Mike's New Shuttle Computer

by Mike Shea on 8 August 2004

Personal computers suck. I accept that into my heart, but that apparently didn't stop me from buying a new one. My latest machine, like the one before it, was built mainly to play Everquest. It serves secondary duties as a web editor, web browser, word processor, and music server, but its most important job is transporting me to Norrath. Now Everquest is a strange game. Even with a new Directx 9 engine, it is still far more processor intensive than dependent on a graphic card. Newer expansions such as Omens of War, however, use DX9 functions far more.

My previous box, a 2.8ghz P4 with a Radeon 9700 Pro is still a fine box for Everquest and will continue to serve as such when company is over. I would have stuck with another Radeon card, perhaps an X800 Pro or X800XT, but the cost of these cards is very high. The Nvidia Geforce 6800 series is about the same price, but according to some Hard OCP Doom 3 benchmarks, a 6800GT outperforms an X800XT and costs $200 less. So thats what I went with.

Here are the vital stats of my new EQ box: Pentium 4 3.6ghz Hyper Threading processor, 1GB PC3200 400mhz ram, XFX Geforce 6800GT video card, 74GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPM Hard Drive, Nu Tech DVD/CD Burner, Shuttle SB75G2 mini-barebones case, NEC Mitsubishi 22" 2048 x 1536 @ 85hz monitor.

I was a little worried about heat and power with the Shuttle case, but neither was a problem. I played Doom 3 just about the entire weekend without a single problem. The system is faster than hell. I ran Doom 3 benchmarks at 1600 x 1200 resolution with ultra quality video settings, no anti aliasing, and no vsync, and the benchmarks consistently came out at an average of 53 frames per second. Compare these to Hard OCP's benchmarks of a 3.6ghz on a 915 chipset motherboard and a PCI Express Geforce 6800GT on high quality instead of ultra which came out at 51.9. My system appears to be running faster than it should, but who am I to complain.

Here's how to benchmark Doom 3. Go into "Advanced Video Settings" in the options / system menu. Set Vsync to "OFF". Press CONTROL ALT ~ all at once to bring up the console. Type "timedemo demo1" to start a benchmark demo. At the end it gives you a Frame Per Second score. Post a comment here with your system info and your timedemo scores and compare them to Hard OCP's benchmarks. Make sure to turn Vsync back on before you play for real. Having Vsync off leads to image tearing as your card tries to render frames faster than your monitor can display them. For benchmarking this is ok but for visual quality, turning Verticle Synch on leads to a much more solid looking game.

The NEC Mitz monitor is beautiful. It is the best monitor you can buy for under $1000 and aside from its 60 pound mass, it is perfect. The shuttle case is also wonderful. Its tiny and has no problems with either power or heat. I had a little BIOS trickery I had to get through to get the CDROM working (when you run a SATA drive, make sure to enable both SATA and IDE) but now that its up, its solid, stable, elegant, and super fast.

One bonus to the Geforce 6800 card is that it can run Everquest spanned across two monitors. I can play EQ with a 3200 x 1150 resolution (thats just over 3.5 million pixels) without any problem. One has to run in windowed mode, which is sort of a pain, and trying to switch to full screen will crash the game, but its fun to have one window with hardly anything but the game's viewpoint and the other with most of your status, inventory, buff, and extra chat windows in it. I don't know if I'll play this way forever, but its fun for the time being.

Computers suck, have no doubt. As much as I love my new machine, it wasn't cheap and it wasn't easy to put together. Now that its together it is solid as a rock and screams past Doom 3 like it was Wolfenstein 3D. It should serve the Shea household well into the future as it ages and eventually retires as a video / audio server. In the mean time, its back into hell...(Doom 3 loading).