Welcome to the start of a new branch of the site!
So you are thinking about taking the plunge into video gaming. Maybe you have been playing games for years, but the sheer number of options is starting to become overwhelming.
The whole point of this series is to let you know that it’s OK. Today, it’s tough to make a choice that leads to a bad gaming experience. Watching a lot of YouTube videos or reading a bunch of Reddit threads can be intimidating and make you doubt this.
So welcome to the JohnHQLD Tech Tips, where I try and separate the marketing hype from the real-world benefits. I will be talking some technical points – it’s not something I can avoid with a topic like this. What I won’t be doing is saying things like “This is your only choice to be a ‘real’ gamer.”
For people that have a technical background – I will be oversimplifying some pretty complex topics. This could involve some technically inaccurate summaries or misdescribing scenarios.
You already know the variables involved, and why it’s so hard to create a one fits all explanation. Some of my information can be seen as wrong, and this will usually be by design. I am more interested in getting the basic theory across, which means prioritising the intention of the tech over the technical accuracy of how the tech works.
Why am I saying this? I want people to comment and discuss things and ask questions. But if I say something like “Air cooling is just as effective as water cooling in the majority of usage cases”, this can set Reddit on fire. I ask that you look at the overall context rather than the small details, and comment on that.
Remember, this is all general advice intended for beginners. I will happily answer specific questions about certain situations. Still, in articles, I will be talking from a broad general perspective.
All that aside, it’s time to start talking about the first obstacle to buying hardware – your mindset.
Wait, I just want to play games! I already know what I want!
I am not trying to be rude, but do you? The biggest thing that surprises me when people ask about tech is they keep looking for features they will rarely if ever use. For example, last week, I was asked why their new CPU and Motherboard with a new PCI-e 4 drive ‘felt’ slower than their old system with a standard SATA Solid State Drive (SSD).
Feeling a computer responding in a snappy fashion is a thing. It’s just not something that means the same to everyone. I couldn’t actually test the hardware, so it was time for some detective work.
After talking to them for a few minutes, I discovered this particular person went out and spent AUD$2,000ish on an upgrade because they read that the parts were ‘the best’. Lots of YouTubers and Redditors all agreed they were the best parts. Surely they built a sound system?
The catch is, this person only uses their computer for watching videos, browsing the internet and works with Word and Excel. This behaviour hasn’t changed for years, and they aren’t planning on changing this behaviour in the future.
Barring a build problem (still possible), they built a system that they couldn’t actually work hard enough to get the full potential from. If it was a car, they made one that can go from 0-100 km/h in 4 seconds flat – but the speed limit is always 40 km/h. My guess is the system is responding well, they just expected more from it than it can provide with the work he does on it. You can only open a browser or Word so fast.
So the downside is they spent more on an upgrade than I would have built their entire system for. On top of that, their experience benchmark wise would have been virtually identical on the ‘cheaper’ system.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking “If I get the best, I don’t have to worry about anything later.” The catch to that thinking is you will most likely be spending significantly more than you have to, and not just in original parts. Beefy computers need more power to run, which means you can see a difference in your power bills running a massively powerful machine. And you don’t always get the best potential of that system.
So what should we do?
Determine upfront what your objectives are. Forget the money and everything else at this point. Focus on what you want to do with your equipment. Do you want to play at home, or take your games around with you?
If it’s only games at home, consoles are a great choice. They are PCs built for that one purpose and cost less than a mid-tier graphics card for a computer. You might want to start streaming. You might have a beefy work PC that sucks for games. We can look at all of these situations over the coming weeks.
There is also the question of the best gaming experience for you. As an example, Control is a game that looks amazing on an RTX 2080 Super/Ti with all the bells and whistles enabled at 4K. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the same.
Playing on an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, it has more graphical niceties than the base consoles. You don’t get all of the same ‘make pretty’ options as a mid to high tier graphics card on PC.
As long as you have the right equipment, it plays just as well (and sometimes better) at lower resolutions. 1080p gaming for some people is being talked about like it’s garbage. Well, guess what resolution you watch movies in?
Don’t get fooled. Real-time reflections in glossy walls look amazing. 4K graphics look amazing in the right setup. Is it worth $2,000-$5,000+ to be able to use these features?
Only you can decide that. This is where the financial side comes into play for most people. But first, you need to decide if that’s what you need it at all. And remember, wanting is different from needing!
So how do I choose what I need? New things are coming out all of the time!
Yes, they are. And that is why picking the right hardware is tricky at any point in time. But as I said, the problem isn’t tech – it’s the mindset.
The mindset I try to put people in when we talk about buying any hardware is the same as when buying a car. Sure, most of us would love to drive high-end luxury cars. Or even custom performance sports cars. But we don’t. Not because those cars aren’t great – generally those cars are priced high for a reason.
No, it’s because for whatever reason we can’t justify the cost. Notice I am not saying we can’t afford the price, just defend the price. Defend the price against what? Your actual needs, not your wants.
For example, even if I could afford a top of the line 2020 Maserati, the chances of my buying one are slim to none. Why? Each year, Rabbit and I drive down to Melbourne for PAX Aus. Rabbit and I can probably fit comfortably in the car – it has a driver and passenger seat after all. Our luggage, not so much. Just this one fact alone makes the Maserati less desirable as a purchase for my needs.
I haven’t even gotten to if my 6’3″ frame can be comfortable in it. How are the blind spots? What features does it have? There are so many other crucial things that I need to know to decide if I want a Maserati. There is already something on my ‘need’ list that it doesn’t meet, so how can I defend the purchase?
