PC Gaming. And you thought Console choices were hard.

Gaming PC Stereotype

There is a lot to think about with tech. Don’t get fooled by the marketing.

So I was going to talk about all of this on Tuesday, my ‘normal’ day for Talking Tech articles. I put it off because of a flood of reviews on the new AMD Ryzen 4800HS laptops. And I am drooling. There is finally a low power CPU that can eat my desktop i9-9900k for CPU intensive tasks. The catch? Gaming isn’t a CPU intensive task.

What does all this mean? You have already dropped numbers and acronyms I don’t get!

The whole point of these articles is to try and simplify the technical minefield that is computing. In future articles, I will be taking you through individual components and talking about what all of the numbers and acronyms mean.

Today, I am going to try and clarify some terms that I am going to be using a lot of the coming weeks. I will also touch on why most of you shouldn’t get caught up in the new AMD laptop hype.

Oh, he’s an Intel shill. Stop reading everyone.

Hold up! I am only picking on the new 4800HS because it is the current hype. The new AMD chips deserve all the praise they have been receiving and more. I already said I am really looking forward to these processors becoming available!

What I am going to point out that for gaming, you don’t need to go high end on most components. Companies want you to buy the expensive stuff, but it’s not always what you need. The exception is your graphics card, but even that doesn’t need to be as high as you need.

But I watch all these fantastic systems be built with incredible results!

One of my favourite lie back and chill YouTube playlists is a lot of showcase computer builds and hardware reviews. Why? I know a lot of the results before they start, so I can just watch people play with the equipment I would never pay for.

But there is a catch with YouTubers and their reviews. No, I am not bringing any results integrity into question. All of the channels I love have a high level of enthusiasm and expertise. The catch is the equipment they use.

Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Asus, Gigabyte et al. have a tendency to ship flagship top of the line units. Why show what an Nvidia 2070 graphics card can do, when we can let you show off a 2080 Ti that costs people 3 times as much?

So if someone hands you AUD$5,000+ worth of stuff to make a computer out of, why wouldn’t you? And of course, they are going to do it with a smile – they are literally kids in a candy shop!

JayzTwoCents Nebula Gaming PC Build
Even in this incomplete state, you could build two or three solid gaming systems for the cost of this beauty.

So today, I am going to outline some firm guidelines for what you need for a solid gaming experience vs top of the line show pieces.

You keep saying “A Solid Experience”. What does that even mean?

Between PCs and Consoles, my definition of solid experience is a little different. For consoles, you want to play games at a stable frame rate with no need for you to do anything to intervene.

What are frame rates? It’s literally how many images the system can throw up on the screen in a second. Frame Rates, Frames Per Second and monitor frequency all work together to try and give you a smooth gaming experience.

If you watch TV and movies, these are traditionally filmed at 24 frames per second. This is why if you pay close attention, a fast-moving object appears to ‘stutter’ on the screen. If you watched frame by frame, you could see how the object jumps from location to location.

Gaming at 60 frames per second helps reduce this by a lot. And today with the power of graphics cards, hitting 60 frames is pretty easy even for ‘graphics-heavy’ titles. This is where the monitor frequencies join the fun. If you have a monitor that works at 60Hz, this means it refreshes at 60 frames per second (simplified explanation), showing you each and every frame.

Why am I banging on about frames per second? I consider 60 frames per second as a ‘solid’ experience. Not Ray Tracing, DLSS Turbo blah blah blah. These technologies are important and have a place, but not necessary to the experience.

Monitor Refresh Rates
Images like this are supposed to make you feel like you NEED the bigger numbers. Marketing Hype.

But I want everything to work with all the bells and whistles! Don’t I need all that RTX stuff?

Not in my opinion. And that is the key phrase – “My Opinion”. If you want Ray Tracing, you aren’t wrong. I keep coming back to the car analogy. If you look at the Hyundai cars, the i20 works and gets you around. The i30 gets you about in a bit of comfort and doesn’t have trouble speeding up on hills. If you go up to the Sonata, you get more of the luxury features that make it more delightful to drive.

Looking at the accurate reflections is amazing and immersive. I am not dismissing the technology. But if you look at the Resident Evil 3 Demo pics from the XBox One S, it also had amazing reflections. Ray Tracing is the future, but it’s not the standard yet.

If you have the money to spend, you can go all the way to a Masarati or similar supercar though. Think of the price jump from an i30 to a Masarati. For day to day driving, how many people can really justify a Masarati? Wanting is fine, and if you can do it. Send me pics. I will be jealous 🙂

Gaming is the same. Using this analogy, I am guiding you towards the i30 of gaming systems. A good, reliable ‘bang for the buck’ system. More importantly, I am trying to explain why I think these systems are the way they are. Not to convince you that I am ‘right’, but so that you can look at your own use case and decide what is right for you.

So what do I need for a gaming system?

The keyword in all this is ‘System’. No one part makes a system, but one piece can break a system.

Don’t panic! If you stick with me, I will tell you all of the little gotchas and traps that can lead to an expensive experiment. That is why I am not just throwing up a bunch of specs and saying ‘go forth and enjoy’. It’s easy to do that with consoles – they are what they are. PCs can be customised any number of ways, so you need to understand how they all work together.

Over the years, I keep getting asked for the 2 pieces people think makes up a system – the box and the screen. Technically these are 2 components of a system, but a few bits are missing.

To build a system, you need to think about the following components:

  1. CPU
  2. Graphics Card
  3. Motherboard
  4. Memory (RAM)
  5. Storage
  6. Cooling
  7. Case
  8. Power Supply
  9. Monitor
  10. Sound (Speakers or Headphones?)
  11. Operating System
  12. Any extra parts (e.g. Expansion Cards, RGB)

It can be really intimidating, as each item has a considerable amount of options. But now, I will take you through the basics of what I think you need for good gaming only system. This doesn’t go through everything on the list, but I will take you through the essential parts of the main pieces.

CPU

The brains of your computer are the Central Processing Unit or CPU. There are two offerings – Intel and AMD. Each company has pros and cons, but for gaming, either is a solid choice.

The thing you want to look for is a CPU with 8 threads. Not cores – threads. A core is basically a dedicated processor, and a thread is a queue of commands that can be executed at the same time. By having 8 threads, your computer can handle a lot of tasks at the same time. A 4 core/8 thread CPU for gaming is just as good as an 8 core/8 thread one for games. Don’t let the different model numbers and marketing confuse you – just concentrate on the number of threads, and you will be fine.

CPU Processing Giants
Anyone tells you this is what you need to just play games - walk away. Quickly.

I will get more into the nitty-gritty of all this when I do my article on CPUs, but gaming has only recently started taking advantage of using more than one thread. Eight threads sound like a lot, but really it’s a comfortable number. Remember that Windows and all of the ‘normal’ things your computer is doing also run in the background, so a little breathing room is a good thing! 🙂

For 1080p gaming, I would aim for a minimum of an i5 (Intel) or Ryzen 5 (AMD) processor. Both have great options that will do many tasks well. If you look at different builds on the internet, I have seen people say you need an i7/i9 16+ thread CPU for gaming. No, you don’t.

You might need an i7 only becuase Intel has shifted up the new processor numbering. Buying a desktop i5 processor can be tricky. It’s a marketing ploy. Look at the threads, look at the price. There is nothing wrong with an 8th generation processor, especially just for playing games – older is not always worse, especially with Intel processors.

If you want to do streaming/content creation/video editing or run multiple high-end graphics cards, yes the extra threads help. But just for gaming, come back down the scale. It’s a lot cheaper as well.

Today is very much a ‘don’t go lower’ message. Over the next few weeks, we will talk about why you might want to go higher, and when you should think about it.

Graphics Card

The two main GPU providers - Nvidia and AMD
Yes these are 'older' model cards, but they still hold up if you are on a tight budget!

This is where your gaming grunt is mainly handled. Notice I say Graphics Card, not GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) like many people do. It’s a semantic difference, but a GPU is part of a graphics card, not the whole of it. Graphics cards are literally little computer systems in themselves, and many things differentiate them from each other – not just the GPU.

This is probably going to be a controversial call for some, but I will stand by these choices.

I would recommend a minimum of 1660 Ti for 1080p gaming. I have this card in my laptop, and I can get 90+ frames per second on Control, a very new game. Some people recommend the RTX 2060, but I would be wary. Ray Tracing is really pretty, but it can also cost you 20-30% of your frame rate, and so you need to either turn it off or drop quality settings.

