Game Machine 2



I seem to upgrade my computer about once every 3 to 4 years. I could probably go longer in between upgrades if I bought better, more expensive components, but that is just not my style. So it was about 4 years ago that I put together my last computer. I only replace computers when there is a compelling reason to do so. In this case, the reason is a video game called Age Of Conan. I tried to play this game on my old game machine only to get like 5 frames per second on the low settings. This is was pretty dissapointing but I guess I had not tried to play any modern PC games since I got the Xbox 360.

After getting caught up on all the latest consumer computer component technologies I started ordering parts from, where I always order all my parts. I already have all the peripherials such as a monitor, keyboard, etc. I decided to put together an entire PC, including case, rather than just replacing parts in my current PC. There is a pratical reason for this. My current web server is on its last leg. The northbridge chip pretty much melted after a fan failed; I cant believe it still works at all. If you power off the computer, it will take you 5 minutes of jiggling connections to convince it to turn back on. This was an oppoturnity to get a new game machine and move the current game machine into the web server role.

Once I got all the parts it took me about 6 hours to put everything together and get windows up and running. Now Age of Conan runs at about 30 frames per second on max settings. Perfect.




Component Description
Motherboard Asus P5K-SE; Socket LGA 775 with P35 chipset
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Wolfdale 3.0GHz
Ram GeIL Evo One 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)
Hard Drive HITACHI Deskstar T7K500 HDT725050VLA360 (0A33437) 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA
Video Card MSI NX8800GT 512M OC GeForce 8800 GT 512MB
Sound Card Turtle Beach Riviera
Power Supply LOGISYS Computer PS575XBK ATX12V 575W
Case ENERMAX Chakra ECA3052B
Additional Fans ENERMAX UC-12EB 120mm Case Fan (x2)
Operating System Windows XP 32 bit.

Component Discussion



In the past I have always purchased the moatherboard that had raid, dual this, extreme that. After putting together enough computers I now know that I dont tax the moatherboard enough to warrant this. This time I was looking for a Asus moatherboard that had 4 DRAM slots supporting screaming fast ram. Thats it. The board did not need SLI, dual ethernet, onboard anything. After looking around the best board for me was the Asus P5k-SE. It had a reputation as being a great overclocker but didnt come with all the bells and whilstles. For less than $100 this board is an absolute steal.



Its no secret I am an AMD fan, I have been ever since I started putting together computers. I started using their chips because they offered more performance per dollar. Recently that is not always the case. According to all the benchmark tests I have seen Intel chips clearly provide better performance. The question is still, which chip in my price range provides the best performance. In the sub $200 price range I had a couple options. One option was the AMD quad core Phenom. Another was the higher clock rate Intel Dual Cores, both the 65 and 45 nm dies. After doing lots of research it seems that the games I most often play get more benefit from a higher clock rate dual core than a slower clock rate quad core. In time this will probably change as games are written to take advantage of 4+ cores. For now I am going with a fast dual core. The 65 nm Conroe Intel chip was a good choice, but for $10 more I could get the equivelant 45 nm Wolfdale chip, which I did. I am betting that over the life of the chip I will save $10 on my power bill thanks to the smaller, more efficient processor.

Stock this chip runs at 3.0 GHz. Supposedly it overclocks to 4.0 GHz without too much trouble. Hopefully I dont need to do this to play any games for a while.




Ram prices have dropped dramatically recently. From what I have seem DDR3 ram still does not provide enough performance boost over DDR to justify the hefty extra cost. DDR2 is just so cheap its hard to pass up. I started out looking for 2 GB of ram but 4gb was available from a great manufacturer for about $130. You cant beat that. My only requirement for ram was that it support 1066 clock cycle or higher.


Video Card

Video cards have also dropped in price relative to what I am used to. I just wanted the best video card I could get for the money. I have always been a fan of NVidia cards and I take advantage of some of the extra features found in their software so I wanted to stick with them. They just released the 9800 series cards. Initially I was focued on that series however it turns out that 8800 series from the last generation still provides better performance on some models than the 9800 series. Both series are Direct X 10 compliant although neither support DX 10.1. The latest ATI cards do support DX 10.1 but after doing some research it seems like 10.1 does not really offer any performance gains but rather just tightens the standard. Many games that have DX 10 support have opted not to support DX 10.1 since there is no pay off. For now DX 10.1 hardly seems necassary. In the end the best performance in my price range was the MSI 8800 GT card. Its slightly overclocked from the factory with a 660 MHz (vs 600 MHz standard) core frequency and a memory clock of 1900 MHz (vs 1600 MHz standard).


Sound Card


I need a TOS-Link optical digital audio out jack on my sound card since I already ran the 40 feet of wire from my computer to my home theater. The Asus motherboard I really wanted did not come with this connector on board. The next board in line that came with it was about $45 more. For the first time in a long time I looked into add-on soundcards. I ended up getting a Turtle Beach Riviera sound card that has the jack I need and supports 5.1 surround sound. I was only $30 so it came in cheaper overall than the next Asus board with the premium on-board audio.

So far I have been satisfied with the quality of the board. It does exactly what it says it does. I do have a couple complaints though. First, there are no headers on the board to support front panel audio connectors. Second, the company has released drivers for both XP and Vista but only the 32 bit versions. They have even gone so far as to say they have no plans to support 64 bit versions. Bummer. In this case I need their driver and software package running to enable output simultaneously on the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack as well as the optical jack. Another bummer.


Operating System

My first inclination was to go for Vista 64 bit. It supports all the ram I would ever need, has DX 10 support, and is the next generation so I would stay up to date for years. Well that plan was interrupted by the fact that my sound card does not have 64 bit drivers and Vista 64 bit does not allow you to install unsigned drivers, EVER, not even if you know what you are doing. Ok so the options are now Vista 32 bit or XP 32 bit. Both of these OS's only support 4GB of memory. This means I can only address 4GB of memory in RAM, the graphics cards, any other device with memory on it. By the time you factor in the video card, my 4 GB of RAM will actually be limited ot ~3.4 GB of usuable memory. Thats a bummer but it should be sufficient for now. The nice thing about Vista is that it supports DX 10 for gaming. This comes with a performance hit over XP however since Vista is a resource hog. The deciding factor was that Age Of Conan currently does not support DX 10. They have said a future patch will add it in, but until then there is no reason for me to use Vista over XP. I installed a 32 bit version of XP until driver support and AoC change.


Check all the photos here.

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