I always want something, and that something is almost always technology. I can very rarely afford it, which only makes the itch, the hunger, the need all the more acute. Here are just a few of my persistent fixations, and more importantly the reasons I absolutely should not buy them. I write them here in the hope it will prevent me from a drunken credit card binge any time soon.
1) A 120MHz and/or ultra-widescreen and/or 4K and/or Gysnc and/or Freesync monitor
I used to work with our technology correspondent Jeremy Laird on a computing magazine back in the day, and we’re still chums. So I know from first-hand experience that when he gets fired up about something monitor-related – which is often – he really means it. I get caught up in it when I read his pieces about adaptive sync, high refresh rates and curved super-wide screens, convincing myself that a faster, bigger or otherwise flashier screen is key to enjoying games even more. I tell myself that my job actively requires me to obtain these items otherwise I am useless to my readers. Man, just looking at the links in the last sentence makes me desperate for an upgrade.
Why I should not have it: I have never once thought “gosh, the only thing stopping me from enjoying this game is that my screen only refreshes at 60Hz” or “if only the picture was wider” or “ooh, curse that pesky V-sync!” I’m sure these things seem lovely if I am looking for these things, but like an audiophile and his solid adamantium speaker cables, if I am looking for these things I am not entirely paying attention to the game itself – and that really would mean missing out. Performance is one thing – I do like my 60 frames if I can get ’em – but a game will not become better or worse because of a super-monitor beyond the £200 grey market 1440p IPS one I already have. Once these things are dirt-cheap, sure, I’ll get one, but right now it would be throwing money I can’t afford away on pure indulgence that I’d probably stop noticing after an hour.
2) A new processor
My current CPU is five years old. Up until last year, I was running an eight-year-old one without any meaningful issue. I only got the other one because a mate blew up his motherboard, and it was of such an age that replacing it cost almost as much as buying the latest chipset plus an up-to-date processor, so he gave the old CPU to me. Granted, said CPU is a hexacore Intel i7 980x which overclocks to 4GHz with about as much effort as it takes to tie my shoelaces, so it’s not exactly scraping the barrel, but even so: five years old. My motherboard’s even older. Once in a while I become convinced that I need to be up-to-date, that jumping from Intel’s Nehalem architecture to the very latest Skylake range will make all the difference. My PC will be faster, cooler, quieter, my energy bills will be cheaper, games will run better, boot times will be lightning-quick… In reality, only the latter is true (no UEFI on this old mobo, y’see).
Yes, Intel’s chips have seen multiple minor improvements over the last half-decade, and yes, at some point I’m going to have to upgrade because there are no motherboards for my chip which offer PCI-Express 3 or USB 3.1 or M.2 and/or SFF-8639 connections for faster hard drives, but I do not currently need any of those things, and nor do I expect to any time soon. The truth is I want a shiny new Skylake chip purely because I don’t like the idea that I’m theoretically so far behind the Joneses. I could spend £300-400 on getting bang up to date, and while my itch might be scratched, I wouldn’t notice an iota of difference in practice. Frankly, if I’d stuck with that eight year i7 920, overclocked to 3.8GHz, I’d be in the same situation too. Same goes for anyone else: unless you’re running a really low-end chip, there is probably no Earthly reason you need to upgrade. Intel won the CPU arms race quite some time ago, and the sad result is it doesn’t need to raise the bar any time soon.
I.e. a 4K monitor and a graphics card which can handle that kind of resolution. I want it because other people have it and because it’s become a by-word for ‘better-than-life’ in the way HD used to be. But see point 1, really. Admittedly, fiddling with virtual resolutions has granted me some spectacular pseudo-4K sights, but I can’t pretend I’m somehow short-changed by playing games at 1440p, thanks to this £200 Korean IPS panel I bought about three years ago. The jump I’d get is marginal, but the expense required heartbreaking.
4) HTC/Valve Vive
Alright, this one I probably will buy as soon as I humanly can. I’m totally onboard with virtual reality, and when I tried Valve’s take on it I was entirely smitten, and massively frustrated that I’d have to wait so long to try it again. But I am not a wealthy man, and property in the South of England is extremely expensive. Where I live is very, very small. This is all the floor space I’d be able to dedicate to the Vive’s base station:
I.e. shit all, i.e. it’s going to be an exercise in miserable futility, i.e. I absolutely should not bother with a Vive unless I suddenly become rich enough to afford a new house. Er, anyone want to buy a website?
5) Better/more graphics cards
I’ve got a GTX 970. I’m lucky to have it, and it’s a champ which can manage most anything on high settings at 1440p, which is a country mile on from what people are perfectly happy with on console. But once in a while I hit something which requires some settings drop to medium or I can’t have anti-aliasing on, and I become so distracted by the knowledge I’m missing out on some sort of nebulous, meaningless shininess that I can’t just settle down and enjoy the game. It’s got to stop. Softer shadows or crisper edges are not going make things better. Spending £400-odd on an even better card or getting into the hellish confusion that is SLI will only make me feel sick. I don’t need it. Everything’s OK, it’s fine, please, help me, stop the hunger.
6) A new mobile phone
Jesus Christ, every six months I get the itch and start browsing second-hand sites. What the hell is wrong with me? All I use ’em for is to text the same three people and read the same three websites. I’ve had the current phone for 18 months now though, which is probably some sort of record. If I can make it to two years I’ll consider myself cured.
This feature was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS Supporter Program.