Building the Budget Beast

Post Date: 04-04-2011 · Monday 4:54pm

Introducing..the Venom Phenom..

It's been hard to put in a single word lately and you can probably tell why - playing Day of Defeat and Age of Wonders with a friend is more than enough reason to forget about posting!

But the crowd has spoken (or rather my friend, Dat has!), demanding that a new blog post be made about our latest endeavours in the world of computing. And what an endeavour it's been - this being the biggest since Dat purchased his Nintendo DS!

We rewind the date back four weeks from now, to an uneventful Saturday morning when boredom was just as high as the sky. I received a call from Dat telling me that he's finally decided to get a new computer and he'll need my help to build it for him. At the time, he owned an old, 2.2 Ghz Intel Pentium IV with integrated graphics, as well as a 17" monitor (Actually it was given to him as how all old things somehow end up in his room!) Anyway, with a new TPG plan with unlimited downloads, it was no surprise that the harddrive was long depleted of its miniscule 40 GB space, forcing Dat to resort to buying external harddrives - and his latest one was running out. Considering that internal harddrives were much cheaper than the externals, he figured he might as well buy a new computer altogether. So I told him, what are you waiting for??

There were so many possibilities available with a shiny, new computer - I, myself, with my seven months old 2.8 Ghz Intel i5 Quad Core and 23" LED monitor, can vouch for that! The only games that Dat's computer could handle was Age of Wonders...full stop. It could barely run my Counterstrike X and Warcraft 3 Dota, yet not without washed-out colours and incessant lag! Mkv videos (such is the new format for High Definition animes) would lag so much, he'd have to listen to audio almost 5 seconds in advance of a choppy and un-smooth video. To think that it took several years to convince him that he's living in the Stone Age and that his computer needs a complete, major overhaul, just shows how tight this guy is.

And DAMN, was this guy tight as Peter Pan's leggings.

So he said his budget is $500 and he wants a Quad Core that can handle most of the new games and movies without a hick. He said he won't be needing a monitor, keyboard, speakers OR a mouse - that he can simply re-use his old set of equipment. He even went on to say that there won't even be a need for a DVD drive as he's content with pulling out the one from his old Pentium and using it in the new one! While listening to all this, you can conclude that this guy was either real bankrupt or just ultra-tight...and with the benefit of knowing the true character of a close friend, I conclude, ULTRA-tight.

I try my best to convince him that his $500 would struggle to handle games on high-quality settings and that if this is the only time he's thinking of upgrading, he should at least afford an extra few hundred dosh. But as expected, his tights were made from a different planet, so I dropped my head in defeat, shrugged my shoulders in indifference, and began plotting the components of his new computer. To ease the bitter disappointment, I thought to myself, hey, it's still a vast improvement over that whiny, trash can he lived with all these years.

We first looked at some pre-built models available from MSY. I only had the experience of building one computer ever in my life so I wasn't all that keen on building him one just yet! Out of all the models, Dat was most interested in the AMD Gamer 1 Package, valued at $460 with the following components:

AMD Gamer Package 1
Processor AMD x2 Dual Core 255 3.10Ghz
Motherboard Geniune AMD-880G DDR3 Chipset Motherboard
Video Card Genuine 512MB ATI 5450 PCI-Express 2D/3D Video Card
Memory Genuine Patriot 2GB DDR3 1333 Memory
Hard Drive Genuine 500GB SATA2 Hard Disk
Optical Drive N/A
CPU Cooler Genuine AMD Boxed Cooling Fan
Case + PSU “NEW” Quality USB2.0 Front Medium Tower Case
Keyboard/Mouse Genuine Microsoft 400 Desktop Pack
Monitor LG 18.5” W1943TE-PF 5ms DVI LCD Monitor

After further inspection, however, I discovered that in buying each individual part separately and building it ourselves, we would save about $100 in total. To add insult to injury, the Microsoft 400 keyboard and mouse was worth a measly $10. Every way you cut it, all components were the cheapest and lowest models in the market, so finding an easy way out of DIY was just out of the question!

I spent about 2-3 hours doing a quick research on the parts solds from MSY and thus came up with the *prototype* build for $495:

Initial Budget Build
Processor AMD Athlon II x4 640
Motherboard MSI 785GM-P45
Video Card PowerColor ATI Radeon HD5770 1 GB
Memory PQI 4GB DDR3-1333 Mhz
Hard Drive Samsung SATA 2 Spin Point F3 1 TB
Optical Drive Sony-Optiarc AD-7240S-GB
CPU Cooler Genuine AMD Boxed Cooling Fan
Case + PSU ThermalTake V3 with 450 Watts PSU
Keyboard/Mouse N/A
Monitor N/A

There were many different build paths available but ultimately for the best bang for buck, I went down the AMD and ATI pathway. Some of you non-tech-savvy guys might not follow this but I refer to the processor brand and video card brand respectively. Still, it doesn't take a genius to realise that at that low price, computing performance would be hell of a lot better by avoiding the expensive premium-ware, that is Intel processors and Nvidia graphic cards.

