Monday, October 28, 2019

When Rip Van Winkle Wakes Up....

Given that I game on an old Ivy Bridge Intel machine, a lot of modern PC tech* doesn't really register as how great of an improvement it really is. After all, when the graphics card died on the machine 3 years ago, I replaced it with what was then a fair-to-middling Raedeon RX470 card and got a decent boost in performance for a relatively cheap cost. But given that a lot of throughput on video games requires both a decent internet connection** and a decent processor/motherboard, I've forgotten just how much in some games the hard drive itself matters.

Typically hard drives have the greatest impact in loading times for a zone/mission/whatever, and once the locale is loaded it's all dependent on the processor/motherboard, the RAM, and the graphics card. A SSD speeds up those loading times tremendously, particularly if you've been gaming with a slower 5400 rpm mechanical drive. Still, some games have started putting SSDs in the "recommended specs" listings.

Such as WoW Classic.

When the hell did this happen?

 But you know, this makes perfect sense to me.

When you're out in the game world, the game is constantly polling and loading graphics into memory. Sure, there's the network connection that lets the game know what the NPCs and PCs are doing, but there's also the background. And that has to be seamless.

In some games, such s SWTOR and LOTRO, I've noticed that loading times of graphics from the hard drive can have a huge impact on playability. If you play SWTOR on Alderaan and you take a flightpoint from one locale to another, you can watch the trees try to load quickly enough to keep up with the taxi. And frequently failing to keep up. In LOTRO, go to Bree and watch the game get overwhelmed with all of the activity + loading all the graphics*** for one of the most popular zones in the game.

Other MMOs, such as GW2 and ArcheAge, suffer to a lesser degree as it seems to only hit hard in areas of high populations, such as Lions Arch (GW2). (Insert random joke about how ArcheAge is so empty, there are no high populations, I suppose.) In ArcheAge, however, I've seen the greatest impact in the loading screens of the game itself. It frequently takes forever for the toon you're selecting to load draws on screen, and I'm frequently left scratching my head why this is the case when even Black Desert Online doesn't have that issue.

All of these experiences with MMOs have led me to believe that it's the mechanical drive itself that is the bottleneck on my machine. In older games in particular, my PC ought to be able to handle these MMOs with aplomb; the games don't stress the system quite as much as other games do, and I only play on 1080 resolution, not 1440 or 4k, so this machine ought to be "good enough". But with an old Seagate Barracuda as the main drive (and a recently added WD Black to move a lot of data and seldom used games to), I believe that an SSD would see huge improvements to the gameplay itself.

Blizz just happened to express those ideas to me first.****


I experienced the speeding up of loading times when I replaced the first two mini-Reds' mechanical drives on their laptops with SSDs. Admittedly I was putting those SSDs on 4 and 3 year old "okay but nothing to write home about" laptops, so the speed boost gave them a new lease on life. But it wasn't until my work laptop had its mechanical drive replaced that I noticed in daily use how much of an impact this drive has.

That daily use pretty much opened my eyes to the reality that yeah, SSDs do have a pretty big impact, and yeah, that'll show up in gaming.

Does that mean I'll replace the aging Barracuda with an SSD? Yes, but not immediately. (Budgets, you know.) But until then, I'm sure I'll survive. WoW Classic is playing better for me than it did when I played WoW in Mists, but that's also because I wasn't on the RX470 at the time. Did that card make a difference? Well, let me put it this way: I can now see the grasses waving as I run through them in WoW.

*Basically, anything newer than five years old, tech wise. The machine we have was state of the art back in 2012, if that's any reference.

**At least a connection that wouldn't get hogged by someone streaming on the same line. I can't tell you the number of times the oldest two mini-Reds would holler about the lag when their sister was doing homework with earbuds on, listening to videos on YouTube, until I finally got our home network upgraded to 20:2 mpbs.

***Particularly the high res graphics.

****Not to say that there aren't a lot of other newer games that have SSDs listed on the recommended specs, but I frequently don't play newer games --unless they're MMOs, I suppose-- so I never bother reading those games' specs. I think the most recent game I would have been potentially interested in playing would have been Anthem, but that proved to be such as disaster that I'm glad I waited until the "launch shakedown" was over to consider buying the game.


  1. So, I did some intermittent upgrades to my computer until the prices of graphics cards went down, and one of those was an SSD. I've never seen a bigger impact in not just load times for zone transitions or distance draw-in but even for rare spawn tags, and reaction time to stealthers in pvp. I've often been the first to see and tag rare spawns on in Mechagon, so it's a huge improvement. I also saw what I swear are slight improvements in ping, not necessarily game-changing, but still in the 10-15ms range.

    Adding an SSD has been maybe the biggest QoL investment I made for playing MMOs, even over the 1070TI I put in later.

    1. That's what I'm thinking, especially since it's likely to be the last upgrade on my system unless something breaks, because I can't justify the replacement of the motherboard and CPU otherwise.

      Now, if I can just make my own PC.....