If a basic need isn’t met, the cost becomes irrelevant. Weighing up your needs and wants to your budget are very different things, but many people let the budget alone be the justification. That is not always a wise course of action.
It’s funny how people get this when looking at a car or a place to live, but think computers are different. And don’t be fooled – consoles are computers. Yes, even the Switch. If you can’t justify the cost against your needs and wants, why pay it?
HDR gaming and Ray Tracing graphics are excellent, but I would rather a game that runs smoothly over such effects. Ray Tracing takes more power, and that means lower frame rates. That’s my preference anyway. You might need 4K at 120 frames per second with Ray Tracing on as a minimum. That doesn’t make your needs wrong, just different from mine. Hopefully, during the next few weeks, I can help you decide what your needs are based on more than hype.
This is something that makes me angry on a lot of comment threads. I have seen plenty of comments that if you aren’t playing on a system priced similarly to a house deposit, you are doing it wrong. No, your not. You have different requirements than the person doing the post – that’s all. A family driving around in a Tarago isn’t in the wrong car to your car – it’s your car doesn’t meet their needs.
So while people are building fantastic showcase builds with benchmark breaking results, don’t let the dazzle guide you. Like the guy that went AMD and PCI-e 4 I talked about earlier – it might not be for you.
So here’s a controversial statement – there is no such thing as a Gaming PC anymore.
Before you tune out or start spamming the comments, please hear me out. We still use terms like ‘Gaming PC’ or ‘Workstation PC’, but these days are almost redundant descriptions. A Workstation PC used to describe a computer with multiple cores for high computational power. Well, phones these days have multiple cores, does that make them Workstation Phones?
The only thing that really separates a high-end consumer Workstation and Gaming PC is the graphics card. There are still ‘pro’ workstations that make a difference, but unless you are doing high-end scientific work, not many people (if any) will make use of workstations.
Picking on Nvidia cards for simplicity, a workstation will use a Quadro card. In contrast, a gaming PC will use a GeForce card.
Why? Because Quadro has more computational power. It has a ridiculous number of cores that are designed to work out a problem and pass that answer back to the CPU, bypassing the screen. Using Quadro cards in parallel calculations, Computer-Aided Design (CAD) work and the like is what these are built for.
GeForce cards use the same cores, just not as many of them. They also have extra components that help push out frames to your screen at a blistering rate. That’s why you can still use a GeForce card to accelerate video editing, which is great for home users, but Quadro cards do it better. This performance comes at a cost that makes a 2080 Ti look cheap though!
Using a Quadro card for gaming is technically possible, but not really worth the hassle or cost. It’s different tech for different purposes. Both work well with basically any mid-tier CPU and up though.
What does this mean for you? Today, you can dramatically improve what tasks your computer excels at by merely changing the graphics card. The CPU will still perform well. The only thing you can’t really do is put in a Quadro card and a Geforce card in the same system for the best of both worlds experience. Well, not yet anyway. Maybe one day. The Titan RTX does bridge this, but it’s one massively expensive card and doesn’t quite measure up. But the attempt is there – maybe it will continue.
Oh, and tech-minded people, remember when I said I would be misdescribing things? There is a great example. We know there is more to Quadro vs GeForce than what I just described. The concept holds true though, and that is what I am worried about getting across.
Why did I go through all of this, and how does this affect you as a gamer? It shows you really have to try and make the ‘wrong’ choice these days. That doesn’t mean you can’t make better choices, just it’s hard to completely get it messed up.
Even ‘low end’ equipment today is incredibly powerful and will work well for a large percentage of users in many different situations. You just need to temper expectations in some of those situations.
So what am I supposed to do now?
There is a considerable combination of problems and solutions in tech, and the key isn’t knowing all the answers. The magic ingredient to any tech project is knowing what problem you are trying to solve.
Today, take a sit back and just think about what you want to play. A handful of specific titles helps, but even knowing the genre of games you prefer is a great start.
There are a lot of different things to look at moving forward. Do you have a PC that could be upgraded to let you game as well? Do you know you want an Xbox or PlayStation, but can’t decide between an X or Pro?
Going forward, we will be looking at these sorts of questions and more.
Topics coming up
Thursday, I will be talking about some good starting points for different types of gaming. This will also give some starting budgets as well, just to give an idea of cost differences.
Next week, I will be talking about consoles in more detail. When you want to be thinking about the PS4 Pro or the Xbox One X, what the next generation of consoles means to you, that kind of thing. I will also be talking about HDR, Frame Rates, Input Latency, and a few other “GAMING” buzzwords and what they practically offer you.
The week after, I will be comparing consoles to PC gaming. Then, the differences between desktops and laptops. After that, I will tackle VR gaming. Each of these topics will start to dip into budget costing considerations as well.
Once all that is out of the way, if no one asks for more detail on anything, I will be talking about different aspects of PC building each week. Which power supply to use, CPU choices and differences, what video card, how much RAM do you really need (and how fast!), Watercooling, RGB, all that fun stuff.
Why don’t I talk about consoles in such detail? Because those choices are already made for you. That is one of the strengths of console gaming. The screen technology like frame rates is essential for consoles and PCs, so I am putting that in the middle, so to speak. But more on that next week 🙂
If you have questions on topics that you aren’t sure I will cover or if you want me to prioritise coverage on something, let me know! Comment below, comment or message on FaceBook, or even @JohnHQLD me on Twitter.
Until next time,