ODG HQ – PC Gaming Rig Spotlight

 
by  •  Apr 23, 2012

In the PC gaming circles you get asked what kind of tech you’re running all the time. I decided that maybe it would be good to do an occasional spotlight on the teams setups. I personally wouldn’t mind the feedback and likely suggestions that would come along with full disclosure on how to squeeze a little more out of things or even what purchase might better suit the layout.

So here’s the Off Duty Gamers HQ machine, or Skynet Jr as I like to call it. To frame up the conversation we have to go back to PAX PRIME 2011. My home PC was a little under power and suffering from the age old issue of not enough money to get into a full on rebuild. Well, I had the good fortune to run into some amazing gentlemen over at AMD who happened like the paracord survival bracelets that I made. With conversations going on before I knew it I was on a whirlwind of hardware and the building began.

Now, this build started in a particular order and so you can see the cascade effect I am going to virtually build it for you like it happened.

Down the Rabbit Hole we Go

AMD Radeon™ HD 6990

AMD Gaming knocked it out of the park and put this beast into my hands and with it single handedly ruined me for single (or even dual) monitor work. With this in hand I was pushed into my first ever conversation about active display adapters, mini ports and of course the world of “Eyefinity”.

With all that multiple display ability at my newly drooling disposal I felt that it was time to look into an investment in some monitors that would make this video card deliver on its promises. My thought was ‘go big or go home’ so I found myself with

3x – ViewSonic 1080p Full HD LED 24″ Widescreen Monitors

After a trip around the internet I settled on an old faithful friend in ViewSonic monitors. This is a company that has always managed to keep me happy in terms of quality, performance and lifespan. I have typically outgrown a ViewSonic monitor before it is done working and that means a lot to me.

The weight of such a meaty video card along with all nearly six THOUSAND pixels of desktop width had new demands. I quickly realized that you cant really get away with putting a video rocket into a gameboy PC and not run into issues. I was having monitors blink off and back on and as gaming got going the whole PC would suddenly shut down.

When you’re PC is suddenly turning itself off your attention is pointed right at the power supply and it was clear that mine wasn’t built to handle the punishment. Since I was dealing with my new friends at AMD I was introduced to some new friends who quickly sent out the remedy…

Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 1200W (review)

Cooler Master felt that it was best to solve my current issue by solving any power issue I might run into in the next couple of years so in the Go Big or Go Home category, they went big. 1200 watts is a lot of power and I expected the result to sound like I had just joined the Navy and got billeted under Catapult 3 on one of the fleets aircraft carriers. I was quite shocked to find out that when they said it was Silent, they meant it. I still sometimes wonder if the fan is even running but here’s a powerhouse that is modular, quiet and delivers all the power the PC could need.

Now that we’re straight and rocking three screens of goodness pushing amazing frame rates in a connected desktop that could placate a kid with attention deficit disorder for a few dozen hours in walks my friends from AMD again and place into my hot little hands…

AMD FX 8150 (Bulldozer)

I have to admit that the PC world has beaten up on the AMD FX processors since they hit the market for many different reasons but for a guy sitting on a dual core chip with a few years on it, this was an enticing  development. The very real prospect of going from 2 cores to 8 cores set me up for financial failure as the issues sunk home that at this point in our story, we are lacking the backbone necessary to give this chip life, I was going to need a new motherboard and here my friends is where the frenzy really hits speed.

I inform my friends from AMD that while I am EXTREMELY happy that they have placed this 8 core monster in my hand, I simply am not able to give it the home it needs and deserves and thus it must wait.

Wait it did, for about a week! That’s when I get an introduction to ASUS who tells me that they have something up their sleeve that would help me.

ASUS Crosshair V Formula/ThunderBolt

Now here is a motherboard that any gamer can get behind. Not only does this beast carry the best of the best in terms of perfomance but they packaged it up with both the SupremeFX X-FI 2 Soundblaster Audio and Bigfoot Killer Network Adapter

Well that tore it, there was just no way that the new motherboard was going to feel at home jammed into the mid sized tower that was home to old faithful dual core. It was time to make the leap (and the investment) into the rest of the build.

A trip to the local TigerDirect warehouse

Yeah, I am spoiled. Living right outside Chicago affords you access to a lot of stores that otherwise would have you ordering online but in my case I live 25 minutes from a TigerDirect warehouse so with a fistful of hard earned money it was shopping time.

The Results

  

So after building this machine the last piece of the puzzle was an interest in Solid State Drives in order to speed up the (now) slowest part of the system. In walks my friends from AMD who says he’s got a connection for me and after an introduction I meet OCZ!

OCZ SYNAPSE CACHE SATA III 2.5″ SSD

Never having used a solid state drive (SSD) I was doing some homework and quickly realized that one of the things that has made SSD tech slow to impact the market and unseat traditional drives has been the size and cost. One way people are setting things up is to get an SSD and run the OS on it. While this is great for booting and general use it didnt seem to address gaming. It also presented the issue of eventual space since as a Windows PC user I know that Windows likes to install a lot of things on the C: drive that dont have any business clogging up a high speed SSD.

My new friends at OCZ told me that they had a ‘cache’ drive. Here’s the pitch. You place this drive in your system along with your traditional drive (see 2 TB SATA above) and then  boot up. This drive is quickly recognized by the system and all you do is run a small program that comes with the drive that identifies the cache drive and your HDDs. Once that is complete the new SSD is stealthed from the OS (you dont even see it as a drive anywhere) and the program monitors the system and builds a cache on the SSD based on USAGE. So what you have is a cache based on the files you use most.

