Dirt Cheap AAA Gaming

I’ll admit it: I tend to upgrade more than I should. I spend money on parts for minor gains and then re-run my benchmarks, hoping to have bumped my scores up a little bit. I have a problem.

However, that’s only on my “main” machine that sits in my office. I’ve always had a lower powered machine in the living room for couch co-op games or games that are best suited to a gamepad. Sometimes this machine has been WOEFULLY out of date, so slow that only streaming was practicable. I recently gave away the machine I had been using, so it was time to buy another. Then, I had a thought: what if I could build a machine that was capable of AAA gaming for the price of a PS4 (standard, not Pro)?

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Introducing…Quake II!

Welcome to our review of the new first person shooter sensation from ID and Bethesda: Quake II.

Wait, what year is it? No, your eyes deceive thee not. Quake II is back and not just as a compilation game or a watered down “special edition”. Well, not exactly, anyway.

Nvidia and Bethesda have partnered to re-release Quake II using the RTX ray tracing abilities of RTX-series Nvidia cards. This is partially because there’s been a dearth of content for said abilities, and partly because there was already a project doing exactly this. Now, they’ve made it official. Notice the difference in the screenshots below:

Full disclosure: I’m a fanatic for the first three Quake games. They’re a formative experience of my adolescent years and I continue to play all three of them to this day. For those that aren’t aware, all three of the original Quake games were “benchmark” games. Before there was “Can it run Crysis?”, there was “Can it run Quake?”. Quake killed Cyrix, the 486 and (later) a great many crappy graphics card technologies.

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Retro on a Shoe-String Budget

I’ve talked to a fair amount of people in the retro gaming scene that would love to get into retro PC’s, but think it’s too expensive. Interestingly, one of them was a gentleman who was selling me one of his NeoGeo carts. If you’ve got NeoGeo money, you’ve got retro PC money. Heck, if you’ve got Sega Genesis money, you probably have retro PC money.

I know it can seem daunting. You’ve got people on eBay selling Pentium 100 machines “fully loaded” for $1000. You don’t want to try to build your own, though, right? I mean, the rules were different back then and who knows what goes together?

While it’s true that going back too far can get you into a world of compatibility nightmares and jumper switches, there are some retro systems that anyone who has built a modern system would have no problem cobbling together.

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Holiday LAN Party with a Classic Flair

Every year around Christmas or New Year’s, I make a trek back several states to the north to the home of my fore-bearers for a little holiday cheer. In between bouts of merry making (read: drinking) and consuming mass quantities of treats, my younger brothers and I will typically engage in a little LAN-based revelry.

Ten years ago, this meant I had to devote a significant amount of space in the vehicle to a large tower, replete with monitor, keyboard and mouse. Since their house was not wired up with Ethernet, I also needed to bring networking equipment, cables, and various other accessories so everyone could play. We’d set all the PC’s up in one room and spend an hour or two plugging everything in and then spend another hour or two trying to get everyone’s games to work. This was in the earlier days of Steam: without an internet connection, games usually just weren’t going to start. Still, hours later and a few hacks having been applied, we were up and running, joyfully blasting away at each other.

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The First Gaming PC?

(Note: I know, I know. This kind of blurs the PC gaming Epoch argument. Should this be the first Epoch? No…consider this our pre-history, if you will.)

If you were to go back and define when PC gaming started, when would you choose? I’m not talking about clones or ports from other platforms: real-life, bonafide made-for-PC goodness.

Would it be 1989 with the release of SimCity? Not a bad choice, I suppose. SimCity was an awesome game that took advantage of the power and flexibility of a PC. Perhaps Civilization in 1991? Or Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis in ’92?

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This is Why We Upgrade (Part 2)

In the previous post, I talked about the First (Wolf 3D) and Second (Doom) epochs of PC gaming. To reiterate (or make clear for the first time), these are arbitrary. These aren’t official epochs or eras. These are just the world as we see it. Which means that it’s completely correct.

