(far) Cry ‘havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war

(far) Cry ‘havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war

A friend let me borrow his copy of Far Cry after telling me what an amazing game it was. Well, I loaded it up on my little HTPC and attempted to play it. All I can say is “Ack!” My machine is certainly not up to snuff to play this game.  The game is pretty gorgeous, but I was only able to *play* it at a level that made it look like this:

trust me, it looks good bigger - trust me, it looks good bigger - trust me, it looks good bigger - trust me, it looks good bigger

Of course, I said *play* but what I really meant was “watch a slide show of images run on the lowest resolution the game offered”.  Later i saw it an on my friend computer and it blew me away.  Absolutely breathtaking. 

Of course, I should have expected this. I built that machine to be a nice quiet box that could play dvds, tv, videos and music, as well as serve some basic computing tasks and to do that very cheaply. It’s just one of those Shuttle Mini-PCs with a piddly celeron running an old ATI all-in-wonder. However, 2 years ago it only cost me $500, and it’s been a little trooper all that time, so I’m pretty happy with the investment.

Since then my gaming needs were happily met by an N64 (Smash Brothers!!), a Dreamcast (Soul Caliber!!!), a GameCube (SuperMonkeyBall!!!!) and an XBox (too many to count!!!!!). While the graphics have been completely left in the dust by their PC cousins, I’ve found that the multi-player games I love to play are just more fun on these consoles. Maybe it’s the incredibly quick load time, or the ability to easily just start playing with 4 people, or that I never need to worry about maintaining the system. However, it’s getting to the point that I feel that need to go back to PC gaming for that great single player experience. There are some pretty great looking games out now and some more coming out soon *cough*half life 2*cough* and for those it’ll just be so much better on a PC (graphics and having a keyboard).

So I now need to think about how I’m going to accomplish that task. I’d like a PC that can replace the current one I have now. I’d prefer for it to be a Shuttle given that it’s such a good little machine and works great as an HTPC but I’m willing to go with anything that is reasonably small (this goes in a living room) and capable. What’s crazy is that with all that’s built into these machines all you really need to add is a good video card to make them into a great machine. I am somewhat concerned about heat though. If I’m maxing out the CPU on this playing a game I don’t want the system dying on me. The shuttles are awfully cramped and that could be an issue.

I was thinking about either a high-end P4 or Athlon-64 (any advice as to which would be best here?) and a high end NVidia or Ati (probably the former since I’ve had better luck with them). However, if this is going to be a HTPC card then it’s going to need to support things like TV in. Note: the max resolution this needs to drive is 1280x720, so having a card that screams at that res is all I need. The rest of the components will probably be pretty standard stuff. 512MB-1GB of good RAM, probably an ~100 GB fast HD, and a stock DVD drive to round it off. I spent $500 before on the current system and I’d be happy spending the same amount again, but I’d certainly be fine going up to twice that.  I was going to go the DIY route since that served me fine before, but if anyone knows of great prebuilt machines I'd also be willing to go down that route.

I’m also a sucker for good looks, and I have to say that these machines have them. But I’m not going to make the decision based on that. If there are other machines out there that simply rock in these areas then I’ll gladly go with them.


Anyone got any experience with HTPC-and-gaming machines and what they thought was a really good setup at a really good price?

Comments (15)
  1. TheLaw says:

    Lent! Lent you a game, dont you realize the license agreement is non-transferable ? Didnt you read all that gumpf about no hiring or lending ?

    No ? lend us a copy of office then would ya ! 😉

  2. Martin says:

    I got myself a shuttle SN45 with a Athlon Mobile 2500 and a X800Pro.

    Pretty cheap and the mobile processor doesn’t generate much heat.

    Doom 3 wasn’t impressive at all, but I heard that from all my m8s with ATI cards.

    Hopefully it will be perfect for HL2’s ATI tuned engine 🙂

  3. THeLaw: I didn’t see anywhere in the agreement that stated that the license was non-transferable. It certainly seems allowed.

  4. ThunderBayBoy says:

    You might want to check out htpcnews.com and the AVS HTPC forum (http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=26). Lots of great advice on both (lots of gamers on htpc news).

