Uncategorized

MY $538 BUDGET HTPC/LIVING ROOM MACHINE

GOAL: To build a machine that can handle my living room gaming and media needs for as close to $500 as possible.  It should be able to go between my media archives and my Steam games fluently without error.  It would be nice to run the newer games at a “next-gen” level.

MY PART SELECTION
CASE:
COOLER MASTER ELITE 110 – $49.99 + $3.99 s/h
case

I went with the Elite 110 because of how small it is.  I wanted this machine to fit in with the other items in my living room such as my HDTV, PS3 and Nintendo Wii.  It would have it’s own shelf under my HDTV.  I also really wanted it to have a few front facing USB ports for my Xbox 360 controller and wireless multimedia keyboard, but these side USB ports should work just as well.  This case was the only item out of them all that cost me shipping and handling.  A whopping $3.99!

MOTHERBOARD:  ASROCK H61MV – $49.99
mobo
A small case requires a small motherboard.  This was my first time touching anything this small.  There isn’t a huge selection of Mini ITX board online, but the ASRock H61MV had the most reviews of them all on Newegg.  It lacked USB 3.0 and some other features, but it didn’t matter much to be since I wouldn’t be connecting any flash drives or external storage to it.

CPU: I3-3220 IVY BRIDGE – $114.99
cpu

I went against the grain in my budget build and got an Intel i3 CPU.  Most budget builds have some kind of AMD processor that is $50 less than the cheapest i3 (mine) and are still apparently great for gaming.  I didn’t even bother looking into AMD vs Intel for budget build gaming because I am brand loyal to Intel.  I decided to go with this specific i3, even though though there was a newer version…because it had 200+ positive reviews on Newegg.  I will buy a product that is a year old if it is tried and true with hundreds of backers over a new version that hasn’t been on the market for very long.  I don’t normally ever have problems with this buying method.

GPU: EVGA 750ti – $149.99
gpu
I went with the newly released 750ti because I knew it was a great bang for buck and the reviews were awesome.  I also liked that it didn’t require any power from the PSU.  This was a great thing since I knew the case was going to be cramped and having another active PSU cable would be a pain.  I reviewed the 750ti a whole lot before buying.  There is an AMD competitor for the same price that has a little bit more power and could get you a few extra frames – but it needs dedicated power from the PSU.  If I went with an AMD processor, I would have went with the AMD card.

RAM: G.SKILL SNIPER 8GB – $69.29
ram
Looking for RAM was pretty depressing.  I bought 32GB of G.Skill Ripjaw RAM under 2 years ago for $150.  At today’s rate, that would have cost me about $280.  Sucks, but that’s life.  I hunted and hunted until I found a promo code that knocked a few bucks off of the 8GB pack, so I hopped on it.

STORAGE: WESTERN DIGITAL BLUE 1TB – $59.99
hdd
I figured that if the current consoles have 500GB of storage, I should have double.  I wanted to keep a bunch of games installed while also having a ton of my favorite shows and movies.  After buying SSDs for the last 2 years, I have become spoiled.  I no longer enjoy hearing the hum of a drive.  This is the only thing inside of this build that can be heard.  Luckily, you can’t hear it from the couch!

PSU: CORSAIR CX500 – $49.99
psu
I spent the least amount of time researching the power supplies for this build.  I saw that this one came with a $20 Mail-In-Rebate so I jumped on the deal.  I didn’t really need a 500W PSU, but it came out to be $29.99 after that rebate came in.  If I was not on a budget, it would have been a much smarter choice to go with a modular PSU since I knew this box would be cramped.

THE ASSEMBLY ADVENTURE

This will be the third computer that I have assembled from scratch, and the first one of this form factor.  I went into it knowing that it would be a pain in the ass since my hands are big and I didn’t have a modular PSU.  Enjoy some photos from my build process:
build17  build16  build15
build14build13  build12
build11  build10  build9
build7  build8  build6
I ran into very little troubles during the build – even with having such a small work space.  I was able to tie most of the PSU cables out of the way to allow my airflow to continue uninterrupted.  Some of the connections inside of the case were kind of tough for me to get in, but I eventually wiggled each one into place.  Once the outer shell of the case was back on, it looks really nice!
build4  build3
build2  build1
Here you can see what my living room area looks like.  It will sit under the TV, in it’s own little spot:
K1t2KqI
Now you can see it’s final resting place:
EYXeBFp
EnVPfak

WATCH_DOGES: DAY TWO WITH “FIX”

I managed to get the game running a little better than it was on day one.  I used one of the “fixes” found on Google to disable the page file problem.  At first it didn’t work at all, but then I messed with it some more and saw some results.  It helped get rid of the GIANT stutters, but still left all the smaller ones.  A step in the right direction, but a leap is needed before this game becomes playable.

