To Drive or Not To Drive

In two days, the next in the Need For Speed series of games will be released in Canada. I've been really excited about this release as it has many of the features that I've been waiting to see in a game of this caliber. Players will be able to create teams, where you collect digital 'friends' along the way who will help you win races by keeping competitors out of the way. This is something I've wanted since Need for Speed:Underground when the computer opponents would often times catch the tail end of your car, and nudge you into a wall at 260 kph as you make that final corner before the finish line. I'm sure the neighbours have heard my reaction whenever this happens…

But as I examine the "Minimum System Requirements" for this game, it makes me wonder whether I should even try to play the game. As it sits, I have the bare minimum processor, and a barely capable video card in my notebook. Add to the fact that I have a notebook, and that just compounds the limitations further. Single core … non-upgradable components … 5400 rpm hard drive … the list is shamefully extensive.

Several years ago, I would have laughed at the Minimum System Requirements, thinking to myself "who still has such old equipment?" Back in the day, I was at the forefront of home PC technology. Dual processors, 2 Gig of RAM when it was still $400 per gig, RAID 0 across six hard drives, and a video card that was more powerful than most PCs at that time.

But that was almost six years ago, when I could easily drop $1400 in upgrades for my already over-powered PC. Before I had moved from Ontario, I had actually bought an air conditioner for the room my PC was in. It ran that hot.

I don't play many games, anymore. Need for Speed is one of the few that I still enjoy as it gives me the opportunity to drive around cities wrecklessly while racing other cars. I enjoy the rush that comes during the really difficult races. Winning by 0.05 seconds is much more exciting than winning by a full second, or even 12 seconds. Driving against heavy traffic is also incredibly enjoyable as it adds an element to the races that make it all the more difficult. Cars get in the way, opponents are pushing you from the side or behind, causing your ride to slide … and despite all this, you drift through three lanes of heavily populated cars to make the final corner perfectly as you step on the gas and drop the clutch in the final leg of the race …

That's where the exicitement lays.

But as I look at these requirements, I'm forced to examine whether this would be a good investment. Would I be able to enjoy the game, even at reduced video settings with all the cool factors turned down? Or would this be the onion in the ointment? I play need for speed to relax and unwind, even though it might seem as though the opposite were true.

My notebook is three years old, and in my possession for two. I've been wanting to replace it with a newer model since January of this year, but just haven't had the opportunity or found the proper justification. I can't just run out and buy the latest and greatest of something anymore because it leaves me with the question "what do I do with the old one?" Sure, I could put it to use somewhere … but why? This notebook here has surpassed all of my expectations. I've never owned a computer as long as I have this one, and certainly never been able to go so long without upgrades or repairs of one type or another.

This box lets me write software in several different languages, watch downloaded TV shows, movies, documentaries and whatever else I want to view. The wireless network card has transmitted terabytes of data as I'm almost constantly downloading something while at home. And it's given me a new appreciation for quality built machines. Quite frankly, this notebook could easily last me another year or two at the minimum before I would be forced to consider an upgrade to keep in stride with the upcoming Windows Vista operating system.

In the last few years it has been harder and harder to keep up with the pace of progress. Not only because of the cost factors, but because I try to justify my purchases better. Saying it's okay to spend $600 on a new video card just because it's "cool" doesn't cut it anymore. For the last year, I've been promised a new notebook through work. I figured this would be the prime upgrade for me. I had requested a nice HP model to replace my current HP notebook, and when it was ready to be replaced again, it would be the responsibility of my employer. The only catch I might have to face is what I would do about all my personal software … I would almost feel guilty installing video games or watching inappropriate material on a work-owned notebook.

So at the end of the day, I'm still left with the question of whether to drive, or not to drive. Need for Speed:Carbon will be one of the most exciting releases for this series. But if I can't enjoy it even remotely, the game would become more of a wasted liability than an investment. The argument could be made to get a new notebook (I'm really taken by the HP NC8430 and NW8440 models) and enjoy the newer technology for the next few years … but if this notebook here will do the job for a little longer, then why spend $2000 on a new PC for the sake of enjoying a video game and loading some other software a little faster?

I wonder if I could push the question of new machines at work again …