Monday, June 20, 2016

Things to reverse the long time player advantage

One of the problems that SOE eventually realized was the advantage that players that played longer have over those that are new to the game.

To a certain extent this was deliberate where it applies to incentives for staying subscribed. So things like only accruing time toward veteran rewards based on time subscribed and not time since account/character creation was intentional. (First a quick update for those that feel I am wrong about this. SOE intended veteran rewards to be earned based on days subscribed. A bug caused subscription time to be ignored and for it to be totally based on account creation time. Eventually this was fixed and the bug acknowledged along with an explanation about the bug and what people would see in a change when it comes to veteran rewards. For the purposes of the SWGEmu project since there can be no paid subscriptions, the correct implementation is to base veteran rewards off original account creation on the server.)

Advantages to veterans are also inherent any time you use a Random Number Generator (RNG) to determine if a character gets desireable loot. The more time a character is played the more chance that the character has to collect these items.

But there was also created an unintentional advantage for veteran characters when it came to some of the mini-games. After creating TCPrime, which was the first new clean server since the original launch of the game, SOE development was able to witness the problems that the resource mini-games causes.

But I will not talk about potential fixes to any veteran advantages. I want to talk about how to add advantages to newer players that veteran players need to overcome.

While I enjoy MMORPGs I also play what is best described as MMOEconomic games. The two that I play are from INNO games of Germany. They have had some interesting features in their games. For example, their Forge of Empires game has PvP in the form or raiding other players for items. There are restrictions on this to keep it somewhat in check. First you have to defeat the defender. In this battle a player allocates defenses that will be used by the computer to oppose a player attacking your empire. Even in defeat the defender does not permanently lose any units. The attacker's losses are permanent though. The attacker if victorious can only loot one building and can only attack each player once every 24 hours. But there is a way to prevent attacks completely. If you go to their empire and provide assistance they can not attack you for 24 hours. I really find this use of proactive assistance to avoid PvP interesting. It is also a concept that would be interesting to incorporate somehow into redesigned Player Bounty System for the SWGEmu.

Another of their games is younger than FOE and is having considerable new functionality being added. The interesting effect concerns the interaction between new skills in the skill tree and accessing resources on the main map and how it places veteran players at a disadvantage.

When I started playing you took control of resource zones to gain access to other players to trade with, boost production of some trade goods and finally to gain more buildable space in your city.

The skills are grouped together with each having a starter skill and a final skill in each group. The first change was to require a minimum number of captured resource zones before you could train the starter skill box in each skill group. This was sort of neutral when it comes to veteran vs. new players. A veteran would have a fair number already captured and a new player would have plenty of time to capture the needed number of zones while they trained the prerequisite skill boxes for the entry box where they needed a certain number of zones captured.

The most recent change added buildings that give desireable bonuses to your city. To be able to build these buildings you have to unlock them with items earned by capturing resource zones. Inno very deliberately did not grant these items for zones captured before they added the feature. So a starting player who gets to the 4th skill box will have earned enough items to build the first four of these buildings while a veteran player in the 4th skill box will have none of the buildings or items. Going forward there will be four more buildings so they will stay behind the curve unless they go the route of micro-transactions to get caught up with the new players.

I really found this interesting.

To a certain extent SOE came close to this in the NGE when it came to traders, combat characters and pilots.

While you were limited to level 10 in the Tansarii Station new player zone players could jump start their situation when they got to the main game. Crafters could kill mobs for cash and use the cash to purchase resources to grind some of crafting after you left the new player zone. Pilots, Entertainers and Combat professions could stockpile credits before leaving the station. Crafters also got a free personal harvester for their character. I remember doing missions to get enough cash when I first created my character to earn enough to get my first personal harvester. Things would have been a lot easier if I zoned in and had one.

But these changes only helped new players. They did not put them at a disadvantage going forward. If new players got a ring, for example, that was No Trade and gave a +20 to resource stats or one additional experimentation point to all crafting experimentation then new crafters would have an advantage over veteran crafters going forward.

So my thoughts and question is simply, what could be done to new players to balance some of the veteran advantages? What could reasonably trigger adding something like this?

I start with the resource mini-game since it is an ongoing problem, but I am not sure what could be done that would not create a new problem going forward. Also while I also see accumulation of wealth as an advantage for veteran players, I also see no reason to help new players catch up. So not every advantage that veteran players have should even be considered as needing to be addressed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Dead Computer

Well, I decided that I wanted to write more about a replacement computer. However, this is not the place to carry on that discussion.

