath those slots, you can remove the the wrist rest and mousepad with a simple push, since it is stuck to the gaming lapboard with magnets. You can even replace it with other designs, which I assume Roccat would release in the near future for customisations options. The ability to remove the wrist rest and mouse pad allows you to clean your lapboard easily.

There are other gaming lapboards out there. Razer released its own gaming lapboard called the Razer Turret. It has a smaller profile than the Roccat Sova. However initial reviews indicated that the mouse pad area is a little too small for gaming and that the keyboard uses chiclet style keys on their keyboard. Furthermore, it doesnt come with a wrist rest and makes long gaming sessions a little uncomfortable.

Corsair also released their own gaming lapboard, aptly named the Corsair Lapdog. It is similar to Roccat Sova in terms of layout, but it doesnt feature a wrist rest. While corsair allows you to switch keyboards within the gaming lapboard frame, it can only accommodate Corsairs keyboards and only certain models within their gaming keyboard line-up. Switching the keyboard is great for those who wishes to upgrade to a better keyboard like mechanical keyboards, something Roccat Sova cannot do. You are stuck with the keyboard given on your gaming lapboard. Roccat Sova does come with two flavours, one featuring the normal membrane keys, and the other with a more premium mechanical keys. So potential buyers must decide carefully on which they wish to purchase, with the mechanical keys commanding a higher price.

Another drawback from Corsair Lapdog is that it requires a power cable connected to a power outlet to power the usb hub and keyboard. This additional cable required to power the keyboard can be cumbersome. Roccat Sova does not need additional power cables, but it does require two USB slots to power the keyboard and any additional peripherals connected to the USB hub (it has two USB ports), like a wired mouse or USB headphones. The two USB connectors are split at the end of the cable and they both must be plugged to your CPU.

Roccat Sova comes with a four meter USB cable that is of ample length for a typical living room set up, allowing you to easily connect it to your CPU half a room away. The cable is also unique in that it features easy break-away cables, featuring a 5-pin female connector on one end and USB connector on the other end. Should someone accidentally trip on the cables, rest assured that neither your keyboard nor your CPU will come flying across the room, since the break-away cables will easily and obviously break away.

One thing I hope Roccat Sova would provide in the future is the ability to purchase replacements for the cushions that comes underneath the lapboard. While it is comfortable, I doubt its longevity, especially, when coming from someone who lives in warm tropical Singapore, you can get sweaty on your lap after intense periods of gaming and I am not sure if the cushion could handle stresses such as heat, humidity and human sweat. But for now, it seems to be holding up. Unless you are playing games with your air-conditioner switched on all the time, then you might want to be mindful about this potential cushion degradation after using the lapboard for a couple of years.

I had never had any ergonomic problems with using the Roccat Sova and gaming on my couch. The wrist rest is essential and thankfully it is built that wrist rest in mind. The mouse pad area is huge, more than enough surface area to game on. In fact, as I am typing this entry, I am using my Roccat Sova to type, and the keyboard is as comfortable as most keyboards should be.

This is perhaps the first lapboard ever released to truly usher in the era of couch gaming. Aspiring PC gamers who wish to game on their glorious full HD or even 4K TVs in their living room is now made possible with the Roccat Sova.

First games on my new PC

There has to be games installed after building my first PC rig. What better way to show off the rig in terms of raw computing performance than playing some graphically demanding games?

As soon as I set my PC up, I got started installing and buying a few games that might not only interest me, but also be able to make full use of the hardware that I built. My build is a beast, showcasing the latest graphics card from Nvidia, the GTX 10xx series, in particular, the mainstream GTX 1070 graphics card. A good value for money in terms of price to performance. This card is able to play any current triple A titles on PC without breaking a sweat at 1080p and as well as on the 1440p. As I am playing on a 1080p TV, it shouldn’t pose any problems when I crank up all the graphics setting of any games out there on the market at ultra settings. So here are the first four major PC titles to debut on my new rig.

