LAS VEGAS—It’s a tree! It’s a ribcage! It’s...an incredibly modular desktop computer that allows users to easily swap in new components with minimal computer knowledge? And it’s designed by Razer?
Razer’s calling the concept Project Christine, and promises to open up the full power of PC hardware even to those with no technical knowledge.
Each of the branches on this industrial tree is a discrete component—a CPU, a GPU, a hard drive, memory—that simply plugs into the central backbone. Once slotted in, Project Christine automatically syncs the newly added module through the magic of PCI-Express (the same bus that discrete graphics cards currently use).
As someone who has built and mucked around inside countless PCs, I’m not joking when I say this sounds like magic. The current model is basically: “find the correct inputs and outputs for dozens of tiny components, snap them all together, and pray nothing breaks.”
Now let’s compare this primitive, brutal method to Project Christine:
“Need more graphics processing power or storage? Easy—a user can slot-in additional graphics modules and add more storage by either swapping-out the existing storage drives or adding more modules,” states Razer’s announcement.
“Modules connected to the PCI-Express backbone can be added in any order or combination, featuring up to quad-SLI graphics, multiple SSD and RAID storage components, I/O and even power supplies, ensuring maximum flexibility,” Razers continues.
Each module plugs into a centrally-located liquid cooling system. Liquid cooling both keeps the system quiet (no more fan hum!) and, according to Razer, allows components to be factory overclocked without voiding warranties.
No need to wrangle cables. No scary “this motherboard is about to snap in half” moments when you need to replace your RAM.
And more importantly, no need to replace your entire system when you upgrade. Razer claims that as technology evolves, so will Project Christine’s modules. Upgrading your system will be as easy as removing the old module (say, your graphics card) and slotting the new one in. Seamless.
”This is the first gaming system that is able to keep pace with technology and could allow consumers to never buy another PC, or gaming system, again,” says Min-Liang Tan, Razer co-founder, CEO and creative director.
Oh, and despite the fact that Razer wasn’t on stage with Valve Monday night during the announcement of 14 new Steam Machines, Razer doesn’t want to be left out. The company states that Project Christine will be able to run multiple operating systems—wink wink, nudge nudge.
One door opens, another closes
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Project Christine sounds like a dream, and I’m certainly impressed by the concept, but I’m also hesitant.
Razer pays lip-service to the openness of the PC platform in its announcement, but claims “only the most hardcore enthusiasts have been able to take advantage of this openness to build, customize, and continuously upgrade” due to the complexity of PC hardware.
That’s undoubtedly true, but it remains to be seen whether a completely closed-off system like Project Christine is the correct answer.
Project Christine looks sleek, and the promise of perpetual upgrades is a beautiful fantasy, but this system only survives at Razer’s whim. If—when?—Razer stops putting out new hardware for Project Christine, you’re keeping whatever you’ve got.
And who knows what hardware Razer makes available? That’s the problem with this design—the beggars can’t be choosers philosophy.
Say the latest and greatest graphics card releases tomorrow, and I want to put it in my system—I can do that! I can swap in the new graphics card, install some drivers, and get right back to playing games and updating spreadsheets in high definition or whatever.
With Project Christine, you’re stuck waiting for Razer to make that card available.
Now, Razer claims this won’t be an issue. “The idea behind the concept is that users can customize what goes in it. When it is launched, users will have the ability to use the best GPU/CPU technology that is currently available,” said Young Bae, Global Project Manager of Systems at Razer in a statement provided to PCWorld. All we can do is take Razer at its word, though.
If you’re the person who has never built a PC and will never build a PC (or if you’re coming from something even more closed down, like a Mac), that probably won’t matter. You’re probably not the type of person who’s worried about open versus closed systems, or snagging the latest components. You just want to own a powerful computer that’s easily upgradeable.
But if you are at all concerned with having control over your computer, you’d want to wait and see whether Project Christine is embraced by other hardware manufacturers—whether AMD and Nvidia release every card in a standard and Project Christine configuration, for instance—before you jump in.
And who knows—it’s just a concept, so it may never release in the first place. Still, it’s one of the most intriguing desktop ideas in a very long time.