It's a funny old world. A while ago, I posted a blog wherein I stated my preference for the simplicity and elegance of consoles over the hassle of DIY PC builds. I'm not a tech whiz. I don't computer. I'm a technological luddite, and I like my games machines to be simple and, if at all possible, idiot proof.
I'm now sitting at a desk with my custom rig whirring away next to me, blinking its beady little lights.
It was an impulse decision, really. I've always preferred using laptops. Laptops are pretty idiot proof. They come with everything built in, they're cheaper, portable, and you tend to not have to worry so much about conflicting drivers, bottlenecks and such. You can even use them as a handy lunch tray in a pinch. So until a few months ago, I had a perfectly decent laptop. Wrote all my DTOID posts on it, watched all my porn on it, and even played some older games on it. Then the fan started going kaput, the thing kept overheating, and I realised I needed to get a new computer. And having managed to save up some money through work this year, I thought it might be an idea to actually build one.
Then the power supply on my laptop died, and that idea turned into a decision I made then and there.
Of course, being a typical English skinflint, I didn't want to blow my bank account on this computer. I wanted this to be a fiscally conservative machine, a middle-of-the-road PC that manages to play modern games with specs that don't require their own mortgage payments. To that end, I enlisted the help of some more techy-minded friends of mine, and we drew up a components list.
I wanted this thing to be as small and stylish as possible. I have an absolute hatred of desktop PCs and their bulky, horrible late 90s Edgy Attitude stylings. I didn't want a black monolith with sharp angles and red neon lights, like some sort of contraption left by the Empire on the Death star. I wanted something which had both function and a degree of form and aesthetic appeal. Say what you will about Apple and their overpriced hardware, they at least know how to make computers sexy.
Seriously, I can already smell the ladyboners from here...
With that in mind, I decided to go for a Micro-ATX motherboard and a Bitfenix Prodigy case in White. The M-ATX formfactor would allow me to choose from the majority of parts out there while still keeping overall size down, and the Prodigy seemed to be getting good reviews as a small-form case with plenty of room for air circulation and cable management.
Aside from that, I decided to go with AMD over Intel for the CPU, as one of my techy friends assured me that AMD tended to offer better bang for buck at lower-to-mid range prices. With that in mind a 6360 3.9GHz 6 core CPU was promptly found and ordered. GPU-wise, I went for a Radeon HD 7770 1GB, a mid-range card that was non too expensive yet would still let me play most modern games on decent settings. RAM I decided to go for 8GB to start with, with the potential to upgrade to 16GB later on if I wanted. I bought a 120GB SSD to install the OS and key applications on, and a 1TB hard-drive for everything else. I already had an old monitor, so figured that would do for the time being. Lastly, I bought an optical DVD drive just to make installing driver CDs less of a hassle, a 620W PSU and, being someone who enjoys home recording, bought a Creative quad-core soundblaster card to help supplement the CPU with sound tasks (which believe me, can get surprisingly resource intensive). If nothing else, it should have freed up the CPU a bit during games as well.
In total, the price of everything came to somewhere just over £600, which is exactly what I'd budgeted for. So far so good. So of course, this is where everything starts going wrong.
Firstly, I ordered everything except the case from eBuyer, who I would heartily recommend to anyone. The Prodigy case I had to order through Overclockers, who were the only site to stock the particular model I needed, the Prodigy M. Everything else arrived the day after I ordered it. A few days went by, and yet no case. I phoned up Overclockers, who assured me they'd look into it, and asked me to call them back in a few days. A few days later, I called them back, and snags promptly ensued.
They informed me that the model of case I wanted, the Prodigy M, hadn't actually been released yet, and wouldn't be available for a few weeks. I went back to check the site and, sure enough, a Pre-Order sign was there right where I'm sure it hadn't been before. Discouraging, but I am a patient man. The case was a decent price, had gotten good write ups, so I figured I could wait a couple of weeks for it.
Two months, an overdue cargo shipment, and one tardy courier service later, I finally got my damn case!
With it finally in my hands, I was able to start putting the PC together. Which I did, having a whale of a time, until I hit snag number two. Inserting the GPU into the PCI 16x slot covered up the PCI-e slot that I needed to plug my soundcard into. I would either have to choose the graphics card or the sound one. Having already resolved myself that I would at some point quite like to play Crysis, I decided to go with the GPU, and sort out the soundcard at a later date. As it turns out, I've got a regular PCIx1 slot free which I'm hoping I can find a compatible soundcard for.
With that problem temporarily resolved, I finally plugged in my monitor, and tried to boot the thing up.
