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Alienware's X51: PC Gaming Invades the Living Room

Digital Foundry on why PC tech is destined for your lounge

There are clearly barriers preventing the PC from taking over from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, certainly from a mainstream perspective. Price is the most obvious issue. Shop around and you can pick up a 320GB PlayStation 3 for £160, and Xbox 360 deals are cheaper still. The starting price of the Alienware X51 with the inferior GPU and dual core CPU is around £650. Really and truly you'd be looking at the £799 model with the GTX 555, quad core CPU and 330w power supply as the best price vs. performance option, with the best upgrade potential. Off-setting this expense is the fact that PC gamers are generally much cheaper than their console equivalents.

"Computer tech is destined for your living room - the next-gen consoles will almost certainly be as close to PCs as the original Xbox."

Clearly there remains a substantial price differential, but doubtless Alienware knows that it will be addressing a niche marketplace. However, in theory the size of that niche is enough to significantly boost its business: after all, this is a mid to high-spec experience that you can only match by building your own rig, which won't feature that form factor.

Beyond that there's the notion that the PC user interface simply isn't set-up for the living room. While Alienware ships a front-end system it's not really as intuitive as what you'll find on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 and the simple notion of the machine coming with keyboard and mouse rather than wireless controllers is telling in itself. It'll take Windows 8 and whatever gamepad support it may have to really change things, though perhaps Valve has the right idea with its soon-to-be-unveiled Big Picture mode.

"With big picture mode, gaming opportunities for Steam partners and customers become possible via PCs and Macs on any TV or computer display in the house," Valve's Doug Lombardi explained, adding that we're likely to see more about this interface at next week's GDC.

Kingdoms of Amalar: Reckoning is designed for console but ironically provides the most 'console-like' experience when played on PC at 60Hz, as this video demonstrates. Run it in full-screen mode for best performance.

Events mooted for the San Francisco show next week suggest that even if a full-blooded PC in the living room isn't a truly mainstream proposition in the here and now, it soon will be in some way, shape or form. Epic is set to unveil its first demo of Unreal Engine 4 at the show, with the company previously saying that it would only transition across from UE3 once next-gen consoles are on their way. The demo will almost certainly be PC-based, but it's safe to say that the new wave of games machines from Sony and Microsoft will be the closest we've seen to traditional PC architecture since the original Xbox.

Microsoft's development of the DirectX 11 platform is as much about securing domination in the next generation console field as it is about boosting PC gaming and we're certain to see hardware to match. Meanwhile, rumours of a collaboration between AMD and Sony could well be about more than just the design of the PS4's graphics core.

I recently heard from a reputable source that the forthcoming Sony console is "essentially a PC" in terms of its technological make-up and in this sense, an AMD collaboration on the CPU holds many attractions - for the first time since the launch of the original Xbox, we could well be seeing an x86 processor in a console. It may be hard to imagine that the company that brought us the Cell would be embracing PC tech so wholeheartedly, but a look at the make-up of Vita suggests a fundamental shift in the way Sony builds its consoles in the wake of Ken Kutaragi's departure.

It's not about exotic, groundbreaking hardware anymore, it's all about creating the best possible games machine with an enviable set of development tools - and it's an approach that has already yielded results. While PlayStation Vita may lack a stand-out killer app, I still think that it's set the bar in terms of overall quality and quantity over and above any console launch I've seen in over 21 years in the business. Extrapolating that same philosophy towards PlayStation 4 makes a PC-style approach to Sony's next console seem very likely indeed.

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Richard Leadbetter avatar
Richard Leadbetter: Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.