Alright we have covered a lot of material until now and we begin to get into some areas that are more open in choices. What I mean by that is while in the other areas it was easier for us to give a clear product answer, here the choices vary depending on your own personal needs.
The optical drive is a device, that in the PC world, is beginning to disappear. Over the years it has evolved from the CD to the DVD and today the Blu-Ray but even that is not keeping it’s place in the PC world thanks to digital distribution. When we can get our music, movies, software and well pretty much anything we want via a download off the internet the need to store and have a bunch of CD/DVDs laying around has passed. Installation of your OS even no longer need an optical drive with Microsoft offer a tool to install the OS via USB Flash Drives. The tool you will download says it for Windows 7 but I have used it with Windows 8 as well, all you need is an ISO of your install DVD. Now just copy your latest drivers from the various components websites and put them on a flash drive and you are all set.
Now there are a few people that still use optical drives, okay well they at least have them in their systems. Even Doug has mentioned that he uses his optical drive so seldom that he has trouble recalling the last time. However, as he points at, at around $20 for an optical drive he does not see the harm in buying it. This argument does not work with me because I can see that $20 used to move up to a better motherboard, better cooler, more RAM or any number of uses which will have more of a daily impact on your computer use.
I would be remiss however in having this discussion without pointing out one obvious exception to my position, if you plan to use your ITX gaming system as an HTPC as well. If this is your plan then the addition of a DVD or even a Blu-Ray player to the system makes sense to some degree as you can then play these to your TV without the need for a separate box. Again I would point out that with so many good streaming services the need for this type of drive had diminished. However for the times when the internet is down and you want a movie this is a solid option.
Despite the validity of this argument in the system we are building, our case choice has limited us. The Node 304 does not have an optical bay in it so if we decided to go with an optical drive we would need to use an external model. The external model will cost a bit more than an internal drive but can be added after the fact to any PC without opening the case. Often it is as simple as plugging in the USB and your off. For our build we are suggesting passing on the optical drive and grabbing an external Blu-Ray if you decide later you need an optical drive.
As we move to the hard drive or mass storage for your PC we again hit a choice that will be based on personal preferences. All of you that are regular listeners know my position on the “PC Hoarder Mentality”, if not read the article I linked. I took a lot of negative votes on that article but popularity does not determine my position on this facts do. Without doing the entire article again, I really do recommend reading it if you have not, let me just say that once we take a serious look we can find that we can easily live with smaller hard drives than the community suggests. However some people still want that massive storage space and in the end this is a personal choice.
Larger hard drives are a solid value if you want or need the storage space, however for our ITX build I am going to suggest looking at the smaller 2.5” models over the 3.5”. Now you will pay a premium for making this choice, the smaller form factor tends to run quieter and cooler so they make a great choice for our ITX build, plus they take up little space, leaving more room in the case for air flow and other components. By a premium, what I found was that to achieve the same 7200 RPM speed for the drive you will go from a 1 TB drive to a 750 GB drive when using our friends at Western Digital. To get the full 1 TB drive in the smaller form factor you would move up in price about $30 and go to the slower 5400 RPM models.
The SSD side of this is worse when we consider pricing vs size. as a 240 GIG SSD will set you back around $120 more than the 3.5” drive if we go with one of the major brands. We could go smaller, with a 120 GIG SSD and shave that cost down but I feel the 240 is a near perfect size for a gamer build. You get your OS install and still have room for quite a few games as well as are able to some game streaming and recording if you like. The 120 GIG drive can work but you really need to be a hard core single or possible dual gamer to do this. What I mean is if you have only one or two games you play the 120 can work well.
While SSDs lack the space of a traditional “spindle” style drive, they make up for it with blazing speeds. We have said on this show many times that an SSD is one of the most impressive upgrades you can do to a modern computer when it comes to a notice change in the computing experience. Once you experience an SSD you will find it hard to rely on a traditional HD any more.