To me, if you have to turn off features of a more expensive card, why pay for it?

Now I am not ignoring Radeon cards. The RX 5600 goes toe to toe with the 1660 Ti and is a great choice. AMD has been having some driver issues lately that have made the news. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security – this happens on both sides from time to time. It is one of those things that unfortunately just happen.

AMD cards are an excellent choice, but they tend to have a bumpier troubleshooting experience than Nvidia. 

If you are worried about something going wrong and have to fix it yourself, stick with Nvidia. If you don’t mind rolling back a driver if something goes wrong, give Radeon a good look. 

Also, don’t forget, Nvidia and Radeon work equally well on AMD and Intel CPUs. I have heard sales staff tell people you need Nvidia with Intel CPUs, and Radeon for AMD CPUs. If someone tells you this, ask for another sales person!

Memory (RAM)

I need to go into a lot of detail about this, but the short version is you want to go Dual Channel memory. Now, this is actually a feature of the motherboard, but it has a real impact on what RAM you buy.

For Dual Channel, you will need at least two sticks of RAM, so if you want 8GB of RAM, you need 2 x 4GB sticks.

How much RAM do you need? That’s easy. You can get away with 8GB, but I would try and go for 16GB if your budget can stretch to it. I will go into the whys and whatnot when we look at this in more detail in another piece.

RGB RAM
Some people pick a quantity, and then move on to RGB or No RGB. There is an important factor missed.

The trickier question that gets overlooked is what speed RAM. That’s right – your RAM has a speed!

For Intel, high-speed RAM doesn’t really impact performance. Just sticking with a Dual Channel setup will see you the best performance. Aim for the 2400MHz models as a minimum, and go higher only if the cost is right for you. I wouldn’t go over 3200MHz, and even that is pushing it. The benefits just aren’t there on Intel CPUs for the extra speeds, especially for pure gaming performance.

For AMD, it’s a very different story. AMD is more than just a different brand, it’s a different type of CPU architecture. And it loves high-speed RAM. Faster RAM costs more, but I would aim at a minimum of 3200MHz, with 3600MHz being the sweet spot for the price vs performance gains.

Storage

Another short but sweet until I can get into more detail.

System Storage Types
From Left to Right - Slower but cheaper for large storage capacity, faster but expensive at high capacity, and best but very expensive per GB.

You want an NVMe drive for your operating system/essential programs, and you don’t need a PCIe 4 drive! PCIe 3 for Windows and Games have excellent (and almost identical) performance compared to the expensive PCIe 4 drives.

For more abundant storage, you can go a large but slower SATA SSD to load your Steam games on (not Steam itself – install that on the NVMe drive!), or even a cheaper HDD. This way the HDD will only be dealing with loading files for the game, with the more complicated file structures handled by the high-speed drive. This is a sound cost/performance ratio setup.

Intel Optane drives, and PCIe 4 drives, have their place and are fantastic tech. That place isn’t for everyday file access, though. Not for the costs involved at least. They are the Masarati’s of the storage world, again don’t let the marketing fool you!

So you have told me lots of choices, but not specific parts!

Yep. That’s because this is already a REALLY long piece. A big part of this will boil down to what you can spend as well. There is no one ‘perfect’ build out there.

But a lot of the basics you now have a little bit more knowledge of what you should be aiming for. You will also have an idea of the sorts of things I want to cover and have an idea of what might be a questionable choice when looking at specs.

Next time, I will be making a video with parts lists for solid, advanced and high-level gaming systems. I will also talk about why I think those systems are in the tier they are, as well what I consider those tiers to be!

I will compare these to some gaming companies ‘ready-made’ desktops and laptops, and show why it’s important to know what you are looking for.

If you would like more information on a specific part or build type, drop a comment, and I will try and answer it or bring forward that article to try and help 😀

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Gaming at Home – Part 2: Consoles – PlayStation or Xbox?

The Heavy Hitters

Be prepared for an answer you might not be expecting

So everyone hears about the ‘Console Wars’ every few years. The apparent winner is the console that sells more consoles.

Like all statistics, this can be a good indicator and very misleading. The Xbox 360, for example, got a sales boost with early adopters especially having to buy a second console after the ‘Red Ring of Death‘.

Now before you jump on me for being a PlayStation fanboy (which I have already admitted I am), I will always agree Xbox 360 won that generation. Not because of sales numbers though. In my opinion, it won on the strength of its gaming experience.

The PlayStation 3 was an incredible technical achievement. The Cell processor was ahead of its time in many ways, and capable of computational feats that only enterprise level processors could rival.

The achievement of the Cell processor was, unfortunately, paired with ‘interesting’ decisions from Sony. The cell processor made developing games for the PlayStation 3 difficult even for Sony backed development studios. These difficulties translated to strange performance comparisons with the Xbox 360. Not only that, but there were also many PlayStation only bugs and titles that had to be cancelled because it was too hard to build well.

Xbox 360 vs PS3
One was a technical powerhouse. The other worked better most of the time.

Why am I going on about old consoles? Gamers (fanboys in particular) can have a selective memory span. Every piece of tech has problems, and consoles are amalgamations of lots of technologies – both hardware and software.

I loved my PS3, and the exclusive titles were so much fun! I don’t regret my PS3 at all, and I wish mine still worked for some of the games. Wihle I have fond memories, the hard truth is in terms of performance it was generally better to get the Xbox version for a more consitent gaming experience.

Remember – while the internet hype/consenses have degrees of truth, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily true for you. Looking at a lot of the PS5/Xbox Series X headlines, think about last generation where the ‘technically inferior’ console was the better gaming experience. Numbers aren’t everything.

OK, history lesson delivered. What has this got to do with today?

My Xbox One S is my first Xbox console. I played the Resident Evil 3 demo first on it. I am having almost as much fun on it as my PS4 Pro. Why am I having more fun on my PS4? Because I have more of the games I want to play on the PlayStation.

That’s it. Graphically, both run nicely. I haven’t played many cross-platform titles, but that will be changing with the Resident Evil 3 demo. That’s why I am using a title that isn’t for everyone in the comparison pictures below – it’s the only game I have to compare them.

Can you pick which console is which? I am using a section with reflections to help.

Resident Evil 3 Raccoon City Demo Capture 1
See those reflections? That is a simple take on what Ray Tracing does, and neither console supports it!
Resident Evil 3 Raccoon City Demo Capture 2
Both photos were taken with the internal capture capabilities. I didn't match the brightness unfortunately.

On the left is the PS4 Pro, on the right the Xbox One S. Yes one is sharper, but I think that is more the capture software of the PS4.

Bottom line though, don’t they both look amazing? Playing the demo on both systems was amazing. The only real difference is radio chatter comes from the speaker in the DualShock 5. It sounds silly, but this was a nice touch.

From a gaming experience perspective, it’s hard to go wrong with either choice. That’s right – it doesn’t matter from a hardware perspective if you choose PlayStation or Xbox. What does matter is that the console has the games you want to play.

Want to play God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man or other PlayStation exclusives? Get a PlayStation. Really want to play Halo? Get an Xbox. That’s it. Hardware-wise, that’s all you need to know about the consoles.

That’s it? Buy the one I want? What kind of advice is that?

If that were the end of this little piece, it would be a very unsatisfactory ending. Also, I didn’t say buy the one you want – I said if you’re going to play certain games, you need to buy a specific console. There is still a lot that needs to be looked at and evaluated.

All I am trying to say now is there is no real way you can make the wrong choice from a hardware perspective. However, the console choice is only ever the start of the story.

There are many other factors to take into consideration, and now at the dawn of the generation crossover, you can look at these factors with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight rather than hoping you picked the right crystal ball.

Subscription Services

It doesn’t matter what console you choose, I do recommend getting there respective online gaming subscription. You need to if you want to play online, but when looking past that requirement, there are different pros and cons.

PlayStation Plus
Microsoft Game Pass

PlayStation Plus gives you a couple of free games a month, store discounts, and access to cloud saves just in case. PlayStation Plus will set you back AUD$80 a year if you pay upfront, or AUD$12 a month if you renew monthly for a total of $144 a year.

Over on Xbox, technically you need Xbox Live, or Gold, or Live Gold – it gets confusing. I keep talking about Game Pass. This is the service that made me finally buy an Xbox. Game Pass Ultimate is more expensive than PlayStation Plus, but you get a lot more included for the price.

