Building and maintaining your own gaming PC is the best. It's also occasionally the worst. This week I upgraded my PC, fully expecting it to be a pain in the arse. Instead, something magical happened. Windows 10 actually came through.
I spent the past six months or so in a constant state of doubt about my PC. I had a really good graphics card (a GTX 1080) and a slightly aged but still totally serviceable CPU (Intel i7-4770k, OC'd to 4.2Ghz). Yet I kept getting lacklustre performance in new games. I repeatedly went through The 10 Stages Of Coping With An Underperforming PC Game. In fact, it's part of why I wrote that article.
I spent a few months hung up on the question of whether my performance was "CPU-bound." My graphics card was mighty, and should have been turning in better performance than it was. Something else had to be bottlenecking me. Maybe it was time to swap my three-year-old CPU for a new one.
I decided to get a faster CPU, which also meant upgrading my motherboard. Late last week I ordered the new parts and set aside some time to set them up. I hit a slight hiccup because I hadn't realised I'd also need new RAM, so I went ahead and ordered new RAM. (#5 on my list of The 10 Worst Things About Building a New Gaming PC: The thing you need but don't have.)
I assumed I would have to re-install Windows as well, of course. You can't just install a new motherboard, RAM, and CPU without re-installing Windows! I set up a Windows installer on a USB thumb drive and backed up my data. I set aside a couple of hours for reinstalling all my software once I got the new PC set up, and preemptively braced for whatever data and saved games I would lose. This is how I lost my Dark Souls 3 save last year, and I've reinstalled Windows enough times to know that it's always something.
Same case, fresh guts: Intel i7-7700K CPU, Asus Maximus IX Hero motherboard, GTX 1080 GPU, 32 GB RAM, Corsair H110i cooling system, mismatched but effective Noctua fans. The physical stuff was a breeze to set up. The new motherboard was the same form-factor as my old one, so I really just had to slide it into place in my case, screw in the mounting screws, and reconnect my case wires and power cables. I turned it on and… it's aliiiiive! I will never tire of the feeling that accompanies the first test-boot of a new PC.
Of course, I immediately ran into trouble booting off of the Windows installation USB drive I had set up. I made my way around the new BIOS, checked the boot order, got it to work. It was time to format my hard drive and reinstall Windows.
Only… wait. What if I didn't? What if I just tried booting as usual? Surely that couldn't work. Right?
I tried it. It worked. There was Windows 10, same as I'd left it. The desktop background was the same. All the little ins and outs of my software and operating system were intact. My games and applications were ready to go. Windows system profiler saw the new CPU and RAM. I did some googling and found mixed results as to whether or not this was possible or advisable. Could you seriously swap out your CPU and motherboard without reinstalling Windows? Turns out, as long as you stay pretty close to what you had before, there's a chance that you can.
I got a notification that I needed to reactivate my Windows licence on this PC. Ah, here it is. This is where they screw me. I had upgraded to Windows 10 during a free promotion; the last version of Windows I paid for was an OEM system builder's licence for Windows 7. OEM licenses are allegedly tied to a single motherboard, though I've seen people say they have used them on multiple builds. I tried entering that old activation key, and it worked. Windows was activated. I was good to go.
I may never tire of walking down this street at 85fps. I've spent the last day waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I don't think it's going to. I've also spent the last day destroying the games that had been giving me trouble, also known as acting out the final item on my list of The 10 Best Things About Building A New Gaming PC.
Hitman? Forget it, 80+ FPS in 1440p on the crowded streets of Marrakesh, where before I'd been in the 40s. Watch Dogs 2? 70-90fps with temporal filtering off when I used to struggle to break 50. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided? 80+ FPS on the streets of Prague with settings maxed. Looks like I had been CPU-bound, after all.
It isn't often that I'll say the sentence, "Wow, Windows 10 really made that a lot easier," but here we are. I'm sure I got lucky by choosing parts that were close enough to my existing build that Windows could handle the upgrade. I'm sure there were a hundred different ways the process could have gone wrong. All the same, Windows 10 really came through for me on this one. Behold, a minor PC gaming miracle.