The good news is that because we are looking at the smaller drive sizes, the SSDs are 2.5” as well as the laptop style spindle drives, we can fit both in a system if we want to. This means we could get the SSD for our games and OS and then a spindle drive if we wanted more storage space. Of course we have two other options, the first is called a Hybrid Drive. These are essentially a traditional HD with a massive cache that give some speed increases over traditional drives. While these drives are fast for sure, they do not match the performance, or even come close to that of a pure SSD solution. The second option is to use a small 60 gig or under, SSD as a caching drive. For our build this can be done on the Z77N board using Intel’s software or we can buy a caching SSD from OCZ or Corsair. Our own testing has shown that there is a performance boost but again, in my opinion it is not worth the cost. In the end for only a little more money you can move to a full 120 Gig SSD and use it for the OS and most used apps and get a much nicer performance boost.
So with all of this information what are we left with? Well first we will not be using an optical drive in our build. Our case choice precludes it but I just do not see the need for the drive in a gaming machine. For our mass storage I am suggesting we use a 240 GIG SSD. This will give the system a nice snap in everything it does and gives us enough room to spread our wings a bit in gaming. As for what SSD to buy that is not so easy to suggest. The folks at Kingston, OCZ, Corsair and Samsung all make some great SSD drives and while benchmark numbers might show transfer rate difference, the truth is you will never notice the difference while you are using the PC. Right now I would look at these three brands and choose the least expensive at the time of preaches. Kingston has amazing value with their V300 and HyperX 3K but OCZ has always had aggressive pricing and the Vector is the fastest drive we have had in house, then Samsung has built up a reputation for incredible reliability, with Corsair sitting in the middle of this pack with solid options. Any of these will give you a great drive, so look for deals and find the best one.
Thank you to the folks at Kingston, OCZ and Corsair for providing SSDs for us to look at.
Show segments from show airing the weekend of April 13th, 2013
What makes a PC Gamer and what makes a computer part a gaming component? This is question I think the industry needs to take a serious look at, especially after a few recent conversations. You see a I know a lot of PC gamers, they range in age from 70 to 8 and play every type of game you can imagine. In the past few weeks I have noticed something that seems to be underlying in all the conversations I have had, a lot of them feel that the computer world does not truly represent them or know who they are. After taking an objective look around I find I have to agree.
You see back in the early days of the PC, two groups drove PC hardware forward. First we had the hardware geeks, the tinkers that loved to play with new hardware toys and discover it’s limits. The gamers made the second set and included a lot of the first set in their numbers. Early PCs were advancing fast, as was gaming software and they had to learn to tinker in an effort to play the games they desired. The industry was able to cater to both due to the huge overlap, giving us new hardware that was super tweak-able and could push performance limits of their generation.
Now lets look at today, we still have the same two groups but something had happened. As the gamer group has swollen and continues to grow the techie hardware geek group has not. Okay that’s not fair, it has grown in pure numbers but it’s percentage of the gamer crowd has drastically shrunk. Were at one time the techie and gamer overlap was likely as much as 80% for the gamer sphere, the techies now account for only about 15% of the same sphere today. The reason for this is simple, tech has outpaced software to a degree that you no longer need the ability to tweak your PC to have great gaming.
The problem is that when you look online for help with your PC and you are gamer, you find techie sites. Oh there are gamer sites for sure but go ask for help in them and you get the hardware geeks offering the suggestions. They spend time talking about overclocking and the latest high end parts. One gamer I spoke with expressed a though I have had for months. He told me how he is tired of going to tech forums because the build forums are all the same, a bunch of people putting together upper tier system and then asking others to pat them on the back for their part choices. When he looked for gaming help the number of responses were next to none existent and none of them were really about how to solve a minor issue he eventually figured out on his own.
With new perspective in my mind I went exploring forums and was amazed. Part suggestion seemed to mostly be based on what people read someplace else. They consisted of higher cost, higher end components that we have proven on our show make no real difference in day to day use than the next level down. In fact the recommendations tended to float around the same basic mantra for chips and GPUs, only three models were commonly suggested and anyone pointing out other options were generally considered not knowledgeable based on many of the replies I saw. BTW all of the suggestions were based on overclock ability, a trend that pervades the “enthusiast” world despite the fact that more data is constantly appearing that shows it impact is less significant on daily use with each new generation.