Game Pass Ultimate is Game Pass for Xbox and PC combined with Xbox Gold (the Xbox version of PlayStation Plus) all wrapped up in one. So for AUD$16 a month, you get online multiplayer, 2 free games, and access to over one hundred titles you can play for free while on Game Pass.

Even better, the Game Pass games include all Microsoft Studios Games released at the same time as their retail versions. Want to play all of the Halo games? The Master Chief collection is waiting, and Halo Infinite will be available straight away.

So while Game Pass Ultimate is more expensive, having the ability to play hundreds of games for no extra is phenomenal value. PlayStation does have the PlayStation Now service, but here in Australia it’s not an option for us so it’s not a fair comparison.

Virtual Reality

PlayStation Virtual Reality
There is a lot of extras required to play VR, not just a headset. Kits like this are the best way to go.

I love VR, but I will be the first to qualify that the tech is still trying to find it’s feet. The PSVR is a lot of fun, and I am waiting to set it back up properly in the new house. I miss Beat Saber! :p

As much as I love VR, it is an expensive experiment. I am not trying to tell you to stay away from it – if you are interested, that’s awesome! But there are only a handful of what I would call great VR games. Everything else are good VR ‘experiences’.

With the introduction of the Oculus Quest, PSVR (PlayStation Virtual Reality) isn’t the cheapest way to get into VR gameplay anymore. Also, while the PS5 will be compatible with the current PSVR, there is a newer revision coming, and the PSVR showed it’s age tech-wise even when first released.

So while I wouldn’t recommend VR as a must-have accessory today, if you want to experience VR on a console PlayStation is your only choice without going Oculus Quest or a PC system capable of VR gaming.

Must-Have Accessories

Second controllers, Charging Stations, Vertical Mounts – the accessory list for both consoles barring PSVR is almost identical, both in functionality and costs.

Overall, I would recommend a second controller when you buy a system. Even if you live alone, you never know when you might need a charged controller after a long session. Even better, you don’t know when you might have someone over to share a game with!

There are lots of different levels of controller available, from cheap budget wired versions to almost console priced ‘Pro’ controllers. I would buy the standard controller that came with your system. i.e. if you go PlayStation, get a DualShock 4. If you go Xbox, get an Xbox controller. Both cost about the AUD$90 mark and both controllers will work the same if you switch.

Controllers
Yes you can do better, but with the stock controllers you know what you are getting for your dollar

If you do go Xbox, I would also add a rechargeable battery pack and charger to your accessory list. You can get combos like the Energizer Xbox One Dual Charger for AUD$50, and this gives you two charge packs with white and black backs to match your controller with a charging stand. Why would I do this? Xbox still uses AA batteries for their controllers and buying those adds up in both cost and waste.

There are a lot of other things you can upgrade your console with, like new bigger hard drives (even SSDs) and the like. When you start looking at costs like this, I would suggest a reliable external USB 3 hard drive for simplicity. Both systems let you install games to an external drive, and the performance is comparable to the internal storage. I would only worry about that when your installed library grows down the track.

Xbox One Charger Stand
Because of the AA battery requirement, kits like this are better for Xbox users

The big question – do you upgrade to the PS4 Pro or Xbox Series X?

This is the tricky one. Do you go the ‘base’ experience or the ‘unrivalled power’ of the upgraded units?

The Heavy Hitters
Do you need to go big straight away? Remember - wanting isn't needing :p

Will you be playing on a 4K TV? If not, then I would seriously weigh up spending the money on the beefier consoles. You will generally get smoother frame rates with the Pro and One X, but playing with the base system is still a great experience.

I play with my Xbox One S on my 4K TV in 4K mode, and only once have I been tempted to drop to 1080p for frame rate issues. Playing The Outer Worlds and the Resident Evil 3 Demo in 4K on my Xbox One S was fun and worry free, even after coming back to it from my PC.

As I said, if you do experience frame rate stutters, you can just drop the output resolution. 1080p on my TV still looks beautiful, but your TV may be different. I only see the image problems when using 720p and lower resolutions. Remember, 4K gaming is gorgeous visually, but it means outputting 4 x 1080p screens worth of pixels at once, and all but ultra-high-end PCs can do this reliably. Even those systems will have issues at times, so don’t be too hard on your console if it has problems now and then!

There is one exception to this rule for me. If you are going to buy a PSVR, I will recommend the Pro over the base PS4. Playing games like Beat Saber on the base PS4 is fine, but if you get into beefier games like Skyrim VR and even Moss, more people will suffer motion sickness on the base system than on the Pro. Why? The Pro can push out more frames, giving a smoother experience.

Once you get past the 4K TV question, most of the other items kind of melt away. If your TV supports HDR, your system will turn on the nice lighting features for you. There are factors you would have heard like Input Lag and Response Times, but this has everything to do with the TV and little to do with the console. I will talk about all of these things when I speak about monitors in future articles.

So what do you think I should get?

Today, unless you know you wanted specific PS4 titles, the Xbox One S with Game Pass Ultimate is the best deal around. For a known fixed price, you can play all of the major Xbox exclusives without spending any more cash.

There is also the advantage of Microsoft saying there will be no Xbox Series X exclusives for the first two years of the new console. Now, this doesn’t mean there won’t be new titles, and Microsoft has also said that if you get the Xbox One version of any of their games, you will upgrade to the Xbox Series X version automatically. So you know with certainty that if you buy a console today, you won’t be missing out on new titles for a while still having a vast catalogue of games to play in the meantime.

If you have a 4K TV and want the most out of your console, now that the current generation is ending the Xbox One X will be coming up on sale making the upgrade cheaper if you time it right.

But again – unless you want to play the other consoles exclusive games, it is very hard to go wrong. The only way to have a ‘better’ experience is going PC, and that involves more money and a bit more tweaking on your part.

Yes – PC gaming tends to involve more involvement on your part than just playing games! That is why I recommend either console if you just want to get into gaming. Both consoles are a solid entry choice, and will let you enjoy thousands of hours of gameplay.

Soon, I will start talking about the world of PC gaming and why it is a rabbit hole of chocies to tackle.

But that, as they say, is for a future series. 🙂

Questions?

If you have any questions or discussion points, jump in the Disqus below or comment on Facebook or Twitter @JohnHQLD! I would love to hear from you 🙂

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Gaming at Home – Part 1: Consoles and What about Next Gen?

Overkill Lounge Gaming Setup

What should you look at while gaming at home?

So on Tuesday, I talked about the Switch and why it is (to me) the best portable gaming choice. The great thing about mobile gaming is you can play it at home just as well as on the bus! So if the Switch games library is what you are looking for, you can stick with the Switch happily 😀

You may be looking at playing games though that aren’t available on the Switch. As much as I would love to play Cyberpunk 2077 on Switch, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Aren’t first world problems the worst? 🙂

So, you want to play certain games (or have a more extensive choice within particular game genres), you have two basic options.

And those options? PC or Console. Hah – you thought I was going to say PlayStation or Xbox, didn’t you? Well, this will boil down to that discussion. But first, I want to talk about why I am not talking about other options.

PlayStation or Xbox Alternatives

So I talked about the Switch in reasonable detail. It’s a great gaming experience and is a solid choice for gamers as their only device. Because it’s portable, I class it as a portable console. If the Switch works for you, you already know why, so I don’t need to compare it to other consoles here.

Something I have looked at a lot (and made grabby hands for but can’t justify) is multi-arcade home cabinets. I would love one of these. I technically have the skills to build my own – well, electronics side. Rabbit’s assistance would probably be needed for cabinet building. After all, you have to know your strengths and limits.

As cool as these cabinets are, they have a limited retro library and cost a lot. They also take up a lot of room – not always practical. I would love a room full of pinball machines with an arcade cabinet in one corner, but that takes a lot of power, space and maintenance. I can’t justify the time and money required for me. If this is what you are looking at doing, go for it and know I am incredibly jealous. But like the Retro Handhelds I touched on in the last piece, I think this setup is a niche one, so I won’t talk about it any more.

Home Arcade
I would love a setup like this. But there is more than just the $ holding me back

Retro or ‘mini’ consoles are also an alternative. I have almost all of the mini-consoles I want, which I love. But I don’t play on them very often. I consider these consoles a niche nostalgia purchase as well. Sure, you game on them, but you are limiting your choices to the included titles.

