Saturday, August 15, 2009

Operating Systems - The Best of the Best

If you weren't aware, Windows 7 Home Premium and Professional upgrades were available a few weeks ago for a significant preorder discount. At $50 for the Home Premium upgrade, they got me to bite. I'm currently running XP Professional 32-bit, so this will be an upgrade for me in several ways.

First of all, I plan on running the 64-bit version. Second, I'll jump from DirectX 9 to 11. Well, my video card currently only supports 10, but games won't really take advantage of 11 for a while anyway. Third, I'll finally be using the new Windows interface. It's a little frustrating trying to help other people that use Vista while I stumble around on their machine trying to figure out where all the administrative stuff got moved to. As someone who takes pride in being the best at troubleshooting PC problems, it's also embarrassing.

When I reformat for the new Windows install, I also plan on installing the latest version of Linux Mint. I'm currently running Ubuntu 8.10 x64, and I really haven't been using it much lately. I'd like to get to the point where I'm habitually using Linux for everything except Windows-only games. I think Linux Mint will help make that happen because I have been happily using Mint 6 on a laptop.

Windows 7 is scheduled for release on October 22nd. Coincidentally, Ubuntu 9.10 will be out around the same time, so Mint 8 x64 should be out shortly after that. However, I'm not sure I want to jump right into Windows 7 as soon as it hits the streets regardless of how well the beta has been running for everyone. Ubuntu 10.04 (April 2010) will be the Long Term Support version which has more of a focus on stability instead of new features. I think we can expect Mint 9 in early May. At that point, Windows 7 will have had half a year to work out any early issues, and so will driver developers.

Therefore, I'm not sure what course I want to take. Should I install Windows 7 with Mint 8 in November 2009, or should I wait for Mint 9 LTS in May 2010 and give Windows a chance to be "broken in?" Let me know what you think. Either way, the comparisons should be interesting.

I might even go nuts and throw in a hardware upgrade of some sort. Around April, if Newegg has a good combo for 4GB DDR3 and a DX11 video card, things could start to get crazy!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bargains, Power, and Overkill

While the bargain gaming rigs sure are a great bang for the buck, I understand that you might be looking for something with a little more power. Today I'll show you three different gaming rigs at very different price ranges. Each of these will give you a practical idea of what you can actually expect to pay. Most tech websites do not do this because they ignore combo deals and sometimes even rebates. Yes, these deals change all the time, but when they do they are replaced by similar deals. If you're in the market for a new machine but these exact deals are no longer available, just drop me a line and I'll help you sift through the combos and rebates for the deals with your name on them.

Today we'll look at what I call the Bargain Gaming Rig, the Practical Power Rig, and the Overkill Rig. I know. I'm so creative. Let's start with the inexpensive one.

Bargain Gaming Rig:

Processor: Athlon II X2 245 - $68
Motherboard: ECS IC780M-A AMD 770 ATX - $50 (after $10 rebate)
RAM: Patriot Viper 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 - $40 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: GIGABYTE GV-R485ZL-512H Radeon HD 4850 - $90 (after $20 rebate)
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3250310AS 250GB - $45
Case: Rosewill TU-155 Black Steel ATX - $50
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $29

Discount: $17 (CPU/MB and Case/HD combo deals)
Shipping: $20
Total: $375

This machine will play all of the latest games. The most demanding of them, however, will need to have some of their settings set to medium levels. Later on you can upgrade this machine with any PCI-Express 2.0 card, so it's not like you'll have to replace this rig any time soon. If you're on a tight budget and don't care about running the most demanding games on the highest settings, this is the machine for you.

Practical Power Rig:

Processor: AMD Phenom II X3 720 BE - $119
CPU Cooler: XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 - $37
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H AM3 AMD 785G Micro ATX - $90
RAM: G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1600 - $75
Video Card: HIS H487FN1GP Radeon HD 4870 1GB - $150
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS 640GB - $75
Case: Rosewill TU-155 II 500 Black cold rolled steel ATX - $80
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $29

Discount: $40 (CPU/VC, MB/RAM, and HD/Case combo deals)
Shipping: $25
Total: $640

This machine is an upgrade from the bargain rig in every way, excepting the DVD drive. This processor is really the sweet spot of gaming processors. It overclocks better than any of the other Phenom II processors. Recent benchmarks have shown that a fourth core on the same architecture (regardless of CPU manufacturer) yields no benefit in gaming - as long as you're not running demanding tasks in the background. If you overclock this processor, you will not get any other overclocked Phenom II to outperform it.

The motherboard doesn't support SLI or Crossfire, but practical gamers will want to avoid using multiple GPUs anyway. The benefit is just not worth the cost. It does support DDR3 which, unlike multi-GPU solutions, is becoming more practical as time goes on. You might want to try overclocking the RAM to 8-8-8-24 timings; I'm sure you could get away with it. The video card will chew up almost anything you throw at it, as long as your monitor doesn't run at a crazily high resolution. You should be able to play the latest games for a few years on this.

As an added bonus, there are no rebates so you don't have to wait for your money to come back.

Overkill Rig:

Processor: Intel Core i7 920 - $280
CPU Cooler: XIGMATEK Dark Knight-S1283V - $45
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-EX58-UD3R Intel X58 ATX - $175 (after $15 rebate)
RAM: OCZ Gold 6GB (3 x 2GB) DDR3 1600 - $90 (after $10 rebate)
Video Card: MSI R4890-T2D1G OC Radeon HD 4890 1GB - $180 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: HIS H489F1GP Radeon HD 4890 1GB - $190
Hard Drive: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G1 80GB SSD - $230
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black WD5001AALS 500GB - $70
Case: NZXT TEMPEST Black Steel / Plastic ATX - $80 (after $20 rebate)
Power Supply: Rosewill Xtreme Series RX850-S-B 850W - $100
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $29

Discount: $45 (CPU/Fan, MB/RAM, and VC/PSU combo deals)
Shipping: $38
Total: $1,462

Happy birthday, Jeremy! (hint, hint)

While this machine looks absolutely crazy, I wouldn't exactly say that it's wasteful. It's very future-proof and you will notice the performance gains. If you wanted, you could remove one of the video cards and the SSD to bring the price close to $1k. The machine really won't lose any longevity if you do that.

The processor is basically the best you can get. At stock speeds, it outperforms anything but the other Core i7 CPUs. It overclocks better than any other processor on the market. We're also using two HD 4890s in Crossfire here. I think that all X58 motherboards have at least two PCI-Express 2.0 x16 lanes, and this one is no exception. This graphical power will allow you to play Crysis smoothly at 2560 x 1600 with the highest settings.

Yes, I listed two hard drives. Yes, one is a high-performance solid state disk. Use it to install Windows and your games with the longest load times. Potty breaks between levels will be a thing of the past! There's enough room, power, and cooling to keep all this hardware under control. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory.

Next time some website tells you that you need to spend over $2000 for the ultimate gaming experience, just laugh. This machine gives you all the performance you could want, and all without becoming a jet engine space heater. Think it's missing something? Leave a comment and let me know!

Recommended Related Reading:
New Gaming Rigs - Where to Start
Again with Feeling