Cheap computer to run Spore?
September 16, 2008 9:23 AM   Subscribe

What's the cheapest reliable computer I can buy that will play Spore? Challenge: I want to use my 32" HDTV (with VGA) as a monitor.

My girlfriend bought Spore and we were both excited to play it, but it won't play on either of our laptops. (She has a newish HP of some kind running Vista and I have a MacBook) Neither of us has a desktop right now. I'm looking for an inexpensive desktop that would be capable of running the game, but it's been a long time since I've bought any computer that wasn't a Mac and I would like some recommendations. Budget is the main controlling factor. CHEAPER THE BETTER! I don't need the game to look great, I just want it to run.
I don't have a spare monitor, but my 32", 720p HDTV has a VGA input and I'm hoping to use that. Would the game be playable on such a monitor? How about routine web-browsing and so on?
My plan has been to get something that could sit under my TV and occasionally double as a video-player and second computer, so quiet would be nice.
Links to Newegg or similar appreciated.
posted by raygan to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I was just reading that Spore ran well on the early MacBooks if you use Windows. It had something to do with the video card drivers. It also should run fine on the newer MacBooks without using Windows.
posted by advicepig at 9:37 AM on September 16, 2008

FYI, you can play spore on your macbook under Windows XP if you go the bootcamp route.
posted by Oktober at 9:43 AM on September 16, 2008

Run Spore or run Spore well?

I've been playing Spore for the last two days on Intel Celeron D 352 (3.2 GHz)/1.5GB ram/ATI Radeon 200 Express video card based machine. It isn't blazing fast and I have the graphics set to the lowest setting so the textures aren't breathtakingly rendered or anything... but I've still had a ton of fun playing it. The machine cost $400 around 3-4 years ago. $400 now would by you tons more power.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 9:44 AM on September 16, 2008

Build your own is definitely the way to go, depending on your level of comfort. A decent compromise is to get a cheapish box and add a video card (and RAM if it has less than 2 gb). Should be able to do it for $300-400.
posted by alexei at 9:51 AM on September 16, 2008

Thanks for everything so far. I want to Run Spore, I'm not particularly fixated on Running Spore Well. I don't mind textures set to zero as long as it doesn't freeze every minute (as it did on my girlfriend's laptop) or display a black screen in the editor (as it did on mine). I'd go the BootCamp route, but getting windows running on my laptop would be a major pain as it can't be installed on an external drive and I'm routinely filling my internal drive.
Should I be looking at XP or Vista? Any particular models anyone can point me to? I think I could install a new video card, but I don't think I'm up to building my own. (I haven't owned a Windows PC in years.)
posted by raygan at 10:47 AM on September 16, 2008

Here are the minimum requirements for Windows Vista (XP is same only 512 MB RAM):

* 2.0 GHz P4 processor or equivalent
* 768 MB RAM
* A 128 MB Video Card, with support for Pixel Shader 2.0
* At least 6 GB of hard drive space

Here is a Dell for $279.00 + $35.00 shipping that meets those specs. Cheapest I could find.
posted by Kupo? at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2008

Here is a Dell for $279.00 + $35.00 shipping that meets those specs. Cheapest I could find.

Jesus God no, that will not run Spore.

I cannot stress this enough - integrated videocards, or videocards with 'shared' memory (sometimes called 'hyperchannel' or whatever) generally fail at correctly functioning with games using the Direct3D and OpenGL APIs. Intel's integrated solutions are absolutely the worst, both for performance and basic compatibility.

Any Macbook Pro with Bootcamp would run Spore acceptably - even reasonably well - with Bootcamp. Neither the vanilla MacBook nor the MacBook Air will do so - I would be very surprised if either worked at all.

Here is the cheapest laptop I could create that is likely to run Spore in anything like a playable fashion.
posted by Ryvar at 11:26 AM on September 16, 2008

You're going to have the exact same problems if you stick with an intel video card. You must move up to an ATI or NVIDIA card so it does all the graphics processing on the chip. Thats just a 60 dollar upgrade on the cheapest dell. You'll regret the intel graphics.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:27 AM on September 16, 2008

One other thing - bear in mind that with modern videocards often fillrate is the biggest performance bottleneck these days. If you spring for a higher resolution display, then your performance increases inversely, and it's pretty drastic:

A 1280x800 screen = 1,024,000 pixels that need to be rendered a minimum of twenty to thirty times a second

a 1920x1200 screen = 2,304,000 pixels that need to be rendered a minimum of twenty to thirty times a second
posted by Ryvar at 11:30 AM on September 16, 2008

In addition to what damn dirty ape says, studiously avoid ATI or nVidia solutions with 'integrated' memory - it sounds like it should be better, but the type of memory used for system RAM has wildly different performance characteristics than even mobile-grade dedicated video memory. This leads to both games running at less than 10 frames per second (which makes it look like a slideshow as your brain will no longer perceive the separate frames as part of a continuous animation), and outright incompatibility.
posted by Ryvar at 11:36 AM on September 16, 2008

I have an Acer Aspire 5100 series I bought over a year ago (for $500 on sale) with these specs:

Windows Vista Home Premium (32-bit)
AMD Turion 64 MK-36 2.0 Ghz (512 KB L2 Cache)
1 GB Memory (256 MB Shared at Default; can be turned down to 32 MB)
Ati Xpress 1100 (256 MB Dedicated; total 512 MB)

It runs Spore... acceptably. Some slowdown with lots of creatures on screen and sometimes other creatures are rendered as black silhouettes until you get pretty close to them. I'm only up to the land-based creature stage, so may be worse on later stages.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:48 PM on September 16, 2008

That $229 Dell w/ a $30-50 video card will play Spore fine.