Here is the opening action of Watch_Dogs on the “medium” preset with the page file fix:

Here is the opening again, this time on the “high” preset with the page file fix:

On the “high” preset, the game was steady and pretty fluid throughout the opening indoor scene.  It stayed around the upper 30’s to mid 40’s until I got outside.  It dropped and began to fluctuate between the upper 20’s and mid 30’s throughout most of the outdoor game play.  It is probably hard to see it in the videos, but it still suffers from micro stuttering to the point where it ruins the immersion.  It sort of feels like GTA 4 on PS3.

WATCH_DOGS WITH FIX: FINAL THOUGHTS
I think that the “fix” helped enough to see that the game would be kind of fun, if it were 100% playable – even on lower settings.  I am hoping that Ubisoft comes through and puts out a patch that gets rid of all the wacky frame rate problems.  If they can level it out, I don’t see a reason why I can’t get my frame rate 30+ 900p.  After all, it’s basically nearing 30 at 1080p without a patch.

WATCH_DOGES: DAY ONE

I don’t even know what to say about this fucking game.  So far, I have tested it on low, medium and high settings at 1080p.  Every single time was a let down.
QUALITY: LOW (PRESET)
MY BUDGET FPS: 18-40 @ 1080P
PS4 FPS: 30 @ 900P

XB1 FPS: 30 @ 792P
During the more scripted indoor opening, the frame rate on “low” was jumping between 40 and 50 FPS in less crowded areas.  When I reached a more crowded area of the opening, the frame rate dropped to the mid to low 30’s and slowly made it’s way back to the low 40’s. Hiding in the shadows and dodging cops, the frame rate stayed at about 40.  I witnessed the first true “stutter” as my Asian crime partner called my cellphone – dropping my FPS to a measly 18.  It quick recovered, but the damage was done.  For the rest of the indoor sequence, my frame rate remained at 30 until I got outside for the first time.  It actually started to rise to 40 FPS as I ran through pedestrians in search of my getaway car.  I felt my second stutter as I was running through a small alley (without and people on screen) about to reach my car.  Driving was…pretty bad.  Not awful, but not something I would want to do because it was all over the place.  I saw a rate of 30-40 until my first stutter of 20 FPS.  I figured it was because there were a few cop cars on screen.  Sadly, it kept happening – even when I was the only car on screen.  Other than the large stutters, I observed little stutters every few seconds – kind of like hiccups and coughs.  Both suck, but one is less painful.

QUALITY: MEDIUM (PRESET)
MY BUDGET FPS: 5-40 @ 1080P
PS4 FPS: 30 @ 900P

XB1 FPS: 30 @ 792P
On “medium”, I had similar frame rates between 40 and 50 during the first opening scene.  During the first indoor crowded bar area, my rate dropped to the low 30’s (low to mid 30’s on “low”) and slowly recovered.  Ducking from cops in the darkness, my rate hovered in the upper 30’s (40 on “low”) until I made it to the phone call scene.  When the phone rang, I dropped from about 45 FPS to 25 FPS and suffered a similar stutter at the same time as my test on “low” settings.  Like the “low” quality test, my frame rate stayed at 30 as I made my way through the bar to the outside world.  My rate stayed near 30 as I ran to my getaway vehicle.  While behind the wheel, I suffered similar large stutters – but not as often (to me) as I did on “low” settings.  Most of these stutters dropped me down from a semi steady 30-40 FPS to 15-20 FPS.  Somehow, most of the tiny “hiccup” stutters were not there on this preset…weird.

QUALITY: HIGH (PRESET)
MY BUDGET FPS: 12-40 @ 1080P
PS4 FPS: 30 @ 900P

XB1 FPS: 30 @ 792P
On the “high” preset, I saw a frame rate in the mid to upper 30’s during the very first opening scene.  My “low” and “medium” tests ran this portion at 40-50 FPS.  As I used my ninja skills to bypass a bunch of guards and cops, my rate stayed in the mid 30’s until I got to the first crowded bar scene where it hovered at 30.  It stayed there until the blackout when it slowly rose to the mid 30’s as I sneaked by some more guards in the pitch black.  Again, phone stutter brought me to about 18 FPS but recovered to 30 as I walked towards the outdoors.  As I walked by people, my frame rate took a dive to the upper 20’s as it hovered just below 30.  When I got away from the crowds, it jumped to the upper 30’s again.  Behind the wheel, some stutters brought me down to the teens while the average rate seemed to stay in the upper 20’s.  It is weird, but I felt less small stutters than I did on the “low” settings or even the “medium” settings.  Christ.

