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Gaming on a Budget

Discussion in 'UO Resources' started by Llewen, Jul 10, 2010.

  1. Llewen

    Llewen Grand Inquisitor
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    I game on a budget. Times are tough, there's not a lot of money to go around. You know the story. I don't have $2000 or more every year to spend on a new computer. So I make do with what I can afford.

    The ironic thing is, on my budget computer I don't find it too hard to escape from just about anyone. So much so that I have been pretty much continuously accused of speed hacking since I came back to the game around eight months ago.

    I know I don't speed hack, whether you believe me or not is entirely up to you, but on the off chance that you do believe me, I thought I'd share some of my secrets on how to get the most out of your gaming dollars.

    Before I start, the single best piece of advice I can give is, use the Enhanced Client. There are so many advantages to using the EC, that it really is the single best piece of advice I can give. The advantages have been listed in many threads on Stratics, so I won't go into them right now, but most of the serious problems with the EC have been fixed and it really is the better client now. And if you take the time to learn how to use it, and get used to it, I guarantee you that your game play will improve. And it doesn't cost any more than the Classic Client, so you can't get much more "budget" than that.

    First off a warning. Gaming isn't cheap, even if you have a tight budget, this post assumes that you do have some money to spend, even if it is limited. So my first tip is a very practical one that applies to just about anything you need to spend money on, set aside a small amount of money regularly, whether it is weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, to go toward your gaming budget.

    $50 a month is a good place to start, or if you prefer $15 a week, or $25 every two weeks. If you don't need to spend any money on computer hardware or software right now, you will have to eventually, so setting aside a small amount regularly is a good idea, as it is for anything.

    The next step is to do some research. Sites like Tiger Direct are a great place to look to get an idea of how expensive computer components are, and if you are looking for a basic gaming system, you can get some really good deals on bare bones systems. Just be aware that if you are considering ordering online, shipping costs can add up quickly, and when you do need to return items to be repaired or replaced, not "if" but "when" ;), you need to be aware that you will have to pay to have the item shipped back to them.

    It always pays to find an online computer store that is based in your country. Delivery will be faster, and shipping costs, and potentially customs costs, will be lower, and it will be cheaper to return items if you need to. And another word of warning, just because an online computer retailer has a website in your country's domain, and sells in your currency, doesn't mean they are actually based in your country. I live in Atlantic Canada and Tiger Direct has a Canadian website on which it sells product in Canadian dollars, but the store is still an American store, and all the items ship from the US, with all the extra delays and shipping costs that entails.

    If you aren't comfortable with putting your own system together, as you would have to do with a bare bones system, you will have to go the name brand route, but you should be aware that most inexpensive computer name brand systems aren't very suitable for gaming, so you should do your research and read some reviews before you consider a purchase. Google is your friend, and this applies to purchasing individual components as well.

    If you do go the route of buying a bare bones system, do your research and make sure the components are good quality, and most of all that an operating system is included. Buying your operating system separately can be expensive, unless you are going to go the Linux route, in which case you probably don't need the advice in this post. These days the operating system you want is a 64 bit version of Windows 7, assuming you are planning to install it on a new or newish computer. Windows XP is getting old, and the list of hardware and software features that are not supported on Windows XP is getting longer by the day, and any 64 bit version of Windows 7 runs faster, and is more stable than any version of Windows XP.

    When you have saved your hard earned dollars and you have some money to spend, you obviously want to spend your money wisely, and get the most bang for your buck. There are certain components which if you spend more money on them you will gain a lot in performance, and others for which it doesn't matter as much, and you can save money on them and still be able to keep up with those with high end systems.

    So which components should you really focus on to get good quality if you are building your own computer, or upgrading your current computer? There are a few things you really need to make sure you get quality components for, and prepare yourself to spend a bit more money on. Thankfully these days there are good quality names that sell these components dirt cheap, especially compared to a few years go.

    The first item you should never scrimp on his your power supply. You don't need to buy the most expensive one available, but do some research and make sure you don't buy the cheapest generic brand you can find. Look for a trusted name and make sure you get one that will provide enough power, and a bit extra, for the system you are installing it on. Usually the power supplies that come with bargain computer cases are horrible, and even if you use the case, one of the first things you should do is tear out the power supply that comes with it and install a something that comes from a reliable, brand name manufacturer.

