Buying a ‘next-gen’ console? Think again.

Say ‘Gamer’ and immediately one thinks of someone seated on his couch, holding a controller, staring at his TV and playing the latest games on a console. Never does one stop to think about the larger gaming community – that of PC gaming.

In 2013, PC gamers set a new record for the largest number active gamers – 75 million Steam users. This figure is made even more impressive by the fact that it does not take into account Origin or UPlay users (sorry Battlefield fans). PC is a much superior gaming system, but the idea in most people’s minds is that PC is not a gamer’s platform. That’s where they are wrong.

Even with the superiority of PC gaming, consoles are selling like hotcakes. The PS4 sold 4.2 million units worldwide by 28 December 2013, and the Xbox One sold 3 million units. Before you go about buying one of them too, though, have a gander at why you should precisely not do that, and build yourself a PC instead.

THE BUILDS

For the sake of this argument, we’ll be looking at the following PC build:

  • AMD FX-6300 3.4 GHz 6-core CPU (unlocked)
  • Asus M5A99X EVO motherboard
  • PowerColor HD7950 3 GB GPU
  • CoolerMaster 212X PWM air-cooler
  • G-Skill RipJawX CL11 1×8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM
  • 1 TB Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM HDD
  • NZXT Source 210 Case
  • CoolerMaster Extreme Power 625W Power Supply Unit (PSU)
  • Windows 8.1 64-bit

The total cost of this build right now assembled from Sim Lim Square, without bargaining or sales is S$1150.

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The CPU I have chosen is also one that you can overclock up to speeds such as 4.7 GHz without breaking a sweat.

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The GPU is AMD’s 7950 (800 MHz) with 3 GB of GDDR5 vRAM, so you can game on multiple monitors with ease.

212X

Next, we have a very trusted PC components brand, CoolerMaster. Their 212X is one of the best value-for-money cooler available and will serve us very well.

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We also went for a cheap yet fast 8 GB stick of RAM (dual-channel is more expensive without any performance gains).

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We then come to the Seagate Barracuda, which is a really fast, cheap and long-lasting hard drive.

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The NZXT Source 210 case is also really cheap, offering front-facing USB 3.0 ports at just S$70, and the PSU is also from CoolerMaster and gives us a lot of headroom over the drawn power of the machine.

Finally, we’re using Windows 8.1 for the OS, as it will have longer support than Windows 7. If you are just going to game on your PC, then you can even forgo Windows and get SteamOS for free.

I’ve decided not to include a monitor because you can hook up the PC to your TV, and it’s not like you’ll buy a new TV for the console, right?

In comparison, the PS4 costs S$640 – a fraction of the PC’s price – but it comes with much more inferior specs and is more expensive in the long-run. It’s processing power is comparable to this PC build:

  • AMD A10-6800k 4-core CPU (downclocked to 1.6 – 2.75 GHz)
  • AMD Radeon HD7850
  • 8 GB GDDR5 vRAM
  • 500 GB 5400 RPM HDD

With the specs gone over, let’s start with the most important aspect – performance.

1. Performance

With the PC build stated above, I can run every single game today on its highest preset, from Crysis 3 to Battlefield 4 at 1080p and 60 FPS. On the other hand, many games on the consoles are 1080p or 60 FPS, though there are a few rare ones that have both. Even with 1080p and 60 FPS most console games look like they came from 2006. For crying out loud, Crysis released in 2007 and it looks miles better than any console game today.

Games such as GTA V are not even rendered in 1080p natively, they’re simply upscaled and the 1280 x 720 pixels are displayed on your FHD TV while filling the space of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

The first thing that console manufacturers latch onto and push into your face is the 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM. Thing is, that is Video RAM, used by games and a whole 8 GB has little use today. Most games use little more than 1 GB of it, much less than the 3 GB the 7950 provides.  And guess what? While the GDDR5 RAM has higher bandwidth, the PS4 uses only 4GB of it for graphics. In two months, nVidia plans to release a new line of graphics cards based on their Maxwell architecture, which will have 8 GB of GDDR5 vRAM on the graphics card alone. The 8 GB of it in the PS4 serves no purpose, as other processes will not be made faster, and games will not need more than 1 GB of the vRAM.

Furthermore, while the 7950 has 3 GB of vRAM, it can actually support multiple displays – something the consoles cannot do at all. PC gamers on the other hand are enjoying 5760 x 1080 gaming, while the consoles are unable to take advantage of the vRAM. Not only that, the PC has 8 GB of standard DDR3 RAM for the OS and other components to utilize allowing the whole of the 3 GB available to games only.

RAM is the least of console issues however, and is far from being a performance bottleneck. Looking at the CPU you instantly are shocked. A 1.6 – 2.75 GHz clock speed is what you get in mid-range laptops, not high-end gaming machines. Put simply, this means that the console processor will be unable to supply data to the other components fast enough, creating the first of many bottlenecks.

