Scott Hanselman

I am SO sick of PC Gaming - I HATE IT

June 28, 2004 Comment on this post [25] Posted in Gaming
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I'm so frustrated.  I've got a P4-3gig, 1 gig of Dual Channel RAM, with a very nice 128 meg NVidia FX 5200 card that I bought LAST YEAR for $150, and my new 1600x1200 Dell LCD Monitor and I can't get a freaking PC game to work worth a damn on my machine.

Case in point:

I picked up a Saitek P880 Dual Analog Joystick and figured I download the latest round of game demos to see what's hot.  I got FarCry, Rainbow Six, Thief 3, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

The Results:

  • Far Cry: Unacceptable performance even at 800x600.  I could BARELY pull 20 frames per second (fps).  Additionally, as I didn't feel like being an "inverted-T: ASDW" keyboard and mouse first-person gamer (God Forbid) I tried to use the Saitek.  I messed with it's remapping software for an hour, because apparently while DirectX 2199 understands that dual analog sticks exist, most games don't care. 
    Result: Disappointment and 3 hours wasted.
  • Rainbow: Totally unusable at anything other than 640x480 and even then, iffy.  Again, messed with the joystick.
  • Thief3: Gorgeous game, as along as I didn't try to move.  Got about 10 fps at 1024x758, and it was WAY to blocky to play at 640x480 on such a big LCD.  All these tests are with Anti-aliasing turned off.
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein: The ONLY game with GOOD Video performance at 1024x768, which I think is the minimum comfortable resolution for FPS gaming.

Seems to me that the only games that are useful or even playable on the average machine are Real Time Strategy games like Rise of Nations or not-very-graphics-intensive games like Dungeon Siege. 

What I'm confused about is why a game like Castle Wolfenstein performs so nicely, but Thief can barely move at the SAME RESOLUTION?  Perhaps my video card (and most) are so tied to whatever version of DirectX is in vogue at the time, that my little DirectX 8 Video Card is a pariah in the world of DirectX 9.

What's frustrating about all this is that I'm actually considering getting one of these new fangled NVidia G-Force Ultra 6800's, just so I can get ahead of the game and stop worrying if my sad little 3Ghz system can run Pole Position.

And the irony of all this?  My XBox works fine.  Picked up a steering wheel controller for $25 at Fry's and have been happily driving the hills of Scotland, multiplayer with a guy in Scotland without trouble.  No install, no key remapping, just play the game.  Hm.  The PC may have 1600x1200 DOOM 3 for only $4000US and a Water Cooler, but my $149 XBox plays fine. 

Someone tell me why PC gaming matters?

Addendum: Looks like my current video card IS crap:

CardArchitectureClock SpeedMemory SpeedMemory SizeMemory BandwidthRAM-DAC Fill Rate Pixels/s
Geforce FX 5200256-bit250Mhz 400Mhz (DDR)128Mb6.4Gb/sDual 400Mhz1 Billion
Geforce 6800 Ultra 256-bit400Mhz 1.1Ghz (DDR)  256/512 Mb35.2Gb/sDual 400Mhz6.4 Billion

Well, maybe the 6800 card will be enough for Longhorn.  Wonder if I should get it and water cool my system while I'm in there?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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June 28, 2004 7:13
If you want some real frustration (and I know you do!), try some children's games. Most of them only work at 640x480, which is great with an LCD screen.

Lesson learned: don't get child excited about video game until game has been tested in target environment.

I always had good success with Half-Life - seemed to work well on most machines, although sometimes required OpenGL. Hopin' HL2 is as compatible.
June 28, 2004 7:33
Dude, just get a FragBox:

I've never even had to open mine - it runs all the latest games just fine (Call of Duty, Neverwinter Nights, Unreal 2004, etc.) and is very affordable.
June 28, 2004 7:40
We just did a show on DotNetRocks all about water cooling when you're ready to (ahem) take the plunge...
June 28, 2004 7:47
The combination of 1600x1200 LCD and a nVidia FX 5200 is, uh, not a good one.

1) fx 5200 was a dog, even on the day of its introduction. It helps to check sites like for references before purchasing. I used to write for those guys circa 2001, great smart bunch of hardware enthusiasts, highly recommended.

2) In addition to the "one resolution that looks good and every other resolution looks like ass" problem that LCDs have, they also ghost. That means the grey-to-grey transition times are 40+ms (manufacturers quote full-off (black) to full-on (white) cycle times which is disingenuous) which leads to nausea-inducing ghosting. Doesn't bother some people, but it drives me crazy coming from a CRT.