    Before I go any further one component that you do need to pay close attention to is your motherboard (or "main board"). It is what ultimately all your components plug into, and you need to be aware of what hardware components you can use with it. Before you spend any money on any component, make sure that it is compatible with your motherboard. If you are buying a motherboard, you do want to make sure it is made by a reliable manufacturer, and you also need to make sure that if you are on a budget that budget components will work with it. You aren't going to be a happy camper if you have a $500 budget and you discover that you have purchased a motherboard that will only accept processors that cost $300 or more...

    The next thing you should make sure you don't skimp on is your memory. Low latency, reliable ram is dirt cheap these days, and there is absolutely no reason to buy generic "yellow label" ram. Manufacturers like OCZ have raised the bar in recent years by providing ram with smoking performance for prices that would have knocked your socks off a few years ago. Get low latency ram, get more than you think you will need, and do your research and learn how to configure your bios properly to take full advantage of your ram's capabilities. Having 4GB or more of low latency ram configured properly is one of the best ways to make a low budget computer run like a thoroughbred.

    So what other components are worth spending money on without breaking the bank or having to mortgage the cat? Well there is one that I haven't got yet that will improve your computer's performance more than just about anything else, and that is an SSD (solid state drive). The price on these babies has dropped like a stone, and they are so much faster than the old hard drives we are all familiar with, that they really are as close to a must buy as you can have for a good gaming rig.

    You don't need to buy an SSD that you can use as your only hard drive. You will get the best bang for your buck if you get a smaller name brand SSD, again, do your research, and a regular hard drive. Put your operating system on the SSD, and any programs that you use a lot that would really benefit from faster performance, such as UO. Use the regular hard drive for programs you don't use as often, and for storing files, backups, movies, pictures, music, etc. I would also recommend that you move your "Documents" folder to your regular hard drive. You don't want files that get changed often on an SSD, as SSD's do suffer performance degradation if they are constantly written to. And just a note of caution. Do NOT try to defrag an SSD. There should be maintenance utilities that come with your SSD. Use them.

    There is one other area that you can probably afford to splurge on, even on a budget, that will make a big difference in your game play. And that is your mouse, keyboard, and if you can possibly manage it, some kind of game board style game controller (such as the Logitech G13). Having a good quality keyboard and mouse will make a huge difference to your game play, and my G13 combined with the Enhanced Client has elevated my game probably more than any single piece of hardware. Again, the price on all these things continue to drop, so it is possible to get good quality components without breaking the bank.

    So having told you what you shouldn't scrimp on, what components can you scrimp on that will let you come in on or under budget? Well the first is your processor. You can save an awful lot of money by buying a less expensive processor, and even those on the very low end of the scale these days will still run just about anything you need to run very acceptably. I have one of the lowest end processors you can buy in my computer, and as I said, I don't have any problems keeping up with those who have processors that cost several times what mine cost.

    The next component you can afford to save money on goes against conventional gamers' wisdom. You can afford to save money on your video card. Don't buy the least expensive one you can find, and make sure you do your research, and avoid the integrated video that comes with most motherboards like the plague, but you you can buy a very inexpensive video card that will run even the Enhanced Client with more than acceptable frame rates. And blowing the wad on the most expensive SLI set up out there won't give you the performance boost you might expect.

    The last component you can afford to save money on goes along with your budget video card, and that is your monitor. Huge monitors are nice, but you can buy a very nice monitor, that looks great, and does everything you need it to do, for a very low price these days. In fact when it comes to monitors this is one component where buying the least expensive one in the store isn't necessarily a bad idea. Even the least expensive monitors these days are wide screen, reliable and look good. And a high price monitor generally requires a high price video card, and the performance gains are often imperceptible to the human eye. Don't buy them from a second hand store, but you can easily get away with buying the cheapest new one you can find, and any monitor that comes included with a budget "bare bones" system should also be more than adequate.
     
  2. Llewen

    Llewen Grand Inquisitor
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    Just thought I'd add a note about another area you can probably save money on. That is your internet service. Gaming doesn't actually take that much bandwidth. You don't need the most expensive internet service money can buy to keep pace with the rich kids with their $3000 computers and FIOS. What you need is broadband, and you need your service to be reliable.

    So once again, do your research and make sure you buy your service from a reliable provider. You don't need lots of bandwidth for gaming, but you do want it for downloading music and movies, or sharing files. So assuming you aren't doing any of those things, if gaming is your main focus, you can get away with buying the cheapest package your provider offers, even if you are going to be sharing that connection.
     