In comparison on the PC, the stock clock-speed of the FX-6300 is 3.4 GHz, and can be manually increased to over 4 GHz – about 1.5 times faster than the console CPU. This opens the floodgates for the CPU to send and receive egregious amounts of data without becoming a bottleneck.

Next, we look at the HDD. The only replaceable internal part of the consoles, by itself it is a slow and pitiful thing. A platter which spins at 5400 RPM means extremely slow loading speeds in your games, boot-up and your usage of the console. Read and write speeds are also impacted. It’s made even worse on the Xbox One where HDD replacement voids your warranty, and the included one only has 362 GB of space.

In comparison, after installation of the OS, the Seagate Barracuda will have over 900 GB of storage free, and that too running at 7200 RPM. Best part is, that it cost me just S$80, whereas storage upgrades for just 200 GB cost over S$200 in the older generation of consoles. Another option that the PS4 lacks is the ability to run an SSD alongside my 1 TB HDD, on which I can put my OS onto for lightning quick boot-up times while having cavernous storage.

Last but not the least, we come to the most important part of gaming – the GPU. The PS4 and Xbox One both have GPUs that are the PC equivalent of the Radeon 7850 which was released in May 2012. That’s right – the GPU is a year-and-a-half old. Running the latest AAA games at 1080p and 60 FPS is a challenge for consoles – draw distances are reduced to ridiculous amounts, and graphics presets are dropped to the PC equivalent of the low preset.

Compared to the PS4, the 7950 renders much more beautifully. Detail is immense, textures are more realistic, and colours are rendered more accurately. Draw distances can be turned up to the maximum, and strong anti-aliasing (AA) removes all traces of jagged lines.

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This, all while running at 1080p and 60 FPS. Looking at benchmarks, you quickly begin to realise the 7950’s power. We increased the clock speed of the FX-6300 to 4.5 GHz and tested the following games running at the stated presets:

  • Crysis 3 – 1080p, 2 x MSAA, Ultra High preset
  • Battlefield 4 – 1080p, 2 x MSAA, Ultra preset
  • Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag – 1080p, 2 x MSAA, Ultra Preset
  • Bioshock Infinite – 1080p, 2 x MSAA, Ultra Preset
  • Flight Simulator X – 1080p, 12 x SSAA, Anisotropic Filtering, Very High Preset, REX Overdrive, FTX Global, ENB Series, Bojote Shader, ImagineSim Singapore, Aerosoft Airbus X Extended

Here are the benchmark results:

  • Crysis 3 – Min 48 FPS, Max 63 FPS, Avg 59 FPS
  • Battlefield 4 – Min 55 FPS, Max 67 FPS, Avg 62 FPS
  • Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag – Min 32 FPS, Max 55 FPS, Avg 49 FPS (AC4 was a poorly made PC port – all GPUs struggle)
  • Bioshock Infinite – Min 53 FPS, Max 68 FPS, Avg 60 FPS
  • Flight Simulator X – Min 63 FPS, Max 89 FPS, Avg 74 FPS

As you can see, this PC has absolutely no issues running brand new games and can do so at full HD resolution at 60 FPS. Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4 were the most demanding games of 2013, and it scythed through those with ease. In AC4 the PC slipped up, but that’s due to the developer’s fault for not optimizing the game well for PC. While FSX is a CPU intensive game, the add-ons do take heavy advantage of the GPU.

There is really no contest in terms of performance – consoles simply cannot hold a candle to PC gaming. In the past, yes, when the N64 and Gamecube were released, the consoles were superior, but that time is long gone, and PC has surged ahead. With the build I stated, I can be running 8 tabs of Google Chrome, a Word document, and Excel sheet and Crysis 3, yet still be hitting 60 FPS on the Ultra preset at 1080p.

2. Backwards Compatibility

In 2013 we saw the launch of some great games, such as Halo 4, Last of Us, Crysis 3 and the like. There are also many great games released throughout the life of the Xbox 360 and PS3 such as Halo 3, Assassin’s Creed II and Call of Duty Black Ops, but alas, next-gen console owners can bid their large games library goodbye – they’re not going to be playing that on better hardware.

This lack of backwards compatibility is a sore miss in consoles. Cited to the lack of the same architecture, the Xbox One and PS4 don’t support Xbox 360 and PS3 games, so you won’t be able to play Assassin’s Creed II or Halo 3 with the more powerful components. PC has no such issue. Assassin’s Creed II looks eye-popping in 1080p, the original Crysis is a beauty to look at, and I’ve even played the 1996 release Duke Nukem 3D on my PC.Duke

None of my games are ever going to be completely wasted because I can play them whenever I want without having to worry if I need the older hardware again. Still, you may cry “But consoles are cheap and PC gaming is so expensive!” But guess what, it’s actually the other way around.

