(far) Cry ‘havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war

A friend let me borrow his copy of Far Cry after telling me what an amazing game it was. Well, I loaded it up on my little HTPC and attempted to play it. All I can say is “Ack!” My machine is certainly not up to snuff to play this game.  The game is pretty gorgeous, but I was only able to *play* it at a level that made it look like this:

trust me, it looks good bigger - trust me, it looks good bigger - trust me, it looks good bigger - trust me, it looks good bigger

Of course, I said *play* but what I really meant was “watch a slide show of images run on the lowest resolution the game offered”.  Later i saw it an on my friend computer and it blew me away.  Absolutely breathtaking. 

Of course, I should have expected this. I built that machine to be a nice quiet box that could play dvds, tv, videos and music, as well as serve some basic computing tasks and to do that very cheaply. It’s just one of those Shuttle Mini-PCs with a piddly celeron running an old ATI all-in-wonder. However, 2 years ago it only cost me $500, and it’s been a little trooper all that time, so I’m pretty happy with the investment.

Since then my gaming needs were happily met by an N64 (Smash Brothers!!), a Dreamcast (Soul Caliber!!!), a GameCube (SuperMonkeyBall!!!!) and an XBox (too many to count!!!!!). While the graphics have been completely left in the dust by their PC cousins, I’ve found that the multi-player games I love to play are just more fun on these consoles. Maybe it’s the incredibly quick load time, or the ability to easily just start playing with 4 people, or that I never need to worry about maintaining the system. However, it’s getting to the point that I feel that need to go back to PC gaming for that great single player experience. There are some pretty great looking games out now and some more coming out soon *cough*half life 2*cough* and for those it’ll just be so much better on a PC (graphics and having a keyboard).

So I now need to think about how I’m going to accomplish that task. I’d like a PC that can replace the current one I have now. I’d prefer for it to be a Shuttle given that it’s such a good little machine and works great as an HTPC but I’m willing to go with anything that is reasonably small (this goes in a living room) and capable. What’s crazy is that with all that’s built into these machines all you really need to add is a good video card to make them into a great machine. I am somewhat concerned about heat though. If I’m maxing out the CPU on this playing a game I don’t want the system dying on me. The shuttles are awfully cramped and that could be an issue.

I was thinking about either a high-end P4 or Athlon-64 (any advice as to which would be best here?) and a high end NVidia or Ati (probably the former since I’ve had better luck with them). However, if this is going to be a HTPC card then it’s going to need to support things like TV in. Note: the max resolution this needs to drive is 1280x720, so having a card that screams at that res is all I need. The rest of the components will probably be pretty standard stuff. 512MB-1GB of good RAM, probably an ~100 GB fast HD, and a stock DVD drive to round it off. I spent $500 before on the current system and I’d be happy spending the same amount again, but I’d certainly be fine going up to twice that.  I was going to go the DIY route since that served me fine before, but if anyone knows of great prebuilt machines I'd also be willing to go down that route.

I’m also a sucker for good looks, and I have to say that these machines have them. But I’m not going to make the decision based on that. If there are other machines out there that simply rock in these areas then I’ll gladly go with them.


Anyone got any experience with HTPC-and-gaming machines and what they thought was a really good setup at a really good price?