I know this is going to sound crazy, but didn't you ever try replacing the PSU in the destroyed rig? I've heard of a case of a PC mostly surviving but needing a new PSU - though in those cases, the PCs were usually behind surge protectors and it was just that powerful/close a strike. (The guy's Wii also survived but not his PS3 or 360, which I find kind of amusing.)
Looks like you adopted the GPU biased approach well before I did - the Radeon 9700 Pro based machine (Athlon XP 2600+ with 512MB, XP) was the first machine I did that on, and the only such machine I've built that my dad and I don't still use in some capacity. Not uncoincidentally it might be my favourite gaming rig - Max Payne 2 and Far Cry in particular were just jaw dropping on that thing.
I have the feeling I'm going to regret the fact my Gravis Blackhawk doesn't work with modern PCs (again, gameport) if that Descent on Unreal 3 engine project turns out to be good - there's supposed to be a multiplayer demo ready for Christmas this year.
(Also, as much as I miss Jedi Knight deathmatch, small LANs is the one area I've found has dramatically improved since the early 00s... cheap games off Steam sales and more lenient hardware requirement have made it easier to get everyone on the same page and a few titles like Borderlands and Left 4 Dead 2 are just plain better with four people.)
(Edit 2: BTW, I'd been hoping the Battlefield 4 Beta will shed some light on what sort of hardware Dragon Age III will need since they're both Frostbyte based... but then I realize DICE is targetting 60FPS on consoles and DA3 might not given that it's an RPG, so the comparison might not mean much.)
Occasionally, I have this urge to research the extremely nerd hobby of building high end retro gaming PCs (ie. 90s era systems). I'm not sure why - I don't have the space, there's other things I could use the money for, and DosBox and community patches mean there's less and less payoff for it.
So, I'm wondering: did you ever own any really awesome PC hardware 10+ years back? Or anything completely abysmal? Just plain unusual?
Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB: Part of me has trouble accepting this is actually 10+ years old. I consider it the single most impressive graphics boards I've ever owned (adjusting for the time I actually had it). Bought in June 2003 for $470 Canadian* just after the Radeon 9800 Pro came out, not sure how I convinced my dad to shell out for this given that he wouldn't pay a lessor amount for a Geforce 3 a couple years prior.
I still have the card, but the fan seized up and my dad broke one of the fins trying to get it running again. It may have taken heat damage too. By that point I could get a faster AGP card for very little, but I'm still disappointed that it isn't in collectable condition.
*Canadian dollar was really low during the late 90s/early 00s, as low as like 66 cents American. Resulted in some pretty high computer prices.
MS Sidewinder Gamepad: I keep hearing this described as being one of the best classic gamepad designs… I bought one off a friend during a phase when I was into console emulation. Still have it, but none of my current systems have a gameport. I have the same problem with a Gravis Blackhawk joystick I also still have and might use on occasion otherwise.
IBM Model M: I'm typing this post on one. My dad and I actually have several of these - my dad's work used to allow employees to buy obsolete Pentium 75 rigs for like $15, and several of the ones we got included model Ms. Lost one to my brother spilling soda on it but the rest are in perfect running order. I'm not actually as big a fan as I once was though: no Windows key (useful for Aero Snap in 7), huge footprint that results in iffy mouse ergonomics, and the key action is actually so heavy that it can get tiring during really long essay writing sessions.
Matrox Mystique: This is my "abysmal" one, part of a rig my dad built. Ironically I never learned just how bad it was because we only had the system for a year before a non-gaming relative bought it and none of the games I was playing at the time actually used its 3d acceleration. The retro reviews indicate that things things had artifacts like crazy in 3D titles.
I don't think any pre 2001 PC I owned had a decent GPU, didn't start reading enthusiast sites until 2000 and I had trouble finding really good guides to them in the mainstream computing press.
And finally, one that was more an amalgamation of hardware than a specific piece of hardware: in 1999, we visited a friend of my dad's in another city who had Jedi Knight multiplayer running on his 3PC home network. So of course, when we got back to Vancouver we bought some obsolete Pentium 75s for cheap and ran 10mbps ethernet throughout the house. Despite the fact the P75s had crappy frame rates (giving a huge advantage to whoever got my dad's K6-2 450mhz rig for that round), it was completely awesome and nobody else I knew at the time had anything remotely similar. I kind of want to get Jedi Knight running in an IPX capable VM (64 bit Windows lacks IPX support) just for nostalgia's sake to be honest.
The GPU does seem like it'll be the make or break aspect for me. After currency conversion, RAM/SSD upgrades, external storage and optical, etc, the Sager comes in around $1500 Canadian (before taxes). An equivalent ITX box based around a Silverstone SG-05 is $1100 - but for around $1300, I can get one with a 4GB GTX 760, which will compete with a $2200-2400, 7.3 pound 15 incher with a GTX 780M. $1500 v $1100 I think I can justify to myself - we are talking 4.6 pounds here versus 15, along with a form factor that fits a wider variety of bags - $2200-2400 v. $1300 I don't think I can even with my field's pretty good job prospects.
Hence why I'm waiting to see if nVidia can bring 780M level performance to 765M thermals and pricing next year. Matching is probably impossible - we're talking a 96% increase in computer and a 150% increase in memory bandwidth. That would require the new process to have no more leakage than the current and a move to a 256 bit memory bus or GDDR6 (also due out 2014), but I want to see how close they get.