With the dosh saved from a monitor, keyboard and mouse, more could be spent on the more other components such as a better CPU and Video Card, which are paramount in a gaming rig.

Of course, there was always Plan A - dirt cheap, and Plan B - a few more dollars and performance increases exponentially, sort of like McDonald's 50 cents upsizes to large meals. Dat also wished to have a computer that had USB 3 compatibility, as he tends to use USBs alot and appreciate the faster data transfer times. Add to that, MSY's unreliable supplies of advertised parts and the initial plan was quickly thwarted. So to save you the trouble of reading a lengthy essay of Dat's back and forth, princess-like indecisiveness, the build ultimately turned to this, with a grand total of $886:

Final Budget Build
Processor AMD Phenom II x4 955 BE
Motherboard Asrock 870 Extreme 3
Video Card Asus ATI Radeon HD5770 1 GB
Memory Patriot 4GB DDR3-1333 Mhz
Hard Drive Samsung SATA 2 Spin Point F3 1 TB
Optical Drive Asus SATA 24X Burner
CPU Cooler CoolerMaster Hyper 212+ with Arctic Silver 5 compound & two CoolerMaster 90CFM blue LED 120mm fans
Case + PSU ThermalTake V4 with 450 Watts PSU
Keyboard/Mouse N/A
Monitor LG 23" LED E2350V-PN

The Asrock Extreme 3 motherboard can support ATI Crossfire technology, SATA 3 and USB 3 compatibilty, four chips of ram and comes with a user-friendly software to unlock two extra cores. The ATI 5770 card was the best last generation model from ATI video cards, easily allowing great performance in most games at 1920 x 1080 resolution. The AMD Phenom II 955 Black Edition processor was one of the first Phenom Quad Core models with a 6mb L3 cache for gaming and an unlocked multiplier for over-clocking. Throw in the best bang for buck aftermarket CPU cooler, the CoolerMaster Hyper 212+ with custom high CFM/low dba fans and you have a cool and quiet, powerhouse beast - end of rant.

In celebration of Dat's first Quad Core computer (and the second computer I built!), I offered 2 of my old NZXT Tempest Evo case blue LED 120mm fans and a CoolerMaster blue LED 120mm fan to install on his case, as his only came with one 120mm rear fan.

To improve the gameplay of Day of Defeat on Steam, I convinced him to replace his 17" monitor with a 23" LED LG monitor, and I offered to lend him my old Gigabyte laser mouse for the mean time (Lending not borrowing, Dat!) and finally, after three weekends of building at Dat's place, freeloading his meals and petrol, then purchasing additional hardware and upgrading, Dat's new *Venom Phenom* budget gaming rig was complete.

Solid and affordable: the ThermalTake V4

Four CoolerMaster/NZXT 120mm fans for optimal airflow

Cooled by CoolerMaster Hyper 212+ in push-pull custom fan config

Cool, Fast, Black and Blue

In hindsight, there are three things I learnt about building new computers:

-Never trust Stock CPU Coolers (noisy as hell!)

-Make someone else screw in additional case fans (hurts as hell!)

-Research why the newer models are only a few dollars extra (they ALWAYS have a catch and MSY is NOT stupid enough to make simple pricing errors!)

Now, with all that said and done - let's have a quick look at my own computer gaming rig, worth $2400! It's a mid-range, seven months old computer but it's still kicking ass!

King of Airflow
Processor Intel i5 760 Quad Core 2.8 Ghz
Motherboard Gigabyte P55A-UD4P with Sata 3/USB 3/SLI/Crossfire
Video Card Asus CuCore Nvidia GTX 460 1 GB
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 4 GB DDR3-2000 Mhz
Hard Drive Seagate SATA 2 1.5 TB
Optical Drive Asus DRW-24B1LT with Lightscribe
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12P with NT-H1 high grade compound
Case + PSU NZXT Tempest Evo with Seasonic X Gold 750 Watts, CoolerMaster 120mm fans & Prolimatech 140mm fans
Keyboard/Mouse Razer Lycosa, Razer Sphex mousepad & Roccat Kone V2
Monitor LG 23" LED E2340V-PN
Sound Card Asus Xonar Essence STX
Headset SteelSeries Siberia V2
Fan Controller Lamptron FC5 V2

My Gaming Rig [Sep 2010]

Razer Lycosa, Razer Sphex & Roccat Kone

Playstation 3, Speakers & Subwoofer

Introducing..the King of Airflow..