I'd recommend an 8600GT, they're about that price.

Newegg link
posted by wongcorgi at 2:37 PM on September 16, 2008

Here is a Dell for $279.00 + $35.00 shipping that meets those specs. Cheapest I could find.

Jesus God no, that will not run Spore.

I cannot stress this enough - integrated videocards, or videocards with 'shared' memory (sometimes called 'hyperchannel' or whatever) generally fail at correctly functioning with games using the Direct3D and OpenGL APIs. Intel's integrated solutions are absolutely the worst, both for performance and basic compatibility.

Yes, it WILL run spore, please don't spread FUD. Look at the requirements here. You might not be able to run it at your TV's native resolution, but by all means will it run spore. (You may have to turn the settings down to get better performance).
posted by wongcorgi at 2:43 PM on September 16, 2008

Yeah, actually the only reason that the Macbook won't run Spore is because EA's Mac conversion is shit and lazy. If you boot into Windows (less hassle than you think, but I can't be bothered either) then it'll run fine, albeit on low-ish settings. Spore's made to be accessible and run on a wide range of computers.
posted by Magnakai at 4:56 PM on September 16, 2008

I'm not sure where Ryvar and damn dirty ape are getting their information from, but the Dell I posted before for $279.00 + $35.00 shipping meets all the minimum requirements I posted before and has a supported video card. So unless EA is lying (which I'm not saying is impossible), it will run Spore with minimum settings on a 720p (1280x720) monitor, though possibly not at full resolution. I totally understand issues with integrated video cards and I'm familiar with the concept of fillrate, but this system meets all minimum technical requirements and all of raygan's requirements.
posted by Kupo? at 6:22 PM on September 16, 2008

Kupo, you did a good job of matching the posted minimum requirements to the cheapest hardware available.

But the 'minimum requirements' posted by EA do not tell the whole story. In the real world, Intel integrated solutions rarely, if ever, cover the full featureset of a given standard. Moreover, different standards like ShaderModel 2.0, OpenGL 2.0, etc. all generally rest on certain assumptions about the baseline performance of the hardware. When game developers say, for instance, "this game requires Shader Model 3.0" what we actually mean is that it requires something with at least the processing power of the GeForce 6800 family, because that was the earliest Shader Model 3.0 implementation.

I have no doubt that Intel has a series of integrated solutions that technically meet the requirements of Shader Model 2.0. But those are woefully anemic, compliant-in-name-only solutions that the developers themselves are not, I can almost guarantee you, testing against.

Please understand, writing a PC game's rendering pipeline against a spec like SM2.0 is only the *first step*. Massive amounts of bug-testing for specific pieces of hardware by the QA team follow after that. There are always, always, always problems that arise for individual GPUs, GPU families, combinations of CPUs and GPUs or GPUs and motherboard chipsets requiring tailored bugfixes. Mobile hardware is given very little testing by hardware compatibility teams. Integrated mobile GPU solutions are given almost none, or more frequently none whatsoever.

Even if an integrated solution is able to successfully 'run' Spore without crashing, the odds of graphical corruption due to poor DirectX/OpenGL compliance are extremely high. This only gets worse with time, too - as developers issue new patches, they do so with the assumption that users will continue to update their graphics drivers. nVidia and ATI do not generally release drivers for non-dedicated GPU hardware - drivers for integrated solutions are generally the responsibility of the laptop's manufacturer, and nobody in that arena - not Dell, not anybody else - adequately updates their integrated drivers.

Moreover, even if it does run, even if it renders the graphics as intended, it is all but guaranteed that the game will not run above a single-digit framerate on the hardware you've listed. Below 15-20 frames per second, depending on the individual, your brain will cease to blend the frames together into a smooth animation.

I understand that you guys want to save raygan cash. I understand that when you say Spore will run that you are, probably, correct in the most technical sense. But the question isn't "what is the absolute minimum required to launch the game binary" - the experience has to be usable, too, and I think my answer accurately reflects the minimum investment possible to ensure that over the lifecycle of the product. This isn't FUD, but rather an understanding of how those minimum requirement specs are actually generated and what they actually mean.
posted by Ryvar at 8:49 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

It would be cheaper to buy a larger hard drive for your Macbook and install Windows.
posted by PueExMachina at 12:10 AM on September 17, 2008

1. Get the Dell.
2. Add the $60 video card listed above.
3. Done (well another GB of RAM wouldn't hurt).
posted by alexei at 2:46 AM on September 17, 2008

What about getting a refund on the disk, get a cheap PS3/Wii/XBox 360 off Ebay and then get it for that platform?
posted by rus at 3:07 AM on September 17, 2008

Unfortunately, Spore is not yet available for consoles, although it is supposedly under development.
posted by LordSludge at 1:14 PM on September 17, 2008

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