Todays gamers do not want to be techies, they do not want to tweak a BIOS or learn advanced overclocking techniques. They want to load up their game of choice and tear through it. When you present this position on a typical tech forum however you are called a name usually based around a console and told to go buy a gaming console. This is a DUMB response. PC gaming needs more gamers, we should be encouraging these new prospects not attacking the fact they want to just use their PC like 99% of the world. The PC is a more versatile platform, offers more horse power and in the end the chance for a richer gaming experience than the console. There is data that shows the trend is for many people to move from consoles to the PC for gaming.
The argument used in the “enthusiast” communities when then people arrive, is that a true PC Gamer learns how their system works. They are falling back on the history that exists between the tweaker and the game. This is laughable to me since a large percentage of todays “tweakers” buy their way to the horsepower they have rather than tweak. I am one of those old school, I was there when we first started overclocking the CPU, I was there for the first 3D cards. I saw the birth and death of 3DFX the god father of all PC gaming as we know it today. Tweakers back then were not a bunch of guys that spent the most money they could to gain bragging rights over others. Back then we worked within limited budgets and needed to find some way to get more performance. When we achieved that extra umph to our system we did not brag, we explained to our compatriots what we did and worked together to see if there was a better way. Overclocking and computer building was not a race to see who had the biggest E-Peen like it is today.
Another area they felt the industry has left them behind in is one that really caught me off guard, it was in aesthetics. Look at the various boutique gaming PCs you can buy. They are full of LEDs, bright colors and aggressive designs. Look in the industry at parts that are labeled as being “for gamers”. Headsets with blinking lights, fans with various light patterns, keyboards with a ton of extra buttons, lights and access ports, mice with enough buttons to build three mice and the list goes on. Somewhere along the way someone in the tech industry decided gamer meant gaudy, flashy or strange looking.
One gamer I spoke with explained to me that he had to rebuild his system because of the looks. The friends would come over and actually spend time staring at his PC build, and not in a good way. The PC became a focal point of the living room. He loves to game and he has a small home, the living room is the only place that has room for the PC. As we talked I offered him some case options that are a bit more subdued and he is in the process of building his first PC just so it does not stand out in the room.
Now lets be fair there are a lot of people of that want the aggressive styling that is so common, on so called gamer components. There is nothing wrong with having a case that makes a fashion statement, but the truth is simpler designs out there are the minority when you look for parts that claim they are designed for gamers.
Now the industry is working to redefine the PC gamer, new PC designs are getting smaller and slowly the DIY community is beginning to embrace these none tweakers. In fact one of the larger trends in DIY right now is the move to mITX systems. These systems are smaller and usually the case design is less gaudy than larger systems. The good news is that a lot of the new designs allow for standard components so that means these do not have to be underpowered, as often happened in the past.
The time has come however for us to stop trying to put square pegs in round holes. The DIY world has diversified and it no longer the sole domain of the uber-tweaker, they are in fact the minority. The gaming world is no longer the fiefdom of hardware geek but today is run by the people, the gamers, the hardware elite have been pushed to the fringes. Hardware geeks still have a lot to offer but they need to stop trying to force every gamer into their mold. The truth is the gamer is becoming the predominate force in the PC world. The hardware geeks are slowly being forced back and take a lesser seat at the PC gaming table every day. No more can the industry think of a PC gamer as just another geek, now they are their own entity and force in the market.
Part II The Early Years
As mentioned in the first part of this article, Everquest was my first “real” MMOrpg. I had spent some time trying out various MUDS but they never really captured my attention. One day I got a phone call from the my oldest and the most consistent gaming friend who asked me if I had heard of an online game called Everquest. I had not but after a few minutes talking about it, I went to our local game store that night with him and we each purchased a copy. I still remember our first night in Norrath with clarity. We spent hours trying to get our starting characters who were of different races and thus started in different areas together so we could play together. After several failed attempts we finally decided to simply reroll as the same race so that we could at least start in the same place.