I have a general gaming blog that predates this one and has been pretty idle, so I will be continuing the discussion over on that blog that can be found here.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Off Topic: More on Replacing the Dead Computer

In my spare time I still look at options for the computer.

Since the case that I am recommending does have both handles and 5.25" bays I was thinking about what would it take to actually add speakers to the system. of course part of that is also do they still make them? After all one of the side considerations for this system is to make the case portability friendly.

Well I found three. The perfect one that goes with the case is the Logisys FP308BK speakers. They have the same type of grill behind the speakers that the Master Case uses. The other two that I found had some nice features but had problems. One had an amplifier with volume control and you could swivel the speakers. The molding on the plastic looked great but the problem was that it only comes in white. White definitely would stand out and I am not sure how easy it would be to repaint it. The final one was black and also had a volume control and amplifier built in. The problem to me was that all of the pictures showed a very cheap looking case including what was visible when mounted in the computer.

All three has the same problem in that they came with a 3.5mm male to male cord to connect the speakers to the headphone at the back of the computer. Since the Master Case has a special expansion plate that you can run your mouse and keyboard cables through to provide strain relief, this plate would also allow this cord to pass from the inside of the case to the connector on the back panel.

I also looked at it and it would not be hard to make a cable to connect these to an AC'97 10 pin header and plugging it into the AC'97/HD-audio connector on the motherboard.

So this is a nice option. However the truth is that for a LAN party you will be using headphones most of the time.

For me, I had picked up a nice portable Jensen speaker set to use with my tablet to listen to Old Time Radio shows in the car while on trips. This sits nicely on the desk or the top of the computer case. It also has the advantage that if you connect only the USB cable to the computer it will be recognized as a USB sound card and works very nicely with the computer. So I will be continuing to use this with a new system.

If money is no object you can get some really nice 7.1 speaker systems or an optical sound-bar to connect to the computer.

I also found some nice 3mm and 5mm LEDs that came wired for 12v use. For $10 through Amazon you can get 10 LEDs and panel mounting grommets so that you can easily drill holes in the case to illuminate the ATX IO-Panel. Add some heat sink tubing and a MOLEX connector to provide power and you can have a very nice looking addition to the case.

Friday, May 13, 2016

"Experience the greatest saga ever told ... .... YOURS!"

This was one of the greatest marketing lines in the MMORPG industry.

In fact all MMORPGs have to strive for players to "Experience the greatest saga ever told ... .... YOURS!". If players are not feeling that they are part of the game universe and making a difference it is easy for them to walk away from the game. If they walk away from the game the game loses the revenue from that players subscription or in game purchases that finance the game. Players also need to at least see a certain number of other players in game. If too many players walk away because they do not feel like what they do is part of the game saga, you lose more as they do not see other players in game. So this is very important to all MMORPGs.

Over the years, especially in the SWGEmu forums, players often will quote that line to express a dislike for any change to how the game worked pre-CU that is being discussed.

But are they actually using it correctly?

"Experience the greatest saga ever told ... .... YOURS!" can very easily be interpreted to mean that it is not only perfectly acceptable but that the game supports solo play and there is never any reason to interact with other players. After all if the intention is to experience your saga and it is the greatest, then why should you interact with others and possibly have one or both discover that their saga is not the greatest?

Now most people will express that their fondest memories of SWG are of doing things with others. So the implication in that statement of doing things solo is not what the marketing types were thinking of.

"Experience the greatest saga ever told ... .... YOURS!" has also been a reply in at least one thread about making Jedi easier to get or more fun to play. After Publish 10, Jedi had been changed and re-balanced to actually no longer be an Alpha profession or any better than other combat professions. There was no longer any need to make them more difficult to get, have them earn XP at a lower rate than other Advanced combat professions, need more XP to train each skill box than other Advanced combat professions or be penalized for doing things with other players. So if a player feels that their saga includes being Jedi why should anyone interpret that "Experience the greatest saga ever told ... .... YOURS!" is a reason to not correct the mechanisms that were put in place to keep the number of Alpha version of Jedi low now that Jedi are no longer Alpha. If anything that quote is a reason to make the Jedi changes after Publish 10.

I have said that "Experience the greatest saga ever told ... .... YOURS!" is very important to any MMORPG.

To me the best way to make players feel that what they do in game, their saga so to speak, is through quests, missions and theme-parks. With a little more difficulty things like the CU's factional control system of most NPC cities and the NGE's regional control system can help with this.

