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Monday, March 05, 2007

To PC or Not To PC, Part Whatever

There sits next to my desk at home the CheapBox - a GQ 5090 upgraded with spare parts from previous computers. It's not a performance rig and it won't play the latest and greatest ... but it will play a vast array of the not-so-greatest. It handles Guild Wars like a champ, for instance.

Since we moved into the new condo - it hasn't been powered up. It's not even plugged into the wall at the moment. I even lack a VGA cable should it have a power cord attached. Its only function is holding my wireless router off the floor - and I'm not sure that is even necessary. Discovering that I have no spare VGA cord (although I naturally have like three miles of ethernet cable, several feet of stereo speakers, a redudant array of RCA adaptors and more phone jack splitters than I care to admit) - I just ended up searching for playable games on the Mac Mini (landing on Darwinia and Uplink).

So once again I ask myself - is it even worth the bother?

My options, as I see them:

Plug it and suck it up
Advantages: Only costs a VGA cable. Still plenty of games to be played - including SWAT 4 and any shooter from the UT2004 era.

Disadvantages: The clock is ticking. By this time next year, I'll probably have played through any game of interest the box can handle it and it probably won't like any new ones. It's not a Vista worthy rig, so there is that ceiling to be had as well. Is it worth the space?

Updgrade the CheapBox
Advantages: AGP cards are still readily available (though not as much as PCI-E cards). For $200 or so you can get a reasonably powerful budget card which probably raises the bar somewhat. A more powerful Pentium chip is also a possibility, although the motherboard won't take one of those fancy new Core chips.

Disadvantages: Total cost ranges from $200 - $500. The CPU will still be limited (and possibly require more heatsinking). PSU might need updating. Feels like a stopgap measure.

Replace the Cheapbox
Advantages: Power. Get a modern gaming rig and feel how Quake IV was meant to be played.

Disadvantages: Cost. As soon as anything hits over $1,000 - I just want to save up for a MacBook Pro instead.

Xbox 360
Advantages: Has VGA option, will travel. Compared to a new gaming rig - a 360 offers a lot of power for the same price as a high-end graphics card. Takes up less space than the CheapBox and matchs the Mac Mini better to boot.

Disadvantages: $400 still feels like a decent amount of scratch (especially if you add in accessories). Reliability a concern for that amount of money as well.

VGA Adaptor
Advantages: Cheap. A VGA box would (theoretically) make any old console playable on a computer monitor. Good excuse to drag out X-Com or Jet Set Radio again.

Disadvantages: Results may vary as a non-VGA machine tries to get sucked into a high resolution monitor. Basically good for yesterday's games.

For now, I've taken the last option as it would provide the widest range of games for the cheapest amount of money. I even have old PS1 games I wouldn't mind dusting off. Eventually the price point on PS2's will crash and it would be a good way of occasionallity recycling the existing library.

The real question is - when I am willing to sink around $500 or more into a new gaming option ... why wouldn't I get a 360 or PS3 over a new gaming rig? Sure - some genres like MMO's are still the purveyance of the PC world ... but that will probably change. I used to say that about FPS games as well. For less than the price of hardware I could get a performance machine, accessories and some games to boot. With the high-def generation afoot, the old argument that PC games will always look better is getting stripped away. With the Xbox - many PC games were essentially ports of their Xbox counterparts. A trend I'm sure will continue with the 360 (or, like Gears Of War - won't even be ported).

I've gotten more game time out of my PS2 than any PC I've ever had. Don't get me wrong - I love PC's. I love PC gaming. I'm just wondering if the price of admission hasn't outpaced the length of the stay.

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