Where Has My PC Gone? It’s Gone Gaming

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PCs still reside on desktops, and plenty of laptops remain too. But there has been an overall decline in their numbers due to the popularity of other platforms such as smart phones and tablets. However, PC platforms are showing up on the gaming front.

This holiday season the shelves are packed with the Microsoft XBox One (Fig. 1) and Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) (Fig. 2), which are pretty similar under the hood (see “Xbox One And PlayStation 4 Look More Alike” at electronicdesign.com). Both employ an eight-core AMD Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) that also includes a multicore Radeon GPU (see “APU Blends Quad-Core x86 With 384-Core GPU” at electronicdesign.com).


Hardware & Software

The XBox One and PlayStation 4 look a lot like PCs, including Ethernet, Wi-Fi (801.11 b/g/n), and USB 3.0 ports. The big difference is that neither gaming console runs standard PC operating systems like Windows 8 or Linux. The XBox One essentially has Windows 8 under the hood, but it’s customized for gaming. It isn’t running Word at this point.

Unlike their predecessors, these platforms now can run these operating systems. The PS3’s Cell processor was a challenge for gaming programmers (see “CELL Processor Gets Ready To Entertain The Masses” at electronicdesign.com). Microsoft’s previous XBox had a more conventional processor, but not one that would match anything on the PC market.

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The exact AMD APUs in the latest systems may not match those available on general PC platforms, but they are very close. This will make it easier for developers to create games that span PCs as well as the PS4 and XBox One. Of course, differences in each platform’s operating system and graphics interface will likely annoy developers who need to deliver multiplatform games.

There are a couple of new gaming systems around, including Ouya’s $99 Android platform (see “Ouya Brings $99 Game Console Via Kickstarter” at electronicdesign.com). It runs an NVidia Tegra3 that makes it underpowered compared to the AMD APU in the XBox One or PS4, but it is quite a bit cheaper.

The other gaming system on the horizon is Valve’s Steam Machine (Fig. 3). This PC runs Valve’s SteamOS, which is a customized version of Linux. Valve wants to turn its PC success into the next popular gaming platform. Its Steam platform has been popular on Windows PCs. I spend too much time running Digital Extremes’ Warframe, which is a free download via Steam. It will also be available on the PS4.

Applications

Gaming is the primary purpose for these platforms, but they all provide a range of multimedia services including Netflix, Amazon, and Blockbuster video streaming. They all have built-in network browsers, although they aren’t always as functional or as easy to use as those found on other platforms.

The advantage of more PC-like platforms is the possibility of other, non-game applications, such as telemedicine and finance. The platform similarity allows applications originally designed for the PC to be ported to new platforms. These gaming platforms offer some useful hardware for features like video conferencing as well. So if you’re holiday shopping for a gaming system, you might wind up with another PC in the house.

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William Wong

Bill Wong covers Digital, Embedded, Systems and Software topics at Electronic Design. He writes a number of columns, including Lab Bench and alt.embedded, plus Bill's Workbench hands-on column....
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