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ZOTAC: Thumbs Up

If you will recall, my GTX 970 card died recently. Here is the timeline of events:

  • Feb 12th – Submitted RMA request to ZOTAC.
  • Feb 13th – RMA request is approved.
  • Feb 15ish – I mailed my card via UPS.
  • Feb 21st – ZOTAC received my card.
  • Feb 22nd – ZOTAC confirmed the card is dead. Asks if new card is OK.
  • Feb 24th – New card shipped out.
  • Feb 27th – New card arrived.

In other words, from the time ZOTAC received my card to the time they mailed a replaced out was pretty much less than a week. Most of the delay was on my end of things, when I tried changing the power supply, sent my PC for repairs at Microcenter, etc. Given the horror stories I have heard and the “please give us 30 days” boilerplate, this is incredible.

Also incredible was this exchange:

We unfortunately do not have your specific model in stock, so we would like to offer you the ZT-P10600A-10L. Please confirm this change is agreeable asap.

For those playing at home, this is the ZT-P10600A-10L. As in GTX 1060 6GB Mini. As in, a card that is smaller, quieter, uses less electricity, and is roughly 10% better at benchmarks than a 970. Needless to say, I confirmed that this change was agreeable.

So, yeah. I installed the card on Monday and put it through its paces. On the Heaven benchmark software, I got 100-120 fps with temps stabilizing at 72C. I’m still pouring hours into XCOM2 at the moment, but I will hopefully be back to eye-candy gaming here shortly.

All in all, my graphics card dying worked out rather well for me.

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Impression: Metal Gear Solid 5

As it turns out, Metal Gear Solid 5: the Phantom Fulton is a lot of fun. Like, a lot lot.

The proper tone is set from the very beginning:

I've been playing 12 hours and I still don't know who's ass that is.

I’ve been playing 12 hours and I still don’t know who’s ass that is.

Like, it’s funny, right? But even crazier is when you think about A) who would come up with this, B) who would allow this to occur, and C) am I actually seeing this? I guess it’s tame in comparison to that one Raiden section in MGS2, but still! This is the sort of esoteric goofiness that is so endearing of Japanese videogames, and the Metal Gear Solid series specifically.

Also, holy shit, 60 FPS on super-max settings. My recently-acquired 970 is smoking this game so hard, it can apparently bump the resolution higher than my monitor can support, and then downscale it to 1080p to cram in more shinies.

Here is a picture of me kidnapping a puppy:

Seems to have recovered from the tranq dart I shot at her face.

Seems to have recovered from the tranq dart I shot at her face.

Analyzing my own experience playing this game has also been amusing. The MGS series has always had this weird dichotomy in which it gave you 30 weapons to play around with, but made you feel bad for using anything other than the tranq gun in every scenario. Now in MGS 5, they give you the same plethora of guns and frequently tell you to go nuts. Grenade launcher by the 5th mission? Go for it.

In spite of getting the OK for GTA-levels of mayhem though, I’m playing this game like Tenchu.

But if I kill them, I can't break their spirit and brainwash them to join my army...

But if I kill them, I can’t break their spirit and brainwash them to join my army…

It’s pretty clever design, I must say. Because while it is certainly worlds easier just sniping everyone from a million miles away, pretty much the entire reward structure of the game encourages sneaking and getting up close and personal. Since you are rebuilding Mother Base, you want to keep the place as fully stocked with brainwashed troops as possible. So instead of killing them, you can knock them out with tranq guns to the face and Fulton them out. But if you managed to sneak up on someone, you can interrogate them into putting resources and other goodies on your map, including diamonds which represent enough currency to make up ~10% of a research upgrade. Once you get the info, you are free to kill them or knock them out at your discretion.

I really do enjoy this sort of design tension, as it is all carrot and no stick. In a hurry? Blow them up. Want to actually play a stealth game? Go ahead and have all the rewards.

