Caleb runs down the reasons why gaming on PCs could soon be as accessible as never before. Would the Piston "Steambox" or Razer Edge tablet convince you to give up your PlayStations and Xboxes?
2013 is on course to be the year that PCs show you that a smoother, higher resolution world exists outside of the walled gardens of gaming consoles. Two products, one of which is supposed to hit the market later this year, tout themselves as respectable gaming rigs in packages that are not just small but as accessible as an Xbox 360.
Xi3′s so-called Piston is a full PC that fits nicely in a normal, adult-size hand. All of the components necessary for running a gaming computer reside within the diminutive, aluminum frame, largely thanks to the fact Xi3 has broken the motherboard into thirds for a compact arrangement. In addition, it reduces the processing hardware footprint with a quad-core AMD APU. Whatever else is inside (Xi3 hasn’t said as of this post) is equally tiny and doesn’t consume much power because the Piston draws only 40W, less than some of the old incandescent light bulbs burning in your basement.
While this little miracle might fit nicely on your home office desk, Piston, it appears, has designs on your living room entertainment center. Xi3 says Piston works remarkably well with the online PC game distribution service Steam. Valve, the company behind Steam as well as noted games Half-Life and Portal, even invested some money into Xi3′s otherwise failing Kickstarter project.
Valve also primed the mill for this type of device with the development of Steam’s Big Picture mode last fall, an alternative user interface to the service that is designed for navigation with a traditional controller on a large HDTV. Anyone who bothers to lug their PC tower — or at least a really long HDMI cable — from his work station to his television has, in theory, been enjoying access to his Steam game library in the living room for a while now. Xi3 promises its device will streamline that transition; although, you should remember not all PC games automatically support controllers.
For those of you who prefer your gaming PC to be a bit flatter, Razer (a company that sells PC gaming peripherals and at least one high-end laptop) will soon release the Razer Edge, a Windows 8 tablet with enough oomph packed inside to run some of the most demanding games currently on the market.
Starting at $999, Razer Edge gives you a tablet with an Intel Core i5 1.7GHz processor, 4GB DDR3 RAM, an Nvidia GT 640M LE graphics card and 64GB of storage. A Pro version bumps up the specs on all fronts. You can also attach the tablet to a number of peripherals (at an extra cost, of course), which includes a docking station for play with controllers; a keyboard for the MMO enthusiast; and, most uniquely, the Gamepad Controller that attaches a set of handles adorned with thumbsticks, triggers, and buttons on two sides of the tablet in the landscape orientation.
Outside of gaming, the Razer Edge is an otherwise fully functioning Windows 8 tablet, so you’ll never want for the ability to put together a PowerPoint presentation.
If you’re a truly hardcore PC gamer, by now you’ve spotted all of the drawbacks to these setups and have likely lost interest. There’s a reason for that. These aren’t PCs made with you in mind. You’ll continue to tinker away, slotting and wiring components into that big, ugly black box of yours year after year, anyway. PCs are working on asserting themselves as gaming machines for the masses — of which you are certainly not.
They are seeking people who don’t know what overclocking is or obsess over frame rates; people who simply want to sit down and play a fun game, the same as they can on an Xbox 360. Nevermind that these powerhouse tablets will likely get better and faster chips in them each year, but the one you bought last year, sadly, can’t be upgraded. Nevermind that unusually small PC components might require more time and money to get than your standard graphics card at the local Best Buy.
The convenience factor in these units still requires some degree of compromise when it comes to raw horse power, but it’s an undeniable fact of the human eye that even a basic build of a specialty gaming PC renders and plays games better than current-gen consoles.