The prominent alternative is, of course, PC gaming. Making a mini-PC to sit under your TV is a popular build, and so plenty of cases now allow you to install beefy graphics cards.

I am not putting PC gaming in today because even though you might put it in as a console, it is still PC gaming. PC gaming is great and offers many more hardware choices than consoles. It also comes with much higher costs than consoles.

Mega Drive Mini
Mini or Classic consoles are a great toy, but they aren't much more than that these days

Over the coming weeks, I will be talking about PC building and various componenets with all the pros and cons a lot. Also, comparing even the Xbox One X (the fastest console hardware right now) to a mid-tier PC is as unfair as comparing it to the Switch. Different target goals, different equipment, different experiences possible. Each will give you an enjoyable gaming experience, but the ‘good, better, best’ comparison will be made – especially if you have access to all three.

So to keep things simple and as Talking Tech is more for people just starting in video gaming, spoiler alert – Console Gaming wins for at-home gaming. Now to look at what console would best suit you.

What about next-gen? Will you be comparing PS5 and Xbox Series X as well?

Not really. I will be touching on some confirmed features when comparing the current generation of consoles, and describe my plans for the next console as of today. But for now, I won’t be describing the gaming experience on next-gen consoles. Why not? Because it’s all guesswork.

As I am writing this, Microsoft has revealed a bunch of hard technical specs for the Xbox Series X. I believe when this article is released, Sony will have finished their technical system presentation.

These specs are great, but numbers aren’t everything. A lot of this information is also being presented with marketing spin. I am not saying that the data is wrong, but we all know numbers can be presented to give a better impression than what you see in reality.

For example, Xbox’s 12 teraflops is a fantastic amount of computational power. That’s cool! What does it mean for you right now? Very little. It’s just a number. Even with that power available, until developers can make use of that capacity, it doesn’t mean much. It’s like having a car with a top speed of 400 km/hr. Until you can go somewhere you can drive at those speeds, it’s nice to see on your speedo, but it doesn’t truly help your daily drive to work.

Xbox Series X Specs
The specs sounds impressive (and they are), but they aren't everything

A hard detail is the Xbox Series X will have expandable SSD drives. I think this is great. Storage has always been a concern for me on a console. No pricing was given, so I don’t think it’s an attractive feature – yet. These are custom drives, so I am expecting a price jump on what I can buy NVMe for my PC.

What’s good to know that I can use an external drive for backwards compatible games (Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One) and the Series X will need the new internal or custom expansion drives.

Xbox Series X Expansion Drive
Easy to use expandable and portable drives are something that people can evaluate today

This feature is a detail I can evaluate today. Game load times from an external drive will be about the same (maybe slightly better depending on your external drive) as what I have now. So I can use my 2TB external that I currently use for video capture as my ‘old’ games library drive, and the performance is what I have now – an immediately known quantity. This quantity is something that you can decide if you need now or even pre-plan for, but it doesn’t sound as catchy as ’12 teraflops!’.

This difference in information and its overall impact on your daily gaming experience is what I will continue to refer to as Marketing Hype. Remember, both PS5 and Series X are mostly running the same hardware. The differences are how the respective companies tweak their designs.

Think of it this way – you want a 2070 Super graphics card. One from Asus has higher numbers here, one from Gigabyte has better figures there. Which one do you choose?

Both are 2070 Super Graphics cards, and that gives you a baseline expected gaming experience. If a manufacturer makes a card that doesn’t meet that minimum expectation, the internet screams about it. Consoles are the same thing, just for more than one component. So while I am excited about the next generation of consoles, keep in mind a lot of what we will be seeing is Marketing Hype. At least until around October/November when reviewers get their hands on actual hardware and titles.

Also, keep in mind next-gen will be more expensive than the current hardware as well. Why do I say this? Because for the first time, console hardware is going to be ‘better’ than mainstream PC hardware.

RTX 2070 Graphics Cards
Each card is right for different reasons, but mostly you can't pick the wrong one

Wait, console will be better than PC?

Overall, no. Technology jumps, and while the new consoles will be ‘better’ than a lot of computers we use today, it’s only for a little while. The new consoles have access to tech that just hasn’t quite cracked the PC market – it’s available, we are just waiting for someone to sell it to us.

As advanced as the newer generations of consoles are, they are still mainly PCs. Not everyone likes to admit this, though. They run CPUs, RAM and GPUs just like any PC build. Yes, the SoC (System on a Chip – the CPU and GPU combined) is custom-built for the console, but that doesn’t invalidate that it still uses PC parts. Many physically smaller PCs like the NUC systems use custom SoC in the same way consoles do.

Consoles traditionally have used components that have tried and true manufacturing methods and availability. Examples were things like slower hard drives when PC people had started moving to SSD drives. For not much money, you get lots of storage! However, it can take 2-3 minutes to load your game every time you die. Pros and Cons, always.

With this generation, it looks like the consoles will have access to new tech that hasn’t made it to PC users yet. So for modern consoles, for the first time, they aren’t built like computers 2-3 years earlier.

Pro – Sacrifices in new games won’t need to happen on a brand new console like this generation. Con – consumers will be paying a premium for new products, including padding for higher failer rates, production troubles and the like.

Xbox One X Components
The layout is a little different, but any PC or Laptop has the same core components

So what are you doing with the new generation?

Barring what I think are lousy business or hardware choices when all the details about PlayStation 5 come out, I will be buying one. I am a Sony Fanboy, as I have said.

As for the Xbox Series X, it looks like it’s going to be a great launch. But I won’t be upgrading my Xbox One S for a while. Microsoft has said no Series X exclusive games for a couple of years, so I can play anything I want on Xbox still. Once the manufacturing process has settled down, I should be able to get a second revision Xbox Series X with any hardware improvements made.

I have a friend who is doing the exact opposite of what I am doing – Xbox Series X day one, PlayStation 5 maybe down the line. This plan (for both of us) is what I call ‘Fanboy Thinking’ – you have already made up your mind to get something based on brand loyalty over facts.

I am saying this upfront as an example of doing what I say, not what I do. The decision to stick to PlayStation 5 is a byproduct of my 25 years with PlayStation. S’s decision is a byproduct of her long experience with Xbox. The purpose of Talking Tech isn’t to tell you that my choice is the right one, but to help you decide what is right for you.

So should I wait to buy my first console when the next generation is released?

If you are looking at buying your first console, I would suggest a current-gen console with all the production kinks all worked out over the PS5 or Xbox Series X.

The end of life current-gen consoles are now almost always on sale – this helps the costs. Buying an established product minimises the chance of faulty products and some things that can reduce your experience. For example, when playing Destiny 2 my original PS4 Pro sounds like an aeroplane. I have barely heard my Death Stranding PS4 Pro fans at all. It’s not a better console – it’s just had a manufacturing revision that lets it run quieter. A ‘faulty’ product would be the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death.

The drawback of waiting is potentially missing out on some unique upgrades. You won’t have the super-fast load times of the next generation, for example. This is why I appreciate Microsoft committing that first-party games won’t be Series X exclusive for a couple of years – you know you won’t be missing out. But any decision you make on next-generation consoles will be a best guess decision. My advice is to wait and see what the consoles can do close to release when people have actual products.

Xbox One X EB Games
It's a guess, but the top of the line Xbox now will be about half the cost of the Series X

So if you decide to buy current-gen, looking at the PS4 and Xbox is exactly with me will be exactly what you need! If you choose to go next-gen only and wait, good news – looking at what the systems offer now is still what you need 😀 There is more to a console than just the hardware, and I will be looking at the current ecosystems as well. While it might all change for the next generation, you should have a firm understanding of what they are changing from to let you know what works for you.

So PlayStation vs Xbox – what are we looking at?

I hope today you can look at the information coming out on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and feel comfortable that you shouldn’t understand what they can offer you fully just yet. Until you can see one running (or listen to someone you trust what they say about their hands-on experience), it’s all an unknown.

So in Part 2, I will start delving into the pros and cons of the PlayStation and Xbox One families. Not just the base console hardware, but the services, ecosystem and additional abilities of the consoles as well. PSVR vs 4K Blu Rays for example.

Questions?

Again, this is all a lot to take in, and I kind of jumped to why you shouldn’t stress about next-gen today. I tried to explain all the main concepts, but this is all complex stuff.

