18 Mar 2011

Building the Next-Gen MMO Machine

Part One: Laying The Foundations

I’ve been hoping to pull this off for a while now. My faithful companion, commonly known as “Gazdesktop” but affectionately known as “that black monolith that weighs a ton” is finally going to be upgraded. The stars have aligned, the gods have smiled upon me and the process has begun. It is once again time to scour all known tech resources in pursuit of that final PC blueprint called The Spec.

The reason I want to upgrade is simple: PC gaming is more than just World of Warcraft. There are other games that are vying for my attention that I want to be able to enjoy to their fullest. While my current rig will churn out a healthy framerate in Stormwind, it’s really starting to struggle with anything more current. With Aion, Rift, The Secret World and Star Wars: The Old Republic all using higher quality graphics I’d like to have a machine that can do them justice.

I’d also like to have a bit more headroom when recording videos. FRAPS is pretty resource intensive and Sony Movie Studio can take a while to encode a video, so anything that makes this easier is a Good Thing. Besides, I fancy giving machinima a go!

I tend to plan my upgrades around a three year cycle. I look at what games are out now and what’s in the pipeline, then plan the major round of upgrades around it. I make a rough estimate of the kind of power I’ll need based on benchmarks from those playing the game beta and try to match that up against the current state of computer hardware.

I also discuss planned upgrades with other people a lot before I actually buy anything. Planning a new PC can start anything up to three months before the parts get ordered and shipped so that I can take advantage of any new technology that’s just on the cusp of coming out.

Keeping the Good Stuff

When I do an upgrade I very rarely replace everything in one go. I’ve had the same PC case for roughly ten years and the same monitor for about four. If there’s no reason for me to replace a component then I won’t bother. It might mean that my machine looks a bit tattier than others, but if it delivers performance and saves me money then it’s a no-brainer.

Great candidates for keeping are:

  • Your monitor – especially if it’s one of those shiny widescreen TFT affairs. Older CRT screens and 4:3 (square-ish) flatscreen monitors are ripe for replacement though.
  • Your speakers – after all, you probably use your headset or your hi-fi for most stuff. Of course, if you’re looking for a new setup purely to annoy the crap out of your neighbours then fill your boots
  • Your headset – why replace it unless you only have sound out of one ear and it keeps falling off your face?
  • Your keyboard and Mouse – unless you’re getting a fancy mechanical keyboard or million-button-mouse, there’s no point replacing what you already have. of course, having the crumbs of five years of mealtimes staring up at you through the gaps between the keys might be an incentive.

You might also be able to reuse the following stuff, depending on how old or grubby it is.

  • Case – as long as it has at least three sides and doesn’t pose an electrical safety hazard, you’re fine. Older cases might pose a bit of a problem with some of the newer motherboards, with screwholes being in the wrong place. Cases from off-the-shelf manufacturers like Dell can rarely be reused.
  • DVD Drive – if it works then why bin it? If it sounds like a Starbucks coffee machine every time you put a disk in it then it’s time to throw it in the trash.
  • Operating System – if you’re using Windows 7 then it’s pretty pointless to shell out for a new copy of the OS. Check your license carefully though as OEM versions can’t be transfered between machines.

Another useful thing to keep on-hand is either an external hard drive, a laptop or even a USB key to hold all those documents, screenshots and music while you move from one system to the other.

Of course, what you keep and what you trash will probably depend on whether you’re going to buy a pre-built box from a dealer or order the parts and construct it yourself, wearing a white lab coat and cackling to yourself like some kind of mad scientist. Or is that just me? Either way, buying the parts can help you save a little here as long as you have the confidence and knowledge to perform surgery on your boxy friend.

This is only part one in the series. In part two, I’ll be sharing my computer hardware picks and some of the advice I’ve had from others. In the final part I’ll be talking about what accessories to go for if you feel the need.

If you’ve got any questions, advice or thoughts of your own then please share them in the comments. It’s great to hear your views and opinions on tackling the habitual upgrade cycle.

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3 Responses to Building the Next-Gen MMO Machine

  1. Nostalgeek says:

    I last upgraded my PC in May 2008 and would consider upgrading maybe by the end of the year except that my video card just died on me so I ended up upgrading.

    That said I’m like you I dabble in the occasional video capture so when I upgrade I’ll grab a nice quadcore, upgrade to 8GB instead of 4GB and probably get a nicer screen because 24″ is always nicer than 22″ :)

  2. Matt says:

    I would just like to mention, for the sake of savings, that even food ridden keyboards can be saved. As long as it is given LOTS of TIME to dry out, it will survive a run through the dishwasher or a hot water rinse. Keep in mind a few things…

    1. Dishwasher detergent is very harsh, so it will clean without sudsing. More than once or twice, I don’t know how well the keyboard electronic components would hold up, but for lots of dirt and grime, might as well risk it.
    2. Heat other than possibly sunlight will do nothing for faster drying, except risk hurting the keyboard. I guess if you have a fancy shoe rack for your clothes dryer, the air only cycle wouldn’t hurt… But imagine if it falls off.
    3. Do not rush the drying process… Use it when it is still wet, and best case, it doesn’t work. Worst case you fry your USB controller.

    I do not personally do this with my gaming keyboards, but for the more basic keyboard (that my kids touch) I do rinse them occasionally. Helps with the grossness kids produce.

    • Gazimoff says:

      Aye, I’ve taken a few keyboards apart and cleaned them. But for the time it takes, sometimes I’m lazy and decide to just trash it.

      Dishwashing is likely to be fine for the basic keyboards. Just make sure you use a cool wash and pull it out before your machine goes into the drying cycle, as you might warp the plastic.

      A horror story for you – last time I cleaned my G15 I broke the spacebar. Nowadays it only works from one side :(