The Conversion – Switching from Console to PC Gaming Part II
So, the other week we touched on some of the key reasons why I decided to re-invest my time (and money) over to PC gaming, as well as a rundown of my gaming history. I was no stranger to the PC, although it had been many years since I’d last owned a rig that was anywhere near capable of playing modern day games.
And that was the key, to get myself settled with a computer that would not only get me sorted for today, but hopefully see me through the next three or five years in relative comfort whilst other big life changing events took over (namely my impending baby).
Thankfully, due to a necessary PC upgrade last year, I was already kitted out with a reasonable box – Dell Inspiron 580 with an i5 processor, 8GB DDR3 RAM and a 2TB HDD. It came with a Radeon 5450, which just about managed games on the ageing source engine well enough, but little else above that.
It certainly wasn’t going to cut it if I wanted to play Cyberpunk 2077 next year, that’s for sure.
Another additional benefit was surplus cash from my recent birthday to help fund a new card. But that wasn’t quite going to be enough if I wanted to upgrade my PC and have a little extra to fund some games to make the purchase worthwhile. At the same time, I was booting all of my stuff out of the spare room in order to make way for the baby. To me the decision was obvious. I needed to de-clutter, and I needed some extra cash to bankroll the whole venture.
The Xbox 360 sold within minutes of me posting it on Facebook, wireless adaptor and all. My collection of titles went over the next few days to various colleagues and friends at work. With the finances sorted, it was time to get cracking on with the shopping.
I spent a good many hours researching the market and bugging my editor, Zeth, for consumer advice. In addition to Zeth (thanks Zeth), I must also say that I’m indebted to the excellent tomshardware website. The comprehensive breakdown on different GPUs and comparison tests helped give a sensible steer even to the uninitiated. The site became a constant and friendly source of reference as I priced up different cards on Amazon and other stores.
Eventually, I settled on the AMD Radeon 7870. It creeps slightly into the high end of the range of cards currently on offer and delivers high quality at high resolutions for a moderate price point. It wasn’t the king of cards, but it performed very close to the 7950 at a reduced cost. I was already rocking a Radeon card in my machine at the moment, there didn’t seem to be anything between this one and the GTX equivalent to steer my mind over to NVIDIA. At least not for now.
A good scour around various websites and reviews helped steer me towards the VTX3D card. Billed as being a solid and reliable card with good idle performance and excellent over clocking potential (should I ever wish to dabble). Although it had a high power consumption during gaming, that wasn’t outside of the norm for other cards in that range, and it at least had a reasonable noise output under load, which was sort of important, given the computer was now going into a living area in the house.
With trepidation and nervousness, I ordered the card whilst it was still on sale, and promptly took the day off to sort out the nursery and await delivery of my new toy. When it finally arrived I eagerly powered down my machine and ripped off the side of the case. I pulled the old card out of the mobo with gleeful abandon, and suddenly realised I’d cocked up.
In all the conversations I’d had with Zeth, detailing my motherboard and RAM specifications amongst many other things, I had neglected to check on one very important thing. My new GPU stated very clearly as part of the minimum system requirements that it required at least a 500W power supply unit (PSU). Written on the side of my existing PSU, it said 300W.
So far my only exploits into the internals of my PC had involved upgrading DDR RAM, installing a Blu-Ray burner drive and the odd PCI wireless/firewire card. So I was no stranger to the internal components of my computer. But apart from those basic elements, the motherboard itself and the PSU was something I’d never dared touch. Now it looks as though that was going to quickly change.
It was the next day on my way to band practice after a long day at work I remembered that I passed a PC centre so I dropped in. A quick browse on the shelves yielded an ATRIX Expert 500W PSU for just £30. I hurriedly bought it and headed off to practice. Much later that night I managed to sit down and properly research PSUs and the brand that I’d picked up.
it turns out the brand I’d bought was largely an unknown make and model. You didn’t have to go searching on too many forums before one very key point becomes patently obvious to the layman. You simply do not cut corners or take chances when it comes to buying a PSU. A poor quality PSU can easily fry the insides of your systems. Wrecking your motherboard and other components leading to a very expensive replacement. I decided that even though I’d already gone £30 over budget, it wouldn’t hurt to invest properly in a decent PSU.
With more research I suddenly had to play catch up with all the new things I’d need to consider: dual rails, 80 PLUS certification, continuous power delivery, EPS, PCI-E and 20(4) pin connectors amongst many others. After much browsing the Corsair series of PSUs seem to come highly recommended by most, and were considered to be a reputable brand. I found a 500W Corsair PSU being sold at my local Maplins for £60. My overspend had just doubled, but it was certainly cheaper than another PC.
Having had one setback too many, I was adamant I was going to get this right. I ordered the PSU and drove down to my local store. I’ve long used Maplins for other PC upgrade or sound/film projects and I’ve always found their staff to be really helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. It’s a refreshing change to go into a store and deal with staff who genuinely seem to know about the products they sell. This is very much unlike other high street consumer electronics stores in the UK, I once asked someone in one such store whether they sold Firewire cables and I had to give up explaining what one of them was and decided they probably didn’t have any in stock.
I looked through the back of the box, checking off the connections against the various components I’d need to connect into it. The two PCI-Express connectors for the Radeon 7870, SATA cables for the HDD and Blu-Ray drives. It was all good except for one thing.
I told the member of staff who was dealing with me that my motherboard had a 4 pin auxiliary connector and I could only see an 8 pin connector.
“That splits apart to become two four pin connectors”.
“Sold” I said.
It’s easy to badge some of the above as “noobish”. But with each passing generation we are seeing an increase in people who are extremely adept at using technology, but have very little understanding of what’s going on underneath the hood. This is understandable to a degree, things just work nowadays. The kinks have been ironed out, compatibility and interoperability is king if you need your product to sell. I remember as a kid having to watch my Dad mess around with DOS commands just to get a game he recently bought working properly. But nowadays things are much better. But then you take Apple as an example of something that “works”, yet distils complex technology down to a few simple swipes and button presses. Such products are locked down, the parameters are closely defined. Terms and conditions forbid tampering, experimenting, unlocking and knowing.
Which is why I’m grateful for projects like the Raspberry Pi, for PCs, Android OS, Linux. Things you can fiddle and tinker with. Improve, fix, modify and dissect.
Anyway, join us again for part III where I install the PSU and card and get my gaming rig up and running and experience the good and bad points of PC gaming.