Think of this, if you go out and kill 1000 Janta and earn 1,000,000 credits and collect some great blood it is part of your saga. However, how is this making your saga great let alone the greatest?

If you are an Imperial pilot and you do work for Darth Vader that is part of a saga. Then if Vader gives you his personal ETA-2 from the Clone Wars as a result of your doing a good job for him, your saga has become great or possibly even the greatest.

To me this interaction with the game story is where a character saga can move from just being there to great or the greatest. Don't get me wrong, if your idea of the greatest saga is to become a weaponsmith and to have 999,999,999 credits in the bank, then go for it. Please accept though that it may not be the majorities view of what would be the greatest saga.

Some other games integrate the quest results into a permanent feedback loop to the individual saga. If you complete some heroic activity the NPCs that benefit from what you did, remember and let you know that they are greatful for what you did for them. Things like this help to make players feel that they are having an impact on the game story or the greater game world. This in turn makes players feel that they both have a personal saga and that they are doing great things as part of the saga.

So because of this you will find me advocating for more quests, missions and theme-parks in SWG.

What you will not find me advocating for is that quests, missions and theme-parks become the primary mechanism for getting XP for your characters. Most games that have lots of quests, missions and theme-parks also give so much XP for completing the elements of these activities that simply going out and doing things is the most inefficient way of getting XP to train skills. This is so much against the game that was SWG in the pre-CU, CU and NGE time frames that people should avoid this as much as possible.

This does not ever mean that XP should never be granted from completing a quest, mission or theme-park element. Certain Artisan, Bounty Hunter and Smuggler missions could greatly help with the drudgery of getting some XP by awarding a specific XP type. This would be an improvement as long as the developers do not get carried away with it. Also how you grant XP would not always be the same. For example to make the Artisan crafting missions worth doing what you would do is change the quest crafting item XP, which can only be made when on the mission and with components that you are given when you take the mission. For Bounty Hunter investigation XP and Smuggler slicing XP you would need to have the mission grant these types of XP when complete. What you do not want to do is make it too much XP or to have other XP types being granted for missions.

I would consider giving XP for some Entertainer missions and quests but no XP for Survey missions.

The alternative for adding XP to certain missions would be to boost the XP earning or the XP needed. For example if you want to make Bounty Hunter investigation XP less of a grind you can increase the XP awarded independent of the global XP multiplier or reduce the amount of XP needed for each of the skill boxes that require it. The same for Smuggler slicing XP or other XP types.

So as you can see giving XP from certain missions is one of an arsenal of possible fixes for some XP problems. Just remember all three can be abused and make the game less like SWG.

So while the goal is to have players "Experience the greatest saga ever told ... .... YOURS!" this does not mean that players are using that phrase correctly.

Off Topic: Replacing the Dead Computer

Well not dead yet.

My video card is dying. I was testing some things and discovered how bad it is the other day. When I bought it it had 2Gb of memory. The card now only recognizes 1Gb. The semi-good thing is that when it dies I will remove it and use the built in Intel display on the motherboard and keep going till I have the spare change to replace it. The good thing is that Nvidia has announced their 10xx line. The dying card is one of their 2xx line so it has served me well for a while. This system also has a 3rd gen core i5 and I may as well start thinking about upgrading to the 6th gen core i7.

The good thing is that I tend to over plan my replacement computers which I call Frank-N-Puter's. I started calling them Frank-N-Puters because each new generation included lots of parts from the last generation. To give an example I am currently using an Antec Titan case that is over 20 years old. (Yes the ATX form factor is that old.)

In between actually building a replacement system I maintained a spreadsheet with current components and where to get the best prices for them. This helped to keep me up to day with what was readily available. In the spreadsheet I usually include tabs for low-end, fantasy high-end and what I am likely to build systems. At one point several friends were asking me to distribute it to them when I updated it. Eventually I stopped maintaining and distributing it for various reasons. But now I have a interest in starting it up again.

Many of my old manufacturer biases are still there but reviews still report that all of the reasons why I prefer certain manufacturers still hold true. So lets go through each component.

The Case

The Antec web site lists the Titan case as a full tower weighing 32lb. empty and I decided that I would like something a little lighter and smaller. I had originally purchased this case since it was sold with a huge, at the time, 550w power supply and had plenty of slots for hard disks.

