Opinion: Our favourite machine seems on the verge of some huge changes - and potentially vanquishing its opposition.
The last few years have seen a revitalisation of computer based gaming, in contrast to the previous decade. This trend looks set to accelerate at a blistering pace from hereon in, Atomic has already discussed many of the reasons why. We now think there may just be another, less obvious but even more compelling factor...
This is it - intellectually speaking, most of us understand that the last few years have seen Integrated Graphics come a long, long way from the much maligned onboard chips of old. After a few weeks of using an (overclocked of course) HD 4000, I can say it's more than that - the thing is actually highly usable for the vast majority of my personal games collection. Skyrim runs, Mass Effect 3 runs, Empire: Total War is alive and kicking, Dirt 3, Fallout 3, LoL and even (no really) Metro 2033 have been played and enjoyed. For those Atomicans who have played around with modern integrated graphics it probably isn’t such a shock, but experiencing one in the wild, firsthand for an extended period was for us. And we’ve written a lot about these puppies.
The Rise and Rise of Our Lowest Common Denominator:
The epic leaps we’ve seen from the ‘Accelerated Processing Unit’ (APU) may well be the single largest factor at play in the PCs future. Once upon a time every single integrated graphics setup was simply pathetic; loading a modern game offered up a slide show. Today though, pop into a high street shop as of late 2012 and all but the cheapest of cheap laptops will sport a graphics chip from one of the Intel HD 3000, 4000 or AMD 7500G and 7600G series. These APUs are literally part of the CPU core and thus boast direct access to system memory and other resources, making them a world apart from their predecessors.
Capabilities are similar to the old HD 4750 or 8600 GTS. Nowadays that doesn’t represent a great deal of firepower for the average Atomican, but the knock on effects are still huge for us. This proliferation of modern APUs means the laptop you find on special at Harvey Norman for $700 packs enough punch to fire up a wide array of PC games. The real conclusion is that the PC is increasingly regaining what it has not had in a long while; mainstream gaming ubiquity.
This reset harks back to the period that forged PC gaming in the first place. From its inception, up until the turn of the millennium (and the rise of dedicated graphics cards) there was no real distinction between a gaming rig and one designed for work. This meant most home PCs which were intended for SRS business, pulled second duty as a gaming machine – leading the PC to become a potent, widely spread gaming platform. Nowadays as the APU flows through and becomes the standard with almost every upgrade, the PC that’s still very much in every house is again a de-facto gaming portal; surprisingly Intel’s HD 3000 is already the most common GPU in Steam’s hardware survey. Over the next few years PCs shipped with APUs will not only outnumber consoles, but be sold in numbers rising into the hundreds of millions.
This means a few things. A fair bit of new blood for one; there are already new PC gamers they are thankfully not stuck playing Farmville. Instead they’re more often than not able to play the same games as us, and after a while tend to hanker after better graphics as we all do. Think of the rise of the APU at this point as that of... a ‘gateway drug’. One that can lead towards the kind of healthy lifestyle signalled by a dedicated multi-GPU gaming machine replete with head-sized cooler and LEDs, all colourfully illuminating a room strewn liberally with Pizza boxes and Red Bull cans.