XBox One, PS4 or … PC?
I’m a realist. While PC gaming is still alive and thriving, PC’s themselves are teetering on the edge of irrelevancy in a world of tablets. As the newest consoles come out from Microsoft and Sony (the Wii U is really in its own category) it’s an opportune time to consider what these systems can do compared to a gaming PC.
One of the apparent benefits of the consoles is price: powerful gaming PC’s routinely run up over $1000 to over $4000. A prime graphics card itself can run more than the cost of an Xbox One. However price is a bit of a smokescreen. While you can’t build a perfect match of an Xbox or Playstation using off-the-shelf parts, it is possible to build a PC with similar specs for not much more. Teardowns of the Xbox One and PS4 both show not fancy Intel chips but proprietary AMD APU’s. As these are proprietary you can’t buy them on the open market, however similar APU’s can be had for about $130. The consoles also lack fancy graphics cards, but use the on-die graphics of the APU itself. You may think you’re buying a supercomputer, but in actuality you’re really buying a computer that is dedicated to doing one thing really well – graphics.
The CPU’s on both consoles are based on AMD’s eight-core Jaguar processor. While that sounds intimidating, the processor is based on tech used for mobile chips and runs below 2 GHz in terms of clock speed. AMD offers hexacore and octocore CPU’s that fit their FM2 and AM3+ desktop socket designs and are at a decent price point.
The graphics on the consoles is also on par with even older PC components such as the Radeon HD 7850. The AMD Jaguar chips actually have AMD 7000-series graphics cores embedded on the die. So again these are not a major budget breaker.
The RAM used on the PS4 is different from your typical desktop RAM. The PS4 uses 8Gb of GDDR5 RAM, which is typically reserved for graphics cards, while the XBox uses more typical DDR3 RAM but also includes 32 Mb of embedded SRAM to give a quick performance boost. To have a similarly specced PC you’ll need to use the highest speed DDR3 RAM you can find, which will cost you.
The rest of the internal specs are pretty generic: Blu-ray drive, hard drive and so on. These items are easy to find for any PC builder.
Just for kicks I put together what I thought would be a system that would be on-par with a next-generation console:
- AMD A8-5500 Trinity APU (quad-core, 3.2GHz, integrated Radeon HD 7560 graphics)
MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 FM2 motherboard
- 8 Gb (2x4Gb) Mushkin Enhanced DDR3 2400 RAM
- Toshiba 1 Tb SATA drive with 32 Mb cache
- LG Blu-ray drive
- hec media center case with 300W power supply
The grand total for the parts was about $419, which isn’t bad in comparison. No I haven’t put it together so don’t ask. Send me $500 and I will.
The problem with this set up is that eventually you’re comparing apples and oranges. The consoles use proprietary operating systems and you’ll need to dish out another $80-100 probably for your Windows OS. The cost for the PC system also doesn’t include controllers, a webcam, or a wireless keyboard/mouse. Tack on about another $125 depending on how serious you want these components to be. You can see that the cost adds up pretty quickly for our PC system.
In terms of performance comparisons, Windows itself uses a lot of resources compared to the console OS’s so your gaming performance will take a hit from the onset. And as any PC gamer will tell you, this system will be woefully inadequate for playing games at high graphics settings. Dedicated PC gaming systems can easily trounce any console, but only at a high price.
You’re also missing out on some of the best benefits of the consoles as well, such as the Kinect for XBox and console-specific titles. Finally, as the consoles have become more entertainment centers and not just gaming platforms, I find it hard to justify having a living room PC anymore. Sure there are some PC only titles out there that are worthy of the living room, and you also have the benefits of better web browsing programs. But I just don’t see a compelling reason for a PC to compete with consoles anymore from a price standpoint unless the PC is your platform of choice.