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USAToday Column

June 15, 2019
The games were the star of E3, but gaming PCs were center stage

By Bob O'Donnell

FOSTER CITY, Calif. — Hot on the heels of the big E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles, people are talking about gaming-related news. From new game titles, like "Cyberpunk 2077" and "Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order," to next-generation gaming consoles, like the 2020 update of the Microsoft Xbox (codenamed Project Scarlett), to updates on cloud-based game streaming services, there was a lot of new information for gaming enthusiasts to ponder.

Arguably, the biggest theme at the show, however, was around PCs.

At E3, there was a strong PC gaming focus, including some intriguing new gaming PC systems on display, important new hardware announcements powering those systems, and new titles being built for or optimized for PCs, and more.

Part of the reason for this is that PCs continue to offer some of the best-quality gaming experiences possible. Yes, smartphone gaming is growing rapidly, but for people who want the best possible visuals and the most compelling game action, PCs are still the go-to device.

Though the overall PC market has had its share of troubles, gaming PCs are a very hot category, with unit sales expected to increase by 17% this year in the U.S., according to market research firm IDC. The reality of that growth is also reflected in a study that TECHnalysis Research recently completed on over 1,000 U.S. gamers. The research shows that PCs, overall, are still the devices that people game on the most in the US, though smartphones are a very close second (31.11% of surveyed gamers versus 31.08%). Within the PC category, roughly 57% of total gaming time was spent on desktop PCs versus 43% on laptops.

Gaming PCs are enjoying a renewed time in the spotlight thanks to ongoing advances by chipmakers like Intel, Nvidia, and AMD, as well as great new PC designs from big PC makers, like Dell’s Alienware gaming brand, Lenovo’s Legion gaming brand, and HP’s Omen gaming brand.

At E3, Dell/Alienware had the first American showing of its new Alienware m15 and m17 gaming laptops — first launched in Taiwan at the Computex trade show two weeks back — which are thin designs that feature 9th generation Intel Core processors and Nvidia GTX1660, RTX 2060, 2070 or 2080 series GPUs and a new industrial design that the company calls Legend. The new notebooks also offer a range of screen resolutions and refresh rates (faster screen refresh rates, such as 144Hz or 240 Hz, instead of the typical 60Hz, suffer less from screen glitches called “tearing” that can happen in fast-paced games). In addition, these new laptops feature a Dell-specific capability called Eyesafe that reduces the amount of potentially harmful blue light emanating from the display.

What's next? 
Looking to the future, Intel displayed a new two-screen concept laptop PC design, codenamed Honeycomb Glacier, that features a second, narrower display below the hinge of the notebook’s main display and above the keyboard in the lower half. Not only does the second display offer gamers a way to either view gaming controls off their main display, or simultaneously game and stream on the two displays, a special hinge design also lifts the main display up, providing a more viewable desktop and monitor-like experience. Hopefully, we’ll see real products based on this concept design in 2020.

Some of the biggest news driving increases in gaming capabilities on PCs has to do with the graphics chips, or GPUs, being integrated into new machines. At E3, AMD took the wraps off their latest generation desktop graphics cards, the Radeon 5700, 5700XT and a special 50th-anniversary edition 5700XT.

Based on a new chip architecture and a cutting edge chip manufacturing technology called 7nm (which means individual transistors only measure a microscopic 7 nanometers apart), the new AMD Radeon cards are expected to offer performance that exceeds similarly-priced current offerings from Nvidia in many popular games. AMD did not challenge Nvidia’s highest performing (though more expensive) RTX 2080 graphics cards with its new releases, instead focusing on more mainstream price points below $500.

Part of the reason is that AMD’s new cards lack hardware capabilities found in Nvidia’s RTX cards for accelerating a technology called real-time ray tracing, which can provide a very realistic set of shadow and lighting effects to games. Ray tracing is a classic example of a gaming-related technology that comes to PCs first, because of the speed of advances necessary to enable it.

The previously mentioned next-generation Microsoft Xbox, and the forthcoming Sony PlayStation 5 game consoles, will both feature hardware-assisted ray tracing courtesy of some future chips from AMD when they’re released in 2020. Many see ray tracing as the future of advanced gaming graphics and several major game titles, including Battlefield V, have already implemented it, with more expected to come later this year and into next year.

For those interested in the most immersive and graphically impressive gaming experience possible, PCs continue to be the top choice, and as the many announcements from E3 illustrate, the advancements targeted towards gaming PCs continue to place them at the cutting edge of game-related technology.

Here’s a link to the original column:

USA TODAY columnist Bob O'Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Microsoft, HP, Dell, and Intel. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.