If you read our Consoles for Christmas feature a couple of weeks ago, you might be wondering why we didn't give the PC its proper due as a games machine. The reason is simple: now that the cloud of hype surrounding the next generation consoles is beginning to evaporate, the PC is making a comeback as a games machine, and we wanted to cover this in more detail. We love the Xbox 360 and our ardour for the PS3 remains undimmed, but right now there's a powerful argument that the PC has the best gaming hardware on the planet, and the best mix of software to make use of it. So Microsoft and Sony fanboys beware: we're here to tell you why the oldest gaming system is still the Daddy.
Yes, we all know that Cell is a revolutionary CPU and that Xenon and Xenos make a nice little combo, but the team of Intel's current Core 2 line-up, 2GB of DDR2 RAM and a GeForce 8800 series graphics card is impossible to beat. Don't forget that Xenos sits somewhere between AMD's DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 GPUs, while the RSX chip used in the PS3 fits in somewhere between the GeForce 7800 and 7900 GPUs, depending upon who you talk to. Now that DirectX 10 games are beginning to emerge, along with decent mid-range DirectX 10 GPUs and drivers, the PC is going to start out-distancing its console rivals on the graphics front.
Sony can and will do some amazing things with Cell to make up the difference, and Microsoft's various first and third-party developers will be working hard to extract optimal performance from Xenon and Xenos, but we suspect that the most dazzling games of the next two years will emerge on the PC. Not only is the hardware more powerful, but developers are more used to working on the PC architecture than they are on Cell, and there's a lot more graphics RAM, system RAM and storage space to play with. Compare Bioshock on the 360 to Bioshock on a mid-range or high-end PC, and it's already clear that the PC can pull off more detailed textures and impressive effects. Compare Crysis to just about anything on any console, and it looks like it came straight from the future. On a high-end system, the visuals are damn-near photorealistic, the real-time physics engine utterly breathtaking. It's as big a technical leap forward for gaming as Quake or Half-Life 2 were when they first appeared. And at the moment there's only one platform that can run it: the PC.
This is only the beginning. Give quad-core and DirectX 10 time to get firmly established, and we'll see games that push photo-realistic rendering even further, and with more impressive physics and AI systems to boot. Remember, this stuff might be limited to high-end users now, but the components required will have drifted down to mainstream prices by the time 2008 is out.