Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My flying mount cost $800, and isn’t even epic

Last weekend I finally hit 70 on my rogue. It’s hardly an accomplishment, but it’s done. Now I can focus on other things, like doing the exact same quests one more time on my warrior. I’ll still be taking all the plate quest rewards, just like I did on my rogue, but will only be vendoring half of them this time. The second I hit 70, I stopped the quest I was on, warmed up the ol’ hearthstone to Shit-Wrath, and was just about to portal to the UC to train when my guildie was like “gratz, what color mount did you get?”

Oh, yeah… I need one of those things, too. Now, don’t get me wrong. At this point I had about 1800 gold on my rogue. I certainly could have had more, but I’m an auction house whore and had bought a few blues on the slow climb to 70. Also, when I’m there, I don’t dick around with that ‘bid’ button. It might as well not even exist.

Anyway, I bought my mount (“Tawny”, for the curious), and proceeded to make my way to Shattrath to catch that port I had mentioned earlier. Shattrath is one of the major hubs in Outland, but god forbid they could have made something simple. Instead, Blizzard creates holes in every wall, and puts groups of NPCs in huge clumps that serve no purpose other than to create lag. You can’t buy anything from these NPCs; they don’t even offer stupid “gossip” windows. They serve two explicit purposes: to eat up frame rates, and look stupid.

The taxi flight lands, and I proceed to equip my new mount for a view of Shattrath from the sky. What I end up with is a PowerPoint slideshow of the various spires surrounding the city. My box is far from ‘bad’. I know there are probably people out there still clinging to a GeForce3, and running WoW on an overclocked Celeron or something. I’m not in the same boat. To cut all the crap, let me just give you a rundown of my specs:

Athlon 64 3800+ @ 2.76Ghz
MSI GeForce 7800GT ==> MSI GeForce 8800GTX
Asus M2N-SLI motherboard
2 Gigs of Corsair DDR2 (512x4)
Onboard Sound, but only because I finally just threw
my Audigy 4 away. Like, in the garbage can.

Flying low around Shattrath’s ‘Inner Ring’ (where you catch the taxi service), I get around 22 FPS. Yes, I was exaggerating a little bit when I said ‘slideshow’, but not much. Making sweeping turns with the camera can chug me down to 8-12, while if I limit my camera to looking straight down at the ground, it can reach 60 or so. Big deal.

I want silky panoramas of WoW from the sky, so I do what any chump with too much money in the bank does. I jump on the internet and begin to read the whoring hardware sites that proclaim that ownership of the GeForce 8800GTX is pretty much tantamount to gulping liquid ecstasy naked in a warm (vibrating) kiddy pool full of KY, while being pleasured by the entire cast of Morning Musume. I drove to the local hardware shop, and plunked down 97,000 yen (roughly $800) for this card and a new monstrous power supply.

Buying hardware is always a bad idea. At first, I try and talk myself out of it. I think of other things I could buy with the money instead. A Playstation 3. A new videocamera. A fucking dresser that’s better than the $20 plastic and particleboard piece of shit I’m using now that can’t even hold all of my socks. In the end, though, I know I’m going to buy it; I’ve already looked at the websites and seen the supposed benchmarks. Plus, if I don’t, I’ll eventually blow thru 800 dollars on just beer and crap, and won’t have anything to show for it at the end.

I love how both MSI boards use the same image; the new one is just zoomed in a bit more. In 5 or 6 versions, the camera should be inside her left nostril. Maybe it will have passed out the back of her head by then?
The new toys come home, and I load up WoW to try and capture the essence of how pathetic my pitiful experience was just one more time. Shortly thereafter, the box is powered down, the cord is unplugged, and the old PSU is ripped from its spot. Side by side comparisons of the new and old cards do it no justice. Putting one of these things in your case feels like you’re parking a new Hummer in the little spot behind your apartment that your Tercel used to barely fit in. It’s big. It’s heavy. If you attacked someone with it, you’d win. It requires the same amount of power as four hard drives to ‘make it go’.

All this, and yet… upon updating the drivers and relaunching WoW to find myself hovering in Shattrath, I realized that I didn’t really gain… anything. Flying the same loop around the inner ring netted me the same paltry 20-something frames per second. This was a direct relaunch… I didn’t change any settings, didn’t go to another town; just updated drivers, relaunched wow, and let out a sigh of discontent.

At this point it was getting near midnight, and as much as I wanted to tweak and play, it was just time to go to bed. I had second grade classes to teach in the morning, and doing it with a lack of sleep just wasn’t an option.

Next day. A little more time to tinker. I checked the computer properties in Vista, and saw that my CPU had the lowest score in the group at 4.3. Yes. I know. Stop it. Vista sucks. The Vista drivers are beta, and only started supporting the 8800 series last week (go Nvidia). The next logical step would be to try it on XP, which I happily did. A CLEAN install of XP. Update, update, update. Patch, patch, load drivers, load WoW, update, patch, update. launch…. Same. I gained about 3 or 4 frames, but whether it was XP or Shattrath just being more empty is up in the air.

I know WoW isn’t the best platform for running benchmarks, or gauging performance, but it’s about the only game I play on the PC. In the end, I guess I just didn’t realize that WoW was that dependent on the CPU. I try and make myself feel better by saying it will run the LotRO beta better (i honestly havn't even tried it yet), or that i'll be better prepared for when Warhammer Online drops. Things like Counterstrike (which I hate and don’t play anymore) run like butter, but they kind of already did before on my 7800, so big whoop. I might load up Battlefield 2 with max settings, or download this new ‘Supreme Commander’ demo everyone is skidding their pants about, just to see how those work with it. The bottom line, however, looks like I’ll be spending another 300 bucks or so pretty soon to lift my CPU up to a respectable height to take advantage of this new card. Not doing so is a waste of the card, and things like the Playstation or Wii start to make much more sense. A sealed box doesn’t require all this hassle along with it, and devs can write their games KNOWING exactly what hardware you have in your box… there’s no fussing over middle ground to satisfy Joe over here with his Ancient GeForce 2 that still expects to be able to Main Tank BWL.

Anyway… I’ve had about two days with it, but I was hoping to be able to write this week's article with a ‘ZOMGmyNUcardRULZ’ slant to it, but the exact opposite happened. I was taking a bunch of photos of the install process etc, but ended up just getting frustrated and stopped documenting the mess about halfway through it.

The icing on the cake had to have been the Nvidia DirectX10 Tech Demos they give you on the website to run under Vista. It’s like a pathetic joke, because the Vista drivers are beta, so the whole thing has artifacts all over it and just looks like shit. Hooray! Look at what my new card is supposed to be able to do, but can’t, because the jackasses at Nvidia were apparently caught off guard by having only 5 years of beta testing Longhorn.

Ugh. I’ll follow up next week with a progress report… by then I may have a new chip, and can focus on that, but for now I’m just grumpy.

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