At last, standing together in our newbie armor (it was of course not real armor it was cloth armor or what we civilians call clothing and the only thing cloth will protect you from is sunburn) with our starting weapons (they could only be called weapons because they were somewhat pointed on one end) we stood in the same starting area and tried to decide what to do next. After facing down a few vicious rats, Skip decided that based on what he had read we wanted to be in a different “zone” for the best selection of low level quests and adventures. Since I had read nothing to prepare me for the game and he had an entire afternoon of reading under his belt, I bowed to his apparent wisdom and we sat out with visions of riches and adventure (or at least some better armor, maybe some of that rusted chain mail we had eyed so enviously on another player) . Quite possibly there might be dragons that needed slaying and lovely damsels in need of a rescue or three. The world was our oyster!
As it turned out it would not be the last time I blithely followed Skip under equipped and under prepared into harm’s way in the dark. Looking back now I wonder why it took me so many years to stop following Skip into situations where I was sure to end up in a cook pot. It’s just that he always sounded so convincing when reassuring me that he had read an post on some forum somewhere, and he knew exactly where we were going and that it would be a cake walk with gold and beer and hot chicks at the end of the rainbow.
Well the short of it is that we spent most of the next 3 hours being repeatedly killed, eaten and digested by lions on the plains of Karana. Apparently a lion’s appetite for level zero noobs is infinite, if not they would eventually have let us go simply because they were too bloated to chase and eat us for the 23rd time. It turned out that brandishing and even swinging our “starter” weapons proved to be even less effective than hiking our skirts and running. Apparently the lions were not at all impressed that our “starter” weapons were slightly sharp on one end. In the end we both had to get to bed because of work the next morning and though we had made no progress at all and had probably set some record for most deaths to lions in one evening we vowed to meet online again the next night and give it another try. Why? Because it was fun.
A lot of those early MMO days were like that. An entire evening spent dyeing, trying to recover your last corpse before it rotted and you lost all your gear and dyeing again and making little to no progress but having fun all the same. That’s not to say we never got anything done. We had plenty of great times and did not even join a guild for a long time. We just wandered around, the two of us, completing quests, getting better than cloth armor and in general having fun.
Compared to the MMOs we have today the progress was painfully slow, the frustrations were high and the game mechanics crude at best. And yet we had a blast! Despite corpse runs, no voice chat, no maps, no markets or auction halls and a complete lack of mounts to ride, we had a blast. Why? Maybe it was the newness of it. We had nothing else to compare it to, or very little. The number of MMOs to choose from back then could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare and I never remember hearing anyone back then talk about jumping to another game much less back and forth. Most of us simply picked one and stuck with it. Often our choice was based on what our real life friends played.
Over the next several years my list of gaming friends grew to include dozens of people I met online and I we had a blast playing together. I did not even belong to a real guild for the first year or so that I played, I simply got online and sent tells to some of those friends and there was always something to do. We talked occasionally about other games and by then you needed two hands to count the main stream MMOs that were out there. Some left to try these other games and most came back soon thereafter telling us tails of how the “other game” had faired. Few of us saw a compelling reason to switch. We were simply happy where we were. Again I can’t say that there was a reason to stay, just no compelling reason to leave a game we liked and knew well and were comfortable in.
Personally I first began to see the seeds of unrest in 2004. Maybe it was there earlier, but that is when I began hearing rumors of this new game called World of Warcraft. In development by Blizzard who had a sterling reputation among gamers it promised to be better than anything else out there. It adopted many of the most popular features of other MMO of the day and was the first game I also can remember being “hyped”. There was a real sense of anticipation leading up to the release of WoW.
It was around this time that my game of choice Everquest seemed to for the first time start making several class changes, altering bit by bit the roles and abilities that many of our age old classes had been known for. With each new expansion we began to see abilities being adjusted and I began to see some players become upset enough at the changes to either leave or roll other classes mostly because they did not like the changes made to their existing characters. With the release of WoW we saw for the first time a dramatic drop off of friends who went to try this new game and never came back. Many did come back but a good percentage were back and forth and then eventually just gone from our Everquest community.
