I Can't Believe It: The Razer Blade Might Not Just Be the Future of PC Gaming—It May Be the Future of PCs

Illustration for article titled I Can't Believe It: The Razer Blade Might Not Just Be the Future of PC Gaming—It May Be the Future of PCs

Does PC gaming need to be saved? It's a question so arrogant it upset gamers for weeks after gaming peripheral manufacturer Razer posed it.

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After seeing this morning's reveal of their new creation, the Razer "Blade" gaming laptop, I think I'm ready to go one better: I think Razer may not just save PC gaming—I think they may save Windows laptops entirely.

But Razer's got a big scrap ahead of them. The Blade doesn't go up against other gaming PCs—it's going toe to toe with the world's best hardware manufacturer. They're going to fight Apple.

You can build a perfectly decent gaming PC for less than a grand. The new Razer Blade costs $2,800. (I'll get to the price in a bit. It's a big deal—and something Razer is going to have to bring down.)

But here's something that PC gamers don't want to hear (and I say this as an owner of a shit-hot gaming tower of my own): PC gaming hardware is approaching a dead end.

PCs aren't going to die, but they are fast on their way to a niche industry. And it's not smartphones and iPads that are killing them—it's the lack of systemic innovation in the PC hardware space itself.

Look, it's not the ‘90s anymore. There aren't dozens of companies making PC hardware anymore, especially the sort that gamers need with real graphics horsepower. There are three: Intel, Nvidia, and AMD.

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And really, if you want to get right down to it, there's just Intel. They're the only company with the capital, resources, and engineering prowess to move forward in the industry. (Nvidia may get there if their mobile Tegra platform finds customers in smartphones and tablets; they could use the revenue.)

But for years, Intel has been operating as a company fearful of accusations of monopoly, even though they largely have had no real threatening competition. But oops, here comes Apple using lovely mobile hardware that is fast approaching Good Enough status for even "real" computing in their mobile hardware.

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Guess what? In another generation or two, those iPhone chips are going to be fast enough to power a decent laptop. It won't be long before the MacBook Air and the iPad meet in the middle, not just in interface, but in hardware.

So where does that leave the PC hardware world? HP just bailed on PC hardware. Dell's a rounding error for mid-sized corporate bulk computers. Apple's moving through the consumer space like crazy, becoming the laptop of choice for not just students and creatives, but everyone but PC gamers.

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What PC gaming needs are platforms. I know many of you gamers out there don't want to see it—the varied choice and the ability to customize your hardware is part of why you love PC gaming. (And Android phones, I'm sure.) But it's holding back one of the things that made PC gaming so wonderful for years: raw power.

Why do Xbox games running on six-year-old hardware look nearly as good as a modern PC games? Don't quibble with me about resolution, texture quality, etc. You'd be missing the forest for the trees. Console games look close enough to PC games, despite PC gaming hardware being ten times as computationally powerful.

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Don't believe me? Ask id Software's John Carmack, who just a few weeks ago noted that one of his hopes for PC hardware was more standardization within the platforms, so that the sort of low-level programming that really lets games and other software access the full power being held back by two decades worth of operating system compatibility layers, drivers, and all the cruft that's accreted around PC hardware in a valiant but ultimately retrograde attempt to allow companies of various size to play in the game.

You can't put a Ford engine in a Toyota. (Well, not easily.) Why should you be able to put an AMD video card in an Intel computer? Choice, you say. Fine. But if my choice is holding back the potential of my hardware, I'd rather take the losing companies out behind the barn and shoot them.

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It's time to buck and realize that the Apple model of hardware isn't just one way to do it—it's the way hardware has to go to move forward. There will still be competition, but the competition is between platforms, not within the platforms itself.

The Razer Blade is the first credible competitor to Apple from the PC hardware world in five years. Don't get me wrong—I'm not sure that Razer even knows what they have on their hands or if they're committed enough to the product line to see it through. But I'm sure Intel knows; the dedicated an entire engineering team to the project with Razer, after all.

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Here's what the Razer Blade is doing right:

It has a real brand.

Thanks to a race-to-the-bottom sales strategy, there aren't any real quality brands in PC laptops anymore. The big players went for volume at the expense of quality. The boutique firms made powerful but awkward uber-machines that appealed to some, but were still burdened by me-too hardware, obscure brands, and far too much choice. (Yes, that's a bad thing for the mass market.)

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Razer, on the other hand, has a single product: the Blade. It has its specs. There is one model and if you want it, you buy it. They'll likely come out with a new Blade next year that has the latest hardware. Sound like any company you know?

It's a compromise machine in the best way.

It's a fast machine, with powerful hardware. But not too powerful. (There's a reason its screen is only 1080p, a relatively low resolution for PC gaming these days—mobile hardware can push that just fine.) At five pounds, it's light for such a big screen.

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It's really not compromised at all—it's purpose built. It's built for gaming. That's wonderful.

It actually has an innovative hardware solution.

That fancy multi-touch trackpad screen off to the right of the keyboard? That's the sort of stuff that makes consumers perk up and take notice. It's the kind of thing that people who have never heard of Razer before will notice in a coffee shop and ask, "What is that? Who makes that? How much does that cost?"

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That a multi-touch screen is right in Apple's wheelhouse is just icing on the cake. Take that, MacBooks!

It has the potential to turn into its own platform.

The Razer Blade will always be a Windows + Intel project. There aren't going to be games or other software that runs only on Razer Blades, at least not for the foreseeable future.

