Why I spent a fortune on a new graphics card

Work in progress – July 2020

When I assembled my new gaming rig almost exactly a year ago I decided to keep using my old GTX 980, pictured above, for the time being. It seemed like a good idea at the time, what with Nvidia and AMD both being relatively close to releasing their new lineups, presumably offering me the choice between either jumping onto the new hotness or getting one of the older cards on the cheap in the near future.

My plan was to buy the new card, whenever and whichever one it would have been, with a water cooling block pre-installed, and then swap the CPU block too and cool the whole system with water. Maybe sometime around (last year’s) Christmas or so.

I obviously should have had more foresight than that. I’m not sure when, exactly, the first news about silicon shortages in general and graphics card shortages in particular made the rounds last year, but I’m just going to assume that people who keep themselves informed about such things most likely saw this coming from a mile away. Well, I didn’t.

Oh well, I thought, I can’t really complain too much about performance issues even with my old card in there, so I’ll just wait until availability and prices have gone back to normal.

Yeah, no such luck of course.

Two weeks ago I was happily playing Grim Dawn when my PC suddenly shut itself down, accompanied by a sharp popping noise and a clearly visible flash from inside the case. The various LEDs were still alight, so I knew at least that the power supply hadn’t kicked the bucket, but other than that everything went dark and silent. Also, after a few more seconds I started to smell that something had actually burned up in there.

I immediately cut off the power and opened the case to see what’s what. I already kind of assumed that it was the graphics card, given that at almost 6 1/2 years it was by far the oldest component, and sure enough it was clearly where the smell emanated from. I couldn’t see anything wrong with it on the outside, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to plug it in again and risk damaging other parts too.

So…what to do?

As not having a functioning gaming PC even for a week is out of the question for me – I know, I have a (first world) problem – I knew I had no choice but to start looking for a new card right away, and also that I couldn’t afford to be too picky about its brand and exact features, let alone the price tag. With that in mind off to the interwebs I went.

I obviously wasn’t going to risk plugging a new card into my rig without knowing whether anything else might be damaged too though, so I simultaneously tried to figure out how to verify that beforehand. Fortunately a friend of Lakisa’s seems to always have old PC parts lying around. We asked him for a cheap PCIe card that he wouldn’t miss if it blew up, and luckily he had one. It was the tiniest graphics card I had seen in a very long time, but hopefully it would do the trick.

I installed it, crossed all my fingers, toes and other parts that shall not be mentioned here, and turned the PC on. It seemed to boot normally, Windows came up, and once the card had acquainted itself with my preset screen resolution everything looked just as usual. Phew. I launched Genshin Impact for good measure, which ran without problems too. Well, I say ran…at about 5 FPS it was more of a slideshow, but I still deemed that a successful test. Now all I needed was an actual gaming card.

Which wasn’t going to come cheap, that much I’d found out in the meantime. Since I’d never done proper research about whether I preferred the current generation of Nvidia’s or AMD’s cards up to that point, and was too impatient to do it then, I decided to just stick with Nvidia out of habit and best practice. Well, “best practice” apart from the last card blowing up, that is.

Hence I basically had the choice to either buy an RTX 3070, a slower card than I’d originally planned, to cut the cost at least somewhat (but still pay close to a thousand bucks), or to buy what I actually wanted, an RTX 3080, and pay whatever I needed to.

Since I’m fortunate enough not to be in any financial straits right now I chose the latter.

On the very next day this arrived at my doorstep, while almost 1500€ vanished from my bank account. The exorbitant price hurts for sure, but at least I should now be set for the next five years or so.

Since this card obviously does not have a pre-installed water cooling block the idea to switch was off the table, but I still wanted to get rid of the original AMD cooler because it got too noisy for my taste during heavy CPU load. I went for a be quiet! Shadow Rock 3, which isn’t too expensive, does a solid job and is, well, quiet.

Yeah, the cables are a mess…I just couldn’t be bothered after all that hassle

So now my “new” gaming system is finally complete, and thankfully the performance is as great as it should be. To test it I launched Cyberpunk 2077 (for the first time in months), set all graphics options to max – some of which I didn’t even have before – and still got just under 100 FPS during firefights and car chases. Not bad, I guess.

As for what killed the old card? To be honest, I have no idea. Maybe the fan(s) croaked after all those years and the chips overheated. I unwisely didn’t have an alarm tool for that kind of thing running – now I have. Whatever the reason, the event forced my hand, and now my rig is quite different than I’d originally planned. Oh well, maybe the next one will actually be water cooled. Or the one after that…

Blaugust 2021 post count: 2

New gaming rig ordered

I built my current PC in January 2015. It was the first time I could afford to spend more than my usual 1000-1200€ for the whole thing (Monitor and other peripherals excluded). I was really looking forward to having a high-end machine that, hopefully, would be able to run current games at max details for years to come without the need for further upgrades.

I ended up spending about 2000€, and my plan has worked out beautifully. To this day I haven’t had to replace or expand anything, and it still runs everything I play pretty well.

PC_old
It even looks like new if you don’t get too close

So why a new rig then? Well, there’s actually not one single main reason but more like lots of little ones that, added up, have become a pain in the butt lately.

