Simming at Sea: A Tale of Heartbreak and Resurrection Page 4

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Early January, 2004

The last component to arrive was the Corsair DDR RAM, purchased from an online vendor. It arrived via UPS a day later than expected due to bad weather in the region. Installation, as typical for RAM, was a snap. The only trick to DDR RAM is ensuring that the sticks are in matching DIMM slots. ASUS made that easy for me, by color-coding the DIMM slots according to their matching DDR pairings. The Hardware install was now complete. I still didn’t have my Creative Audigy 2 ZS sound card, but I figured that I could just use the on-motherboard sound option until I could afford a new Audigy 2. For now I would live without premium sound.

 

The next day I took the PC to a local mom-and-pop PC repair store to have them do a quality check of my handiwork. While I was confident that I had followed the mobo and CPU instructions to the letter, I didn’t want to gamble my novice PC assembly skills against the cost of all those components. At no charge, the folks at my local PC repair store did a full check of all my handiwork as I watched over their shoulders. All was well, except that the technician at the store reversed my CPU power LED wire connector, telling me that I had it in backwards. No biggie if it was, except the light wouldn’t work. The technician and I then fired up the PC, and — IT WORKED! I felt like Dr. Frankenstein — my creation was ALIVE! I was a very happy camper and most pleased that I had passed my “PC assembly” test! We set the BIOS for my system components, and I took the PC home. The QA check was done at no charge, and I was in and out of the repair shop in 15 minutes. Sweet!

I took the computer home and the next night installed WinXP Pro and Service Pack 1 with a phone assist from guod. I formatted the hard drive to NTFS format. The only part that was tricky is making sure you select the correct options.

During the build I unplugged my slave HD, because as a newbie I was paranoid about accidentally reformatting it during the Windows XP install process (it had all my backup files on it). After finishing the OS install, I plugged it back in and all worked fine, although it’s a FAT 32 drive rather than NTFS. After I install a CD-RW or DVD-RW in my rig, I’ll burn a CD/DVD of all my backed up files and reformat this drive as well. But that’s for another day.

With the WinXP install complete, I turned to the Asus install CD to see what I might need to install. I had little idea what all the different applications were on their CD, but I did know that my PC was running fine without adding a single item from the Asus CD, so I figured that, for what I would use it for, I wouldn’t need very much off the CD. Of course, it might have helped to actually read about the contents of the install CD in their very comprehensive user guide, rather than just guess. Maybe I was feeling a bit too cocky after the successful hardware build and OS install, but whatever the reason I was deviating from my planned “care and caution” approach to PC assembly.

At first all I installed were the AC 97 codec for onboard sound (since I didn’t have the Audigy 2 in hand yet) and USB 2.0 software. Little did I realize that I needed the Asus/Intel 875 Chipset INF files, since the computer seemed to be running quite happily without them. Although the PC worked, it wasn’t working at full capacity, as I found out later. I finished up with an install of the NVIDIA WHQL 53.03 drivers from their site. I now had a resurrected home-built computer!

Courtesy of another phone conversation with guod, I got a walkthrough on optimizing XP for gaming. When finished, I proceeded to install my first game on the PC — Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. The game installed without a hitch and I updated to the 1.2.0.1 patch version, as well as installing my player, car set and replay file folders from my wife’s PC (a Dell Dimension 8300, 875P chipset, P4 3GHz CPU with 1 GB of DDR RAM and a Radeon 9800. It also rocks, but is optimized for my wife’s home office needs as opposed to computer gaming). Having installed NR 2003 on her similar-spec’d rig, I had a way to make direct comparisons in gameplay quality to judge just how much my new rig would be able to rock my racing and flight simulation world.

The first thing I noticed when I started up some replays in NR 2003 was that my home-built’s frame rate was horrible! How could that be? What did I do wrong? First, I went to the Asus manual and read up on the install CD like I should have done in the first place. I found that I should have installed the chipset INF files in order to optimize XP to my mobo. I did this and it smoothed out my gaming to a degree. Next, I also realized I had neglected to update my Direct X from 8.1 to 9.0 as is required for NR 2003, so I went to one of my recent issues of PC Gamer and pulled out the accompanying CD, installing DX9.0b from the “Extras” section. This also improved NR2003’s frame rate. Not satisfied, I reinstalled the NVIDIA 53.03 drivers, and then spent hours fiddling with the display settings for the card. In the end, I got the game to run consistently in the 35-50 fps range and in so doing I discovered the real FPS bottleneck in my new home-built PC wasn’t something I had failed to install – it was the GeForce 4 Ti4400. By keeping the (relatively) older GeForce 4 card I had built in a weak point in my computer’s ability to display graphics. On the wife’s Dell, I ran NR 2003 at 1024×768@32 bit resolution, with 4x FSAA and 2x Anisotropic filtering, achieving 35-70 FPS while racing. In order to get 35-50 FPS out of my GeForce 4 Ti4400 during races, I am running NR 2003 at 1024×768@32 bit resolution, with 2x FSAA and Anisotropic filtering disabled. Using the weaker, DX8 4x AGP graphics card has also forced me to turn off a couple of the more fancy shadow features in the game in order to make those frame rates a reality. But the game still looks very good, and I now know what I’ll be buying this Summer — a new video card. (for a good comparison of the relative capabilities of the GeForce 4 and Radeon 9800 cards, see the HardOCP Radeon 9800XT comparison here).

A day at the races -- far at sea.

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