Today with 6 Tb drives being affordable there is no need for that many drives and most mid size tower cases will still accommodate full ATX motherboards. So I started my search for a replacement case. Today most cases come without power supplies and that was fine with me so that I could tailor the power supply to the build.

One thing that I learned when I started this search was that factory closed loop liquid cooling systems were competitively priced with after market air coolers. Also Intel no longer ships heat-sinks with their CPUs so I had to plan around some sort of cooling solution. So to keep my options open I wanted a case that supported at least a 240mm or 280mm closed loop liquid cooler.

To keep with the recycling philosophy I also needed a case with at least one external 5.25" drive to put my current SATA BD-RW drive into. But since I could get a USB 3.0 enclosure to put it in for $40 this was a preference more than a must have. I also wanted a case that supported USB 3.0 ports on the front instead of USB 2.0.

I also decided that this time I wanted a case with a window and a far better look than the utilitarian Titan case that I am using.

I found several cases that I liked. While many that I liked did not have the 5.25" drive bay most of these that I liked in the mid-tower size did not include room for the liquid cooling option that I wanted. During the search I did find that a new trend in cases was to include handles to make them easier to carry around.

In the end I had narrowed my search to two cases, the Corsair Vengeance C70 Gaming case and the Cooler Master Master Case Pro 5. Both of these had all of the premium features that I decided that I wanted. These are:


  • Support for ATX Motherboard
  • Support for 240mm or 280mm closed loop liquid cooler
  • Front panel 2xUSB 3.0, Headphone and mic jacks
  • Support for a 5.25" drive and both supported at least two
  • Side Window
  • Cable management behind the motherboard tray
  • Front and rear fan mounts
  • Handles

In the end it was the looks of the cases that made the difference. The Corsair case was deliberately designed to have a utilitarian military style as noted that the original release was just in "Military" green. The Cooler Master case has a much more futuristic look and in the Pro configuration the handles are hidden but still easy to use.

There was one failing though with this case in my mind though. One of the things that I notice in my research was that some of the IO panels for a few of the high end motherboards were illuminated so that you could plug and unplug cables in the dark or under the table. I really liked this feature, but not enough to select any of those motherboards. I had also found a case that had an LED mounted to illuminate the IO panel so I will look into modifying either case to add two red LEDs to light up the IO panel. If they have enough of an indentation I can drill a hole and add a rubber grommet to hold an LED or two to light up the panel.

So the recommendation is Cooler Master Master Case Pro 5 - $140 at Newegg.

The CPU

When I built my current case I went with the less expensive core i5 and I was planning on upgrading it to a core i7 eventually. That eventually never happened. This time I decided to go with the core i7 from the start. So this is one part that I would go all out and get the new Intel i7-6700k. For an extra $100 I would get double the performance so it make sense to start there. The i7-6700k is also designed by Intel to be overclocked. I had planned on overclocking my current system but never put the time in to do it. At the time Intel actively discouraged overclocking but now they have reversed that position.

Intel has also no longer includes a heat-sink and fan with their retail CPU packaging. I suspect that they surveyed their customers and learned that very few were using the heat-sink and fan that came in the package. The good thing is that this appears to have allowed them to keep the same price for their 6th gen core CPUs as they had for their 5th gen core CPUs with a heat-sink and fan.

Intel also recommends their 120mm closed loop liquid cooler for use with these CPUs and states that it keeps the CPU 7 degrees C cooler than their past stock solution.

So the recommendation is the Intel i7-6700k - $360 at Newegg.

CPU Cooling

A quick look at Newegg will show decent LGA 1051 compatible air cooling solutions for $20-$170. Since overclocking can double the power used on the CPU the only air coolers worth considering are $50-$130. Looking at Newegg the closed loop liquid coolers are $80-$112 for the newest models designed to work with the Intel Z170 motherboard chipset.

There are several advantages to all liquid coolers. The first is that they can disperse heat faster than the best air cooling solution. Air cooling moves air from inside the case through the cooler and leaves the hot air in the case. So their efficiency is heavily dependent on the overall air flow through the case. Liquid coolers are mounted to the case and commonly take in air from the case and deposit the hot air outside the case. So the air in the case is cooler and the negative air pressure caused by the fan(s) on the radiator can help keep everything else in the case cooler.