The 500GB SSD I run Windows and the most important software and games on is constantly full, so every time I want to install a new game I have to uninstall something else first. Of course I could buy another one, but now that we have NVMe I feel money spent on a SATA SSD would be kind of wasted.

16GB RAM don’t cut it anymore either. I run multiple game clients at the same time quite often, which, together with browser, voice chat and all the other stuff that’s constantly running in the background fills up the memory rather quickly. Some games even manage to claim it all by themselves and still wanting more (looking at you, Cities: Skylines). For over four years I had the Windows swap file deactivated, but I eventually had to turn it back on, and I don’t like it.

I’m also still running Windows 7. What can I say, I’m a big fan of ‘Never change a running system’. I’ll have to switch to Win 10 sooner rather than later though, obviously, but I just can’t be bothered to do it on my old machine when I know that I don’t want to use it for much longer.

Then there’s the usual small stuff like fans not running smoothly anymore and thus making more noise than they once did, or the fact that, after more than five years, re-applying the CPU’s thermal paste is probably long overdue, but I just can’t be arsed.

Again, none of this is a biggie by itself, but all of it combined really makes me crave a new machine.

More importantly though, yes, my old PC runs every game I’m playing now just fine, but barring any more delays this will most likely change come November…

CP2077_1

Not only am I hopeful that Cyberpunk 2077 will be an awesome game, I absolutely want to be able to play it on the highest settings without the slightest hint of framedrops or stuttering. So yeah, need moar power!

After spending quite some time researching what’s currently out there these are the components I’ve settled on and ordered yesterday – keep in mind though that this is by no means a recommendation to buy that stuff as I’m far from being an expert, it’s just what (hopefully) works best for my needs and budget right now.

CPU

PC_Ryzen

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

A lot has been talked about AMD’s new generation of CPUs, and while they aren’t perfect the performance you get for the price is just phenomenal. I got this 12-core beast for just over 400€, and since the boxed cooler is said to be pretty efficient and also looks quite nice I won’t even have to spend another 30-60€ on a better one.

Mainboard

PC_mainboard

Gigabyte X570 Aorus Ultra

At almost 300€ this is by far the most expensive mainboard I’ve ever bought, and it’s mainly due to the fact that third gen Ryzen CPUs don’t run on boards with an older chipset unless you flash the BIOS to a newer version – which you can’t do without having a working CPU installed. As I said above, they aren’t quite perfect.

I do get more bang for my bucks than just native support for the CPU though, like PCIe 4.0, three M.2 slots and high-quality sound-, LAN- and WLAN-chips. Unfortunately all X570 boards – except for one with a 700€ price tag – cool their chipset with a small fan; I really hope that it isn’t too noisy.

Graphics card

None.

The thing is, I just didn’t know which one to buy.

Those I had on the short list are terribly expensive, and to make matters worse Nvidia is expected to release their new cards later this year, so buying one now doesn’t seem like a good idea. Hence I’m going to wait for a bit and continue to use my GeForce GTX 980 in the meantime. Hopefully current cards’ prices will drop some once the RTX 3080 is out, then I’ll decide what to do.

RAM

PC_RAM

32GB G.Skill DDR4 PC 3600 CL18 KIT (2x16GB) 32GTZR Tri/RGB

Why do so many PC-components have names you need a dictionary for? Anyway, as pretty much everything in my new rig will be able to glow in RGB I thought my RAM should too. 32GB is a given, and I decided to go for dual- instead of quad-channel this time to save two slots for a possible upgrade at a later point (my current machine has 4x4GB, which is why an upgrade wasn’t really feasible).

SSD

PC_SSD

Corsair Force MP600 1TB

When I have to pay for a PCIe 4.0 mainboard anyway I’ll buy a matching SSD of course. I’m pretty anxious to see it in action.

Power Supply

PC_power

700W be quiet! System Power 9 CM

Be quiet! power supplies are a bit hard to come by at the moment, many models are out of stock everywhere I looked. I’d have preferred one with full cable management, but as the mainboard cables will all be used anyway I feel this one will do the job just fine. Going by reviews it’s efficient, quiet and has more than enough headroom for whatever graphics card I’ll eventually decide on.

HDD

4000GB WD Blue WD40EZRZ 64MB 3.5″ SATA 6GB/s

It’s a data tomb, ’nuff said.

Case

PC_case

Sharkoon Night Shark RGB

Lakisa and I both have Sharkoon cases right now and we’re pretty happy with them. They’re inexpensive yet built rather well, have a good size and weight and look quite nice. Also, cases with an external 5 1/4″ drive bay are relatively rare these days, but this has one. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m going to re-use my ancient but great Plextor PX-880SA DVD drive once again. Although I don’t actually use CDs to play music anymore I still buy music CDs quite often, so I want to be able to get the stuff into iTunes easily.

And there you have it. All in all this runs for about 1300€, with an additional 120€ for Windows 10 Home USB. The parts ought to arrive by the end of next week (as the Mainboard and the SSD aren’t in stock now but should be by Monday or Tuesday). Can’t wait.