  3. RawHeadRex

    RawHeadRex Slightly Crazed
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    you pretty much covered it all. :thumbup1: did you upgrade recently?
     
  4. Llewen

    Llewen Grand Inquisitor
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    I'm always upgrading when I can afford to. I'm hoping to get my first SSD before too long along with maybe a video card and cpu upgrade. We'll see. I just recently purchased and installed Windows 7 64.

    I should add, you don't need lots of bandwidth for the gaming itself, but if you buy the cheapest package obviously things like downloading clients, or patching, will take longer. However, if you are trying to save money those extra wait times aren't all that big a deal and big patches that really would take longer aren't all that frequent, at least in UO.
     
  5. Wenchkin

    Wenchkin Babbling Loonie
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    Me and my fella have a tiny budget but we still game a fair bit.

    What we do is watch our favourite shops (in the UK I like Aria and Overclockers best) and if we're after something in the near future we watch the special deals. If we need a new system entirely we look at the motherboard/processor deals sometimes or the barebones systems if they have a good motherboard and PSU in.

    I don't know about outside the UK, but here the mainstream game stores do trade ins and sell 2nd hand games/components. Now I'd be careful on the components but the games are brilliant if you have little cash.

    Which brings me to the obvious way you can save money as a gamer - don't go for the latest games! Wait till they come down in price/appear 2nd hand. You'll learn if they're all hype or genuinely great by that time and any component upgrades you need will be cheaper if they've been out for a while. In fact you'll also be able to find out how your choice of components perform too if others have tried and discussed them.

    For a big upgrade or when you're not sure, ask more experienced users what will work. We use linux forums for that because that's our OS, but sites like Overclockers have active forums where you can ask about a spec you've devised or get recommended upgrades.

    This brings me onto the next way we save money. We use Linux. Linux has some great games of its own and many great Windows titles work just fine on it through Wine emulation. Sounds fancy but really you just click the program icon as usual and Linux knows to open it with Wine. I don't notice any negative performance under Wine compared to a native installation. Some games work better on Linux. And the other free software you have access too can save a small fortune if you want to do something other than gaming.

    If you're interested in Linux, Distrowatch.com lists the distributions of Linux and you can use the search tool to find distros for a particular purpose (including beginners). Many work from a USB stick so you can play with a few and not touch your main PC, till you find something that suits you. I recommend you try a few and look at their websites especially checking they have forums. Often if you have a problem, the forums are your first call, so it's worth looking for distros with community. I favour Linux Mint for ease of setup/use and community.

    WineHQ.com has a database of games and details what does/doesn't work on Linux and how to install. They grade games by how little tweaking you have to do to get them going, so it's easy for a newbie to get started by just looking at the top rated games. I recommend looking at that before you go in a games shop and having a list of titles you'd fancy trying. We've picked up great games 2nd hand for less then the price of a cup of coffee.

    Don't think all online gaming is about subscription based things or Evony type stuff either. You can try games like Dofus which is currently a bit restrictive for free customers but they seem to be planning a marketplace which would enable you to exchange gold for subscription time.

    SecondLife is better known for the worst areas than the best ones, but you can game within it. You can also earn money to cover your other gaming habits - I DJ there, I've paid my UO subscription from tips I got in Secondlife. There are roleplaying areas, even themed locations if you want to step back in time a bit. There are live musicians and other entertainers if you don't want to go out. Or even places to access education. You do need a decent PC to run SL successfully, but it doesn't have to be top notch.

    Anyways, a few more ideas ;)

    Wenchy
     
  6. In the USA, I use Newegg.com and Amazon.com. You might find prices a few dollars less somewhere else but you can't beat their customer service if something goes wrong. If you watch Newegg, they have special combo sales that beats all other prices, such as motherboard and CPU or Ram specials.

    Another good way to save money on a tight budget is to buy a fast dual-core processor rather than a quad-core; a fast dual-core is less than half the price and is going to run UO faster than almost any quad-core. Of course, Newegg has regular combo specials on these.

    Llewen already said this, but I recently lost a RAM chip that went bad. It was the cheapest RAM I could find when I built my computer. This is one of the most difficult pieces of hardware to troubleshoot when it does go bad. My advice - buy quality OCZ, Kingston or name brand RAM that is just a few dollars more.