This is not really a guide, and I’m not really asking questions.
This is more of a journal of my experiences: past, present, and future about what can be done with a little knowledge, a little patience, and a lot of luck.
First and foremost, I would not consider myself to be exceptionally computer savvy by any means. I know how to build a computer and, above all else, I know how to use resources such as the internet to learn things that much wiser men (or women) figured out for me. What I am about to tell you is my journey to build a cheap, yet powerful gaming computer.
My goal starting out was to be able to build a system that would enable me to play some of the latest games. Being as I also enjoy using video recording programs such as the commonly known Fraps, I wanted to be able to run this or a similar program at the same time while maintaining high FPS (Frames Per Second) in most games that I play.
Everyday, and occasionally multiple times a day, I searched my local computer classifieds in hopes of finding good deals on high performance systems and parts. Luckily I live about 30 minutes from a high tech metropolitan area (Austin, TX), so high performance computer parts are not uncommon at all.
The biggest thing I ran into was people asking way too much for their crappy used computer equipment. The seemingly majority of offers I saw, I could have instead purchased brand new, comparable in performance parts, and have gotten them mailed right to my door without any hassle for the same price or cheaper! I found this to be a strange phenomenon, but being that computer technology increases at such a rapid pace, I found this understandable. I attributed this phenomenon to the fact that most people price things based on how much they paid for them. So when someone pays $800 for a something, it would seem reasonable for them to think they would be able to get 500 for it a couple years later.
I didn’t feel this was completely a bad thing, as it indicated to me the general misunderstanding of what computer parts are really worth, and how the industry works. I looked at this as an opportunity, an opportunity that entailed waiting for someone who had quality stuff, and wasn't looking to get a lot for it.
This may sound unethical, and I will proactively defend myself. I do not encourage people to sell things for the prices they ask. I do not deceive them or use my knowledge to make their goods seem undervalued in anyway shape or form. I simply talk to people, discuss my options, and work out a deal they are happy with and agree to. I even point out the good aspects of items they have for sell. In the end, I am not forcing them to sell their stuff for any particular price, but I know a good deal when I see one, and I will most certainly purchase it before someone else does when I am given the opportunity.
I finally found a system that seemed too good to be true:
Video card has issues - stuck in 800x600 resolution.
Knowing that the E8400 is a solid processor, and that this system comes with a lot of accessories, I figured this could be a good system to pick up even if I have to put some extra money into it. So I called the seller to inquire more about it. Apparently the video card was not just an 8800 GTS, but the 512 MB edition. Which many of you may not know, but the 512 is one of the last and most powerful 8,000 series cards to be produced and is relatively comparable in performance to a 9800 GT. At this point I knew it was a risk, but if I could talk this guy down on the price a bit it may be reasonable even if I have to put some extra money into it.
So, I went to his place, and gave the system a very thorough look over.
P5N-E SLI mobo
The KB, Mouse, Monitor, even speakers were of good brand, quality, and well maintained
Video card was done for
Monitor doesn’t always turn on when you first plug it in, but he assured me that this has been going on for a long time now and always works once it is on.
HD only 80 gigs
Being optimistic about it, I told him I was interested in it, but that I couldn’t pay the $260 he was looking for. I informed him that the graphics cards had almost certainly overheated causing permanent damage, and would need to be replaced at a considerable cost and that I was a little unsure of the monitor should it go out on me at a later date. At this point, and before I made an offer, he said that he would be willing to take $180 for it. I was a bit surprised as I was willing to pay $200, maybe even $220 for it. I figured I would pay this much, because I could purchase a brand new, 9800 GTX+ with a good warranty for $90, and hopefully have a decent system for under $300. So when he offered it for $180, I knew that I couldn’t turn this down, as I thought this was more than reasonable. I even thought to myself that I could maybe bargain a lower price, but I knew I wouldn’t feel right paying less than this for the system. I paid him, we shook hands, boxed it up, and I was on my way home.
Getting her going:
On my way home, I thought to myself that the first thing I needed to do was to cleanout my system of the dust that most end users enjoy stockpiling in their personal computer cases. Being as I expend the majority of my patience reserves on my larger purchases, there was none left to wait to get this from a cheaper venue. So, I detour to my local overpriced Best Buy, and pick up a canister of compressed air. Wow, $10! I knew I was going to be paying more than typical to get this, but I needed it.
I finally make it home, and I set her up. Everything is working fine, the monitor powers (on as indicated by the previous owner) after a minute of it being plugged in. So I start diagnosing what is going on with the video card, trying everything I can to get it working. I finally am at my last attempt: flashing bios. This is something I didn’t want to do, but being as it was the last possible thing to attempt, it had to be done. So I flash bios, following the instructions of the boards manufacturer and what to you know – it fails!
So there I am, $190 dollars down with a mobo that has a corrupted bios flash (will not post) and am still believing the video card is fried. Just where I wanted to be! So being my optimistic self, I immediately call up the manufacturer of my mobo (Asus). How very friendly their tech support is (not to mention I generally have a way of getting what I want, even from people who don’t necessarily owe it to me): they offer to RMA the board with little hassle.
I’m quite happy at this point, as I know that I’ll be getting a brand new board (that will hopefully last longer than the previous one did – more than 2 hours). I go through the RMA process and get the new board, which gives me an excuse to rebuild the system just to make sure everything is done right and will work properly. I purchase some Arctic Silver 5 from my local radio shack (the only place that our local computer repair store knew of that sold thermal grease in town, and just my luck that they sell one of the best brands) - $10.
I get everything put back together, and now it’s time to get this graphics card situation taken care of. So, I call up MSI (the manufacturer of my card), and talk to them about what’s going on, and what they can do for me. I can’t find a serial number on my card, and apparently they really need this in order to ultimately identify if they will replace it for free or for $45. It does however have a product code, so I bring up a list of their product codes for all their VGA cards. Strangely, mine isn’t on their list anywhere, for any model of their VGA cards. I double check, even triple check and it just isn’t there. I really can’t figure it out, and the only thing I can think of is that maybe it was from another country and they are exclusively using an American product database.
So, I call MSI back again, and talk to them some more. They ask me to take some digital photos of it, which I do. Today I talked to them again; complimented them on keeping up with me and explained to them how nice they were for helping me out with the issues my card is having. A minute or two later, the guy on the phone tells me he is going to RMA it, and emailed me instructions to send my card in. He said that they would look at it to see if they can repair it, and if unable to repair, they will be sending me a refurbished unit. There was no mention of any cost to me, other than the postage fees of sending my card to them, so I hope this works out.
In the Future:
I will be mailing off my graphics card in the next 24 hours. I am fairly confident that this will be a straightforward process of me sitting on my butt for the next couple weeks waiting for them to return a working card. At this point I will update this journal.
Being as video recording consumes a lot of hard drive space, and this system is only equipped with an 80 gb HD: I am keeping my eyes open for a good deal on a high capacity HD (in the 1 TB range). However, I am very cautious when it comes to second hand hard drives, as a failure here could potentially cost me all the data on the drive in addition to replacement costs. Furthermore, should an outstanding deal arise on a high performance PCI-E graphics card in the next week or so, I will likely purchase it being as a fresh from the factory 8800 GTS 512 could easily be sold for a reasonable amount when it does arrive.