If you’ve even browsed PC gaming tech in the last few years, you’ve probably heard of the legend of the “console killer” – a self-built PC that can compete with or even exceed the current generation of gaming consoles for a similar price. Indeed, in many a gaming thread on Internet forums can devolve into a console vs PC war, much to the annoyance of many a reader.
With the imminent release of Sony’s oddly named PlayStation 4 Pro (what exactly is “Pro” about it?), along with Nintendo’s vaguely defined NX and Microsoft’s mysterious Project Scorpio on the horizon, it seems a good time to revisit the concept of building your own console.
As a disclaimer, let me say that this discussion uses Canadian funds; thanks to the currently abysmal exchange rate, this makes it potentially harder to do (we get a pretty good deal on consoles vs PC hardware when exchange rate is factored in). Let me also say that I will not be considering any used parts or software for the sake of this discussion, as those vary widely by availability and quality.
To start, I says to myself, I says: “Self, why does someone buy a console to begin with? What is the “console experience” that we are seeking to kill with our own hardware here?”
I answer my own question with A) access to gaming in a casual living room setting, B) the all-in-one package, and C) plug-and-play convenience. Unfortunately, since the entire premise is to build your own console, convenience is already sacrificed. So, let’s start at the logical beginning: what do you get with a modern console?
At the time of writing, the typical PlayStation 4 or 500GB Xbox One S comes in at $380 Canadian. That’s already a very difficult price point to compete with in Canadian money, even for a standard beginner PC. Along with the console itself, you get:
1) A game. Typically, you get a couple of choices as to which bundle to grab, which gives you a choice of a couple fairly recent big name games (usually ~$80 value). When building a PC, you typically don’t get that unless buying a high end graphics card or, recently, a six-core or higher AMD CPU.
2) A controller. This would be a separate buy for your own build. Again, at time of writing, an Xbox 360 controller is going for around $35 Canadian on Amazon, or $50 if you want wireless functionality.
3) An operating system. This is a tricky one, as consoles come with their own proprietary software that is guaranteed to be compatible with all games made for the device. On PC, there are some free solutions available such as Steam OS, but these solutions are incompatible with a large chunk of available games. I submit that part of the reason to build your own console would be for the game flexibility PC offers, so to that end, Windows is required for the majority of potential users…and it’s not a cheap requirement. The normal version of Windows 10 Home comes in at ~$150.
All the requirements considered, we are left with around $100 left for the hardware itself, which I don’t think I need to tell you is far too little. Thus, I think we can scratch reason B off our list.
Now if we ignore reason B, is reason A still feasible? Well yes, but not on the same budget. You will still require an operating system and a controller of some sort to even use your shiny new gaming system, so we can’t take them off the table.
My only conclusion is that there is no real way, in current pricing, to compete with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One S price point.
I myself recently built a small form factor PC for a friend using an AMD A10-7850K APU, which is very close in specs to a PlayStation 4. Even though I used hand me downs and a free copy of Windows 10 from a friend, I still didn’t come anywhere close. You can check out that build here: https://ca.pcpartpicker.com/b/7JsJ7P
So what about the PlayStation 4 Pro?
Pre-orders for the launch edition PS4 Pro are $500 Canadian. This should give us a little more breathing room, but we are still looking at around $50 for the controller and $150 for the operating system, which gives us $300 to work with. Can we match the performance of a Pro?
So far, the only thing we have to go off of in terms of power is the PS4 Pro’s estimated 4.2 TFLOPS. Now, that’s not a great way to compare power straight up since there are a lot more factors involved, but it’s all we’ve got for the time being. This rating would place it between the RX 460 (2.2) and RX 470 (4.9) in terms of graphical power.
So, if we look at the low end at the graphics card, the cheapest RX 460 available that I can find right now comes in at ~$150 Canadian. This could very easily produce less power than the Pro, and leaves us with ~$150 for a CPU, a motherboard, RAM, power supply, case, a 500GB hard drive and, if we’re being a stickler, a blu ray drive since that is commonly used functionality of a modern console.
I’m forced to conclude that there is no Do-It-Yourself option that could compete with the deal you are getting with consoles.
Now, that’s not to say gaming PCs in the living room are worthless. In fact, if you’re willing to spend the extra money, they can give you all sorts of excellent features such as much bigger library, easy upgradability, and as much backwards compatibility as you could ask for. In addition, you can get a better experience in terms of frame rate and, in some cases, graphical fidelity for your extra money.
However, a true “console killer”? I’m afraid I must leave that classified as just a legend for now…at least in the Great White North.
Anything you disagree with or would change in your shoes? Let me know in the comments.