Recently there has been reports of the sixth gen core CPU substrates cracking and breaking due to mechanical stress from the CPU coolers. Intel and several CPU cooler manufacturers have said that they are investigating this. Some though are recommending removing the cooler before transporting the computer just in case. This gives a third reason why closed loop liquid cooling is better than air cooling. All that sits on the CPU is the water block. The water block weighs less than the heat pipes, radiator and fans of a high efficiency air cooler. It also sits far lower so that there is less of a mechanical increase of stress. Since one of the thoughts for this system is to be able to move it, there is a lot of reason to not use air cooling for the CPU. So the decision seems to be to go with the liquid cooling. As noted the price difference is far lower that it was when liquid cooling was always a custom build. The question is now which liquid cooler.

Most of the closed loop liquid coolers are made by two companies that OEM with modifications to the various distributors. After considerable research I decided on going with one of the latest Corsair liquid cooling systems. One factor is that they are made by the same company that makes liquid cooling systems for Intel to distribute under their logo. The second factor is that I had decided to go with a Corsair power supply and I could use the same application to configure and control both the Power Supply and Liquid cooling system. Corsair also has 120mm, 140mm, 240mm and 280mm systems that are certified for use with the new sixth generation Intel core CPUs so I should be able to find something to match the motherboard and case.

Since the case that I selected can use the 280mm closed loop liquid coolers I decided to go with the Corsair Hydro Series H115i. This is a redesign of their H110 CTX with a CPU block that is designed for a better fit on the Z170 based motherboards. The H110 and H115 series are both 280mm radiator based cooling solution. While in normal operation the H80 would be adequate, this is a Frank-N-Puter and the case and cooler are expected to to be used for years and better cooling may be needed in the future. I also wanted to have plenty of reserve cooling capacity since heat is a major factor in how long a CPU will last and I hope to overclock the CPU which means more heat to disperse.

So the recommendation is the Corsair Hydro Series H115i at $111 at Newegg.

System Memory

The next part of building the new system is the memory. The sixth generation Intel core CPUs and Z170 motherboards support DDR4 memory so the DDR3 memory that I have can not be recycled into the new system.

For a while the best memory, especially for overclocking has been made by Corsair and G.Skill. I used G.Skill in the past and my current system has Corsair memory. So I have really no preference between the two. Both have announced product lines that they are specifically certifying for use with the i7-6700K CPU and Z170 motherboard chipset.

The motherboards that I am considering have excellent Intel XMP support. For those that do not understand what XMP is here is a quick definition. The maximum standard speed for DDR4 memory is 2133. Anything faster is out of spec. But the demand is for faster memory and RAM manufacturers are making memory that can run faster. XMP is information stored on a memory stick indicating what the manufacturer considers a faster speed for the memory to run. The motherboard and Intel memory controller in the CPU can read the information and operate at those speeds. This is not considered overclocking. All of the motherboards that I am considering support DDR4 3400 speed for a 59% improvement in memory speed. The current memory is DDR3 667 speed. So there will be a 5x improvement in memory access speed at a start.

So it simply comes down to speed as to which memory to use. There are three configurations that I would consider for this system. The first is 16 Gb of memory. This is what I currently have and for most operations is reasonable and what I would build a system with. The second is 32 Gb of memory. For what I do outside of gaming this is the optimal amount of memory for the system. For the dream system I would use 64 Gb on memory since this is the maximum that the CPU and Z170 chipset supports.

In all situations the best price for the DDR4 3400 memory is from G.Skill currently.

So the recommendation is the G.Skill TridentZ Series DDR4 3400 16GB (2 x 8GB) at $110 from Newegg for the likely system build.

So the recommendation is the G.Skill TridentZ Series DDR4 3400 32GB (4 x 8GB) at $195 from Newegg for desired sysem build. This is double the modules from the likely build and the likely can be upgraded to this

So the recommendation is the G.Skill TridentZ Series DDR4 3400 64GB (4 x 16GB) at $450 from Newegg for the fantasy system build.

As with all computer products heat is a real problem and while this memory has an excellent heat spreader I would still add a memory fan to the system. G.Skill has their Turbulence III memory fans which are $15 at Newegg. My preference though is the Corsair Vengeance Airflow fan which are $27 at Newegg. The main reasons are the styling and the fact that it does not have the white LED that the G.Skill fan has. It is also designed to work with the one side memory clip configuration of the motherboards that I am considering by changing one of the connector plates. The Corsair also takes a standard 60mm fan so it can be replaced if needed or replaced with an LED fan if desired for accent lighting.

