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The true cost of consoles… still isn’t that much

A colleague and friend looking to build his own gaming PC complained to me the other day about how skewed the market was. His chief source of frustration was a sub-$1000 laptop his mother had purchased, lamenting the fact that she was able to afford an Intel 4th-generation i7, while he couldn’t find the room in his budget for his own build.

Putting the fact that you can squeeze in just about anything if you’re prepared to compromise, it’s still staggering how much the initial cost of a PC can be – provided you’re building something that will last for a good 18 months to 2 years.

(For a bit of extra advice on putting together a gaming PC, check out our resident builder Evan Wade’s piece.)

Gamespot showed in April how you could put together a Pentium G2130 rig together for the cost of a PlayStation 4 bundle, but would it still perform as admirably in 18 months time? It’s highly doubtful; even then, it’d be on the lowest settings imaginable.

Sony PlayStation Dualshock 4

Although add in the cost of a few controllers…

Creating a system centered around an Intel i3, or one of the mid-range AMD CPUs, for instance, is nothing but an exercise in delusion. Computers are expected to last, and therefore whenever one looks to do a ‘budget’ gaming build, an appropriate budget in reality is more around $750 to $1000. This is especially true for those without, say, a monitor or the various peripherals.

For the obsessed gamer, these numbers are irrelevant. Multi-platform titles almost always run and look better on PC; discounts on titles are certainly greater, particularly when savvy Australians find ways around the Australia Tax.

And thanks to the certification process put in place by Sony and Microsoft, patches and updates will always roll out faster on PC – although both console manufacturers have made great strides in reducing delays on that front.

But the kind of gamer whose Pile of Shame continues to grow year after year, the kind that trawls every Steam sale and laments the falling standards of Humble Bundle offerings, doesn’t represent the colleague I describe.

He’s part of a more casual and ultimately more mainstream demographic, someone who might play 10 or 12 games a year at most. That figure might change wildly once his computer’s up and running, of course, but his reality changes the economics of the PC vs Xbox One/PlayStation 4 argument substantially.

While in the long run someone who plays lots of games will undoubtedly benefit from the smaller asking price, will it matter to someone who only plays a few – especially when they have a console that will continue to deliver satisfactory performance at 1080p (or less, as Xbox One users can attest) for the next four or five years?

Inside the Xbox One

Inside the Xbox One.

Let’s look at the figures more closely.

A PlayStation 4 bundle with a controller, Watch Dogs and the highly acclaimed Tomb Raider is going for $528 from Big W. If sports is more your thing, retailers are selling a 500GB Xbox One with FIFA 15 for a reasonable $478.

One game not enough? Then perhaps the mix of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, Infamous: Second Son, Knack and Activision’s $500 million IP Destiny with a PlayStation 4 for $599 from JB Hi-Fi represents better value.

For someone who might have missed the last console generation entirely, perhaps someone who has experience with Assassin’s Creed 2, but not Brotherhood, Revelations or Assassin’s Creed 3, the re-release of Black Flag on XB1 or PS4 would represent good value.

The same could be said for a recent deal that saw Destiny paired with The Last of Us Remastered and a brand new PS4 for $528, perhaps the best bundle of the year until it expired.

That kind of deal, to someone who might only spend a night or two every few weeks grinding out the daily missions in Destiny or furthering their domination of the high seas, is difficult to pass up. It requires no technical expertise on their part, no friends to help build their PC from scratch, and none of the nightmares that ensue when a game crashes to desktop or suddenly misbehaves.

Consider the other side of the coin: a reasonable gaming PC. Common wisdom favours the Intel i5 CPU, with the i5-4460 (around $205-215), a great performer for the price. Motherboards come in all shapes and sizes, but the ASRock Z97 Pro4 (around $140-150) is a reliable stalwart that won’t break the bank.

PC rig

Every computer needs some graphical grunt and the Radeon R9 270 offers bang for your buck. That’ll still cost between $200 and $210, however, bringing the total cost of proceedings to about the cost of the XB1/PS4.

Once you throw in some RAM ($90-100), storage ($70-80 for a single SATA drive – adding a SSD is a luxury here), a power supply ($70-80; only 500w would be necessary for this kind of build), case ($50-80) and a copy of Windows ($110), the price is already reaching the exorbitant values the PS3 originally launched at. That’s not factoring in the cost of a monitor, mouse and keyboard either.

Now many will point out that there is plenty of room that could still be saved. A lower-end CPU and GPU more in line with the hardware in the XB1/PS4 would save a couple of hundred; a cheaper motherboard would shave another $50 or so off the overall price. Savvy hunting on tech forums – Overclockers Australia has a great trading forum (provided you’ve had a registered account for 60 days) – could save you a motza on the peripherals alone. There is plenty of room to manoeuvre.

But for someone whom the prospect of navigating transistors, 24-pin cables and PCI Express slots by hand seems daunting, a person for whom the expense of assembly more than covers the anguish of sloppy cable management, fear of static electricity and misplaced screws – someone who is no less a gamer than a hardcore sim racer or a flight enthusiast with the rudder and pedals – those bargains are effectively unattainable.

PC build

There’s a few more steps to a PC build than just ordering the parts.

PCs will always prove more cost-effective in the long run the bigger the gamer; those discounts and Steam sales certainly add up. Life, however, is not as simple as the PC Master Race would often like to portray. Different strokes for different folks, if you will.

And for an increasing demographic, the kind that wants the same experiences life-long gamers have been enjoying – but in much smaller doses – the ease of use, lack of technical knowledge and the relatively low entry price makes consoles a sensible option.

As for my friend? I’m not sure whether he’ll build his own machine or plug for a XB1/PS4. But whatever he does, a world of entertainment awaits unlike anything our parents and grandparents could have ever dreamed.

About the author

Alex Walker is a freelance journalist writing for ABC Technology & Games, and games.on.net. You can follow him on Twitter @thedippaeffect.

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