3. Price

In terms of the components themselves, assembling a PC is more expensive. As said above, the PC build in question costs $1150, and the PS4 costs just $640, but that’s just in the short-term and for inferior specs. The PC might be $510 more expensive in the short-term, but you don’t just buy a console for two years do you? You buy it for its whole lifetime, which going by Xbox 360 and PS3 standards is 7 years. In the long-term is where PC Gaming gets cheap. For example, have a peek at the games that were available via a Humble Bundle and last year’s Steam Winter Sale.

  • Max Payne 3
  • Just Cause 2
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Battlefield 4
  • Bioshock
  • Bioshock 2
  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Batman Arkham Asylum
  • Batman Arkham City
  • Fear
  • Fear 2
  • Fear 3
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • Civilisations V
  • Euro Truck Simulator 2

All this I got for S$104. Yes, you read that right. 15 games for S$148. In comparison, on console, buying just the latest releases such as Max Payne 3, Battlefield 4, Sleeping Dogs, and Bioshock Infinite costs over $200 alone. After buying 15 games, that means I am looking at a potential saving of $500 to $600. Remember how the PC cost S$510 more? Well, after buying all the games, it actually costs the same or even less than a console – all this while offering better performance and backwards compatibility.

You do not need a $2000 PC to game, unlike what urban myths suggest. As I’ve just proven, you can get games looking much better than consoles for just S$1150 and make a saving in the long-run. This PC build will have a longer life than the Xbox One and PS4 simply because it has much better hardware in it today. Yes, games for the consoles will be optimized, but so will games for PC – developers will keep pushing the limits of each system, but PC is already leagues ahead.

As amazing as that is, the best thing about PC gaming is this…

4. The Power of Choice

It is the power to choose what you want, from the CPU and GPU right down to the case fans’ LED colours. When gaming on PC, you have all the choice in the world – what case you want, what CPU you want, how much storage space you’ll need; everything is there for your picking.

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You also get to access Settings sliders in your game. Graphical presets, resolution, Anti-Aliasing, filtering, you can fiddle around with everything.

Computer more than capable to handle every game? Dial them all the way to max! Computer getting old? Bring the preset down to Medium. Got a new 1440p monitor? Go ahead and turn the game resolution to 1440p as well. There is nothing that you cannot choose in PC gaming.

You can even filter your choices by manufacturer – if you don’t like Intel practices, you can go with AMD instead. You’re never shackled. In comparison to consoles, this is much superior. I cannot choose to change my GPU or motherboard in a console, and I’m stuck with the exterior of the console as much as I dislike it.

Where Sony and Microsoft force you to pay extra for the basic right of online gaming, you don’t pay a single cent more than what you give your ISP. Even if you pay just a dollar per month for Xbox Live, the fact of the matter is that on PC you pay zero. It is completely free for PC gamers. On PC you are also not held ransom to changing terms and conditions or server downtimes.

What’s more, if you think a game’s graphics are dated, you can simply slap on a graphical mods. The following screenshot is from vanilla GTA IV:

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And this screenshot is from the same game, except it’s running ICE Enhancer 2.5 graphical mod and SMAA (Subpixel Morphological Antialiasing).

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The difference is simply astounding, and the above mod is capable of running at 1080p and 60 FPS on the PC build stated.

PC also gives you the option of choosing any type of controller input – mouse and keyboard not perfect for racing games? Connect that DualShock 4 and get going. Need to fly? Hook up a joystick. You can also output to any display you’d like – TV, monitor or multiple monitors!

For those who are scared of actually building a PC yourself, all the shops in Sim Lim offer to build the PC for you, and each part has its own warranty, so if it breaks without you messing about with it (i.e. overclocking beyond stable limits and frying your CPU) you can simply take it back to the retailer for a new one, or you can swap it out for another – it’s just that simple.

CONCLUSION

Console gaming might be at the forefront of the public mind, but the only reason it has reached there is due to extremely clever marketing. Both Microsoft and Sony have drilled into the public’s mind via the sheer number of commercials advertising console gaming.

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In the glory days of the N64 and Gamecube, consoles were the only option to game. Today though, this has changed. Not only are consoles not the solitary gaming option, but they are not the superior one either. It is PC.

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With Valve aggressively promoting SteamOS and their Steam machines, PC gaming is set to be much more accessible than it is now. As of now there are 13 manufacturers ready to start production of their own Steam machines, and this number is set to rise.

However, even with Valve at the forefront of Steam machines, pre built PCs are going to be more expensive than building one yourself. What’s more, the sense of accomplishment you feel after assembling your own PC, as well as the learning points that you have gained, is invaluable.

Ready to buy yourself the next-gen gaming machine? Step right up – the PC components are right here.

2 thoughts on “Buying a ‘next-gen’ console? Think again.

  1. EDITOR’S NOTE: For those who do not understand it, the following comment is satire.

    /r/consolemasterrace GO CONSOLE!
    The PS4 has a RADEON HD 7970 8GB a card that doesn’t exist in the stupid PC WORLD!

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