Disks

This in the past has been the most fascinating part of the build to me. In the past the Frank-N-Puters in the spreadsheet always included an option with a massive amount, for then, of disk space in a RAID-5 configuration. But with the increase in disk size this has become less interesting to me since 3-4 Tb of ready storage in either a single drive or RAID-1 configuration is more than enough for my purposes. Older versions also had tape backup. This evolved to DVD-R and then the current system with BD-R. However with current pricing it is far more cost effective and convenient to use Western Digital My Books with a USB 3.0 interface to archive data. So a disk burner is part of the system to read backups that I have already made and write data to share with others. When my current drive needs replacing I will move to a USB 3.0 or 3.1 external drive since those are fast enough to keep up with with the disk and remove the need for an exposed 5.25" drive bay in future cases.

So while it may seem that disk drives may have lost interest to me, this is not true. The current world of new drive interfaces and SSD drives is actually very exciting. Since I build my current system the price of SSD drives has become reasonable to consider for systems. And while there are shortcummings with them still and practices to keep them useable for as long as possible they have really become an important part of a performance design.

Right now mechanical HDD can not saturate the SATA III bus and can be the bottleneck is the system. SSDs can saturate the SATA III bus and are ideal for reading large amounts of data or lots of small files. The speed limitation of SATA III has cause manufacturers to look at faster interfaces. SATAe and mini-PCIe are two of the attempts to deal with this. Neither was embraced by both motherboard and drive manufacturers. Of the two mini-PCIe did gain some adoption with laptop and convertible tablet manufacturers but not with desktop manufacturers.

Manufacturers did learn from both of these attempts and refined these into the new M.2 interface and protocol. This is quickly replacing mini-PCIe in mobile computing since it can be used with not only SSDs but with Wi-Fi and other communication and other cards. With the rise of dedicated miniature computers this had a huge following with desktop computers. With the design of the Z170 chipset, Intel has also made it very easy to support the M-key version of the M.2 interface and with the NVMe protocall this has become popular for high performance desktop systems. Both motherboard and drive manufacturors have embraced this and are shiping plenty of components. In fact the adoption seems to be far faster than the adoption of SATA.

But there are things to know when getting and configuring an M.2 SSD. First the main motherboards for this build only have the M-key socket. This is fine since it provided the highest performance. The M-key socket supports two eletrical and communication protocalls. The first is standard SATA III. This has made it very easy for SSD manufacturers to offer drives in this new configuration. All of their chips work and all they have to do is place them on a new PC card and there is no need for packaging like they have to do for 2.5" drives. Other than convenience this is of little interest to the performace system maker. The second is the PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe interface. This does require a new controller chip but has six times the speed of SATA III. Current drives top out at five times the speed of SATA III so there is room for improvement.

The demand for M.2 SSDs with this new interface is extremely high and several companies now are using controllers that support both protocalls and in several capacities.

So for the operating system and program files I would use one of these. For my current system usage the 256 GB version would just be enough to hold the operating system and common applications that I use with the recommended 75% unused to maximize SSD life. Ideally I would upgrade to the 512 Gb.

For a dedicated gaming system this is all that you would need for disk drives. For a more general purpose system I would add a standard SATA III hard disk. Right now I like the Western Digital Black line of drives and I would get a 2 Tb WD2003FZEX drive along with the 6 Tb Western Digital My Book drive.

Also for the work that I do there are times when I would like lots of fast disk space. Faster than a HDD is preferred but since the life of SSDs are based on the total data written to the drive I would not like to use my boot disk. So what I would do is add a SATA III SSD for this purpose. If it dies before the rest of the system I could replace it and continue along. Right now I feel that the Mushkin Enhanced ECO3 is the best value. My primary use for this drive would be dedicated storage for the 3D animation work that I do. The $40 price for the 120 Gb version is enough to actually consider improving the reliability and performance by using three to make a 240 Gb RAID-5 configuration.

So on to the Optical disk.

There are two important features to consider when getting one of these drives. The first is support for BDXL. This is support for three and four layer BD-R media with up to a 125 Gb capacity. The second is support for M-Disk. This is an archival form of DVD-R and BD-R that does not use dyes that decay over time.

Currently only the Samsung SE-506CB/RSWD is the only external drive that I can find that supports both.

Due to the speed limitations of USB 3.0 the external drives only support a 6x write speed. Internal drives can support 16x write speeds. Right now I would recommend the LG WH16NS40 as the internal drive.

So the recommendation is the Samsung 950 Pro 256 GB - $182 at Newegg for the likely system.

