2018 PC Upgrade Results

I recently decided to upgrade my storage and graphics card on my gaming PC. There was a bit of drama but the results are in. 

Storage

I augmented my existing 2 TB spinning hard drive and 512 GB SSD with a 2 TB NVMe in an M.2 slot. The result has been phenomenal. A machine that took over 5 minutes from boot to useable is now ready in under a minute. Apps that took forever to open now appear almost instantly. Game loads are shorter and everything is responsive. It’s like a brand new machine. 

I previously had my system set up using Intel’s Rapid Storage technology which uses an SSD as a fast cache for a spinning hard drive. Like Apple’s Fusion Drive feature (which I use on my iMac), Rapid Storage caches the most frequently accessed files on the SSD for quick access. Unlike Fusion Drive, it is limited to 128 MB of the drive and totally sucks. My system was horribly slow and hung all the time. I should have bitten the bullet and installed Windows on the SSD when I bought it instead of using this cop-out. My new setup is so much better.

Graphics

I expected to net about a 30% gain in performance with my new card and I’m really happy so far. I can play Assassin’s Creed Origins at maximum settings while frequently seeing 80 fps. I usually saw around 50 fps on slightly lower than maximum settings before. The game runs like butter and looks amazing.

Other games that already ran at 60 fps run better now too. I think I was seeing the result of micro stuttering. The games just feel smoother overall even if they already pushed high frame rates.  

I ran some quick benchmarks before and after the upgrade and the result has been awesome. The benchmarks are nowhere near thorough but at least provide some idea of performance improvements. 

Dual GTX 970Single RTX 2070Difference
Far Cry 5 Bench (Min / Max / Average)55 / 62 / 5963 / 98 / 7934%
AC Origins Bench (Min / Max / Average)29 / 52 / 3749 / 82 / 6341%

No Pain, No Gain

While both of my upgrades have worked out, neither were without their drama. I expected to reinstall Windows, drivers, and all of my games after installing the SSD. It took me about a day to do it all which was fine. What wasn’t fine was when I realized that there were a couple of gigs of space left on my 2TB hard drive that I wanted to recover. They were part of a Windows system partition that wasn’t on my boot drive so I deleted it to regain the space. Bad idea. 

As soon as the partition was gone my system wouldn’t boot. I think the boot record was still stored on it somehow. I tried recovering / installing a boot record on the SSD to no avail. I resigned myself to reformatting the SSD and installing everything again but I couldn’t even do that because Windows couldn’t recognize it. After an hour of web searching I learned that I had to disable a compatibility setting in my motherboard, install Windows, and then tweak some settings. After another night and day installing everything again I was back in business. At least all of my games can be queued up to download overnight. 

It took two days, but I finally got my SSD up and running. 

After the kerfuffle with my SSD I expected my graphics card to be an easy swap; pull out the two 970’s, pop in the 2070, and call it a day. Yeah. As soon as I put the 2070 onto the motherboard I had no video. I tried every port on the video card as well as the port on the motherboard. Nothing. There was also a wonderful “VGA error” indicator light illuminated on the motherboard. I pulled out the card and video was once again available, supported by the anemic GPU embedded in my CPU. 

I decided that my 2070 must have been defective and tried to install my 970s again. No video and a VGA error light. Crap. In a matter of an hour I went from a totally serviceable gaming PC to something with less graphics power than a laptop. It didn’t help that I told the boys I’d play some games with them after I just “installed this card really quick” which caused them to continuously ask me about my progress. 

After more web surfing, I put aside the fear that my new card was not only defective but also destroyed my motherboard and/or my existing graphics cards, and decided to reset the BIOS. That prevented my SSD from being recognized which prevented it from booting. Luckily I knew what BIOS setting to adjust and within a couple of minutes I could boot into Windows again. With my system alive again I installed one of my 970’s and crossed my fingers while the lights on the motherboard illuminated during POST. Finally video came onto the screen from my graphics card and I was back in business. 

I contemplated putting the second 970 back in to return it to the original configuration while I got a replacement 2070 but part of me wanted to just try the 2070 one more time. I swapped it in and lo and behold, it worked. There was something buried in the BIOS that was causing all of the issues. It was fixed now. 

My PC is a Console

As much as I enjoy technology and tinkering I hate working on my PC. That’s why I paid someone to build it for me instead of saving some cash and building it myself. I have no interest in figuring out which parts go with which other parts, screwing it all in, and wiring it all together. I’ll tinker with an old Mac for years, but not my PC. I basically use it as a gaming console  – I expect it to boot quickly and play games well. I don’t like to disrupt it and I don’t care to spend time troubleshooting it when things go wrong. 

My entire upgrade drama amounted to a few hours spread over a few days but it absolutely took me on a rollercoaster. It’s truly my console now – it boots up quickly, plays games beautifully, and doesn’t give me any problems.

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