Swinging weapons with Windows 8.1


Snow! When I say the word “snow”, what do you feel? Fun? Frozen? Frustration?  A child might smile. An adult might curse. Fifty different people might feel fifty different emotions. Next, what comes to mind when I say “Windows 8.1”? Fast? Furious? Fascination? Again, the same fifty people might experience fifty different reactions. It just depends on your attitude, doesn’t it?

In a previous post, I noted that my 2011 Windows 7 gaming notebook met its untimely demise in the final days of 2013. So I was forced to order my new 2014 Windows 8.1 gaming desktop much sooner than planned. Thankfully, my sexy gaming PC arrived three weeks later. And I must say, wow, it rocks! Especially when running a next-generation game like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Windows 8.1 Start screen

Windows 8.1 Start screen

Hi, my name is Jay, and I’m an IBM TRIRIGA information developer at IBM. Now that I have a working Windows 8.1 system in my possession, I can finally decide for myself whether all of the negative reviews about Windows 8 and 8.1 over the past year is based on a knee-jerk reflex to unwelcome change or a logical reaction to unfriendly design. Or maybe it’s a mixture of both.

How is my new monster gaming PC?

Like I mentioned above, the 2014 Windows 8.1 CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79 gaming PC rocks! Blazingly fast on the inside and blazingly sexy on the outside! I won’t list its full specifications since I already listed them in the same previous post. So instead, I’ll highlight the sexiest hardware. If you haven’t already tried it, I truly recommend the experience of customizing your own monster PC. 

Gaming case, cooling, and lighting:

  • Corsair Carbide AIR 540, Dual Chamber Direct Airflow, Full Side Panel Window
  • Corsair Hydro H110 280mm Liquid Cooling Extreme Performance CPU Cooler
  • Flexible LED Interior Light Strip (Red Color)

Core components, boards, and cards:

  • GIGABYTE X79-UP4 ATX with Ultra Durable 5, 4 Gen3.0 PCIe x16, 2 PCIe x1, 1 PCI
  • Intel® Core™ i7-4820K Quad-Core 3.70 GHz 10MB Intel Smart Cache LGA2011
  • 16GB (4GBx4) DDR3/1866MHz Quad Channel Memory (ADATA XPG V2)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 2GB GDDR5 16X PCIe 3.0 Video Card

Here’s my 25 January 2014 review of the Gigabyte X79 “Black Pearl” on CyberPowerPC.com.

Awesome. Using the Black Pearl X79 as a starting point, I chose the Corsair Carbide AIR 540 case with the 280mm Corsair Hydro H110 and combined with the red LED lighting, the system looks amazing. The drives and components are placed exactly where I expected. Very clean. While others have complained about loose internal foam packing, I found mine to be smartly done. One thick foam slab kept the huge NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 from wiggling, and as long as you carefully remove the remaining shaped foam, you’re good to go. If I had to nitpick something, I’d point to the yellow masking tape that held down a wire. I might’ve used BLACK electrical tape to match the rest of the black-and-red color scheme. But like I said, no biggie, I easily peeled it off. But overall, excellent products and assembly! Ah, AC4 runs as smooth as freshly paved asphalt. :) A+++

Here’s a photo comparison of the same PC under camera flash and low-light mode. Both very cool.

CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79 with Corsair Carbide AIR 540 (camera flash)

CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79 with Corsair Carbide AIR 540 (camera flash)

CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79 with Corsair Carbide AIR 540 (low-light mode)

CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79 with Corsair Carbide AIR 540 (low-light mode)

Why are folks whining about Windows 8.1?

Now let’s shift from hardware to software. First of all, when I configured my PC, I was given the option to install either Windows 7 or 8.1. So why didn’t I stick with the more familiar and more popular Windows 7? The answer was simple. As a technical guy who was already familiar with Windows 7 on my work laptop, I wanted to try something new, intriguing, and potentially fun.

At the same time, I wasn’t oblivious of the negative reviews. So to prepare myself during the three weeks of waiting, I bought an insightful Windows 8 magazine packed with how-to tips and tricks and did my homework before my PC even arrived. Looking back, I was lucky to have the option to pick the latest 8.1 update that softened the harsh edges of the “modern” Windows 8 experience.