So the recommendation is the Samsung 950 Pro 512 GB - $310 at Newegg for the high end system.

So the recommendation is the Mushkin Enhanced ECO3 240 Gb - $65 at Newegg for the likely system.

So the recommendation is the Western Digital WD2003FZEX - $123 at Newegg for the likely system.

So the recommendation is the Western Digital WDBFJK0060HBK - $199 at Newegg for the likely system.

Graphics Card

This can be the most controvercial component of the build. I know people that swear by AMD, I was one of these in the past, and those that swear by Nvidia, I have been one of these for years. 

First I am going to recommend only a single graphics card. Very few games really show a performance increase with SLI. If you play one of these game then you definitely want to plan on SLI.

Second I am going to only look at Nvidia. I have several reasons for this and the first is that the 3D work that I do has the ability to us the iray system to render the 3D objects. Since iray was develooped by Nvidia it can only use the CUDA graphics cores to accelerate rendering. So for my purposes an AMD graphics card gains me nothing. The other reason is the release of the new Nvidia 1070 and 1080 video cards at a price that is compedative with the current 970 and 980 cards. Both of these cards have performance that is nearly double that of any other card on the market for under $1000. So I would expect that the demand for these new cards will result in some really great deals on 970 and 980 based video cards.

Right now I would recommend a GTX 970 as the best value. If you want better performance wait for the release of the GTX 1070 and 1080.

I have found that Nvidia runs a fairly strict partner program and I have used Nvidia cards from several vendors so there is no vendor that I would recommend over any other. EVGA is probably the best known but I have also used or heard good things about PNY, MSI and Asus. I would be comfortable with boards by other manufacturers. 

I will say that if you are going to purchase from Newegg I would look at the Asus graphics cards since they offer some bundle discounts when purchasing an Asus motherboard and as a preview to a later section, I will recommend Asus motherboards.

Motherboard

So now onto the motherboard where all of these come together.

I have used Asus motherboards for the last fifteen years and the reviews still list them as the overclocking king. So I had only one place to look for the motherboard.

I eventually settled on three Motherboards.

First I will talk about the fantasy motherboard. This is the Republic of Gamers Maximus VIII Extreme/Assembly. This includes not only a super fast Wi-Fi adapter, Bluetooth and Intel gaming 1000-BaseT on the motherboard but it also has a 10,000-BaseT adapter card bundled with the system. Since gamers generally use a headset, it includes an amplifier that fits into a 5.25" bay with volume control. It has a 1/4" and 3.5mm headphone jacks along with a 3.5mm mic jack.

Other features include a two digit POST code display and buttons on the motherboard for power, reset and other functions to facilitate testing and burn in before installing the board into the case.

Next is the Asus Z170 Pro Gaming motherboard. This is an excellent configuration for gaming. It has all of the software options that the ROG Maximus VIII has but without many of the features that only power gamers care about such as 4 way SLI and an integrated amplifier for the headset.

Finally there is the Asus Z170-A motherboard. It is virtually identical to the Z170 Pro Gaming but does not have the RAM disk software and certain other game tuning options. It is configured with some options that provide better performance when not gaming. Also unlike the other two boards that feature a black and red color scheme this one features a black and gray/white color scheme that allows for more options when lighting the case.

All three of these have plenty of USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports on the motherboard along with an adequate number of SATA ports and an M keyed M.2 connector. The chipset also supports RAID 0, 1, 10 and 5.

Asus also makes overclocking very easy. All three of these motherboards should be able to easily do 4.5 GHz on the recommended CPU and most likely go even faster depending on the quality of the CPU chip and power supply.

So the recommendation is the ROG Maximus VIII Extreme/Assembly - $594 at Newegg for the fantasy system.

So the recommendation is the Asus Z170 Pro gaming - $145 at Newegg for a gaming dedicated build

So the recommendation is the Asus Z170-A - $155 at Newegg for the likely build

Power Supply

There are two important things to consider when choosing power supplies. The first is if it is big enough to allow the system to run. The second is will it allow you to overclock or expand your system.

From the simple will it run question the Newegg power supply estimator indicates that this system would need a 650w power supply. If you add a second display card and max out the number of drives that the case can hold you would need a 850w power supply. But when you overclock you will use more power. Also in order to successfully overclock you need a very stable current and voltage out of the power supply. The further below the maximum output you are the more stable the power is. Also the more efficient the power supply the more stable the voltage and current. So I would recommend using a 1000w or greater power supply with a gold or platinum power efficiency rating.

