When I was younger, playing games on a computer wasn't even a thing I heard of. We weren't well off, and I barely had a Nintendo or Genesis. Before Macs were cool my mother had a Performa 455. She used to buy any game she could find since anything that worked on a Mac was a blessing. I remember acquiring Marathon Durandal and playing that a good bit. Never got all the way through. Then one day we found a 10-pack of EA titles. My favorite of the bunch was Theme Park. I always aspired to be able to build a roller coaster...I don't think I ever did.
Some time when Pentium was first around, my mother found an HP Pavillion desktop/monitor combo at Walmart for $400. This was my first foray into PC gaming, mostly using the bloatware that came with it--SimCity. I remember a friend had some games, and loaned my his copy of Half-Life. It was 400 MB, which meant it was the only game I could fit on the drive, so I played it sparingly. I was still firmly entrenched in my PlayStation and Saturn anyway.
When that Pavilion kicked the bucket, we went through a string of laptops and desktops, mostly sticking with HP because they lasted a really long time. I would try and play demos every now and then, but none of them really had any power to them, until we found a Dell at an Aaron's. It was a Dimension 8200, with a Pentium 4 HT processor. It wasn't blazing fast, but it was the first PC I had that could do anything games wise.
Up until this point the only thing I'd changed in a PC was adding RAM. It was a right of passage when I was able to walk into Best Buy and get a BFG Geforce 8400GS. At the time, I didn't know this wasn't a card for playing games on. All I knew was that it had a lot of RAM and didn't cost hundreds of dollars.
It was able to play Oblivion, the first game I bought on Steam (which I discovered when I went to enter the key for my Half-Life game and I had to download the client). I had played the heck out of it when it first came out on Xbox 360, but once I couldn't get my controller to work on my PC, I gave up on it.
Over the years I'd acquired a few games I enjoyed on console in Steam sales, figuring someday I'd have a PC capable of playing those titles. I bought Skyrim when the most powerful PC in my house was Pavilion laptop with a Core 2 Duo and maybe a gigabyte of RAM. This computer lasted a long time until about February of 2015, when it burned itself up when one of my dogs chewed up the charging cable and we tried to make do. This was not long after the Dimension I got from Aaron's wen't belly up and the motherboard died.
With absolutely no computer to use in the household, we had to get something. At this point was considering trying to restore the Dell by buying replacement parts. Then I discovered a Goodwill down in Charleston with a store that had old computer stuff. I was able to get a Dimension 9200 with a Core 2 Duo, hard drive and no OS for about $60. Fortunately purchasing an OS wasn't an issue because before the laptop died, we'd upgraded it to Windows 8.1 with a retail disk (which sort of served as a Christmas present we were always 2 operating systems behind).
When I bought it home the first thing I did was gutted the old Dell for any part that would fit in the new one. At one point we'd added RAM, so I was up to about 2 GB. I took my 8400 GS which may or may not have been better than the Radeon that was in it; to this day I still don't know. I'm a bit of an Nvidia fanboy. I even tried to take one of the DVD drives just so my new machine would have two. But I had issues connecting it to the power supply so I left it alone.
As I said earlier, up to this point I'd only added RAM, I'd never installed it from nothing, so I didn't know about inserting sticks in order. I got the RAM out of order error and panicked for a day and a half, thinking I'd ruined the machine before I was even able to use it. I ended up matching the sound the motherboard made to another on YouTube. I'll never forget that one.
The older Dell must have taken this card with it because I could only get a picture for a few minutes. I barely convinced my mother to get me a refurbished GT 240 on eBay; obviously not knowing much more about graphics cards than I did the first time.
It performed well enough, and was able to play Skyrim. At this point I'd already had an Xbox One and a modern cell phone, so micro USB cables were abound. I plugged in the controller and was amazed that it worked exactly like the consoles. Over the months I'd acquired a few more games, more RAM, a hard drive that was really too much of a bargain to be true, and I even changed the processor. That task had me nervous for a while, but I was lucky enough to find a video of someone upgrading the same old relic I was and it went fine.
Skyrim performed a lot better with the two extra cores, but I later found out the GT 240 wasn't really a gaming card. I was able yet again to convince mom to get me a GTX 650, which cost almost $100. That made things even better and prepared me for the minimum requirements of GTA V, a game I'd played on Xbox 360, but had an even better experience on with Xbox One, with all the enhancements.
Some months later I decided I needed a better video card. The 650 was doing its job, but I really wanted something expensive sounding. After a lot of research, I'd decided on the GTX 960. It was $200 which sounds kind of reasonable, yet still very expensive. I had no help in getting this one, until an employment opportunity fell into my lap. Unfortunately after 1 week I had a nervous breakdown and stayed in a hospital for the next week and a half.
The silver lining is the 5 days I did work I'd made enough to buy a GTX 960, up my RAM from 6 to 8GB, and buy GTA V for the PC since there was some anomaly discount on Steam that brought it to $40. I'd never played a game so much on PC. I was on it for what seemed like days straight. It still has the most play time of any game I own from Steam.
My PC sat at this state for a while. However I became more curious about what was out there as far as computers went. Realizing my motherboard was locked and I couldn't overclock the processor, I started searching for an ATX motherboard with the exact same socket so I could just move everything over and get a fancy case out of it as well. I could never find a motherboard with enough slots for all the RAM I'd acquired that didn't cost another $80, which I didn't have. Not to mention the more I searched eBay, the more I realized newer motherboards cost about the same.
It was at this time I thought to myself, if this is what they cost, I might as well get the other parts for something newer. So I started researching processors, trying to get the most bang for my (mother's) buck. I was looking up Core i3's, i5's, and i7's, trying to figure out which one I exactly needed and trying to get latest generation I could. The latest and greatest were out of the question. I was at one point contemplating building around the first generation of i7, which is still decent today at most games.