If you have any questions or discussion points, jump in the Disqus below or comment on Facebook or Twitter @JohnHQLD! I would love to hear from you 🙂

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Which Console should you choose for portable gaming?

Why consoles? They are purpose-built for gaming.

The eternal question – what is the best gaming platform? The right question, as always, is what is the best gaming platform for you. Game exclusives are a thing on consoles more than PC, but they are a thing. If you have your heart set on playing Halo, you need an Xbox. Marvel’s Spider-Man? PlayStation. Mario/Zelda games? Switch.

This exclusives situation is partly why a lot of console gamers have a ‘big’ console and a portable. Or in other words, a PS4 or Xbox and a Switch.

Console gaming isn’t cheap, but it is less expensive than PC gaming. The cost of two consoles is comparable to a low to mid tier PC setup in terms of price. I am not recommending that you need to buy two consoles, but this is why a lot of the gamers you see on YouTube and the like have this kind of setup.

But that is what works for them – what about you? Did you decide on where you want to game?

Initially, I was going to do all of the consoles today in one piece. That was going to be a long read again, and I want to avoid that. So today, I am concentrating on the first type of console gaming – portable gaming.

Gaming on the go – The Nintendo Switch

Without playing on your phone or investing in some niche products, the Switch is the best console to take your games with you for playing anywhere.

Sure, technically there you can play on a gaming laptop, but they aren’t as portable as a Switch. Can you imagine setting up your computer on the bus?

The Switch eShop has a heap of PC indie games that are finally getting recognition on the Switch. There is also the first party Nintendo line up. A lot of people have complained that a lot of the Switch releases are ports of the Wii U games, and there is validity in that. But as the Wii U sold so badly comparatively speaking, a lot of great games just never got played.

Switch on a plane
My Switch has helped with many a plane flight, both during and before! Image Source: Nintendo

There are a couple of downsides to gaming on the Switch though. The first is the price. Nintendo games, especially first-party titles, rarely drop in price. Breath of the Wild is about $10-15 less now three years after it’s initial release. Compare this to games on PC, PS4 and Xbox, and you can all but bank on the game being 2/3rds to half the original release price!

The beautiful thing about the Switch is playing in handheld mode, the game runs the same on the Switch or the Switch Lite, as they are the same hardware. 

But aren’t the graphics on the Switch only 720p? Why would I want such a bad resolution?

This is where you shouldn’t always look just at the numbers. The Switch doesn’t have the same graphical or computational power as the PS4 or the Xbox. Even most lower end PC Graphics Cards can do better than the Switch Graphics. This isn’t really the point of the Switch though.

You won’t see Ray Tracing on the Switch anytime soon. Photorealistic graphics don’t run as smoothly on Switch as it’s more highly powered bretheren. That doesn’t mean that the Switch has bad graphics though.

I usually trip up ‘graphics snobs’ on YouTube with a simple search. What do I look for? Check out how much fun they have with Minecraft. If you ever wanted to watch people have fun with ‘basic’ graphics, there is a stellar example.

Asphalt 9
OK, it's no Gran Turismo. But Asphalt 9 still looks amazing, even on a 1080p screen.

A trick that Nintendo uses in their games is the art style. By not trying for realistic hair and fabric movement, they don’t need as much horsepower as other consoles. The graphical presenation of games like Breath of the Wild isn’t purely an aesthetics choice – it helps performance as well.

The 720p limit is also mainly imposed on handheld mode. How much detail can you actually see on a 6″ screen? When playing docked, most games are played at 1080p. Why can you only play 1080p in docked mode?

Battery life mainly. By not having to push as many pixels, the Switch doesn’t need as much power. This means that in handheld mode, it doesn’t run as physically hot or need as much power as in docked mode.

Luigis Mansion 3
Lower the scale, improve the quality. The reflections in Luigi's Mansion are an integral mechanic.

AAA games with photorealistic (or close to it) look amazing. I am not trying to say they don’t. But I have played a heap of graphically amazing games that are boring. It comes down to one simple question.

What’s more important – a great game, or great graphics? Of course we want both ideally. But if you look at games like Fez, Papers Please, Dead Cells or Celeste, you can’t tell me they are graphically impressive.

So it’s a case of picking your target. Yes, if a game is on PC, PS4, Xbox and Switch, the Switch will look graphically ‘poorer’ – but as long as it plays well, how important is it to you? This is where if you need better and smoother graphics, you need to sacrifice portability. At least today. Improvements continue all of the time, so better will always be around the corner.

After all that, there are two choices with the Switch – the Switch and the Switch Lite. It’s that simple. Both have the same game-playing hardware but differ in accessories and what they can (and can’t) do.

Let’s look at the Switch

The Switch comes with two detachable Joy-Cons, which you can use in a lot of games to play multiplayer with one Joy-Con each. 

The Joy-Cons also give you the benefit of motion controls and the rumble feature. Now for a lot of games, this is a pretty optional (some say gimmicky) feature. For many games, this isn’t a problem. But if you want to play Mario Party, prepare to shell out for some extra controllers to play the game at all!

It also comes with a Dock, meaning you can connect up your Switch to your TV and play in 1080p – the same base resolution as PS4 and Xbox.

So you can sit and play Breath of the Wild or The Witcher 3 (or any game!) on your couch on your big screen. When you have to go somewhere, pick up your Switch and keep playing on the go. It’s that simple. No syncing saves via Nintendo Online, no changing graphical settings, it just works.

Nintendo Switch
All the basics are included in the box

Now let’s compare the Switch Lite

The benefits of the Switch Lite are pretty simple. First off is the price – the Switch Lite is about AUD$150 cheaper. You also have almost everything you need in a smaller package, more comfortable to carry around with you. Battery life is even better on the Switch Lite.

There are drawbacks, though. Want to play on the TV? Sorry, you can’t just buy a dock and expect it to plug straight in. The functionality isn’t built-in.

The lack of Joy-Cons also means that you can’t just hand a friend a controller for some spontaneous Mario Kart. Some games, like Mario Odysee, also shine with motion controls – in my opinion anyway. You can remedy this by buying Joy-Cons, but that starts getting expensive as we will look at in a minute.

Nintendo Switch Lite
The console. For portable gaming, it's all you need.

Must have accessories (Both Systems)

An SD card. The Switch comes with 32ish GB of intenral storage you can use, but a lot of games will eat through this storage very quickly.

Don’t get sucked in to the ‘Switch’ branded memory cards though. They work well, and are a safe buy, but you are buying a standard SanDisk SD card with Nintendo’s licensing markup included.

If you want a safe buy, stick with SanDisk SDXC cards. You should be looking at about AUD$80 for 128 GB models. You can save some money and get smaller cards, but they will hold fewer games.

Nintendo cartridges are doing a bit of a sneaky. The cartridge has some of the game on them, but get you to download the rest of the game. There is no cost to do this other than internet use, but many people expect the game to be on the cartridge.

You can switch SD cards as well, so if you end up with a lot of games you can use this function for managing your storage.

Swith Memory Card
Retailing for AUD$59, you can get the same capacity Samsung Evo Plus for AUD$30

If you are playing portably, I would also recommend a screen protector and a case – just like your mobile phone.

I would suggest a budget of about AUD$60 for both a screen protector and a case, but this amount will change depending on the case you want to get. Bottom line is almost all cases are fine and will do the job, it’s a personal choice for the look you want. I only advise against cases that are fully soft (you can scuinch it up in your hand), as this reduced the protection for your Switch. Again, this is a personal choice though – a soft case might fit nicely in a pocket in your backpack.

The good news is you can’t really go wrong here. If the case holds everything you need, and you like the looks, it’s the right case. You can just protect your console, or get messenger bags dedicated to carrying all of your equipment. There are even lots of choices in between.

Switch Dock Case
You can get cases to take your entire setup, or just the console itself. It all depends on what you need to carry with you.

So which should I buy?

If you only play games on your own or online and don’t mind not being able to play games on your TV, then have a good look at the Switch Lite. If you have smaller hands and the portability is important, the smaller sized Switch Lite will probably be better for you to carry around. Also, if you want to play on longer trips a lot, the better battery life can’t be underestimated.

As a general recommendation, I would say stick to Switch. Why? The flexibility and included experience you get all included. And in total, it works out pretty cheap in comparison.

Yes, battery life isn’t as good – don’t forget that catch. But I like playing on my TV, and I can only do that with the Switch. I am a taller guy, so the larger Switch is still pretty easy for me to carry and play on.