This SSD cut my boot time in half to start which was really impressive and as usage increased so did the speed of loading programs I used the most. Best of all, you dont have to worry about the drive size since it manages its space based on your usage so you just insert and forget.

One downside to this SSD that in fairness I have to put out. IF you happen to hit that BSOD or power fails for any reason that causes an abrupt restart of your system, this drive will have to rebuild its cache BEFORE the OS will boot. Ive seen this process take a few minutes at best to about 90 minutes at its worst (Ive only had that happen once in the months Ive used it but it was worth noting). This recovery period could potentially be an irritation if you are trying to quickly recover from a crash and get back to work.

That one item aside, I would gladly recommend the Synapse to gamers who are looking to take advantage of SSD speed technology but do not want to dance around with copying files and managing the OS space issue on a standard drive. This setup gives you the best of both worlds in speed of loading  with high capacity total storage.

Input/outPut Pieces

Ok, so those are the big parts but there are a few other small but important pieces left, so lets cover off on those now. Some I had some were part of the recent growth

Steelseries Shift Keyboard

The SteelSeries Shift keyboard was the one out of a few that Steelseries sent over recently and  I preferred for a reason that wasn’t the intended focus of the product. The keyboard’s big feature is a removable keys layout that allows you to purchase additional customized keyboard layouts based on various games you might play. The intended effect is to rename keys to be game specific and to remove those that might interfere. For me… the removable keys make for incredibly easy removal of crumbs and crap that finds its way into the keyboard during extended regular use. Yeah, crazy I know but once I got over the split space bar, the thing is pretty comfortable.

Razer Imperator Mouse

Back at PAX PRIME one of the walkout items presented to the Battlefield 3 community group was the Razer Imperator mouse. This mouse (recently upgraded for 2012) offers a lot to like for the gamer. Adjustable thumb button position and buttons on the top quickly control the mouse DPI sensitivity. I’ve found that while you can run the Razer app for creating custom layouts for your gaming needs, I long since ditched the customization and instead I just use the up and down DPI selection. This works right on the mouse and allows me to dial up the DPI sensitivity when in sniper mode while turning things down when in close quarters or heavy movement situations.

Razer Scarab Mouse Pad/Surface

During the Battlefield 3 roll-out some friends at Razer sent over branded items. While I was told to hang on to them for myself, I don’t listen well so we squared away a military member with the Battlefield 3 Imperator and I kept the Battlefield 3 Scarab mouse surface. This is the first time I’ve had something that wasn’t your basic cheap and easy mouse pad we’ve all known and loved. I wasn’t sure how a solid surface was going to do especially since I grew up with PCs where the reason you HAD a mouse pad was because the ball would’ve move for crap on a smooth surface. I’m older now and wiser and after having used this for a few months I can honestly say that where paired with the Imperator Mouse, the movement is warm butter smooth. Highly recommend it.

Blue Snowball microphone

Your microphone choices don’t make a lick of difference! Well, until you hear yourself on a podcast and wonder how you got better reception calling in a mortar strike in the desert than here at home in a quiet room. Once you get irritated and start looking for a quality microphone you quickly run into BLUE. Known for high quality without the need for an advanced degree in audio technology, this microphone is all about getting the job done without the hassle. USB based it is one of the items on my PC rig that plugs in and just works. Amazing audio quality is what you can expect and it is in a price point that wont break the bank but will make you the envy of your audiophile friends.

Logitech Webcam/Microphone

A recent purchase, this came about as a need for better quality in video conferencing and hopefully some Twitch.tv appearance work. After looking around the HD Pro Webcam C910 had what I was looking for at a competitive price. The image is great quality for such a small unit and with those three monitors I needed something that didnt suck up desk space. The C910 hangs on the top of the monitor and offers a low impact footprint with up to full 1080p recording. The software works nicely with Skype and other programs that take advantage of the video source offering little things like face tracking, auto focus and RightLight technology allowing it to adjust to the various lighting situations found in most homes.

Logitech S220 2.1 speakers w/Subwoofer

I saved this one for last largely because many of you will weep for me. Of the elements put forth so far this is likely the next logical place to place some investment dollars. I do not own a headset anymore (the last plantronics headset bit the dust some time ago and it was a years old and very cheap set) so my audio is limited to a pair of Logitech 2.1 desk speakers I had. The unit isnt even on the Logitech website that I can find but here you can see the details. Now, I should say that while these guys are ‘economical’ they have done fine for now. the volume adjustment stays close so I can make the quick changes based on ambient noise (aka kids, animals, tv’s etc that plague evening gaming) levels. Funny think they got some extra life after my neighbor and I devised a 10″ lift shelf to bring the monitors up higher. the setup creates a bit of a ‘speaker box’ which amplifies the small sound of the speakers and gets me a little more sound from a tiny setup like this.

Conclusion

There you have it, the machine that powers ODG World Headquarters. I could have given you all the crazy performance and clock speed info but hell, you want to know what we use so you can see what else is around or else you just might be interested. If there’s a detail or a test, spec etc that you’d like to hear about in more detail, then add a comment below and lets talk. I’ll be happy to run a diagnostic sheet on hard drive speed if you like or just simply answer questions you might have that you’ve been pondering.

Thanks for your time, I showed you mine, what do you have? What do you recommend that might go well in this setup?