Best score I've gotten thus far.

Best score I’ve gotten thus far.

In any case, no doubt you will be hearing more about this game in the following week(s).

Adventures in Hardware Installation

[Blaugust Day 27]

Remember that GTX 970 card I ordered? It arrived Tuesday, but tonight was the first time I had a chance to dedicate to sweating bullets installing it. I’m not sweating because I’m nervous around electronics, I’m sweating because if something goes wrong, I’d be out a lot of money when alternatives were available. Plus, it’d be an embarrassing story, like failing your driver’s test 2-3 times when you’re the high school Valedictorian.

…you know, as a hypothetical example. I’d feel real bad for that guy person. If they existed.

In any case, I cracked open my PC case and started poking around:

That's right, I paid the extra ~$30 for professional cabling. 

That’s right, I paid the extra ~$30 for professional cabling.

The hardest part of the 560ti removal was the damned power cables. In addition to having some sort of devil-spawn locking mechanism, they felt like they were super-glued on the card. Worrying about static is one thing, but the true nightmare to me is all the wiggling, pushing, and (cringe) bending of hundred-dollar electronics that sometimes becomes necessary.

Unplug, damn you!

Unplug, damn you!

After much consternation, I managed to unseat the power cords. At which time I unboxed the GTX 970 with the care of holding some distant cousin’s infant that they just threw into your arms like some kind of crazy person. Here is a comparison shot:

A slight bit smaller.

A slight bit smaller.

Incidentally, that gross-looking stuff in the sink is dust from inside my computer case. While I do periodically clean with a can of compressed air, in my immense wisdom it appears that that cleaning never extended to the video card’s fans. Absolutely filthy, man. I’m surprised the card never burst into flame. Now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure how safe it was these last four years to have those dumb stickers stuck on the top of the circuitry. I had been assuming it was kosher since it came like that from the shop, but I never really did double-check…

Installing the 970 was pretty easy, by the way. Push it into the slot until it clicks, hand-tighten the case screw and then plug…

God. Dammit.

God. Dammit.

Turns out that when you upgrade to a smaller card, and the designers move the power plugs to the side for no discernible reason, you’re going to have a bad time.

So at this point, I start an increasingly desperate bid to cut the zip ties inside my case to free up more power cable slack so I can plug the damn thing in. First, kitchen scissors. Second, a sharp knife in a sawing motion. Third, the Swiss Army Knife I typically use to cut open packages. When that didn’t work, I tried the scissor attachment of the Swiss Army Knife. Success! I ended up having to cut through two zip ties to get enough slack to plug it in.

And here I am, having finished taking the card for a test drive:

I am speechless.

An actual comparison.

I feel better about this investment already.

I (We) Did It

[Blaugust Day 22]

A (realistically unnecessary) GTX 970 graphics card is on its way.

The overall purchase decision was not as uncertain as I was perhaps making it seem. I actually have a birthday coming up in the next few weeks, and the only other viable present to myself would have been something like a PS4. Which was tempting, mainly because I technically “own” 34 PS4 games by virtue of PS+. But as I was going over the spreadsheet last night – hey, the PS+ interface is pretty awful and doesn’t let you easily sort games – I realized that majority of those titles were indie games that I already owned on other devices. The Vita might have given more value in that regard, but let’s be real: 99.9% of the time, I’m going to be in front my PC.

Once that last synapse fired, it was time.

Now was the matter of where to purchase it. In yesterday’s post, Whoom commented that Newegg had that same GTX 970 card I had been talking about for $309.99. Same as Amazon, but this time including the Metal Gear Solid V gift. Hmm… let me just compare that with the Best Buy deal again, this time with the 10% off coupon…

Uh... lol?

Uh… lol?

NewEgg it is!

Of course, the savings here is really just deferred taxes. Which I will totally pay next April. Absolutely. Not even a question. I will just pencil that in under… whatever the category is for voluntarily paying taxes for things the government will never realistically be able to figure out. Probably near a subsection B or another.