There is also to me the Switch’s better value. Yes, it’s $150 more expensive, so saying it’s good value seems counterintuitive. But if you add Joycons to play multiplayer and motion control games with, that’s an additional AUD$120 you are looking to add. All of a sudden, it only costs you $30 to play on the TV! Playing Mario Kart multiplayer is a lot easier on 40″+ screens than the Switch’s 6ish” screen (depending on Lite/Switch).

Switch TV Frame
You don't need to go to this extreme, but I still think it looks amazing! Image Source: geekologie.com

Even if the dock did work with the Switch Lite, a dock by itself is also AUD$120, so in total that would be an extra $90 over just buying the Switch.

As always, it depends on your use scenario. The Switch Lite is excellent, and I can see why it works well for some people. If you are looking at it from a particular perspective, it makes a lot of sense. But hopefully, now you can see how the cheaper console isn’t always the most economical choice.

Wait, so the Switch is my only choice? What about the retro handheld consoles, or the 3DS? 

2DS XL
The last generation of 3DS ditched the 3D, but plays 99% of all the games
Evercade
This is one such Retro Handheld that has caught a lot of attention

So why I am not talking about the 3DS is simple – it’s an all but dead system. I am not saying they are bad consoles; just they are becoming a niche purchase.

Right now, if you can find a new 3DS on the shelves, you will probably be looking at only a little lower cost than a Switch. People aren’t releasing new games for the console anymore, not really.

Not only are the consoles hard to find, but games are a mixed bag as well. There is a heap of cheap DS games at my local EB Games, for example, but I don’t want to play many of them. All of the DS games I want to play I already own, and I still intend to make my way through the games I haven’t finished.

Some games though I am putting off for the Switch rerelease. One such game is Xenoblade Chronicles. I enjoyed what I played of it, but I was nowhere near finishing it! I can play the new streamlined and visually upgraded version on the Switch, on a much bigger screen – even if I don’t play it on my TV!

Retro handheld consoles are also a mixed bag, both in experience and legality. I am not trying to say that such consoles are illegal, but many of the more popular ones come with some undoubtedly illegal game versions.

These retro consoles also tend to require a lot of user tweaking for the best experience. A lot of the retro consoles I would recommend are locked to only a few titles, and this is done so you can pick a game and play. These offer the most hands-off experience, but only for certain older games.

Playing these older games have their place in what people want to play, and if you have any interest, I encourage you to give them a try. Seeing where elements of game design started, and how much we still owe to ‘old’ games is eye-opening.

Retro gaming is great, but for the majority of people aren’t what people are talking about when talking gaming. Besides, if you look through the Switch eStore, you will see a lot of these retro games designed to work well on the Switch as well! And if you are into modding and other ‘advanced’ tricks (and have the time to research the pros and cons), you can get the same emulators running on the Switch as well. That I will leave to others to explain.

Questions?

Hopefully, that helped you work out which Switch Console works for you. If you have any other questions, drop me a comment below or on Facebook. I have tried to keep everything pretty general, but if enough specific issues come up I am happy to look at particular situations!

Thursday I will be looking at the ‘big two’ – PlayStation vs Xbox, and if you need to spend the extra on the Pro or X versions.

Until tomorrow and the Yeti hunt,

JohnHQLD

The next big video gaming choice: Where do you want to play?

Switch on a plane

It’s not quite time to be talking hardware – there are other things to keep in mind still

Welcome back! So now you know we will be looking at the first step of hardware choices. Where do you want to play?

Most people will be saying “At home”. The gaming den is the dream of gamers everywhere. But this isn’t always the case. Spend a lot of time on public transport? That time could be spent gaming! Or maybe you catch up with friends for a LAN party regularly? Some people even need to move on short notice, and large gaming desktops computers do not like being transported easily.

This goes with your mindset. This is probably the most significant overlooked criteria I see when people look at what they want to do. It’s great to know you want total immersion, but if most of your free time is when you are out and about gaming on a desktop is all but out.

Switch on a plane
My Switch has helped with many a plane flight, both during and before! Image Source: Nintendo

There is no right answer here, it’s all about the right solution for you. So let’s have a look at some starting choices we will be building on as Talking Tech continues.

Some solid starting choices

Looking at all of the available games is daunting. Knowing what you want to play is even worse. Different people have different tastes. I love RPGs, and I am lucky that I can play them on almost anything. But how do you know what you want to play? 

Unfortunately, it’s like movies, books, music, or even cars – until you try them, you don’t know for sure. And you can’t try them until you make an investment. Of course, if you know someone that plays games and can try them out on their machines, it helps. But it’s not always that easy.

So if you are looking at playing a wide range of games, below I have some reliable starting places that you can look at as a safe starting choice. 

These aren’t recommendations – don’t look at them as such. But these will let you look at some options and the costs involved to get started from scratch and a feel for budgets, and we can build from here going forward.

At home gaming only

Bang for buck starting out, I would suggest an Xbox One S and Game Pass subscription. You can play hundreds of games for $15 a month (for ultimate), keep some freebies and try lots of different types of games.

Why do I recommend Ultimate Game Pass? It comes with Gold, which gives you free games each month for the extra $5. Plus right now, I can crossplay games with my desktop!

If the game is a Microsoft Game Studios one, you can even play it at launch on Game Pass. Look at spending AUD$400 + Game Pass subscription to get a good starter and excellent gaming experience.

Xbox One S Starter Pack
Xbox has starters and the digital only console. Every saving has some form of extra price.

You would have seen many headlines that PlayStation ‘won’ this console generation. While true in sales, that’s not really the whole story. I prefer PlayStation as a platform (I am a PlayStation fanboy), and it has more exclusive games than Xbox. That alone doesn’t make it the best console out there, but you can’t go wrong either.

PlayStation provides a great gaming experience, and you can usually get deals on the base PS4 and a couple of games for $500. Add $80 a year for PlayStation Plus, and you will get to keep a couple of new games each month as a part of the deal. If you want to dip your toes into VR as well, PlayStation is your console choice.

Today, you get access to some fantastic exclusive titles as well – more about that later.

PS4 Starter Pack
Starter packs are a great way to save a little money, but you still spend more

You can’t really go wrong on either platform unless you must play a title exclusive to one over the other. Have to play Halo? Don’t buy a PS4.

Looking for the Switch? Well, I consider the Switch a portable, even in docked mode. Check out ‘Gaming on the go’ for some Switch thoughts 🙂

For more power, choice and flexibility you would be buying/building a PC. You can get a system with a GTX 1660Ti/RX 5600 graphics card that will rip through games at 1080p for around AUD$2,000. This includes a monitor, keyboard etc. – the computer itself will be around the $1500 – $1600 mark. You can still take advantage of Game Pass, plus have access to Steam Sales and GoG.com which has great titles for much less than the console equivalent. Even Epic gives away a free game a week.

Does a system like that have all RTX this and 4K HDR that? No. But then again, I haven’t talked about the PlayStation Pro or the Xbox One X either. The highest performing graphic cards cost AUD$1400+ by themselves!

Basic Gaming PC
No flashy lights and bling, but works well (once you put the side panel back on :p )

Everything I have outlined here is for what I consider a solid baseline experience – 60 frames per second for smooth gameplay at 1080p (Full HD) resolutions. I wouldn’t look at anything less than these choices for a great experience. There are exceptions, but these are niche situations and should be looked at as such. For example, I would love a multi-game arcade cabinet at home, but I can’t play Resident Evil 3 on it!

Can you do better? Yes, in every single case. But future articles will start explaining these options.

Gaming on the go

If you want something you can take with you, then primarily you are looking at a Nintendo Switch or a Gaming Laptop.

For the Switch, budget about $330 for the Switch Lite (handheld only) or $500 for the version you can plug into your TV for choices. Add $60ish for a case and screen protector – you want to protect your portable! It’s a vague amount because the case you like could be cheaper or more expensive. They all do the job at the end of the day.

Then add about $80 per game you want to buy. Switch Online gives you some classic games, but no new titles like Sony or Microsoft. The Switch is a great platform, and quickly became one of my favourites. The downside is that games for it are expensive compared to every other platform.

The Switcher
Yes, there are compromises playing on a 'weaker' platform. But there are positives as well!

For a Gaming Laptop, I would budget for about $2,000 – $2,500 for similar specs to the gaming desktop I talked about before. It will still rip through games at 1080p and has all the same benefits as the desktop. It won’t be quite as fast performance-wise as the desktop though.