3) Also you really want to use mouse/keyboard for FPS games, this has been the best control method for this genre since the good old days of Doom circa 1993! Using analog sticks for FPS gaming is a bastardization specific to consoles.
June 28, 2004 7:54
Well, at least my LCD (Dell FP2001) is 16ms instead of 40...that should make a difference.

As to controls, anyone remember the SpaceOrb? That was the shiznit for Descent, back in the day. :)
June 28, 2004 8:00
PC Gaming does suck. Its the whole reason I bought an xbox. I have owned many consoles, and the thing that keeps me coming back is you KNOW the game is going to work first time, every time, on a console.

On a pc there are any number of issues that may surface. Performance usually being the mail killer.

"Oh sorry, you need to buy a new $600 video card to run halo."

"What? My xbox runs halo, but my pc can't?"

June 28, 2004 8:21
16ms is for black to white transition only-- grey to grey is much slower (and more common, too). Larger panels are actually SLOWER than smaller ones, too. In other words, manufacturers fib, but what else is new. Hard drives "size" is measured in powers of ten instead of gigabytes..

LCDs are fantastic and totally optimal for GUI work (eg programming). Not so great for gaming due to the fixed-res and ghosting, though.

As for video card replacement, I recommend the Radeon 9800 series. Check newegg's refurbished video card page. It's safe, I've bought 2 cards this way, and newegg has an excellent returns policy.

I wouldn't spend less than $100 and up to $200 if you can afford it. More than that is a waste though.
June 28, 2004 12:57
I am running a P4 3Ghz with a Dell 2000FP on a ATI Radeon 9800 (non-pro). You can pick one up for $129 or so ( If you are daring enough, there are FAQs all over the web on how you can flash the bios up to the PRO version of the card. Just make sure you have one with compatible memory.

I am able to run Far Cry and Thief 3 as well as my personal favorite Unreal Tournament 2004 at 1600x1200 with acceptable frame rates. My LCD is one generation behind yours running at 30ms, I have been very happy with it for games. Since my primary application is coding I would not even think of trading it in for a CRT.

If you don't want to upgrade your video card, try playing with the video settings in the games. Some of the settings will dramatically affect the performance, especially with an older video card.
June 28, 2004 13:11
You might want to make sure you're running the latest drivers. However, I agree with the general assessment that the 5200 is a dog of a card that never deserved the 5xxx designation.

My recommendation would be to move to an ATI Radeon 9600 Pro or 9600 XT, because the TMDS transmitters in the ATI cards are much better than what's in the nVidia cards. If you buy another nVidia, you're gambling as to whether you'll get one that'll properly drive 1600x1200 DVI (probably not). When you get an ATI, make sure to get an actual ATI.

More reading:,3973,1370500,00.asp
June 28, 2004 14:37
Why does PC gaming matter? You mentioned it yourself: Rise of Nations. Or more generically, real time strategy games. Role playing games. These games do not translate well to consoles at all (don't tell me Final Fantasy XIXIX is an RPG).
Consoles are good for sports games and jump and shoot platform games. PCs are better at RTS, RPG, and FPS games (when you get them working).
June 28, 2004 14:40
"not-very-graphics-intensive games like Dungeon Siege"

uhh, compared to what? Zork?

That being said, welcome to jumping off the PC upgrade train. The last game I bought for my PC was Warcraft 3, which I already knew would run fine on my system (Athlon-850, 256MB ram, CRT) after playing the demo. I'm still not convinced that I'll keep my Xbox after I beat Half-Life 2 and Doom3 on it, but I'm sure I'll be able trade it in for a PS2 fairly easily.
June 28, 2004 15:03
Joshua: Morrowind translated to the XBox very well.
June 28, 2004 15:11
Yeah, you have something wrong there. I can't comment on your video card because I've had the Radeon 9600Pro for almost a year now. It's a great card and was only $200 a year ago. That plus an athlon 2600XP lets me run far cry at very playable speeds.

"What I'm confused about is why a game like Castle Wolfenstein performs so nicely, but Thief can barely move at the SAME RESOLUTION?"