So there it is. Now, I just have to spend even more money buying games that will use the power.

Good Guy Best Buy

[Blaugust Day 21]

Just like with Amazon, Best Buy decided to look out for me by dissuading my GTX 970 purchase.

The amusing thing is I finally felt ready to pull the trigger, after all my prior dithering. The final push? Best Buy had the Zotac GTX 970 version up for $329.99 with a price match guarantee… and Amazon had the same exact model for $309.99. Sweet. So I’m going to price match the $309.99 and then whip out my trap card 10% off coupon. I balked previously at graphics cards that barely moved on price, but getting one at $279 is another matter entirely. Plus, the free game code included this time around is Metal Gear Solid V, which is actually something I want to play. So, technically, I’d be getting the video card for less than $250.

When I tried calling Best Buy yesterday, there was simply a recording that stated “due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to take calls at this time.” Uhh… okay. So I tried once again tonight. And, as I should have expected, the answer was “No.” Or more specifically, they weren’t going to do both.

Technically, I could still realize some measure of savings by using the 10% coupon: about $13 or so off the Amazon price. But here’s the thing:

Apparently made to order.

Apparently made to order.

There is no in-store pickup options available and the order takes 6-10 days to process. And it apparently takes tiny children an additional two weeks to hand craft the video card before it arrives at my door. Seriously, 25 days from order to arrival? The scenario is especially ridiculous if all I was doing was looking for the price match, considering this is the competition:

Amazon just makes the tiny child pull 16 hour shifts.

Amazon just makes the tiny children pull 16 hour shifts.

That little Prime symbol means it will be in my hands in two days. Two days. I could order a video card drunk and have it arrive while I’m still hung-over, depending on the bender I went on.¹ The days in which you could just price match Amazon are ancient history, myths spun in the abandoned break rooms of Circuit City and Blockbuster. Shipping and handling? GTFO. It’s 2015, people – if the UPS guy isn’t ringing my doorbell before I even click the purchase confirmation button, you’re doing it wrong.

Jokes aside, the sad thing is that Best Buy might end up having the last laugh on this one. The Amazon listing doesn’t mention the Metal Gear Solid V promotion, and the Nvidia fine print mentions that it’s only applicable through authorized sellers. Waiting an extra three weeks to save $13 is one thing, but waiting extra for ~$63 is another. Plus, it’s not exactly as though I need the card right now anyway. Hmm.

So… yeah. There’s another glimpse into the madness that is my method.

¹ Always express your crippling alcoholism² responsibly.

² This is a joke.

More GTX 970 Musings

[Blaugust Day 2]

Having recently moved across town, I received the standard Post Office confirmation of address forwarding, complete with an envelope stuffed with coupons. One said coupon was for 10% off a single item at Best Buy. This prompted me to start looking at graphics cards again.

Spoiler alert: graphics cards are still stupidly expensive.

Or maybe not. Maybe they have always been around $300 for the upper bound of reasonableness. All that I know is that I’ve been staring at the GTX 970 series for months and the prices never seem to budge. It’s not even a matter of whether I could afford the card, it’s the principle of refusing to voluntarily pay MSRP for anything. That and the fact that I don’t need an upgraded graphics card to play any of the hundreds of games still sitting unused in my Steam library.

But… well, I’d kinda like to play GTA5 and Witcher 3, you know? My present rig is about four years old now, so in the scheme of things perhaps an upgrade is overdue. About the only modification I’ve done over the years is replacing the boot SSD after it died a few months ago.

Still, without a price drop, I don’t know if I’m going to do it. I’m not a #PCMasterRace powergamer that needs everything on Ultra; I just want to play relevant games at 60 FPS and 1080p. And honestly, it’s even harder to justify a card upgrade for just two games. I mean, the rest of my library will look better too, but… yeah. I dunno.