So, yeah, I’m a player of free-to-play titles, and I’m not ashamed of that. I won’t go out and buy the latest, got-to-have games, either. My brain just isn’t wired like that. I don’t feel any need to jump in to any first generation product without intense scrutiny and research first. This includes Elder Scrolls Online and upcoming Wildstar. I just don’t get the same thrill that others get from the hivemind, and I’m more apt to notice more flaws when I’m paying a premium price for the experience.
But, overall, I’m not cheap. Far from it. Gaming is a great hobby, but the software is only the surface of the experience. The only reason we enjoy the experience at all is because of the hardware we have backing it up. And when you upgrade your hardware, your gaming experience improves across every game you play, not just the latest shiny. For this reason, I’ll spend a lot more on hardware than I ever will on games. Go check out the MMO Juggler’s latest post on upgrading to a new sick 27″ Quad HD (1440p) monitor and try not to be jealous, I dare you. I mean just look at that Guild Wars 2 shot!
So lately instead of playing games, I’ve been researching and upgrading my hardware and tech and wanted to share the fruits of my labor with you. If you’re looking for great upgrades that are a great bang for your buck, check out this quick list.
The standard hard disk drive, a stack of magnetic spinning platters, has been around since the 1950’s and has been the defacto storage for computers today. Over time the platters have been able to hold more, the data transfer speeds have improved, but hard drives have hit a limit on how fast they can be. The physical and mechanical constraints of how fast the plates can spin can only go so high.
The latest storage technology, though, is Solid State, and is found in flash drives, cell phones, and other small devices. Instead of spinning platters, Solid State uses a solid block of material, usually a crystalline semiconductor, and uses electromagnetism and quantum mechanics to store and dispense information. Woah. However, Solid State drives are still relatively small, and still way out of the price range of the average consumer.
But the Seagate Hybrid Drives are well within budget. Seagate has combined the speed of Solid State with the storage capacity and price of HDD. For maybe a modest 20% increase in price, A SSHD gives up to 4 times the speed and a 20% increase in overall responsiveness than a standard HDD. During the sale, I paid $75 for a 1 TB SSHD, which is less than what the standard cost of a 1 TB HDD normally costs! Until SSD’s drop in price, a SSHD is the best value going.
And installation? Couldn’t have been easier. Installing the drive into your case is just plugging the drive into the board, making sure it’s getting power from the PSU, tightening a few screws, then formatting the drive, cloning it with your current HDD, and finally setting the new drive as the main bootable from BIOS. That’s it. Trust me, you can do it.
Without cable growing up and without cable now, we don’t watch much TV. However, that doesn’t mean we still don’t enjoy streaming video. We currently subscribe to Netflix, love Hulu, and are flirting with the idea of Amazon Instant Video. We also see nothing wrong with dropping a few bucks to stream movies or TV shows we want to see. It’s a new age.
Chromecast, at it’s basic premise, allows you to take any tab in Chrome and stream it directly to any TV with the device attached. On top of that, the Chromecast also has apps for popular services, so it doesn’t even run Netflix from your PC, it picks it up itself.
With this device, my TV is finally getting some use again, and it’s only $35, which is a lot cheaper than my XBox Gold sub was, and a lot less complicated.
Do you know the difference between Docsis 2.0 and Docsis 3.0? Do you know which standard your cable modem is using? Do you know what your current Internet plan is capable of? If not, you may want to do some research.
By any stretch, Docsis 3.0 is not a new thing. Over 7 years old, Docsis 3.0 is a telecommunications standard that offers significant transmission speeds and quality over previous generations. However, due to lack of consumer knowledge, it is still not widely in use, even by those who are paying for the tiers to use it. Essentially, if you’re renting your cable modem box from your provider, you’re most likely still using 2.0 and paying them a monthly fee to do so.
This modem not only gives you a significant boost in speed and quality, if your service allows it, but it also frees you from that monthly rental fee! Faster speeds and it will pay for itself over time, this one is really a must-have for any serious internet user. This has gone up in price, too. It use to be $50 when it was a lot less known, but over time it’s gone up to where it is now at $70. Still a solid deal.
Installation might require a technician to come out and install it, and probably the safest way to do so to make sure it’s set up properly, but it can be self-installed. If you self-install, talking to support might still be necessary, though.
This came up on Woot for $40. I picked it up, and have been in love with it ever since. Heck, I didn’t even connect this to my TV for the first couple months I had it and it was still worth it!
Essentially, this speaker bar has multiple speakers, a subwoofer, and pairs smoothly with any bluetooth device, like every smartphone. Having podcasts playing or music around the house became a whole lot easier. Just pair the speaker with your phone, then start playing music. Done.
I then took it a step further and attached it to my TV and suddenly instead of the tinny embedded TV speakers, a much more rich full sound emerged. I watched The Avengers (not usually a superhero fan, but the speaker needed a good test… good movie, though) and the sound alone blew my mind. Paired with the Chromecast from above, I don’t think I’ll ever stream to my computer again. The difference in quality is that substantial.
If you see it again for $40, it’s a must buy, but that price is ridiculously low for a sound bar. Lowest price for a new one is looking around $80, which would cause me to balk. However, if you catch one on a decent sale, it’s well worth the price.
My old card, a PNY GeForce GTX 460, has been showing signs of aging and it has come time to replace it. A video card upgrade always rocks, but the EVGA GeForce GTX 750 is a solid card that can work in a much wider range of systems.
Going from the 460, though, I didn’t know how much of an increase I was going to get. The 460 is twice the size, took up it’s own rails from the power supply, and was a solid workhorse. In comparison, the 750 uses 60% less power, is tiny, and doesn’t need to be plugged into anything but the board. It is a few generations newer, though.
So, for the budget $105 I paid for the card, I wasn’t expecting a significant upgrade. What I got, though, was a significant upgrade. Before installation, I took the time and performed a few benchmarks to see exactly how much of an upgrade I would get, using the 3DMark11 software, which is conveniently available through Steam.
Aside from the Physics scores, which are taking a small hit, I found an across the board 35%-47% increase in graphics processing! So anything having to do with lights, shadows, surfaces, and textures are all getting a serious bump. Not bad. The increase in airflow and power savings would be worth it alone, but the performance increase makes it a solid upgrade.
My system before was no slouch, either. I could play almost any game on full settings easily. Now, though, it’s even easier to do so, and this card should last me a good long time.
So, overall, the next time you think of dropping a huge sum on the latest and greatest game that’ll cost you $60 for a few weeks play, think about possibly using that for a tech upgrade instead.
You might miss out on one game, but it’ll make the rest of your games a lot more fun.
P.S. – And trust me, if you miss the latest game that everyone’s playing just this once, you’ll live.