WATCH_DOGS…FINAL…THOUGHTS…?
I honestly don’t get how this game made it into Steam.  It doesn’t even feel like its a finished product.  On any preset I selected, it ran like shit.  I tried it on my i7/GTX 770 machine – ran like shit.  Tried it on a i7/780ti machine – ran like shit.  I think the only thing I feel good about is the fact that it runs like shit for everyone and not just me.  Though the frame rate seemed to be a little higher during some parts of my test on “low”, it stuttered just as much if not more than it did on “high”.  It just doesn’t make sense.  Why would a “high” preset run better than a “low” preset?  Why does dropping the resolution to that of the PS4 make it run worse than keeping it at 1080p?  I wish I still pirated games sometimes.  I will wait until it gets patched to bother trying it again.  I don’t mind waiting if it means I can get a steady 30-40 frames at 1080p on a budget machine…

WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER

I was unable to use Shadowplay to record this game because it uses OpenGL, which is not supported by Nvidia.  I had to use the Desktop Capture feature which basically fucked my frame rate and made it feel all jittery while I played.  I went through with the recording just because it still showed a bit of the quality and gameplay, even if it had a jacked up frame rate…


QUALITY: MEDIUM (PRESET)
MY BUDGET FPS: 45-60 @ 1080P WITH SCREEN DESKTOP SCREEN RECORDER
PS4 FPS: 60 @ 1080P

XB1 FPS: 60 @ 1080P
I played the first 15 minutes of the game three times.  I started on the “high” setting just to see what happened.  I read some pretty wild minimum requirements for this game, so I wanted to see how well my cheap machine would handle the game.  It ran at around 40-45 FPS @ 1080p on throughout the shootouts.  I didn’t really see too much change in the rate compared to all the other games I have tried out.  For the second run through, I set it to “medium” and started my screen recording.  My frame rate was at 60 until it dropped to the 40’s during battles or hectic scenes.  I forgot what its like to use a screen recorder instead of Shadowplay – it’s fucking awful.  I was unhappy with the recording because of the impact the recorder had on the game play, but I uploaded it anyways since there are no 750 ti game play tests for this game yet.  For my final run through, I kept it on “medium” and ditched the recording.  It ran at 59-61 FPS and rarely dropped or fluctuated.

WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER FINAL THOUGHTS
Though I can’t comment on the recording because it was impacted by the screen recorder, I can say that this game looks nice for something that plays at 1080p with a consistent frame rate of 60.  If I find another way to record this game, I will redo my test video for sure.

BATTLEFIELD 4

I realize that both of the current consoles play this game back at a native resolution lower than 1080P, so I dropped the resolution to 900P for this one.  I set my Windows 7 and the game to 1600×900 for the recording.  YouTube down converted to 720P, but you’ll get the picture.


DOWNLOAD HIGH QUALITY MP4 (1.2GB)
QUALITY: HIGH (PRESET)
MY BUDGET FPS: 50-70 @ 900P
PS4 FPS: 60 @ 900P

XB1 FPS: 60 @ 720P
On the “high” preset, I was getting around 50-70 FPS most of the time.  When something big exploded, it would drop down to the mid 40’s but quickly recover.  During more heavy shootouts, it dipped to the low 50’s.

BATTLEFIELD 4 FINAL THOUGHTS
I think with a few adjustments to the settings, more frames can be added without giving up much visual quality.  I have a feeling that knocking it down to the “medium” preset would be more on par with the current consoles and prevent the frame rate from dipping under 60 so often.  I also hear that if I turned off the “AA Post” instead of keeping it on high, I would gain a few frames.  Not many, but a few.

 

NBA 2K14


DOWNLOAD HIGH QUALITY MP4 (772MB)
QUALITY: HIGH (MIXTURE)
MY BUDGET FPS: 60 @ 1080P
PS4 FPS: 60 @ 1080P
XB1 FPS: 60 @ 1080P

I was under the impression that this was going to be a first person shooter where I got to play as Jayson Williams.  Though I was let down, I played for a few minutes…poorly.  Not many settings to change graphic wise, so I put what I could on high and started a match.  It ran at a steady 60 FPS and was crazy smooth.  Going back and watching my own YouTube upload, I can see that they put a ton of effort into how the players move.  It honestly looks like real life at first glance if you are just looking at how the players run the court.  Kind of cool.

NBA 2K14 FINAL THOUGHTS
I really have no idea why Microsoft chose this game and a racing game to show off at the set up they have next to my office.  I guess some sports fanatics could justify the cost of a new system for these games, but I never would.  My machine easily ran it at equal stats with the ability to tweak and adjust some extra stuff.  It also cost $4+s/h less than it does to buy the game used from Half.com at the time of writing this…
IMG_20131107_120249