As I had stated earlier I was going to pick a Corsair power supply because of their control software being able to control the liquid cooling system and the power supply. The Corsair RM, HXi and AXi all support the control software and are also fully modular so that you only need to connect the power cables to the power supply that you need. My recommendation is the Corsair HX1000iHX1200i or AX1200i Platinum certified power supplies. These allow for future expandability and have an excellent reputation for stability.

So the recommendation is the HX1000i - $189 at Newegg

Putting it all Together

The only must do modification is to the Corsair Link USB cables for the liquid cooler and power supply. Both of these use half of the 9-pin motherboard USB 2.0 connector. This is because the 5 pin connector could be plugged in backwards. To avoid wasting two USB 2.0 ports that could be otherwise used I would carefully remove the pins from one of the 9-pin connectors and move it to the other other. That way both USB ports will be fully utilized.

After doing this the system should go together fairly straight forward. The Master Case Pro 5 has a solid separator between the main compartment and the lower compartment that contains the power supply and a 2 disk drive cage. The side window has a black cover across the bottom to completely hide this lower compartment. The cover is removable but I would leave it in place. I would mount the 3.5" HDD in this lower disk cage and remove the 3 disk drive cage from the main compartment and save it for future use. The case has two 2.5" drive covers on the bottom of the main compartment. These can also be moved to the back of the motherboard tray. If you want to hide all of the disk drives and are using one of the 2.5" SSDs you can remove the unused cover and relocate the other to the back of the motherboard tray where it will be hidden.

It is best to mount the liquid cooler radiator to the top mounting bracket and then add it to the case and mount the water block to the CPU after the motherboard is mounted in the case. When you mount the fans and radiator I would mount the fans to blow out the top of the case. I would then mount the radiator below the fans so that they pull air through the radiator and then out of the case. This configuration would make it easier to clean the radiator. An alternative configuration would be to mount the radiator above the fans and have the fans blowing through the radiator out the top of the case. In this configuration I would mount dust filters to each fan to keep the radiator clean. This is probably the best configuration since it would keep the the radiator the cleanest and be the easiest to clean.

The case has two 140mm fans installed in the front to pull air into the case. While not needed I would use a Y-cable to connect these two fans together and then connect them to the fan controller. This way they will run at the same speed and avoid turbulence from the fans running at different speeds. 

For anyone with a little experience in building systems all the rest will be very straight forward.

Given some excess money I would then make some additional changes to this system. 

The first is that I would get the Corsair Commander Mini. Since it can connect directly to the power supply I would modify the 9-pin USB connectors of it and the liquid cooler to take up one socket. Then run a cable between it and the power supply. I would mount this in the lower compartment since there is plenty of room. It comes with four thermal sensors. I would mount one to the motherboard beneath the M.2 SSD drive and one between or next to the memory. I would save the other two for future use. I would connect the memory, input and exhaust fans to this instead of the motherboard and let it control the fans. The Commander Mini can also control RGB light strips. I would get three of the Commander LED strip kits. Each kit has two strips and cables to daisy chain the strips together. This is enough to provide lights around the main compartment of the case. I had seen pictures of cases with the LEDs behind the front grill and liked them. You can do this and have it look good in a two fan configuration but not in a three fan in my opinion. (Right now I think two LED fans in the lower two positions in the front with no LED in the top one if you go with three and no LEDs framing the grill is the best looking configuration.)The color and brightness can be adjusted through the Commander through the UI. I would then replace the two front and the rear exhaust fans with 140mm fans with LEDs in them. With the ROG and Gamer Pro motherboards these should be Red LEDs to avoid conflicting with the color scheme of these motherboards. The Z170-A motherboard has a neutral color scheme so any color can be used. Personally I would use a blue LED color scheme with it but the option is completely up to each person as to what to use.

If you use the external optical disk drive and do not use the ROG amplifier, I would add a third 140mm disk drive to the front and remove the 5.25" disk cage also. I would use a three way splitter to drive all three fans.

If you use the internal 5.25" optical disk drive I would consider putting a drawer into the unused bay if you are not using the ROG motherboard with the amplifier that would go there. I would also use the drawer if you use the ROG amplifier and an external optical disk drive.

If you do all of the optional items you will have a very nice looking and powerful system.

When I get to fixing/replacing my current system in a few months I may come back with photos of what I actually did.