The new year came around, and my mom was willing to take her tax refund so I could build a new machine. Already feeling like I was a burden, I started thinking back to what I called the Dell migration, where I just moved everything to an ATX motherboard and case. I figured I could even use the power supply. But again I looked at the motherboards, and just didn't seem cost effective. Sure I'd finally be able to overclock, and I'd read the Q6600 is legendary for overclock, but at the end of the day it was an 8 year old processor. While this ran Skyrim fine for me (I've been mostly playing on console my whole life so 60 fps wasn't an issue for me) and I was able to play GTA V, Batman Arkham Knight peaked my interest and that didn't mention the Core 2 Quad at all. I bit the bullet anyway and purchased a cheap key from a re-seller. It did run, but not well (port quality aside, my hard drive and processor sucked). When I got my GTX 960, the free game promotion was Metal Gear Solid V which also ran, but just straight froze for a second when I turned the camera around. This trinity of big, tens of gigabytes, AAA titles brought me to a stunning revelation. I wanted a machine that would play Skyrim well, but I didn't think any farther ahead.
Skip to the build
I decided here that I had to see if I could get away with purchasing the latest (not greatest) hardware, putting me in line with the future. After a whole bunch of research, looking at benchmarks, watching videos showing off frame rates, and comparison charts, I decided I was able to pull off an Intel Core i3-6100 at 3.7GHz, which had just come out 4 months ago. I'd never been so ahead of the curve in my life. To actually have a computer with the latest processor in it was inconceivable to me. But I was approved, so I went on deciding on what to get to complete the build.
For a motherboard, I decided on the MSI H110MA-Pro-VD, because it was under $70, it has capacity for 32GB of RAM, and is from MSI. I am a brand loyalist in that if I get a brand, it lasts a long time, that is my brand. My GTX 960 is an MSI, and I decided on that because of its price at the time and I liked the green from the 100 Million Edition.
I had acquired a SanDisk SSD Plus solid state drive which coincidentally ruined the 750GB Seagate Barracuda enterprise drive I found on eBay when I re-installed the OS. When I got it I thought it was a once in a 6 month sale. Turns out SSDs are just coming down in price. Bargain nonetheless.
I decided on one 8GB stick of RAM, Kingston HyperX brand. Kingston was brand I was familiar with, and probably put in a computer at some point or another. For a while I couldn't decide whether I wanted to get one stick or two, but I'd spent enough elsewhere and figured I could add more later.
For the case, I got the Fractal Design Define R4. I know spending $100+ on a case with my truncated budget seems foolish, but I tried to look ahead for once and maybe I can improve on and not have to spend the money later. Also, it was on sale for $70, and I really wanted a case with a window. I was opening my Dell all the time just to look at the inside.
The power supply had me worried because I didn't want to go too cheap yet I couldn't afford a trusted brand and stay under budget. As I read reviews I saw lots of five star reviews, but I always read the one star reviews to see what the complaints were. Across the board, no matter the brand, someone had one fail long before they expected it to. The way I figured, if I go overboard on the wattage, I could get away with a lesser known brand that came in a cool color and had braided cables. So I decided on the Apevia ATX CB700W. It has a cool blue LED in the fan, is black, has nice braided cables that look nice inside and the wattage is just over 2 times what my system needs according to the power calculators I found. Plus it has all kinds of connectors because of the kind of system it is intended for. I was able to connect everything in the case and can still add an optical drive later.
I wasn't going to get a hard drive and was going to try and make it with the 2.5" drive from my laptop, but I was able to find a 500GB WD Blue hard drive for around $30. I know when buying used components you should avoid hard drives, and I was burned myself, but it is a lot more recent than the Seagate I found and it is 500 as opposed to 750, so it is less of a ridiculous bargain. The seller listed it as new (other) but a SMART scan listed as having 50 days. Either way, it is a lot better than my previous large drive.
The building was like someone said in a video; Legos. At this point I'd been into enough of a computer I was comfortable. The hardest part for me personally was trying do the wires in a way that looked halfway decent. It wan't like the Dell I had most of the work was done. Also connecting things to the motherboard was kind of confusing. The three sets of instructions I had got the most obvious stuff out of the way but I had to look up a few other things as the case did or did not have connectors the motherboard manufacturer hadn't accounted for. I wanted to install the power supply with the fan up, but I could only secure it with two screws and a bit of research made it seem more sensible to flip it over.
All in all, I'm very happy with my new PC. I put it together myself, something I always wanted to do, and it blows Skyrim away, which was my goal ever since the game came out. I like the feeling when I get an error and it says contact the system manufacturer. I am the system manufacturer! I still have no idea what to name it on my home network because I always used the brand name and desktop, laptop or tablet. For now I'm just going with my new custom built PC. Later on I'd like to add an optical drive, a newer processor and more RAM. The plan is to hang on until the next Bethesda Game Studios title this PC can't run.
This is an amazing processor. To be fair, the only thing I have to compare it to is an Intel Core 2 Quad, but a few benchmarks had these two close to each other, and a lot of forums say 2 cores can't handle games. Well it must be the efficiency of the new processors, because this thing is awesome. Granted I only have like three recent high demand titles, but everything from 2011 and before, flawless.
It is RAM, and it is doing its job.
Revives even an older machine, never mind the current system is in. The few games I can load on it start up in seconds.
This card works really well. Runs a lot of games at 1080p and a decent (not 60) frame rate and I like the GeForce experience for recording videos.
A bit disappointed there is no HDD indicator light, but for the price I paid, I really can't complain.
I suppose I'll change this later if it doesn't meet expectations, but right now, everything's fine. I like the black finish and all the connectors it came with, which isn't surprising given its wattage. Braided cables are a nice touch as well.