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But by consolidating into a single product line, Razer opens up the opportunity for game makers to create custom builds that more readily access the power of the hardware inside, just as the unified, standardized hardware of consoles allow programmers to continue to squeeze performance out of chips that would be laughed at if they were inside of modern gaming PCs.

Support and updates will be easier.

One set of hardware, one set of drivers, one less thing to have to wonder about when you're trying to run games. I love PC hardware's power and potential—I don't love screwing around with drivers and such to get things running. If you do, more power to you (and yes, it's better than it used to be), but that's not what normal, mass market folks want. It's just not. If Razer's support for the Blade is as good as it should be, they should be able to operate a platform that has the It Just Works nature that Apple's Macs tend to have. (Most of the time!)

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The price is painful.

As of today, there are two laptops worth getting excited over, that set themselves apart from the pack via design and performance: the MacBook Air and the Razer Blade.

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The MacBook Air is a low-powered, beautiful designed and perfectly built subnotebook; the Razer Blade is a monster gaming rig with a touchscreen interface unlike anything else out there.

I can walk into a store today and buy that MacBook Air for a grand. To get a Razer Blade, I have to spend almost three times that much.

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Ouch.

They appeal to very different markets, granted. A fully kitted out MacBook Pro 17 will get you up to or over three grand, as well. But the Razer Blade has the mass market potential that most PC laptops don't have.

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$2,800 is fine for now. But let's hope that next year's model gets down closer to $2,000—and $1,500 would be even better.

It's tough, even with Intel in the mix. Nobody has a supply chain like Apple. Nobody can get the cutting-edge hardware as inexpensively as Apple.

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Except, perhaps, for Intel. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised to see Intel buy Razer outright in a couple of years if this really takes off. There's no need to worry about monopoly any longer. There's no reason to worry about pissing off vendors like HP and Dell. (Where else are they going to go? Apple? AMD?)

The death of PC hardware might be the rebirth of PC gaming. Don't get me wrong—PC gaming is doing alright. I'm not a doomsayer. But I'm tired of the enthusiast market holding back the innovation in the space. It's just like what happened to cars over the last 15 years. They became more difficult to work for the shade tree mechanic, sure, but they also became faster, more fuel efficient, and cheaper.

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I want that for PC gaming. And if they play their cards right, Razer might actually be the company to do it. I'm just as shocked as you are.


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DISCUSSION

dragonfliet
dragonfliet

Wow, this article is so painfully ignorant it hurts. Let's address a few points.

1) Intel is indeed the king of the market. But that lead is largely in laptops and servers (in which it holds something like 84% and 95% of the market), which are NOT gaming PCs as a whole (yes, some people game on laptops, but far and away, they are used as portable interweb devices). On the desktop realm, that lead breaks down (though Intel still has 70% of the market) further, and while there isn't any real numbers right now, the intel lead is a slight one when it comes to, you know, gaming PCs. This is not a game that is over.

2) The Razor would not be able to do what consoles can do. Ever. Let me explain things a little bit.

The reason that the PS3 and 360 can look so good for hardware that is so old is that Nothing Ever Changes. Ever. They all have the same graphics card, the same cpu, the same amount of RAM. Same brand, same model (yes, there are manufacturing updates which make them more power efficient, but they perform the same), etc. Because of this, EVERY PERSON with a 360 has the same hardware and the developers can just write to the hardware.

But PCs are not this way. Not everyone has the exact same hardware. Even if Razor doesn't release a new model of this laptop in the next 4 years, they will never have the number of people using it for game devs to write code SPECIFICALLY for this hardware combination.

Because people will use different models (and brand here doesn't matter, because each new GFX card by even just Nvidia, released every 6 months, is, in terms of coding directly to hardware, completely different), and because of this, it is impossible for game developers to spend their time writing to each particular model (because a newer, better GFX card, not being written for, wouldn't work with a game not written for it), and they instead have to write to drivers.

3) You're talking about a battle between the Mac and Razor. This is NOT a battle about PC Gaming. While Razor is certainly releasing a beautiful gaming machine, it isn't really competing with a Mac. People who buy Macs are LARGELY not people who are interested in the future of PC gaming, and they are LARGELY not willing to pay $2,800 for a 7lb laptop.

While the Blade is certainly rocking an aesthetic value to rival a Mac, it is aimed at an audience that is incompatible with the Mac comparison. Likewise, the PC gaming community is LARGELY one that values performance over polish and would rather pay $1,500 for computer that is 1.5" thick than overpay on gaming glass.

There seems to be an assumption here that if PC gaming machines were pretty enough and offered no choice, more people would be playing PC games. Honestly, I cannot even begin to wrap my head around this, it hurts too much. Yes, it would be great if Razor became a gaming version of Macs, with strong hardware made professionally and slickly designed, but it would simply be another niche, not something that would open up PC gaming. No, moving to only Intel and Nvidia would not actually help performance at all, because there would still be multiple models (meaning no write to hardware) and removing competition has never, in the history of anything, benefited the consumer.

With no offense meant to Joel, this seems like an article written by someone with minute PC gaming experience (which isn't terribly surprising, as Kotaku is largely concerned with console gaming—almost always playing the 360 version of a multi-platform release) and haphazard knowledge of hardware trying to connect imaginary dots. This is a cool piece of (overpriced) hardware and I hope Razor becomes a name, but PC gaming is not going to be changed by this more than a nudge.