I’m sick of my Nokia 720. It’s performance is dire, app support is non-existent and its continued attempts to gain self-awareness almost ended with it adopting a Chinese orphan on my behalf. I’ve also had a small tax rebate recently and taken the decision to find a budget replacement that will (hopefully) deal with these issues and get me out of trouble with immigration. While conventional wisdom would suggest my best course of action would be to find a good deal on an unlocked Motorola Moto G4 to go with my PAYG SIM card, my nose for a bargain has led me to take a bit of a gamble. Making it’s way through the postal system right now, I’ll soon be taking delivery of a Xiaomi Mi 4C.
Today I took a shot at installing the current “Brewmaster” pre-release version of SteamOS. I knew I was asking a lot here as soon as I checked the current known issues. Turns out AMD graphics card cause a major error message to appear after the first reboot, although the installation procedure does still continue. It neglected to say that you’d be trying to proceed with an invisible mouse cursor. Still, 20 minutes of playing Blind Man’s Buff with the network config options and the installation was back on track.
And then it was immediately and fatally derailed.
It’s been quiet around here. Too quiet. No news, no articles, nothing about this budget gaming rig. Well did you expect? I’ve just built an experimental new gaming rig – I’ve been playing with it!
To be honest, my experiences so far had been badly marred by the AMD graphics drivers I’ve been using under Linux Mint. The big problem has been V-sync failing to work. Enabling the setting in any video game was just ignored, resulting in tearing in every game I tried to play. Even forcing this setting in the Catalyst Control Centre didn’t get it working. The only way I found to avoid the problem was to enable desktop anti-tearing, which fixed the tearing but instead left me with just enough input lag to make games unplayable in a whole new, nausea-inducing way. Well… no longer!
As part of my initial testing regime, I thought it worth giving Windows performance a crack at this setup – all the good performance measurements are Windows based and measuring AMD performance under Linux is like asking how long a piece of string is. Not wanting to wipe my Mint installation or mess around installing an internal hard drive, I thought I’d take a shot at running a live Windows installation of a USB3 hard drive. Yet again, I have found myself undeniably impressed by an OS.
The Steam Machine has been constructed! In a manner of speaking. It’s currently running Mint Cinnamon and has an AMD 7850 in it instead of the GTX 750ti, but for the purposes of post-integration burn-in testing, it’s exactly what I need right now. And goodness me, I don’t think I’ve ever had less to do post-build than I have with this system!
Building a powerful machine on a budget is fairly tough. Analysing the available parts, re-reading reviews in light of changes in price and mentally composing charts of cost/performance ratios is bad enough. Dealing with suppliers and their ever changes supplies is a nightmare.
EDIT: See far below for parts ordered and status.
The final spec of the Steam Machine project is firming up nicely. The core parts list is pretty much frozen now, giving console gaming performance for console prices, as long as you’re happy to run Linux. Yeah, I’m sure there will be plenty of posts regarding that little caveat following the actual build itself, but I digress.
And yes, I’m fully aware that Final Spec v3 is a contradiction in terms. Sue me.
The previous spec I posted relied on a single-slot GTX 750 fitting into the expansion slots available on the el-cheapo case I’d selected. It doesn’t look like that card is going to be back in stock any time soon. My contingency for that eventuality was to switch cases and PSUs and go with a two-slot graphics card instead, pushing the price up to £331. Turns out, for £339, I can manage that with a GTX 750ti. That’s an acceptable price, it’s still cheaper than a PS4, but what would the spec look like if I just found another single-slot graphics card instead?
So, I was screwing around with the Ghetto spec. I wondered just how cheap I could really push it. I dropped the CPU down to a G3220. I dropped the RAM down to a single 4GB stick of 1600MHz stuff. The motherboard ended up with an H81 chipset. The HSF is gone, we’re relying on the stock cooler.
Oh, and a single-slot 2GB GTX 750 has been shoehorned into the spec without breaking the budget.
I promise not to change my mind and this decision to base my build around the G3258 will be the last, absolutely the last, final, full-stop, cross my heart and hope to be spanked until my bottom turns purple.
Or something like that.