Snag number three: my monitor, it turned out, was broken. Well, not so much broken as just given up the ghost. The power lights wouldn't even turn on. The thing was just so muc inert matter. No problem, I thought to myself, the downstairs TV has some spare ports, I'll just plug into that. I did so, only for the TV to promptly tell me that PC mode was not compatible, and any options to change it were greyed out.
DAMN YOU SAMSUNG, DESTROYER OF DREAMS AND BRINGER OF DESPAIR!!!!!!!
Feeling somewhat frustrated, I decided then and there just to buy a new monitor and try and get this done with a minimum of fuss. Ten minutes browsing on my smartphone suggested the Acer SL240longwindednumbers as a good low-price choice, so with that I went. It would take another two days for my monitor to arrive, during which time I pondered whether I'd made the right choice trying to join the PC Master Race, a race which evidently was not for the weak willed. I also ordered a new flat-key keyboard, as the five minutes of messing around on the one I'd sourced from the attic was enough for me to know that I hate traditional keyboards and their clanky, oversized buttons.
This all eventually arrived, and I was finally able to boot up my PC, install Windows 7 and actually have a working computer, as opposed to an electrician's spares box. Hurrah, I thought, it's all plain sailing from here on out. A steady breeze, clear skies, calm waters and plenty of nautical metaphors.
Enter snag number four: drivers.
I wish pc drivers were as cool as this one...
All my components sans CPU came with driver installation CDs. All of them worked just fine except my GPU driver CD. Installing that caused my new computer to inform me that my GPU wasn't working properly, and that I needed to update the drivers. Trying to do so through Device Manager was about as successful as trying to get Madonna's phone number through her bouncer, and with only marginally less violence. So eventually I uninstalled the drivers entirely, and elected to download them directly from AMDs site. Which was even less succesful, as then my computer failed to recognise the GPU at all. Success finally came when I uninstalled those drivers, then reinstalled the CD ones which, for some unknown reason, decided to work perfectly second time round.
I don't think it needs mentioning at this point that I really hate updating drivers. I would rather get teeth pulled by a dentist through my nostrils than go through that again.
But after all that, I had a working PC. It connected to the internet flawlessly, and through a handy application a friend of mine showed me, I was able to install all the basic programs I needed in one fell swoop. One of which was Steam.
'Ah, Steam', I thought to myself. 'No matter how much tedium and annoyance I have had to endure, Steam's all-in-one system will make playing games a doddle. The oasis at the end of my journey in the desert.' I already had a Steam account, and over the space of an afternoon re-installed the scant few games I had managed to get to work on my laptop, along with the free copy of Human Revolution AMD had been kind enough to give me with my graphics card, and the copy of Dark Souls I had bought on a whim while it was on sale.
That wasn't enough though. I needed something more. I had a new PC rig, and I needed something to measure it against. I needed Crysis. I'd always wanted to play the original game, to experience the sandbox shooter gameplay people talked about, and now I had a rig that was up to the task. I saw it there in the Steam Store for less than a tenner, and bought it without hesitation. What could go wrong? My PC was already built, passed all the spec requirements, and Steam should make installing and playing the game a doddle. It should be a breeze, right?
I am, as of the time of writing, waiting on Crysis to finish a second install after the first one proved the game to be unplayable on Windows 7 64 bit. I am also downloading a file mod which should hopefully, if the reinstall goes to shite, allow me to mod the game files to run on a 64 bit machine. My knowledge of altering game files is limited to some pissing around with Morrowind mods I did on my laptop a few years ago, so it could all go horribly wrong from here. I know at least that Human Revolution runs beautifully on my rig, and my copy of Fable TLC looks more beautiful maxed out than I could ever have dreamed.
Oh, so that's what 1080p/60fps looks like. Now I get all the fuss...
I know that I can take a bunch of components now, and through effort and idiot-savante engineering turn them into a working PC.
But I also know that Crysis is just the start. From here on out, it's going to be compatibility issues, driver reinstalls, file alterations and the like. I had hoped that all this hassle was just the initial paddling before entry into the PC gaming club, but I realise now that it's a paddling which never ends. My copy of Dark Souls needs to be modded, which I have yet to do. The majority of may favourite old games, the ones not on GOG at least, are going to need some resourceful installation measures. And there's that inevitable Skyrim-shaped cloud on the horizon, with the promise of ini.tweaks and mod incompatibility buried in its thunderous rumbles.
I can only hope it's all worth it. There's rumours of Steam Sales on the horizon, and I'm not sure if my wallet will be able to take the punishment.