Windows 8.1 Start screen

Windows 8.1 Start screen

Windows 8.1 Start screen (with Personalize options)

Windows 8.1 Start screen (with Personalize options)

Armed with these two weapons — a playful attitude and a careful approach — I found my Windows 8.1 experience to be an unexpectedly enjoyable adventure! Even now, almost two weeks after my CyberPowerPC package was delivered to my front door, I still can’t wait to boot up the PC each morning. To be clear, the reason isn’t the modern live-tiled mode, but the classic desktop mode.

Let me explain. Like the Android interface on a smartphone, the modern Windows 8.1 Start screen is very easy to customize and personalize. But after the first hour or so of amusement, I found myself returning to the desktop mode much more often. After all, it was just as easy to customize and personalize my Windows 8.1 desktop to look exactly like my previous Windows 7 desktop.

Windows 8.1 Desktop mode

Windows 8.1 Desktop mode

Windows 8.1 Desktop mode (with Charm bar)

Windows 8.1 Desktop mode (with Charm bar)

The most striking difference between the two desktops is the modern Windows 8.1 Charm bar. Even without a touch screen, it’s still quite handy to drag my cursor along the right screen edge to access my settings. Taking a cool tip from the magazine that I mentioned, I created my own “Shutdown” and “Restart” desktop shortcuts to the Windows shutdown.exe tool. Very convenient indeed.

Ultimately, if I had to estimate the percentage of time that I’ve spent so far on the two Windows 8.1 modes, I’d guess 5% on the modern live-tiled mode and 95% on the classic desktop mode. The reason is clear. Most of my Windows applications reside in the desktop mode, including my major photo-editing, video-editing, and gaming applications, namely Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Windows 8.1 Desktop mode

Windows 8.1 Desktop mode

Windows 8.1 Desktop mode (with sample windows)

Windows 8.1 Desktop mode (with sample windows)

How is Assassin’s Creed IV on my new PC?

Like I noted in the same previous post, my 2011 Windows 7 gaming notebook ran painfully slow.

Although the 2013 game looks spectacular, my 2011 CyberPowerPC Xplorer gaming notebook barely met the specifications to run it at such a painfully slow frame-rate, probably around 3 to 7 frames per second (FPS). Meanwhile, my customized 2014 CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79 gaming desktop is estimated to run comparable games at an astounding 100+ FPS.

Here’s a comparison of graphics settings on my 2011 Windows 7 and 2014 Windows 8.1 machines.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2011 Windows 7 CyberPowerPC Xplorer)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2011 Windows 7 CyberPowerPC Xplorer)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2014 Windows 8.1 CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2014 Windows 8.1 CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79)

While my 2011 Windows 7 machine staggered and stumbled over the barest graphics settings, my 2014 Windows 8.1 monster and its NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 video muscle smashes and thrashes the maximum settings without any noticeable skip or glitch. Not only in the graphics setting values, but also in the screenshot lighting and effects, you can feel the difference in energy and intensity.

Next, here’s a visual comparison of the identical game location on my 2011 Windows 7 machine in December and my 2014 Windows 8.1 monster in January. While the differences are subtle to the untrained eye, the latter screenshot renders a much richer range of colors, textures, lighting effects as seen in the water, and shadowing effects as seen in the town. Simply mesmerizing.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2011 Windows 7 CyberPowerPC Xplorer)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2011 Windows 7 CyberPowerPC Xplorer)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2014 Windows 8.1 CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2014 Windows 8.1 CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79)

Where are the swinging weapons?

What are my final thoughts? Of course, I was very deliberate in mentioning that I was “armed with… a playful attitude and a careful approach”. Without these weapons or perspectives, I might not have been flexible enough to explore uncharted waters. So I can easily understand how more-stringent business-oriented points-of-view might not have the patience to navigate unforeseen interfaces.

Having said that, I don’t see anything wrong with flipping to and from the mobile-friendly design of the live-tiled mode, except that its relationship to the desktop mode could’ve been inverted. Instead of subjugating the desktop mode, the live-tiled mode could’ve been another desktop application with its own “Live Tiles” desktop icon alongside the “Internet Explorer” and “Recycle Bin” icons.

Finally, for those who expected me to swing “real” weapons, here are my “cyberpowered” swords. :)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2011 Windows 7 CyberPowerPC Xplorer)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2011 Windows 7 CyberPowerPC Xplorer)

Do I have an update?

Almost three months later, I’m still swinging weapons, but also smashing some schedules!

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2014 Windows 8.1 CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (on 2014 Windows 8.1 CyberPowerPC Gigabyte X79)

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