  5. Addy Santo says:

    from one gamer to another:

    1. Far Cry is soooo 3 months ago 🙂 Doom3 is the current king of the hill as far as purty graphics go. Undescribable, you need to see it to understand.

    2. net play on the Xbox? Personally I go the exact opposite of what you mentioned: XBox for the single player experience (Halo, MechWarrior, POP, Riddick, Tom Clancy’s games) but always return to the PC for the online experience of UT, CS, Q3, etc. UT2004 is hands-down the best multiplayer experience out there today and one of the best I have ever played since DOOM. Very deep gameplay with insanely fun vehicles (think Halo on steroids) and a great community.

    3. for hardware- anything you get will be mid-range in 6 months and obsolete in 18, so invest in the basics (FAST HD+controller, FAST board) and leave room for upgrades, especially the vid card and extra memory.

  6. Addy: 3 month old games are cheap, and still fun 🙂

    Doom3 will probably scare the crap out of me. I had enough trouble with Metroid.

    I don’t like net play that much. I prefer playing with people who are around me. I just don’t get a kick out of playing against people i don’t know. I prefer fun games that you can all gather around and have fun with. (and drink to 😉 )

    Any suggestions on just what that hardware should be?

  7. matthew says:

    be sure not to buy a PC off the shelf. It’s much more fun to build it yourself, plus much cheaper.

    The ultimate gaming PC is obviously Athlon 64. Pentium 4 doesn’t enter into it for games.

    The Athlon 64 3000+ chip offers the best value. Get the cheapest socket 754 motherboard you can find. Personally I would pair it with a ATI Radeon 9600 PRO because they are cheap and will play *all* games (including doom 3 / far cry) at normal resolutions. Obviously if you are obsessed with playing at 1600×1200 with 8xAA then you should buy a more expensive card (9800 pro is a little more expensive and is good value).

    It’s generally bad economics to buy more expensive cards unless you’ve got a lot of cash to spare, because the topline ones basically drop in price by about half every six months.

    You can play all games at 1280×720 on a 9600 pro or maybe 9800pro. You can probably build it for $650.

    Here’s a good guide

    http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=2122 Remove speakers, monitor, get a cheaper motherboard and it should come in well under $1000.

    Just checking newegg they have the 9800 pro for $193 http://www.newegg.com/app/ViewProductDesc.asp?description=14-102-268&depa=0

    it’s basically 60% faster than the 9600 pro (which is $111). The 9800 pro will last you a long time.

    The Athlon XP is 15% slower than the 64 on games, so it’s not a good buy. Pentium 4 is just a waste of money for gaming. Hyperthreading is useful for normal windows use, but it’s expensive.

  8. Maybe you should settle for a copy of Doom 3 then 😉

  9. I’m playing Far Cry on my Shuttle SN45G, with an Athlon XP3200 and a Radeon 9800 Pro, and it runs just fine — I bought the box for playing Half-Life 2, but then they delayed it.

    I’m hoping it’ll be OK for Doom 3, but I’ve not exactly rushed out to buy a copy.

  10. I have a Shuttle XPC system that I put together and found that more important than the processor (which is important) is the video card. I put in a ATI Radeon 9800 PRO and have no problem with most games.

    If you get such a card, make sure to upgrade the power supply (if you already haven’t). For these new round of games, I think you can just put together a Shuttle very quickly with a higher end CPU and video card and be fine. If your motherboard supports it, just keep your case and update those components.

  11. You might want to check out the GeForce 6800 GT. It’s a cheap ($200 – $300), high-end card. Unlike ATi, who strips out a lot of features, the GT just has lower clock speeds by default (the nVidia control panel lets you turn it right back up). It compares with the current $500 ATi card, and smokes the $300 ATi cards.

  12. Joku says:

    Just remember to check that the card your after also fits the mini-pc chassis you have in mind if its not coming pre-installed..

    PS. I know this is old, but check out http://www.desertcombat.com/?page=screenshots Runs well on a 2 year old card and the multiplayer works so well that I can play in american servers from eastern europe (not to mention how fun it still is today).

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