Note 1: The one thing I did do with the ITX reference build that I wouldn't with a normal desktop is replace a single 3.5 inch drive with multiple 2.5s - I just don't trust a 3.5 for a rig that'll be transported around. Though come to think of it, the reliability record of my 2.5 inchers shows an odd pattern: the ones in laptops are all fine, the two external 2.5s I've had have both had occasional bad sectors. What's with that? It's not like I use the externals on buses (as I occasionally do with laptops!)
Note 2: Well it would probably still be super expensive, it would have been interesting if Alienware had offered the GTX 780M in the Alienware 14. You can probably justify having a 6lbs weight versus your competitiors 4-4.6 pounds if you're the lightest notebook with such a beefy GPU - contrast offering only internal optical for the extra 1.4 lbs+.
The catch is mostly, as you already noticed, in the price. You don't have to compromise quite as much when you can start throwing wads of cash around; things get more limited when you've got less money to play with.
You're still making huge sacrifices vs. desktop (even mini-itx) when going with any laptop due to the mobile GPU being so much weaker than the desktop parts.
Basically I still don't really advise buying a gaming laptop. As a friend of mine mentioned, if you really want gaming on the go, get a PS Vita. If you're dead-set on it, just realize that you're going to be getting a lot less for your money and you're going to make a lot of sacrifices. You probably won't be able to run anything new decently at native resolution if you're running 1920x1080, even with the best mobile parts available.
They just can't hold a candle to even midrange desktop GPUs.
When you say Sager's build quality is bad, are we talking Ideapad bad or something more along the lines of that Uniwill manufactured no name brand I had that basically self destructed in 14 months? Because compared to the GE40, the NP7330 appears to have a better screen, better GPU, and better thermals (an issue with quite a few recent MSIs unfortunately) for only a slight increase in weight.
The advantage of a 15-18 incher is that you don't need to bring a monitor with you... not a consideration when I'm visiting my parent/brother since they have spare monitors around, but it potentially opens up some scenarios for co-op when I visit friends. Price is, of course, the main sticking point.
(Also, MSI and Razer seem to be trying to establish a middle ground between gaming ultraportables and "luggables" with machines like the GS70 and Blade Pro. The GS70 really intrigues me... the 5.7 pound weight almost screams "there must be a catch" but then again a retina 15 inch MBP is only what, 4.4 pounds? Cooling system is dual fan too, unlike most of the recent MSIs that have had problems. Then again, I suppose $2000 for a 765M is its own catch.)
Sager/Clevo builds usually have the power in raw specs, but they tend to be built like shit and have the durability of tissue paper. Honestly if I were concerned with mobile gaming, I'd be looking at something along the lines of a Razer Blade or MSI GE40... to get a decently-built laptop that doesn't way six zillion pounds and can get more than twelve minutes on battery.
"Gaming laptops" of the 15-18" monster range just don't make any sense to me. Those are transportable rigs, not true portables, and you're better off just making a MiniITX LAN party box, which would be much cheaper (read $1000 vs $2500+) and have considerably more power and upgrade headroom than a laptop.
I used to have a gaming laptop, an MSI GX640, which, for its time, was quite the beast with a Mobility Radeon 5850, but it was $1200 when I bought it, and I could have built a transportable MiniITX for less money and significantly more power. And that was a 15-inch with a 1680x1050 display, so it wasn't quite full HD either. If I had gone for a 17-inch with full HD and the GPU to drive it (i.e. 5870 or GTX 580M) it would have been closer to $1800-2000.
Right now the only gaming laptops I ever raise my eyebrows up at are the super-portable ones. I get a little excited every time I read about a 13.3" machine that someone stuffed a decent mobile GPU and 1920x1080 display into.
"Next gen ready" might be a better term than future proof here.
The 765M is actually pretty much equivalent to a Xbone in raw compute power based on the rumours (caveat: there's rumour of Microsoft boosting clock speed to try and match the PS4's beefier GPU). Yes, there's the optimization argument, but I think it's actually overstated. The Xenos GPU in the 360 and the Radeon HD6450 are both rated by AMD at 240 Gflops (and yes, I realize the HD6450 is a much newer architecture). And the HD6450 actually comes damn close to running many cross platform games at "console standards" (ie. 720P, not maxed out, 30FPS for more graphically impressive games and 60FPS where frame rates a concern). Tom's hardware reviewed one at 1280x720 and 1680x1050. The 720P numbers
Crysis 2(high): 25 FPS - compared to 30 on 360
Left 4 Dead 2 (high): 50 FPS
Metro 2033 (low): 31 FPS
Skyrim (1280x1024 Medium - from their Skyrim performance article): 28 FPS
So a decent amount of the console's performance boost would appear to come from the lower resolution and FPS targets - and I suspect we'll see more games targeting higher resolutions this generation.
Is the NP7330 and it's 765M GPU "there" yet? IMO, no (as I stated earlier)… but I could see a 20nm process successor to the 765M doing the trick for a lot of people, and 20nm GPUs are supposed to start shipping 2014 (though TSMC isn't exactly known for smooth launches recently…). I think mobile gamers lucked out this time in that the new consoles are launching so late into the life of the 28nm process and aren't pushing limits as hard as last gen.
The NP7330 is exciting for the reasonably sized package and the price. Next year's model could be exciting for the performance.