I don’t read much poetry, or many plays. I’m a prose guy; I like to read prose, and I like to write prose; other modes of exposition chafe and irritate me. (I really wish the Divine Comedy was in prose…). One of the very few poems I remember is The Mouse, by Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth. My speech and drama teacher of the early 1980s, whose name I’ve forgotten, set it for me as a reading exercise – that, and how to properly read aloud The Railway Children, are the only two speech-related things I remember from my time with her. (She had an Atari 800 – that’s a more important thing I remember ;))
Much like the mouse in the poem, my needs are modest. That’s why, for a while now, I’ve been using a HP 20-c012 all-in-one PC for my gaming and general Windows PC needs (very modest – Fallout 3 New Vegas is about the newest game I own). It’s fine, I guess. I haven’t owned a desktop PC – as opposed to servers – other than this one in at least a decade. I’ve become accustomed to using laptops, and this AIO is basically just a big laptop with a dual-core, no HT Celeron J3060 and integrated Intel HDR 400 GPU. Cinebench score – 15.00 fps GPU, 71cb CPU. Note that this machine can’t handle HEVC encoded video or super hi-res video files.
I’ve been curious, however, to try and see if I could have a more pleasant gaming experience by buying a low-end, ancient PC with PCIe slots and adding a modern-ish GPU. So I found a Pavilion a6000 series minitower on Goodwill’s auction site. The machine is from roughly 2007 and has a Foxconn MCP73M01H1 (Napa) motherboard with LGA775 CPU socket and an integral GeForce 7100/nForce 630i GPU. Mine came with an Intel E7200 CPU, 4GB 800MHz DDR2 RAM, no hard disk, a LightScribe DVD+R drive and a multifunction media card reader covering all the major formats of 2007. It also has a proprietary HP “Pocket Media Drive” bay for some defunct line of removable 2.5″ hard disks. Oddly, it also included a PCI analog video capture card which might or might not come in handy. Since the board also has a FDC and PATA controllers, I do intend to buy a couple of floppy drives so I can use it as a disk-reading system.
With a junkbox 1.5TB hard drive, trashpicked keyboard and mouse, and a rather nice 1440×900 Samsung LCD monitor I trashpicked from a neighbor across the street some time ago, I got Windows 10 installed on it, but the Vista key on the side of the box won’t activate any more. Luckily, my Microsoft account contained a digital license from a defunct computer, which I could transfer immediately. Unluckily, my first discovery was that Windows 10 has no support for the integral GeForce 7100 at all.
A coworker gave me a 512MB PCIe GeForce 8400 GS card from his junkpile to try out. With this installed, I got 3.19fps GPU and 133cb CPU, which was a promising step in the right direction CPU wise, but still not even approaching the GPU capability of the AIO. Interestingly, while the current driver download bundle on NVidia’s website doesn’t support this card, Windows 10 plug-n-play automatically downloads an older version of the bundle, which does include support.
While I was in a shopping mood, I decided to order an E8600 3.3GHz CPU upgrade for $15 with free shipping off eBay – this is a 2-core, no HT Core 2 Duo. I also ordered a quad-core Q6600 (also $15), but decided not to install it as I’m not sure if the power supply is up to the task. With the E8600, I saw a slight bump in GPU score, and an appreciable jump in CPU to 3.21fps GPU, 181cb CPU.
And finally I bought the cheapest modern (2016) GPU I could find on Amazon, a 2GB GT 710 – which saw my scores jump up to 29.49fps GPU, 180cb CPU. This card is universally disparaged by the game reviewers but for the games I play, it gives me between 40-60fps and an overall much nicer experience than the AIO. It’s really surprising to me how much the rest of the OS experience smoothed out once I installed the new GPU, also – it seems that way more resources are spent compositing windows than I had hitherto realized.
Here’s my total spend (not counting the $15 Q6600 CPU I didn’t wind up using):
Computer .................................... $ 8.99 Computer shipping ........................... $ 7.38 Computer handling ........................... $ 2.00 Windows 10 (existing digital license) ....... $ 0.00 1.5TB SATA HDD (junkpile) ................... $ 0.00 Keyboard and mouse (trashpick) .............. $ 0.00 Samsung SyncMaster 941BW monitor (trashpick). $ 0.00 Dell 1280x1024 monitor+soundbar (trashpick).. $ 0.00 HDMI to DVI cable (junkpile) ................ $ 0.00 DVI to DVI cable (junkpile) ................. $ 0.00 GT710 2GB PCIe x16 video card ............... $ 48.31 4 port USB 3.0 PCIe x1 card ................. $ 16.50 Gigabit Ethernet PCIe x1 card ............... $ 6.99 E8600 CPU ................................... $ 15.00 Thermal grease .............................. $ 4.95 TOTAL ....................................... $110.12
I bought the NIC because I was seeing slow network transfer speeds to and from the computer using the integrated NIC. I’m not sure why, because both are gigabit chipsets and PHYs; maybe the driver for the add-on card is better. The USB3 card was needed because for some reason the computer won’t complete POST if I have two external 8TB USB drives attached to its onboard USB2 ports – and also because I wanted better performance for file transfers.
It may be janky, but it’s perfectly adequate for the few things I want to do in Windows (basically: Steam games). The only thing I could wish for is more RAM; the motherboard has two slots, and all the references I’ve found quote maximum 2GB per slot. If I had some junkbox 4GB DDR2 DIMMs, I’d try them, but I’m not willing to drop $80 on RAM that might not work.