Cooled by the Noctua U12P & Six Custom Case Fans

Cool, Fast & Whisper Quiet



Steam Steam Steam!

Post Date: 24-03-2011 · Thursday 8:15pm

This is why Steam is bad for you...

Two months later and I've been through a helluva gaming period.

I'm now an active member of Steam and have been playing Left 4 Dead 1 & 2, Magicka, Team Fortress 2, Day of Defeat, Counter-strike Source, Killing Floor and Alien Swarm. So I thought I'd go though each of them to scribble down why they're fun to play.

Three words. Atmosphere, Lighting, Zoey.

Out of those, the Left 4 Dead series kept me the most busy. It's seriously fun the first time round when the campaigns are still brand new, but with numerous difficulties and various settings, there's some room for replayability.

Best part of all is finding a few friends to join your private server, which can be easily modded with some fun and challenging features. For example, near-endless zombie hordes, zombie-calling witches, explosive-rock-throwing tanks, and plenty of strategically placed alarmed cars! It's also quite fun to see how random players react when they join my server - it's full of WTF's and OMG's!

The Dark Carnival in Left 4 Dead 2 is the best place to be

Although I'm not really a fan of Left 4 Dead 2, it certainly was alot of fun using the melee weapons and new guns (love that AK!). To compare it to the original Left 4 Dead, I found the zombies hit boxes a bit off, the maps lacking ambience and too open and wide for my liking, and the colours a bit too gaudy. Oh, and what's up with the new characters? It feels like I've stepped into a cartoon!

Fortunately, Left 4 Dead 2 does have a realism mode that increases the challenge somewhat. It reduces the non-headshot damage to zombies and removes the glow from team members. And if that's not fun enough, there's always a Helms Deep Survival map or a Tank Rush server you can join (or create like I did) to spice things up a bit. Here's a YouTube clip of the latter.

Guts and Gore = Survival horror at its best!

Among the rest of the games, Killing Floor, Team Fortress 2 and Day of Defeat were great for the occasional, casual play. They each have a variety of different classes and maps to offer, so replayability is never quite a problem.

Killing Floor is a survival horror game, where you work in a team to survive numerous waves of zombies and mutants. At the end of the final wave, a final boss is spawned and once defeated, the game is won. It reminds me of the Survival mode in Left 4 Dead, but with a greater variety of monsters and weapons. And let me tell you, these monsters are freaky!

It's a bit more tactical than Left 4 Dead since you can weld doors shut, place pipebombs, heal others, share money for armour and weapon purchases etc. The only bad news, if any, is that the zombies don't run up to you like in Left 4 Dead, so your death would come about in a a slower-paced and more gradual turn of events. But give it some time and you'll get used to it soon enough. Great fun if you're alone on a cold, quiet night and want to spook yourself silly.

Cute Cartoony Chaos

Team Fortress 2 is one of the only cartoony games I admit addiction to. It's a chaotic mess of rockets, fire, grenades and chaingun bullets. Wherever you look, there's bodies flying and people dying! It's a silly game but it oozes so much charm that you can't help but fall in love with it.

Escorting a payload was never as fun until Team Fortress 2 came around. Just don't forget to try the mini-game called Degroot Keep - an arrows-and-melee-only medieval map where invaders capture points around a castle in order to enter the Keep and capture the winning point from the defenders. Nothing is as satisfying as shooting an arrow through your adversary's neck, pinning him/her to a wall!

Prepare for assault!

If you're into the World War II thing like I am (Band of Brothers/Saving Private Ryan!), you won't have any problems getting into Day Of Defeat. Like Team Fortress, it's a game between two teams, although in this case, the Americans vs the Germans. Classes range from rifleman, assault, support, snipers and machine gunners, and while each class offers a unique weapon, there are subtle differences between the weapons used by both teams.

The gameplay revolves around a Capture the Flag mode and unless one team dominates the other, you'll usually find yourself in a lengthy war of attrition. Still, it's one of the only World War II fps popular enough that there'll always be full servers whenever you log on. A nice way to experience real military warfare with heavily recoiled guns, without the drawback of getting yourself literally killed.

Four player fun in Alien Swarm

And finally, least played were Alien Swarm (lack of campaigns), Counter-strike Source (outdated and simplistic gameplay) and Magicka (lack of local Aussie players). I could go through each of them but the attention span of you readers just isn't what it used to be! Just believe me when I say, they each have their moments but also one major downfall, as aforementioned.