  1. Battlefield Hardline
battlefield hardline
Battlefield Hardline

Battlefield Hardline actually on my list of ‘must have games’ list. But as I was browsing the EA Origins store, it was on offer. Selling at only S$6. It was an opportunity too hard to pass up on. Although I have read mixed reviews about the single player campaign and the game in general, I was still curious about this new Battlefield iteration. Swapping military warfare to police and thieves setting, I wanted to find out what is new in this franchise and whether this new idea would work out. Apparently not so. I didn’t really enjoy the single player campaign much, and although I have yet to finish the campaign, things were starting to go stale. The combat isn’t just as fan as the previous Battlefield games. I do applaud the cast and characters portrayed in this game. Featuring a star studded cast playing out various NPC roles to push the story along, but ultimately, while I admire the graphics, the story and gameplay is a little flat.

2. Star Wars The Old Republic

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Star Wars The Old Republic

Star Wars The Old Republic is an MMORPG along the veins of the ever popular World Of Warcraft (WoW). W0W set a very high standard in the MMORPG genre, so it became natural to emulate its successes in the Star Wars setting. Released in 2011, I only recently had the opportunity to start my grand adventure. After a 5-year wait, I was excited to begin my journey. Why the wait? Well, before I built my rig, I was exclusively using the Mac. I’ve only had the Mac ever since then. My last computer was a MacBook Air and this game did not release a Mac equivalent for Apple users to enjoy. Now that I have a Windows based PC, I immediately swooped on the opportunity to get my hands on this game.

I am enjoying every moment of this game. The story took place after the award winning RPGs from Bioware, Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, The Sith Lords. As a huge fan of those RPGs, it would be strange for me to delve once more into the Star Wars lore that took place around the time of the first two RPGs. This MMORPG is one of the rare ones where all dialogues are voiced over, making this game one of the largest MMORPG project when it comes to voicing all dialogues in this game. It was an immense undertaking and it really paid off, since the roleplaying aspects feels familiar to fans of the original Bioware RPGs. The spirit of roleplay in an MMORPG is kept true, which is what I love about The Old Republic. I foresee myself playing this game for months to come, since there are tons of contents to uncover, many worlds to explore and various gameplay aspects I have yet to experience.

3. Rise of The Tomb Raider

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

A sequel to a well received reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise, I was disappointed when it was released as a PC/XBOX timed exclusive. But no more. I enjoyed the first game and it seemed natural to play the sequel. Rise of the Tomb Raider was the first game I bought on Steam for my new PC. And a full priced game at that, being a recent title and all. But I have no regrets and I am surely I will enjoy the game as much as I did on the first on, maybe even more. Truthfully, I have not started playing it despite the fact that I bought it. I should start on it soon.

4. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

The final game that I will talk about, this game was released at just about the right time when I completed my build. I told myself; why not? And immediately paid and downloaded the game on Steam.

I have never played any of the Deus Ex games prior to this one. While I was brought up to speed in terms of the story so far, I have stayed away from this game primarily because this is a stealth game. And stealth games aren’t my forte. I don’t particularly enjoy stealth games and it seems that I neither have no patience for it (planning, hiding, waiting) nor I have the ability to think out of the box in getting my character out of supposedly impossible situations.

But I decided to give it a go, and the first thing that impressed me most was the graphics. This is by far the game with the most gorgeous graphics I have ever downloaded on my new PC. It is such an eye candy. Everything looked great. From the character models, lighting, reflections, high resolution textures, everything coming together to make one stunning world for Deus Ex.

I am in the process of playing this game through and while I still find it a difficult game to play, at least I have the option of cranking down the difficulty and allowing me to focus more on the story, so that I don’t have to agonise through repeated attempts in stealth-and-escape situations.

One aspect of this game that I applaud is the open-world feeling to this game. Not only that, you are given the tools and freedom to approach your objectives, problems and challenges in any way you like. This is as non-linear as you can get out of a stealth based game. And it is a surprisingly refreshing feeling, never penalising you from out of you way to find a unique solution to your problem or approach to your objectives. So that at least makes the gameplay bearable.