Gaming PC Revisited

I bought a dedicated gaming PC three years ago. I needed something more powerful than my iMac to play games on but didn’t want to shell out $2k for another Mac that would be limited in terms of future upgrades. My iMac can be used as an external display to another machine which meant that I didn’t need to buy another display and put it on my desk. I could have the best of both worlds – a Mac for photography and a powerful PC for gaming all sharing one great display. Did my plan work out?

Yes. Though I don’t spend a lot of time playing games I want to enjoy them when I do. I want to play them at full resolution with high or ultra graphical settings. I bought a PC primarily so I could upgrade my graphics card when it started to lag behind.  I chose a motherboard that was capable of supporting two graphics cards so that I could increase performance even further without spending a fortune on a single card. The ability to add extra drives, swap out the CPU, or even replace the motherboard was also beneficial. The PC was an initial investment in a modular system; future upgrades could be done in pieces and would limit cost. Instead of spending thousands on a new Mac every 3 years to keep up with games, I could spend hundreds on graphics cards and storage here and there.

That investment has worked out really well for me. Three years later I’ve got the same system with a couple of upgrades. My machine shipped with a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 graphics card. It was the high-performing mid-range card of the time, costing $300 – $400 on its own. It could run Far Cry 4 at high settings using the full resolution of my iMac display (2560 x 1440 a.k.a 1440p a.k.a QHD). I wanted to run games at ultra settings so I bought a second GeForce 970 within the first year. My two GTX 970’s delivered higher performance than a single GTX 980 and cost about the same.

Around that same time I found a sale on 500 GB SSD’s and decided to invest in one for my iMac (which helped me resurrect it) and one for my PC. The motherboard offers a caching feature that uses part of the SSD as a cache for frequently used files, leaving the rest for storage. Now I’ve got a 2 TB drive with the OS on it, about 100 GB of SSD cache, and about 400 GB for my most frequently used games. Steam makes it easy to move games from one drive to another so I can always keep my most frequently played games on the SSD.

Last year I replaced the keyboard with a cheap mechanical gaming keyboard and then replaced that with a real gaming keyboard from Razer. It’s actually not a mechanical keyboard but a hybrid – it’s clicky and responsive with less key travel (more akin to the Apple keyboards I’m used to). The backlight can be set any of 16 million colors and can animate patterns as well. I also replaced the mouse with a wireless gaming mouse from Logitech.

In those 3 years I’ve probably spent about $700 for upgrades, most of which will not be replaced for a while. I’ll keep the keyboard and mouse for 10 years or more and the SSD until it dies. When I upgrade the graphics cards I’ll recoup some of my investment by selling them. I haven’t touched the memory, CPU, or motherboard because they aren’t holding me back. The CPU is a fourth generation Core (Intel is currently in the process of releasing the eighth generation) but it keeps up well. The most recent 4-core equivalent (7th generation) is only 20% faster and would require me to purchase a new motherboard as well, probably a $400 – $600 investment in total. The 8th generation equivalent is about 62% faster in raw performance, but it is a 6 core CPU (versus a 4 core). More cores don’t necessarily make games run any faster so I doubt a new CPU would be worth it at this point. Maybe in another 4 years or so.

My next most likely upgrade will be a pair of new graphics cards. I’m sitting out of the GeForce 10 series as my 970’s still provide strong performance. The 10 series is nearly twice as fast which means the 11 series should be phenomenal. That generation will probably target 4K performance, so they will absolutely shred 1440p content. Though Nvidia is starting to shift away from dual-card arrangements, I’m still looking for a dual-card setup at about $350 per card. Hopefully I can sell my two existing cards for $200 – $300 total, which will drop my upgrade cost to about $400. The new cards are expected to come out next year, so it will still be a while.

Until then  I’m still able to play most current games at near-ultra settings, though some less optimized titles (looking at you Battlefront II) require a drop to high settings and 1080p resolution. My cards can be overclocked to squeeze out a few extra frames so I’m going to try that to get me through to next year. Overall I’m still very happy with the machine and it has done exactly what I wanted. I spent $1300 on it three years ago instead of spending $2000 on a new iMac. My now 7 year-old iMac works great as a display and a casual email / browsing machine so there is no need to replace it. When it’s finally time to go I’ll probably replace it with a 4K display to share between the PC and my MacBook Pro.


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