PC gaming goes portable
Since time immemorial, PC gaming's appeal has been limited by its requirements. Sure, a high-end gaming system can blow the pants off an Xbox or PlayStation, but you have to pay a pretty penny for the decent frame rates and all the graphical bells and whistles. What's more, gaming rigs—be they laptops or desktops—are often so bulky that you're all but chained to your desk. Ugh.
Over the past few weeks, a veritable legion of thin, light, and downright portable gaming machines have been announced, all ready to relieve you of the burden of gargantuan computers. And beyond hardware, a duo of new streaming services want to turn any PC into a gaming PC. Witness the birth of truly portable PC gaming.
No machine embodies this focus on portability more than the Steamboy Machine project, which was revealed via a teaser trailer during the E3 games exhibition. Details are scarce, but the device—which appears to run SteamOS—resembles a mash-up of Valve's Steam Controller and Sony's PlayStation Vita handheld, complete with a 5-inch LCD display plopped between the dual haptic-enabled trackpads.
The creators say the Steamboy will feature a quad-core CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 32GB memory card, and launch sometime in 2015. Here's hoping it (or something like it) does indeed hit the streets: When Maximum PC asked Valve (the makers of Steam and SteamOS) about the Steamboy, Valve replied "We have no idea what this is."
Alienware Alpha console
But Valve is aware of Alienware's Alpha console, going so far as to trumpet the itty-bitty PC as being a vanguard for PC gaming in the living room. Alienware fully revealed the console during E3, and after spending some hands-on time with the PC, we have to agree: The Alpha is smaller than an Xbox or PlayStation and whisper-quiet, but with latency-free performance on a par with, or exceeding, the capabilities of the next-gen consoles.
Sporting a custom Nvidia graphics chip and otherwise customizable internals, the $550 Alienware Alpha suggests the whole "living-room gaming" push prompted by SteamOS might just be onto something, even if the first generation Alpha runs a custom gamepad-friendly UI over Windows. Read up on the full details and Alienware's philosophy toward SteamOS here.
CyberPower PC Syber
The Alpha wasn't the only living room PC on display on E3, however. CyberPower was busy showing off the Syber, which was originally supposed to be a Steam Machine (just like Alienware's console) before Valve announced the delay of its operating system and the crucial controller until 2015.
The $600 Syber is largely similar to the Alpha spec-wise, with two crucial differences: The base configuration packs an AMD processor as opposed to the Alpha's Intel Core i3 chip, and CyberPower's machine uses off-the-shelf graphics cards that can be swapped out if you so desire. The Alpha's custom chip is soldered to the motherboard. Check out full details about the Syber over on Maximum PC. Look for both former Steam Machines to arrive in time for the holidays.
Of course, no talk about thin-and-light portable PC gaming would be complete without mentioning Razer's Blade gaming laptops. The Blade series crams powerful PC hardware into a petite chassis. Last year's model measured roughly 0.7 inches thick and 4.25 pounds, which is downright svelte compared to the 10-pound weights of most gaming laptops.
This year's model outshines its predecessor with an eye-watering 3200-by-1800 capacitive touchscreen display and a beefy Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M graphics card. Despite its barely-there build, the Razer Blade can run Battlefield on Ultra graphics settings at 1080p resolution or Medium settings at the full screen resolution.
This type of hardware doesn't come cheap: The base model costs $2,200 and is available now, though the Blade is backordered as Razer struggles to keep up with demand.
Gigabyte Aorus X3
The Razer Blade's success hasn't gone unnoticed. At Computex earlier this June, Gigabyte unveiled the Aorus X3 Plus, a 0.9-inch, 4.12-pound gaming laptop with a 3200-by-1800 (non-touchscreen) display and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M graphics card. Sound familiar? Sure it does. But a little competition is always a good thing, and the Aorus X3 includes premium bells and whistles, like a glass mousepad and five dedicated keys for gaming actions. It'll cost $2,200 when the gaming laptop starts shipping in the third quarter.
Asus Steam Machine, 4K laptop, more
Asus has embraced the itty-bitty gaming PC ethos wholeheartedly, announcing no fewer than three new diminutive computers under the Republic of Gamers brand at this year's Computex.
The gear includes the GX500, a gaming laptop with a 4K display and GTX 860M graphics; the poorly named ROG G8, a console-esque gaming PC designed for the living room, with plans to offer SteamOS when it becomes available; and the ROG G20, a small-form-factor gaming PC with customizable lighting and a unique design (pictured at left) that Asus claims will render the system nearly silent. Check out details for all the gamer gear here.
Steam in-home game streaming
Shiny new gear is nice, but the newly launched Steam in-home game streaming can turn any clunky old laptop or Windows tablet into a potent, portable gaming machine. The technology, which is built right into the Steam gaming client, uses the graphical firepower of your primary PC to run games, then streams a feed of the action to another PC or x86-based tablet on your home network, effectively letting you game on any computer in your house.
Latency can be a concern on networks running older versions of Wi-Fi, but all in all, Steam's game streaming works wonderfully and feels like magic. Here's how to set it up, and our hands-on impressions of the service.
One big limitation of Steam in-home streaming is that it works only on your home network, presumably to combat latency concerns. Subscribing to OnLive's $7.95 per month CloudLift service lets you stream your Steam games to any device that supports OnLive, from tablets to phones to connected TVs.
That comes with a few major caveats. You have to already own the games you'd like to stream; the CloudLift subscription is for the ability to stream those games anywhere. Additionally, only select games are supported by CloudLift, though the list includes biggies like Metro, Batman, Saint's Row, Europa Universalis IV, Dark Siders, and more. Even so, CloudLift shows the potential to bring your game collection anywhere and everywhere—something Nvidia is also trying to achieve with its Grid cloud gaming initiative.
The games that get us excited
But of course, all this newfangled technology does no good if you don't have killer games to use it with. Check out the 13 PC games that got us personally excited at E3 to learn which titles you should keep an eye on going forward.