Don’t get put off by this statement – a lot of people talk down about laptop performance, and the hate talk is not justified. The differences in many titles will be within a couple of percent of frames showing per second (think the smoothness of gameplay). This difference is for a bunch of good reasons, and I will be making a comparison between Desktops and Laptops in a couple of weeks.

Asus Gaming Laptop
Looks and size are a big part of the price, but if you want to pick it up and game, laptops are always there

Portable means you can game almost anywhere, you just need power and maybe internet access.

The thing to remember though is if you want portable, you sacrifice computing and graphical power, and pay a premium. The same goes for the Switch compared to PS4 and Xbox by the way!

The trade offs for a Switch vs Xbox/PS4 are pretty obvious, but it’s still a great experience. I know a lot of people (and roll my eyes at lots of comments) that complain the Switch doesn’t have 4K HDR. It could, but you would be carrying around something the size of laptop anyway! It’s all pros and cons.

Another portable console that gets shunned by the general gaming community is your phone. Yes, I said it. Your phone can be an awesome gaming platform!

Will it play the latest games at fast frame rates and have all the bells and whistles? Nope. Mobiles rarely have the newest AAA games released on them. Gaming will eat through your battery as well. But a lot of us have pretty high-end phones we purchased on a contract.

But if you just want to check out Fortnite? You probably already have a way sitting in your pocket!

Rog Phone 2
You don't need this phone specifically, but gaming on mobile is fun

For playing on your phone long term, I would probably suggest investing in a Bluetooth controller. The PS4 DualShock works well for about $90. There are lots of different controllers but think of the DualShock as a reliable general choice.

So how do I know what I want to game on?

Really, it comes down to what you want to play. 

If you want to play first-person shooters, adventure games or role-playing games? Good news – you can play on pretty much anything. Real-time strategy? Not many come to console, but they exist. Personally, I prefer PC – keyboard and mouse is still better than controllers. 

The release of the Epic Store has introduced confusion because Epic has paid companies to only release their games on the Epic store. Mostly it’s what is known as a timed exclusive, meaning that you can only buy and play it from Epic for 6-12 months. Want to use your Amazon gift card to buy it? Sorry. You can’t. Well, not for a while at least. And then you have to get it when some other game you want to play is being released. This is a big part of the ‘uproar’ of Epic Games.

This has gone against the industry trend as a whole. Microsoft Game Pass (yes, I keep going on about it) is releasing Xbox games on PC. Older games need work most Xbox games aren’t available. Still, going forward Microsoft has been releasing their games made by Microsoft Studios to work on PC and Xbox. So in a few years, you won’t necessarily need an Xbox to play console games – your ‘gaming PC’ and Game Pass could be all you need for any Microsoft games.

Epic Games Store
Choice is rarely a bad thing, but gamers can be very vocal in their disapproval

Before last year, if a game came out on PC, it used to be on PC. Steam is the defacto PC store, and you could buy it there digitally. You could still buy it from other places though – you didn’t have to buy it only from Steam. Go anywhere that sold physical versions like EB Games, Amazon, JB Hi-Fi and you got the same thing. There are services like EA Origin that only sold their titles. Still, they didn’t have such a significant impact across so many titles. Eventually, such services ended up releasing simultaneously on other platforms such as Steam anyway because sales suffered.

These days, a lot of games come to both PC and consoles across the range. The idea of ‘exclusives’ are both dying off and taking strange turns locking you in, which does make choices confusing for new shoppers.

What are exclusives? Generally, it means a title tied to one platform. If you must play Horizon: Zero Dawn or Marvel’s Spider-Man you need a PS4. Your choice is really between buying a PS4 or PS4 Pro. Want to play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Buy a Switch. It’s not on anything else.

Cyberpunk 2077 Preorder
Apart from First Party (Hardware Makers) titles, it's rare to not be able to play on a lot of platforms these days

Even Sony has started to back down on its exclusives. Death Stranding is coming to PC, and rumours of Horizon Zero Dawn are out there as well. True, this approach isn’t as aggressive as Microsoft, but the fact they are backing down at all is a significant step for them.

Streaming is another factor in all this, but not one you need to worry about today. What streaming means is you can play games from your subscription on almost anything. As I said, for today, don’t worry about it. The tech is still new and not widely available, so while it’s coming don’t be put off by the next big thing. We will get benefits down the line, just not quickly enough you need to prepare for it.

How does this help you pick what you want to game on? If you don’t know what you want to play, you need a platform with the most choices for games.

Project XCloud
Streaming will mean you don't need specific hardware - but it's a ways off yet

As a rule of thumb, PC has the most comprehensive selection of popular games, followed by PlayStation with their exclusives, Xbox, and then Switch. Each platform has strong titles only available on that platform. Unless you need to play that one particular game/series, don’t let it be the only thing that guides you.

But now I am even more confused!

Possibly. And I am sorry about that. There is a lot of information and choices to take in, especially in one go. But what I have outlined today is only a small amount of the possibilities out there. The amount of choice is staggering. Even veterans get confused at this stage. I promise this is the only time I will have so many options laid out like this.

Not every choice is viable for everyone. If you only want portable gaming, then you can see there are only a couple of easy options now. You can get cases with screens for making your PS4 and Xbox portable. You can get small form factor desktops with handles to take with you. There is still more to think about, but if you want quick and easy, hopefully, the choices aren’t as intimidating now. All the other stuff is extras, like getting customisations on your car.

If you only want to game and/or keep costs down, consoles are a great choice. If you have spent a lot on a work desktop system, you can just add a better gaming graphics card. You might be surprised at how many games a ‘work’ laptop can actually play! All of this I will be breaking down in the coming weeks.

We need to know what you really want your experience to be so that you can explore the options that best suit you. Next week, we will take a look at console gaming in more detail.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Welcome to the beginning of JohnHQLD Talks Tech

PC Building Simulator

Welcome to the start of a new branch of the site!

So you are thinking about taking the plunge into video gaming. Maybe you have been playing games for years, but the sheer number of options is starting to become overwhelming.

The whole point of this series is to let you know that it’s OK. Today, it’s tough to make a choice that leads to a bad gaming experience. Watching a lot of YouTube videos or reading a bunch of Reddit threads can be intimidating and make you doubt this.

So welcome to the JohnHQLD Tech Tips, where I try and separate the marketing hype from the real-world benefits. I will be talking some technical points – it’s not something I can avoid with a topic like this. What I won’t be doing is saying things like “This is your only choice to be a ‘real’ gamer.”

For people that have a technical background – I will be oversimplifying some pretty complex topics. This could involve some technically inaccurate summaries or misdescribing scenarios.

You already know the variables involved, and why it’s so hard to create a one fits all explanation. Some of my information can be seen as wrong, and this will usually be by design. I am more interested in getting the basic theory across, which means prioritising the intention of the tech over the technical accuracy of how the tech works.

Why am I saying this? I want people to comment and discuss things and ask questions. But if I say something like “Air cooling is just as effective as water cooling in the majority of usage cases”, this can set Reddit on fire. I ask that you look at the overall context rather than the small details, and comment on that. 

Remember, this is all general advice intended for beginners. I will happily answer specific questions about certain situations. Still, in articles, I will be talking from a broad general perspective.

All that aside, it’s time to start talking about the first obstacle to buying hardware – your mindset.

Wait, I just want to play games! I already know what I want!

I am not trying to be rude, but do you? The biggest thing that surprises me when people ask about tech is they keep looking for features they will rarely if ever use. For example, last week, I was asked why their new CPU and Motherboard with a new PCI-e 4 drive ‘felt’ slower than their old system with a standard SATA Solid State Drive (SSD). 

Feeling a computer responding in a snappy fashion is a thing. It’s just not something that means the same to everyone. I couldn’t actually test the hardware, so it was time for some detective work.

After talking to them for a few minutes, I discovered this particular person went out and spent AUD$2,000ish on an upgrade because they read that the parts were ‘the best’. Lots of YouTubers and Redditors all agreed they were the best parts. Surely they built a sound system?

The catch is, this person only uses their computer for watching videos, browsing the internet and works with Word and Excel. This behaviour hasn’t changed for years, and they aren’t planning on changing this behaviour in the future. 