We ended the last post talking about the 486. Depending on your age, you may have very fond memories of that processor. So many people in my age group really cut their teeth on the 486/66. It was a great CPU and is great nostalgia.  However, it wasn’t good enough for the Third Epoch.

The Third Epoch (Quake)

Quake Nightmare 2
A difficulty so brutal it was hidden.
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1999 on a Budget

Every. Frame. Counts.

So, it was rapidly approaching Christmas. This year, we had been doing a lot of homemade stuff because last year we were stupid and spent far too much. As I pondered what to make for my cohort (and brother), it occurred to me that he doesn’t own any vintage PC hardware. Well, perhaps his 780 Ti qualifies as vintage now.

But he doesn’t have a classic DOS/Windows machine of his very own. Then, I thought making it a “budget” build was a neat play on the idea of saving money in the here and now.  So, I picked an arbitrary year and sorted through my parts bins in an effort to build the most badass budget rig that the end of the 90’s could offer.

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This is Why We Upgrade (Part 1)

One of the most wonderful things about gaming on a PC is that, unlike consoles, you’re not locked into static hardware. You can upgrade to your heart’s content, swapping in new processors, video cards, hard drives…all sorts of stuff.  However, this strength also means that the system requirements for new games are always a moving target.  I would argue that this is less of a problem in modern gaming, as we’ve reached a point where monumental improvements in hardware don’t happen at a fast pace anymore.

There was a time, though, when processors and video cards seemed to double in speeds every year or two.  The shiny new computer you got for Christmas in 1987 was no longer adequate for the games of 1989. Sure, businesses upgraded because of spreadsheets and number crunching, but for gamers, each little epoch of hardware seemed to be dominated by one or two games that needed a higher performing system or a new operating system to run correctly.

Let’s go on a journey through these epochs, focusing on the requirements and, more importantly, the games.

The First Epoch (1987 – Wolfenstein 3D)

I’m going to arbitrarily start the clock in 1987.  The fastest x86 CPU of the day was the 80386.  4MB of RAM was a lot.  And the PC game you had to have was Wolfenstein 3D.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 5.20.05 PM
On a 386/16, I tended to run the screen smaller to improve frame rates.
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Turn of the Century: Linux vs Windows

 

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The Year of the Linux Desktop?

I’ve been a Linux user since 1998.  I’ve also been a Linux sysadmin by trade for most of my career. So naturally, I’ve always been one to avidly track the inroads that Linux has made into the consumer market.

At the turn of the century, the whole “Year of Desktop Linux” thing was beginning to pick up steam.  Read any PC publication around that time and you’ll notice a stunning amount of vitriol towards Microsoft (Micro$oft) by readers and commenters.  Heck, even the writers of the articles themselves had a decidedly anti-Microsoft attitude.  There are a lot of reasons that this attitude existed, but the core of it was the Microsoft controlled the desktop PC market.  If you were using a computer, you were using Windows.  The hardware vendors were locked in.  The software vendors were locked in.  So, by extension, the users were locked in.

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Retro Review: IBM PS/ValuePoint 433DX/Si

Having recently acquired quite a few old IBM machines, I’ve been working at getting them all restored and tested.  There was quite a variety of machines, from 286’s to Pentiums.  However, the ones that interested me the most were the various different 486’s.  These weren’t IBM MicroChannel, instead opting for industry standard ISA ports.  That means it’s quite a bit easier to swap parts in and out of them

This particular beast is the PS/ValuePoint 433DX/Si.  Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?  The ValuePoint series was IBM’s answer to the “IBM-Compatible” market.  It’d be an article in and of itself to explain what was happening, but the short answer is that other manufacturers were beating IBM at its own game.  The PS/2, while a hit with businesses, was very expensive and contained what was essentially a proprietary bus interface (the aforementioned MicroChannel).  In the home and small business market, consumers couldn’t afford the PS/2.  Companies like Compaq and Packard Bell swooped in and serviced that clientele.  IBM wanted back in.

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