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

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