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For those of you who were born during or after 1998, you most likely haven’t spent a great deal of time thinking about upgrading your desktop or laptop computer. Sure, we all want a brand-new device every so often – technology moves on, and anybody who uses their machine for professional tasks such as creative work or playing the latest Triple A video games have little choice but to chase the latest specifications if they are to enjoy their favourite pastimes at their best.
Not so long ago, however, upgrading your computer meant something very different indeed. When I bought my first IBM PC Compatible (yes, that’s how we referred to these machines for more than a decade!) it shipped with 8MB of RAM, a 420MB hard disk, and a 486DX4-90 CPU. which I only realized was an AMD copycat design and not a genuine Intel part more than two decades later – Intel does not manufacture a 90Mhz variant of the DX4!
The 2400 baud modem was a slightly cheeky inclusion considering that it was already years out of date longer before this Presario SKU was being sold. I’d have to guess that Compaq’s budget was already stretched to the maximum as a result of their inclusion of a cutting-edge VESA local bus graphics subsystem.
Unboxing My First PCThe PC had struggled to establish itself as a gaming machine for more than 15 years prior to the 1990s, but it only took one game to kick off a full-on revolution. I talk, of course, about iD Software’s Doom, which I had heard being discussed endlessly on the playground before I received my own IBM PC, so it went without saying that I had to pick up a copy of the game there and then whilst purchasing the computer.
After more than an hour struggling to work out the intricacies of HIMEM.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, I finally found myself at the Doom title screen. I had never been so excited in my entire life … well, perhaps except for discovering some of the best slots sites online, but that’s another passion of mine that’s best left for another time.
The next day, I couldn’t help but begin feeling a little disappointed, however – the game just wasn’t running anywhere near as fast as I had hoped or expected. Feeling certain my new computer must be more than up to the task, I got to work testing every idea I could think of to optimize my new machine – I played with the graphics settings, lowered the screen size, changed resolutions, all to no avail.
A friend of mine got my hopes up by talking about “Turbo” buttons, but my Compaq did not have any such button. I later discovered that the “Turbo” button on his PC merely switched it from 33Mhz to 66Mhz – not something that was ever going to help me!
Anne & Dave Save the DayOne of my mum/s friends had a husband who had also just upgraded to the PC from the Amiga, and he was kind enough to bring some hardware, tools, and other diagnostic apparatus round with him to see if he could spot anything amiss – he insisted the game worked fine on his own DX4-100; could that 10Mhz be making all the difference?
In short, no; the cheap SIMM memory in my machine was inferior to that used in his, and I had also failed to set to motherboard jumpers correctly to take advantage of all the features of my top-of-the-range 486 powerhouse. Remember, these were the days before the Pentium had been released – we knew that iD software had insisted that Doom required a Pentium to be enjoyed at its best, but I had spent enough time watching people playing it on a 486 during my months of anguish waiting for my own machine that I knew the answer had to be out there somewhere.
A dew days later, Dave had established that the motherboard jumpers were not set up correctly for the installed memory configuration, faster SIMMs were installed, and the SMARTDRV disk caching application was added to the boot disk I had created to try and clear as much system memory as possible to run Doom. It turned out my machine had been running at 33% speed My single player experience was finally everything I had hoped for, but my shockingly poor 2,400 baud modem still ensured that I was easy pickings during Deathmatch play.
Fast Forward: The 2000-2010 EraIntel made several missteps during these years with their poorly designed Net Burst and Pentium 4 architecture, and whilst the iD team did stay loyal to Intel as they begun work on their next Doom-style first person shooters such as Rise of the Triad, it wasn’t until the dawn of Quake 1 and 2 that developers realized that additional, dedicated 3D hardware was going to be required if these games were continue advancing at the rate they had been previously.
I’ll never forgot the day I picked up my Voodoo2 3D accelerator card – these peripherals plugged in between your regular 2D card and your monitor, combining the seconds from both graphics’ cards into a single signal that was then passed to the monitor. It wasn’t the most elegant solution, but the results were nothing short of mind-blowing. The first “All in Wonder” cards from ATI weren’t far behind, combining both 2D and 3D graphics engines onto a single circuit board that simplified installation, removed several points of failure, and, of course, pushed up the pricing of PC graphics cards significantly.
It’s tough to believe how short a time it has been since €200 bought you a fully fledged 2D & 3D graphics engine for your primary gaming PC, but there again, filling an 800×600 resolution display with 256 colours can be achieved with a hobby kit computer costing well under €50.00 today – a similar workstation from 1997 would have cost you a cool quarter of a million US dollars.
Summing UpSo just what are the best upgrades you can buy for your gaming setup in 2022? Predictably, the graphics card should always be top of your agenda – spend as much as you can reasonably afford, but if you are not planning on upgrading so a super high resolution, high refresh rate panel at any point in the next five years, you would be well advised to use your money on a great keyboard, mouse, or monitor instead. All of those devices will take on a new lease of life when you do finally upgrade your battle station, whilst you can never get the best out of world-class gaming machine without such pre-requisite gaming hardware.