The path to perfection has been long and expensive. Over the past four years starting with a hand-me-down K62-450 with a GeForce4 440, I've tried to improve my gaming experience whenever spare cash permitted. I've upgraded processors half a dozen times, the most recent one being a relatively decent AMD X2 4400 dual-core. I've gone through about as many video cards--starting with that GeForce 4, I then bought a Radeon 9800 Pro, my first purchase of a new gaming card. From there I got a 7800 GT, then a second one for SLI, and finally dropped almost $700 on the card that I expect to last a long time: a top of the line GeForce 8800 GTX, still to this day one of the top three video cards in existence.
Unfortunately, my CPU upgrades did not keep pace with my video cards, and for a long time I've been CPU-limited--that is, my frame rates have been far below what my video cards could deliver due to the CPU being underpowered. The last two CPU upgrades have been nice, but cautious--not going all-out the way I did with the video card on the 8800 GTX. To make matters worse, one of my happier upgrades--a ViewSonic 22" monitor--had an unfortunate and unintended side effect. Like other flatscreens it only really looks good in its native resolution of 1680x1050--which raises the hardware bar to get games to run smoothly, as I can't just scale down the resolution to improve my framerate.
So last week I ordered the following:
ASUS P5N-E nForce 650i motherboard
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU
4Gb G.SKILL DDR2-800 SDRAM
ZALMAN 9700 NT CPU Cooler
The package was scheduled to arrive yesterday. Unfortunately, I did not yet know what time UPS delivers to our new neighborhood, so it could've come at any point during the day. I spent the day biding my time, getting stuff done, and started panicking by the time 3:00 PM rolled around--that was when I had to leave to pick up the Tadlet from school.
After breaking every speed limit in the city, I returned to our neighborhood and saw the UPS truck just down the street. Further panic ensued; I had no idea whether or not he'd already attempted delivery, and I'd forgotten to hang out the "please leave on door" sign that I didn't even know if he'd honor. As it turns out, UPS arrived and delivered the package less than two minutes after the Tadlet and I pulled into the driveway.
Whereupon he informed me that he would've just left the package at the door, that it didn't require a signature. *bangs head on desk*
Anyway. I set Tadlet on his homework, and proceeded to tear apart my old computer. Problem: the very nice (and necessary) CPU cooler would not fit in my old case.
Time to get a new case! It was off to Computer Stop, where I looked at and dismissed all the crappy cases with poor airflow, and finally settled on an Antec 900. This may be the best case I've ever put together. It's not as slick as the Lian Li I had before, but it has fantastic airflow, lots of room, and was extremely easy to put together. I also am of the opinion that I did the best job of cable routing I've ever done.
More panic ensued when it came time to apply the CPU cooler. I've never installed this particular type of CPU before, and the cooler is--well, let's be blunt, it's fucking HUGE. It was also not for dummies; I had to manually apply thermal paste, another skill I don't have much practice with, and somehow maneuver it into place while screwing down a recalcitrant bracket.
So after all the hardware drama was over, it was time for the software drama. As anyone could've predicted, Vista threw a screaming shitfit about being placed in unfamiliar hardware. Also predictably, it failed to repair the installation and demanded that I reinstall it entirely. This took the better part of an hour and a half. I could swear I remember it being faster before; somehow I was under the impression that a quad core CPU and 4 gigs of RAM would speed up the process a little. What's more likely is that the bottleneck is the DVD-ROM drive, which can only go so fast.
But at the end of the night, shortly before I should be heading off to bed on a worknight, it was done. Vista was installed, the latest video and sound drivers added, and Windows Update finished installing the seventy-jillion so-called Critical Updates. So how does it run?
OH. MY. FUCKING. GODS.
It has been a long-term struggle to get EQ2 to run smoothly at anything approaching high settings, due to how abominably bad the game engine is--it leans heavily on the CPU and doesn't get much benefit from a high-end video card. To make matters worse, I lost a lot of speed going to Vista due to the significant memory footprint of the OS, and the fact that the game really wants to have that 2Gb. This new system? Smokes it. There's still a little lag here and there, but I'm pretty sure that's due to a combination of net lag in busy zones, and brief hitches when loading a bunch of new textures at once. Other than that--it runs EQ2 better in Vista than it ever ran before in XP.
But that's a somewhat dated game, in the grand scheme of things. How does it handle the more demanding games coming out today? I could only think of two games to really tax it. Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl, and the Crysis Demo, since the retail version of the latter doesn't release until next week.
Stalker--or S.T.A.L.K.E.R., to use the pointless initialism that the developers chose--is a post-apocalyptic free-roaming FPS with vague nods to RPG elements here and there. It's also retardedly resource-intensive, so much so that it's been the game of choice for a while on Hard[OCP] to do CPU and video card benchmarks. Few people can get it to run smoothly at high settings, to say nothing of the widescreen resolution I run in. I dealt with some of the chunking before because it's such a good game. Now? Flawless. The framerate was as smooth as a freshly-shaven porn star, and had about the same effect on me. I couldn't believe it.
I couldn't let myself spend too much time on it, so next I moved on to Crysis--or the demo, at least, since that's all I've got. This is supposedly the New Hotness of PC gaming, the first title to really do DirectX 10 justice, with hyper-realistic graphics and physics that are just mind-blowing. It's also supposed to demand one hell of a PC swinging between your legs in order to run smoothly at even medium-high settings. I decided to be bold, and set everything to maximum quality settings. First impressions? A little chunking in the opening animation. A little bit more whenever the camera view swings around sharply in cinematics. Other than that, it was entirely playable, far smoother than my previous setup was with /medium/ settings. I tweaked a few of the settings down, dropping postprocessing effects to medium and shaders to high, and it's now smooth as glass most of the time. Occasionally drops down to an entirely-playable 25-30 FPS.
No regrets. None. Other than that I had to come in to work today. :> Now I'm counting down the hours until I get to go home and play with my new baby.