Ask Hackaday: Are Gaming PCs Hard To Build?

No. No they’re not. But let’s talk about it anyway.

The endless trenches of digital worlds are filled with hardcore gamers from all walks of life. They can be found exploring post-apocalyptic Boston in Fallout 4, and commanding Sgt. Recker through a war-torn landscape in Battlefield 4 for hours on end. Their portal into these vast digital worlds come via some sort of computer system.

What type of computer system used is a point of contention between many gamers, and is typically divided between console versus PC. I will not dare to drag you into the captious arguments between the two, but instead we will focus on something that has something in common with our world — how does a previously non-technical console enthusiast cross over and build a gaming PC?

Many hackers have built computers from scratch and [Adam Fabio] just covered a bunch of custom laptop builds this morning. People with such skills can easily build a high-end gaming PC. But what about people without such skills? Can a console gamer with no technical background build a high-end PC gaming system?

Inspiration for this article came after reading something [Emanuel Maiberg] published over the summer on Motherboard. Why someone writing for a publication called Motherboard would have trouble building a gaming rig is beyond me. Certainly I think his starting assumptions are questionable. He asserts that you need an unreasonable amount of time and money to attempt one of these projects. But gaming rigs can be purchased fully-assembled — those that build them are doing it out of passion.

The question is this:  How far should engineers go to make a technical product easier to use for a non-technical person?  If I order an engine for a hot rod, it can be assumed that I know to hook up the gas line without specifically being told to do so. After all, a person who’s going to put an engine in a hot rod probably knows a thing or two about engines.

I think that building a desktop PC has never been easier. We’ve now had 30 years of evolution to help weed out the “slow learners” when it comes to manufacturers. The Internet is a lot easier to use for answers than it used to be, and we have faster means of connecting with communities of experts than ever before.

That said, the neighborhood computer store is beginning to go the way of the dodo. There is an entire generation of “mobile-first” users who will give you a blank stare if you start talking about “desktop computing”. And familiarity with the fact that computer customization is even possible is beginning to fade; if all you’ve ever used are tablets and smartphones “upgrade” and “customization” are software terms, not hardware possibilities.

So we turn it over to you. Are gaming PCs hard to build? Have engineering practices and design choices made it easier than it used to be to get into it? What do you think is happening with the average skill level for working with computers now compared to when you had to open the case to add a modem to your machine? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Lego Gaming Computer Case

Lego isn’t the first material that springs to mind when you think about building a new gaming computer case, but it does make sense when you think about it. It is easy to work with, can be easily reconfigured, and it’s pretty cheap. That’s the idea behind this very cool (no pun intended) gaming computer case build by [Mike Schropp]. Built around a Skylake i7 CPU and an NVidia 980 Ti graphics card, his build has an unusual X-shaped design that allows for plenty of airflow. The sides of the X hold the CPU cooler, the power supply, the hard drives and the graphics card cooler, so each of them has its own separate flow of cool air from the outside. That avoids the common problem of hot air from one component being passed over another, so it doesn’t get cooled properly. Critically for a gaming system, this design keeps all of the components much cooler than a more traditional case, which makes for more overclocking potential.

At the moment, [Mike] says he is struggling to keep up with the demand for people who want to buy custom versions of his build, but he is planning to release the details soon. “Initially that will probably be in the form of a DIY kit, where you can buy the plans with all the Lego bricks needed for the build, in a kit form” he told us. “Then you can add your own computer components to complete your build. At some point I’ll probably also just offer the plans themselves and allow the end-user to acquire the Lego bricks needed.”

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Build An Amazon EC2 Gaming Rig

PC gaming is better than console gaming. Now that we’ve said something controversial enough to meet the comment quota for this post, let’s dig into [Larry]’s Amazon EC2 gaming rig.

A while ago, [Larry] bought a MacBook Air. It’s a great machine for what it is, but it’s not exactly the laptop you want for playing modern AAA games on the go. If you have enough bandwidth and a low enough ping, you can replicated just about everything as an EC2 instance.

[Larry] is using a Windows Server 2012 AMI with a single NVIDIA GRID K520 GPU in his instance. After getting all the security, firewall, and other basic stuff configured, it’s just a matter of installing a specific driver for an NVIDIA Titan. With Steam installed and in-home streaming properly configured it’s time to game.

The performance [Larry] is getting out of this setup is pretty impressive. It’s 60fps, but because he’s streaming all his games to a MacBook Air, he’ll never get 1080p.

If you’re wondering how much this costs, it’s actually not too bad. The first version of [Larry]’s cloud-based gaming system was about $0.54 per hour. For the price of a $1000 battle station, that’s about 1900 hours of gaming, and for the price of a $400 potato, that’s 740 hours of gaming.