The simple and obvious answer is wolfenstein is 3 years old and was based on an engine that is 5 years old and...the industry has moved on :)
June 28, 2004 15:17
Everyone keeps mentioning this Radeon 9600Pro...maybe I need to get off my NVidia highhorse...
June 28, 2004 15:37
I think you may have opened a can'o'worms with this one ;-) but I only have three remarks on your post:
#1 - Wolfenstein was based on the Quake 3 engine which is almost 5 years old. That's why it runs great.
#2 - What resolution is your xbox running at? I'd be very surprised if it were anywhere near the resolution (let alone quality) you're attempting to run these games on your PC. If you're actually running them on a HD monitor then you'd probably have to figure that into the cost. (Sure you could use your HDTV for other things besides your xbox, but you could use your computer for other things besides games too.)
#3 - What _real_ gamer uses an LCD monitor? ;-) seriously? Aside from the benefits of the radiation tan you'll get, the 90# 3ft^3 footprint, and the glorious electric bills - you cannot beat the price vs performance of a CRT (or two) for gaming.
June 28, 2004 17:53
Running an athlon 3200 xp+, ATI 9600 Pro for my gamming rig (all i do on it is games). I do not have an LCD and will most likely never run games on one, at least until they get much better. I actually force my fps to never go above 76 in most quake engine games (rtcw, CoD, etc) and it never goes lower as well (/com_maxfps 76 in console). With nvidia cards it helps to turn the vertical sync off sometimes. I really think it's the lcd that causing issues, did you try hooking an old crt up and seeing what that does?
June 28, 2004 18:41
So... I know there are managed extentions for DirectX...

Is there any easy way that I can write simple games in C# for my XBox without modding it?
June 28, 2004 19:33
Ya, I tried it with a 17" CRT. It's the video card. It's just struggling to fill the pixels. I'd give my pinky finger for 76fps. I'm lucky to get 20fps in most games.
June 28, 2004 23:40
I'd choose the 9800 pro over the 9600 pro-- it is literally 2x as fast, particularly at high resolutions. Make *SURE* you get a 9800 *PRO* and not the standard or cut down 128-bit versions, though. Otherwise you'll be sorry.

9600 pro is an incredible choice for a silent box, where you want a blend of quiet, low power draw (low heat) and good performance.
June 29, 2004 0:44
nVidia FX 5200 ?!! Bah! surprising you see your windows desktop at all.... Without going into too much technical detail, nVidia made spectaculary bad decesions on last series of chipsets and handed the market in the basket to ATI. Even if you go for something cheap like Radeon 9600 Pro you will get much better perfomance. nVidia right now barely caught up to ATI and latest cards look about the same. But looking closer ATI is still a clear winner. go ATI.

Second part of the problem is LCD display. LCD x 3D = not working well. thats just hardware reality. LCD won't integrate well with 3D card since it don't have reaction time of CRT. I'm not speaking about blur and after images. when coding DirectX sometime you need to get to vSync level signals - and best games always will try to optimize to that level. LCD output profile of such low level stuff is significantly off comparing to CRT tube that you defenitely are getting notable perfomance hit for this.
June 29, 2004 0:49
hm...but I need:

* Dual DVI (two digital monitors)
* Independant rotation of both monitors

Does ATI have a good Dual capability?
June 29, 2004 1:00
btw right now is exactly right time to get back to PC gaming. as console age we will see more cool games possible only with power of PCs which will have no comparables on consoles. At the end of the cycle (2006?) the gap will be very big. Then XBox2/PS3 will came out and clock will be reset again.

of course the real issue is not the platform you play on, its *what* you play. will we see more innovative and interesting games in future comparing to safe-bet factory manufacturing approach? just texturing latest movie property onto 3D geometry and shipping another "Lord of the Potters 007 Episode I.5" goes a bit stale in a while...
June 29, 2004 1:12
perhaps i'm missing something - why don't just insert better 3D card into your motherboard as primary, and then keep your existing nVidia (urgh!) as secondary output card? windows recognizes 2 videocard beging present and gives you all that virtual desktop and other dual features....
June 29, 2004 3:12
Because there is only one ASP slot!
June 30, 2004 18:36
If you're looking for Dual-DVI at a reasonable price try the Gainward Silent FX Ultra 980. ( Check out GamePC's review of the card ( It uses heat-sink/heat-pipes for cooling instead of a fan.

I just picked one up last week and it makes my old Matrox P650 seem like a real clunker.

I picked it up for $265 Canadian. It was only ten bucks more than the fan-cooled version of the same card.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.