Feeling this sting of lose SOE seemed to adopt a policy of emulating some of the newer games to appeal to the people whom they were losing. In a policy of streamlining many parts of the game. Corpse runs had been gone for some time but now there were ways to get around the loss of experience we had always suffered as a death penalty we didn’t even need certain classes to help rez our dead anymore we could simply pay an NPC to do the same thing. Gone were the days of needing a teleporting class to help us cross vast distances, there was the equivalent of mass transportation in the form of portals that did the jobs that at one time made a few classes very desirable. In short the games were becoming easier. I’m not yet prepared to use the word dumbed down as many of the changes were defiantly for the best. Things like auction halls, and various player markets meant we could sell goods without being on line. Mass transit type systems meant that non teleporting classes were no longer at the mercy of those who used to charge a fee to move them from point A to point B, and we had maps. On the other hand many of us found that from expansion to expansion classes were being morphed in ways that made them more or less valuable to groups and guilds alike.
People playing classes which had never been the best at any one skill but who were pretty good at several found themselves begging for groups who no longer wanted or needed them because changes in their classes or other classes had made them undesirable. This added to companies wanting us to buy 2 and even 3 expansions a year at 30.00 each plus our 15.00 subscription fee left many feeling like they were no longer customers so much as cash cows.
This general unhappiness led to more and more players that I knew deciding to try game after game that came out until eventually I did not see them anymore.
We began to see every MMO adopt a seemingly desperate drive for players by offering them more stuff, faster and easier. In the span of a few years we seemed to have moved from games that challenged, to games that gave the biggest shiniest bobbles the fastest. I knew people that were hitting max level and playing “end game” content in new games in mere months if not weeks. This was inevitably followed by complaints that there was nothing left to do and players bouncing back and forth between whichever games had new content that they could rush through which led to game companies releasing more expansions trying to feed their players appetites for fast progression. It was like a firestorm, self-sustaining and burning up content until new expansions sometimes did not even seem to mesh with previous content in the game. Many of us shook our heads as we were forced to wade into new content that was neither interesting nor related to any previous story line in our games. Eventually even I moved on from my beloved Everqeust out of frustration. At the risk of being overly dramatic it was heartbreaking for me. I realized that I had not been enjoying the game for well over a year but I was very close to the people in my guild and as an officer I felt like I would be letting everyone down if I did not log on every night and help with raids and recruiting. I was very close to many of those other players and had been for years. But at some point I just could not stand by any longer and watch my game change in ways that made it un-enjoyable for me. And like so many others before me, I said my goodbyes and I moved on.
To some this may sound like my own personal MMO gaming journal, but I have talked to a lot of long time MMO gamers and with some variations many of their experiences parallel my own. In a short few years we seem to have moved from a MMO world of limited choices with great contentment to a MMO world of many choices and much discontent.
Today you can read through the forum threads about any of the many new MMOs in development or recently released and the crowd quickly breaks down into a fight as vicious as any I have ever seen over politics or religion. Inevitably there are the base of “fanboys” who swear by their mother’s beard that this game will be the defining moment in gaming history, humbling all previous games. They are countered by the neigh sayers who can’t stand anything about the game based on the trailers and developer interviews, they have already decided that the game is useless and so is anyone who is willing to try it. Not being content to just not try the game, they feel compelled to log into the forums daily and call the fanboys idiots and explain to them in great detail the depths of their idiocy. The third and largest group, are those who have had their hearts broken and their expectations dashed so many times over the last few years that they are simply skeptical of anything that anyone says. Oh they hope that the new game in question will live up to at least some of the expectations but they don’t believe it ever will.
So what is the problem with the MMO situation as it stands today?
So many of us have become hardcore skeptics when we read comments from game studios like “we will re-define what it means to be an MMO” and “our combat system is unique and will exceed our players expectations” or “we plan to do away with the grind aspect and offer an ever changing, ever challenging experience for our players unlike any MMO before”
We have just seen too many games release over the last few years that did not live up to their own hype (Much less the spontaneous hype created by an overly enthusiastic fan base)
In the next segment we will take a look at some of the situations that have made such skeptics of most of us and try to figure out how we got here and if there is a cure for what ails us. In the meantime please feel free to share your experiences or comment on this topic with us here or on the show Saturday.
Show segment as aired live 14 July 2012