Something or other in my gaming computer seems to have broken. One evening it was fine, the next it just wouldn't start. When you push the power button, the system fan comes on, followed by the graphics card fan (which seems to be making a different noise than usual) and all of the usual flashing lights on the front of the box, only nothing happens after that. No loading up the hard drive to start booting up, no waking up the monitor, the machine just sits. Based on the new noise coming off the graphics card, my guess is that the problem is there, though I have no idea whether a dead graphics card will physically block start-up while still drawing power to run the fan etc.
This machine cost about $1,500 two years ago, and replacing it with a machine that has similar specs today would cost about half that. Replacing the graphics card, if that's what's dead, would cost about $70-100, and I could do that myself, but I'm hesitant to buy a new one without being absolutely certain that it's the (only?) part that is broken. My alternative is taking it to a repair shop that's going to want $50/hour plus parts and may or may not be irritated with me if I insist on picking out a new graphics card online rather than paying retail for whatever they happen to have stored in their parts closet.
In the mean time, I'm stuck with my backup machine, a laptop with an integrated graphics card and a mere 1GB of RAM that I bought to serve as a portable word processor back in grad school. They quip that WoW can run on a toaster, and this particular machine is indeed slightly more effective at playing WoW than making toast.
When the expansion came out, the Wrath installer complained that this machine fails to meet the game's minimum specifications, but I insisted on installing it anyway and it runs about as well as TBC did (without objecting to the machine's specs). Dalaran is a bit of a slide show, Wintergrasp is outright impossible, and the gameplay is so choppy that I fell off of Thunder Bluff for the very first time the other night. Still, I've been able to run around the sparsely populated Barrens without any real issues. I even snuck into a Heroic 5-man TOC run on Greenwiz, where I probably didn't do as much DPS as usual, but I'm far enough above the gear requirements for 5-mans that this need not be a deal-breaker.
Implications of the hardware barrier
Some of you may be reading this and wondering where the game design question is. This old laptop cost about $800 three years ago, two years after the launch of WoW and EQ2 and just before the launch of LOTRO. I've attempted to play LOTRO on it before, and it kind of does so, but you have to set all the settings to the minimum, which makes everything look blurry and still isn't quite enough to keep the gameplay from being choppy. I don't even dare to try EQ2 on the laptop, as EQ2 wasn't all that happy running at the auto-detect settings on my gaming machine until I upped the RAM to 4 GB. Even Free Realms calls for a graphics card, which the integrated chipset kind of technically satisfies, but not very well or very happily.
Somewhere along the line, it became standard practice in the gaming industry to require hardware that substantially increases the cost of the machine. Though I do appreciate the visual effects - the reflection of the moon on the lake outside Moria, for instance - sometimes I wonder whether we've gotten a bad deal. When something goes wrong on the hardware end, we're left with unpleasant alternatives, just to restore the proper function of a visual feature that isn't really necessary for gameplay.
In fairness, some of the community will actually complain bitterly, when a new game looks like a four-year-old one. I wonder if they'd stop complaining if they ever had to spend a few weeks on the kind of computer that most non-gamers have to live with full time.