So that's about it, in a nutshell. Who would have thought that an online game service like Steam could be so deadly! I sure hope I don't get myself into WOW some day haha...but anyways, my next post will probably be a belated feature on the gaming rig I recently built for a friend on an ultra-TIGHT budget, so look forward to it. Until then, I'm off to game!


Left 4 Dead Marathon!

Post Date: 11-10-2010 · Monday 5:38pm

Finished modding & thus it begins...

Madness. Madness. Madness. That pretty much sums up how I spent the weekend - it was so mad that I don't even know where to begin without first making a few hundred grammatical errors.

As aforementioned in my previous post, I had modded Left 4 Dead for an increased challenge over brand new campaigns. But I didn't mention that I managed to unlock extra character slots so that more than 4 players can join a server! And it is here that I begin my campfire story of the late nights of gaming with Kevin & Co...

A quiet Thursday night came around, and as I was putting in the finishing touches to my Left 4 Dead Insane AI Director, Kev gave me a call. Said he's planning on starting early by coming round and picking up my copy of Quake Wars: Enemy Territory. While he was at it, he might just throw in the rest of the gang so that they could check out my computer.

So five guys in a one bedroom? Let's just skip that part and say they liked the computer, lol. But when allowing them to playtest my server, each of them felt it was too hard. Too hard?! Okay, maybe that's because they were playing with a team of bots, and because I deliberately increased the horde count just to test the stability of my server =/

Five humans vs The Insane AI Director!

Then came Friday. I lugged my massive tower into the trunk of the car, loaded the backseat with peripherals and drove off to meet my gaming destiny - at the little house of terror. I was relieved to have the server working without a hitch. I thought it'd be best to try out the latest campaign uploaded on the web: Dead before Dawn. Although we didn't exactly have four players at the time, we were already satisfied with just three players.

Now the fun bit. Expert mode was merciless. We must have died fifty-freaken times on the FIRST map before we decided to drop the realise that Advanced was just a little less than impossible! Boomers would sneak around and ambush us around corners and bushes. Smokers would tongue us continuously when we weren't looking. And Hunters would dive through an encircling crowd of zombies to ravage us till there's no tomorrow!

Yep. We were sheep for the slaughter...but we gritted our teeth and pressed on until the break of day. It almost seemed like the AI Director was toying with us, giving us hope in the form of guns or medkits whenever we were near total annihilation - then dropping us with endless waves in the very next few seconds!!

Making our way to the mall...

On our final go, we made it through what seemed like an endless stretch of open bushland, valiantly defending off wave after wave of infected whilst heroically rescuing each other, only to stop dead in our tracks at a barricade. Pull the lever and the horde will come. Don't pull the lever and never make it to the safe-room just behind the barricade! We didn't think we'd even make it this far, but with all of us still alive (although yellow/red/limping), we still believed we had a good chance.

So we prepped up as well as we could - My limp speed wasn't too bad so I volunteered to set the lever then fall back to the room within the cave with Mark & Kev. I pulled the lever and almost immediately got vomited on by a boomer. The horde seemingly came from nowhere and I was running backwards fighting for my life. Mark came out from the room to the opening of the cave to give covering fire but ended up in harm's way. Kevin, being on red, was unsure whether to come out to give support or to stay in the room. He ended up somewhere in between us and the room. Then a stray one got Kev. I went down in a few seconds, while Mark somehow made it back to the room by himself. He shut the door behind him in a mad panic and awaited the inevitable assault. Soon the hammering and wailing beyond the cave diminished and what followed was complete silence... Then they came. And it was brutal xD

Killing zombies in a shopping mall? Just awesome.

Being the last attempt of the night (it was 5:25am) in the morning, we agreed to retry it after some sleep. I left my comp, drove home, snuck through the house, brushed my teeth and went to bed - all to do it again on the very next night. And the day after that. After two nights and half a day of gaming, we only managed to get through 3 out of 5 maps in the Dead Before Dawn campaign. Crazy huh? To think that I still have 17 more campaigns up my sleeve..perhaps I should drop the difficulty? =/

So now I'm here, back at home, in the comfort of my plush chair and bedroom. I've come to the definite conclusion that modding is indeed bad for your health! Double the badness if you include the after-mod gaming!

The next time I do play at their place, I'll be sure to enforce a gaming deadline that we'll all agree when to call it a night. That's most likely next week =/

For now, I'll resume enhancing my Age of Wonders and Left 4 Dead mods.

Damnit. We didn't even get this far.

More Games Means More Modding!

Post Date: 04-10-2010 · Monday 12:20am

Starcraft Skirmish on Full HD + Ultra settings = Friends' Drool