This series of write-ups celebrates the Lenovo Forum's family of volunteer advocates - moderators, gurus and outstanding members of the Forum, who consistently go out of their way to help out in this community through sharing what they know, dissecting, delving and diving into various issues to educate other users and solve one another's problems. We salute and honor your dedication and hard work!
A guru who spends an inordinate amount of time online, ColonelONeill, aka Jason ***** (sorry folks – we have been sworn to secrecy on his last name), counts Star Trek’s Spock as an inspiration (“just because he is Spock”), and plays a mean game of Crysis (though he claims he stinks at it – so modest, this one!) Somehow, we managed to pry him away from his games and studies for a little bit to let us in on what keeps his engine running, as well as steal a few tips on getting that good buy for gaming.
Serene: Tell us about your handle. Why settle on ColonelONeill?
Jason: As a Stargate SG-1 fan, I've always found that Richard Dean Anderson's character added that extra bit of wit and charm that put the whole show a cut above the rest. Hence, I adopted his canonical character's name. This was a fair bit before his promotion to General in the show, and I've always found that his previous rank rolled off the tongue easier (this, and the fact that his role as Colonel was most influential in the show).
Serene: So what do you do in your spare time, besides visiting the forums?
Jason: There's life outside of the Lenovo Forums? O_O The following diagram taken off the net (what else?) nicely sums me up.
I read, do math, and surf the internet. As far as I'm concerned, 10% of my time goes into studying and 90% gets piped into NUL or something. I hang out with friends either in person or on MSN. I'm often the go-to guy for computer issues -- calculus, linear algebra, and physics questions; correcting grammatical mistakes; and, frustratingly, a human proxy for Google. On a sidenote, one isn't exposed to much rigorous mathematics in a Commerce program, and as a Commerce student with a side interest in math, it follows that to learn more math one would need to allocate otherwise spare time to mathematics. I suppose you could say I collect knowledge? O.o Then there's always time spent pondering the philosophical mysteries of the universe... Serene: How did you get so smart about computers anyway?
Jason: Computers are more logical and rational than the emotional, human mind. A computer will do exactly what you tell it to do, but also behave in such a way which may not be what you want it do to. Of course, it takes some dedication and interest in the subject matter for you to go anywhere beyond day-to-day usage, so it depends (on) if it's your cup of tea. I play a lot of games, but I tend to suck at them anyway. I like Crysis (the first one, not so much the second one), Shadow of Chernobyl, Tiberian Sun (before EA ate the franchise for breakfast), Counter-Strike Source (a gaming staple), Left4Dead 2 (for LAN parties with friends), and as a quick break from studying, Audiosurf. My main gripe with newer games is that a) they've become mind numbingly simple, b) there's a lot more restrictions on where you can explore, c) too many things are handed to you on a platter and d) the lack of replay value. Sure I've played Dead Space 2 (good for a play through), some of the Call of Duty-s (meh), and what-have-you, but they don’t amuse me for long.
Serene: As an avid gamer, what tips would you give someone looking for a machine to play games on?
Jason: Personally, I'm a "if it runs the game, then that's good enough" kind of guy; I played through quite a few games on an underpowered T400... although near the end of its life, I had given the graphics card a nice kick in the clock speeds, which have helped with frame rates.
When it comes down to specs, there's a few key components you have to take note of. The core of a computer is arguably the CPU, which is nowadays generally offered in dual or quad-core variants. Most games still aren't highly multithreaded, so that quad-core with eight slower threads would probably not help much compared to a higher-clocked dual-core cousin (Turbo Boost tries to get the best of both worlds.) You'll get a bit of an increase in battery life, and probably a bit lower temperatures due to the lower TDP of Intel Sandy Bridge's dual-cores (duals are 35 watts, quads are 45 watts). When it comes to gaming, the bigger graphics card the better (up to a point). My W520 has a Quadro 2000M, which is a workstation branded card but is no slouch in gaming. The major concern with all of these high powered chips is that they don't do so well in terms of heat output, especially in a laptop form-factor. Therefore, it is imperative that one gets a proper cooling system, much as one would do in a desktop, but there's way more flexibility there in terms of custom coolers and such. These two points will probably be the major factors involved with the gaming experience, as long as one doesn't neglect the amount of RAM in the system (4-8GB should be plenty, and improves responsiveness by reducing paging).
Serene: What other tips or advice do you have for those who wish to enhance their gaming experiences?
Jason: A good screen is key to gaming. Personally, I found first-person shooters to be best experienced on one of those old-school CRT monitors as LCD screens tend to have a noticeable lag time. A "low-response time" screen can compensate, but the pixel overdriving isn't good for the screen, causes some ghosting artifacts, and reduces panel longevity, which are all trade-offs. There's not much choice in a laptop though.
Another factor to consider is sound. Now, I'm clumsy and drop things a lot (explains why I have a ThinkPad, and how quickly I go through ear buds), so I haven't invested in a good pair of ear buds. Although we'd probably all wish for movie theater surround sound, a nice pair of headphones or speakers can do nicely. The current spatial virtualization algorithms aren't bad and can project sounds from many directions using only stereo speakers.
Lastly, we have the input systems. A gaming mouse and a good keyboard is a must. A key point of the keyboard that is often neglected outside of the gaming community is n-key rollover. This means that one can press any number of keys and not confuse the keyboard controller. Most non-gaming keyboards suffer from key jamming, where pressing more than two keys will often lead to some or all of the keys not being recognized (ThinkPads will beep when this happens by default). This makes it difficult to perform complicated keyboard macros without jamming, and can make the difference as a soldier in the field or as an army general during heated battle.
So there you have it - ColonelONeill’s words of wisdom on what to look out for when getting a machine for gaming... What is your favorite laptop for gaming and why? What matters most to you? Join in the discussion here.