Barring a build problem (still possible), they built a system that they couldn’t actually work hard enough to get the full potential from. If it was a car, they made one that can go from 0-100 km/h in 4 seconds flat – but the speed limit is always 40 km/h. My guess is the system is responding well, they just expected more from it than it can provide with the work he does on it. You can only open a browser or Word so fast.

So the downside is they spent more on an upgrade than I would have built their entire system for. On top of that, their experience benchmark wise would have been virtually identical on the ‘cheaper’ system. 

It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking “If I get the best, I don’t have to worry about anything later.” The catch to that thinking is you will most likely be spending significantly more than you have to, and not just in original parts. Beefy computers need more power to run, which means you can see a difference in your power bills running a massively powerful machine. And you don’t always get the best potential of that system.

So what should we do?

Determine upfront what your objectives are. Forget the money and everything else at this point. Focus on what you want to do with your equipment. Do you want to play at home, or take your games around with you?

If it’s only games at home, consoles are a great choice. They are PCs built for that one purpose and cost less than a mid-tier graphics card for a computer. You might want to start streaming. You might have a beefy work PC that sucks for games. We can look at all of these situations over the coming weeks.

There is also the question of the best gaming experience for you. As an example, Control is a game that looks amazing on an RTX 2080 Super/Ti with all the bells and whistles enabled at 4K. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the same. 

Playing on an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, it has more graphical niceties than the base consoles. You don’t get all of the same ‘make pretty’ options as a mid to high tier graphics card on PC.

As long as you have the right equipment, it plays just as well (and sometimes better) at lower resolutions. 1080p gaming for some people is being talked about like it’s garbage. Well, guess what resolution you watch movies in?

Don’t get fooled. Real-time reflections in glossy walls look amazing. 4K graphics look amazing in the right setup. Is it worth $2,000-$5,000+ to be able to use these features?

Only you can decide that. This is where the financial side comes into play for most people. But first, you need to decide if that’s what you need it at all. And remember, wanting is different from needing!

So how do I choose what I need? New things are coming out all of the time!

Yes, they are. And that is why picking the right hardware is tricky at any point in time. But as I said, the problem isn’t tech – it’s the mindset.

The mindset I try to put people in when we talk about buying any hardware is the same as when buying a car. Sure, most of us would love to drive high-end luxury cars. Or even custom performance sports cars. But we don’t. Not because those cars aren’t great – generally those cars are priced high for a reason.

No, it’s because for whatever reason we can’t justify the cost. Notice I am not saying we can’t afford the price, just defend the price. Defend the price against what? Your actual needs, not your wants.

For example, even if I could afford a top of the line 2020 Maserati, the chances of my buying one are slim to none. Why? Each year, Rabbit and I drive down to Melbourne for PAX Aus. Rabbit and I can probably fit comfortably in the car – it has a driver and passenger seat after all. Our luggage, not so much. Just this one fact alone makes the Maserati less desirable as a purchase for my needs. 

I haven’t even gotten to if my 6’3″ frame can be comfortable in it. How are the blind spots? What features does it have? There are so many other crucial things that I need to know to decide if I want a Maserati. There is already something on my ‘need’ list that it doesn’t meet, so how can I defend the purchase?

If a basic need isn’t met, the cost becomes irrelevant. Weighing up your needs and wants to your budget are very different things, but many people let the budget alone be the justification. That is not always a wise course of action.

It’s funny how people get this when looking at a car or a place to live, but think computers are different. And don’t be fooled – consoles are computers. Yes, even the Switch. If you can’t justify the cost against your needs and wants, why pay it?

HDR gaming and Ray Tracing graphics are excellent, but I would rather a game that runs smoothly over such effects. Ray Tracing takes more power, and that means lower frame rates. That’s my preference anyway. You might need 4K at 120 frames per second with Ray Tracing on as a minimum. That doesn’t make your needs wrong, just different from mine. Hopefully, during the next few weeks, I can help you decide what your needs are based on more than hype.

This is something that makes me angry on a lot of comment threads. I have seen plenty of comments that if you aren’t playing on a system priced similarly to a house deposit, you are doing it wrong. No, your not. You have different requirements than the person doing the post – that’s all. A family driving around in a Tarago isn’t in the wrong car to your car – it’s your car doesn’t meet their needs.

So while people are building fantastic showcase builds with benchmark breaking results, don’t let the dazzle guide you. Like the guy that went AMD and PCI-e 4 I talked about earlier – it might not be for you.

So here’s a controversial statement – there is no such thing as a Gaming PC anymore.

Before you tune out or start spamming the comments, please hear me out. We still use terms like ‘Gaming PC’ or ‘Workstation PC’, but these days are almost redundant descriptions. A Workstation PC used to describe a computer with multiple cores for high computational power. Well, phones these days have multiple cores, does that make them Workstation Phones?

The only thing that really separates a high-end consumer Workstation and Gaming PC is the graphics card. There are still ‘pro’ workstations that make a difference, but unless you are doing high-end scientific work, not many people (if any) will make use of workstations.

Picking on Nvidia cards for simplicity, a workstation will use a Quadro card. In contrast, a gaming PC will use a GeForce card. 

Why? Because Quadro has more computational power. It has a ridiculous number of cores that are designed to work out a problem and pass that answer back to the CPU, bypassing the screen. Using Quadro cards in parallel calculations, Computer-Aided Design (CAD) work and the like is what these are built for.

GeForce cards use the same cores, just not as many of them. They also have extra components that help push out frames to your screen at a blistering rate. That’s why you can still use a GeForce card to accelerate video editing, which is great for home users, but Quadro cards do it better. This performance comes at a cost that makes a 2080 Ti look cheap though!

Using a Quadro card for gaming is technically possible, but not really worth the hassle or cost. It’s different tech for different purposes. Both work well with basically any mid-tier CPU and up though.

What does this mean for you? Today, you can dramatically improve what tasks your computer excels at by merely changing the graphics card. The CPU will still perform well. The only thing you can’t really do is put in a Quadro card and a Geforce card in the same system for the best of both worlds experience. Well, not yet anyway. Maybe one day. The Titan RTX does bridge this, but it’s one massively expensive card and doesn’t quite measure up. But the attempt is there – maybe it will continue.

Oh, and tech-minded people, remember when I said I would be misdescribing things? There is a great example. We know there is more to Quadro vs GeForce than what I just described. The concept holds true though, and that is what I am worried about getting across.

Why did I go through all of this, and how does this affect you as a gamer? It shows you really have to try and make the ‘wrong’ choice these days. That doesn’t mean you can’t make better choices, just it’s hard to completely get it messed up.

Even ‘low end’ equipment today is incredibly powerful and will work well for a large percentage of users in many different situations. You just need to temper expectations in some of those situations.

So what am I supposed to do now?

There is a considerable combination of problems and solutions in tech, and the key isn’t knowing all the answers. The magic ingredient to any tech project is knowing what problem you are trying to solve.

Today, take a sit back and just think about what you want to play. A handful of specific titles helps, but even knowing the genre of games you prefer is a great start. 

There are a lot of different things to look at moving forward. Do you have a PC that could be upgraded to let you game as well? Do you know you want an Xbox or PlayStation, but can’t decide between an X or Pro?

Going forward, we will be looking at these sorts of questions and more.

Topics coming up

Thursday, I will be talking about some good starting points for different types of gaming. This will also give some starting budgets as well, just to give an idea of cost differences.

Next week, I will be talking about consoles in more detail. When you want to be thinking about the PS4 Pro or the Xbox One X, what the next generation of consoles means to you, that kind of thing. I will also be talking about HDR, Frame Rates, Input Latency, and a few other “GAMING” buzzwords and what they practically offer you.

The week after, I will be comparing consoles to PC gaming. Then, the differences between desktops and laptops. After that, I will tackle VR gaming. Each of these topics will start to dip into budget costing considerations as well.

Once all that is out of the way, if no one asks for more detail on anything, I will be talking about different aspects of PC building each week. Which power supply to use, CPU choices and differences, what video card, how much RAM do you really need (and how fast!), Watercooling, RGB, all that fun stuff.

Why don’t I talk about consoles in such detail? Because those choices are already made for you. That is one of the strengths of console gaming. The screen technology like frame rates is essential for consoles and PCs, so I am putting that in the middle, so to speak. But more on that next week 🙂

If you have questions on topics that you aren’t sure I will cover or if you want me to prioritise coverage on something, let me know! Comment below, comment or message on FaceBook, or even @JohnHQLD me on Twitter.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD