What is so bad about “gaming” hardware?
Particularly after about 2010, there has been a huge rise in the amount of “gaming” hardware. Gaming hardware these days is marketed presumably to computer enthusiasts with a lot of bling, and garish looks. It consists of plastic, usually vibrantly colored, with very aggressive looks. Often it has the words “gaming” written on the hardware in huge letters. I think that this often needs to change because it does not reflect the values of the core audience of computer enthusiasts and because such hardware is of poor quality.
I have at times wondered why this is the case. Typically gamers who can afford high end gaming hardware will be adults who have the money to do so. They will not be teenagers with supercar posters on their bedroom walls who are immature that such hardware would ostensibly target. Perhaps this is because in the Eastern world, the demographics are different? I have heard for example that Asrock’s Fata1ty marketing was very successful in the Eastern hemisphere market. Nonetheless, in the Western world, I would argue that such “gaming” marketing often detracts rather than adds value to the products.
The other problem I have is with the gaming hardware itself. Usually though it is low quality and/or overpriced hardware that is being pushed. I think it is because the computer industry is hurting and they see gaming as their salvation, because the rest of the computer industry is in decline in terms of volume shipped. The issue is that Gaming hardware is often not the best quality hardware. It is often overpriced hardware that has been sold on its marketing and “gaming” looks more than anything else. A good example is in headphones. The brightly colored gaming headphones usually offer pretty terrible quality audio (and I am an amateur audiophile), while the serious audiophile brands generally offer much better sound at a given price point.
However, nowhere is this more present than in computer enthusiast hardware. Building your own PC is often a rite of passage in the PC enthusiast arena. You can get better components for cheaper and often they look better than the pre-built gaming rigs that look like they were geared for adolescents anyways. That is not to say that all pre-builts are like that, but a huge percentage are. Certainly the most visible brands such as Alienware emphasize the looks over function (Alienware desktops ship with subpar power supplies and motherboards for example). There are some good pre-builts out there, but they usually command a huge price premium that is very hard too justify. If I were to buy such a thing, I would have to be very wealthy and time short. I would only go to small shops to do it as well.
I would hesitate to guess that one reason why gaming hardware is being so aggressively pushed is because the margins must be very high on such products. When they rely on marketing and they command a huge price premium while the quality is lacking, the margins must be correspondingly higher than mainstream hardware. The fact that mainstream computer sales are are in decline only increases the pressure on manufacturers.
To give another example, the computer enthusiast company Corsair had to change its logo back after changing from a relatively conservative “sails” logo into the “swords” or gaming logo.
The move prompted huge outcry including a petition to change the logo back. Corsair eventually relented and reverted to a logo similar to its old logo. On that note, I would like to say my kudos to Corsair for responding to customer feedback.
I hope that similar companies learn a lesson and keep their logos conservative. I suspect that there is actually a huge demographic out there for good quality hardware that is conservatively styled. I remember once reading a review about the Dell Precision series of laptops. Many of the commentators lamented that Dell did not offer the ability to load the Precision with gaming GPUs. It had all of the perquisites (MXM form factor, adequate power, and being a workstation replacement, adequate cooling), but it simply could not support gaming GPUs.
I’m hoping that companies learn from their mistakes and in the future, offer more conservatively styled hardware alongside their regular hardware. They may be surprised at the demographics.
Who makes good hardware?
That is sadly not an easy question to answer. Not all gaming hardware is terrible, but most of it is.
Anyways, here is a quick overview for computer enthusiasts, at least in my view:
- High end laptops: Clevo laptops are relatively conservative and very upgradeable. In fact their versatility is their greatest strength. They also have great cooling. The downside is that they are heavier and I wish they would improve their keyboard ergonomics.
- Motherboards: High end overclocking motherboards sometimes have the “gaming” look but usually ship with better quality VRMs.
- Video cards: A very similar situation with motherboards – the overclocking oriented GPUs ship with higher quality PCBs and cooling solutions than the regular reference models. Typically they are models such as the MSI Lightning series, Asus 20th Anniversary Gold, and EVGA’s Kingpin. There is some bling on these, but the main draw is the superior quality PCB, especially for aggressive overclocking.
- Cases: I would say that if money were no object, Case Labs is generally the best. It is expensive but you get what you pay for.
- RAM: The top RAM has somewhat of a distinct look – the G.Skill TridentX and TridentZ series.
- Fans: The Gentle Typhoon 120mm has a conservative look, but is the top fan for computing. Industrial fans like Delta and San Ace are also very well made.
- Power supplies: Dominated by Delta, Seasonic, and arguably, Super Flower Leadex.
- SSDs, HDDs: Fortunately looks have no relationship here. Enterprise SSDs made by companies like Samsung and Intel are the most reliable. Enterprise hard drives too dominate.
- Mechanical keyboards: Ducky Channel, Deck Legends, and Filco are my favorite brands. There are many smaller specialty brands too that are generally more conservative. Ducky Channel in my opinion is my personal favorite brand.
- Audio: Go with the audiophile brands for headphone and speakers. Buy audiophile, not gamer sound cards.
- Cooling is far more subjective and worthy of its own post. For heatsinks, more surface area is better (same with water cooling). Higher fin density generally does better with high speed fans.
- Last, but certainly not least, CPUs of course are always conservatively styled.
The bottom line is that while some of the hardware recommended here have some bling, the top quality hardware often does not and is more conservatively styled. Often (and this is most visible in sound cards), the gaming equipment is of inferior quality and quite overpriced.
Sometimes though, even blingy hardware can be good quality. That is usually the exception to the rule though. The end result is a very gaudy looking motherboard, but it performs very well. I dislike its looks, but recommend it any ways when I am active on computer forums because it is a very solid product. I put product quality above all else when recommending hardware, especially looks.
The Asrock OC Formula series has been pretty outstanding since its launch. Nick Shih and the team at Asrock have done an outstanding job of designing their OC Formula series of motherboards. These boards have been known for their solid BIOS and overclocking potential. The X99 Asrock OC Formula actually has the best VRM configuration I have seen of any X99 motherboard. There is also an X99 OC Formula 3.1 version with an LGA 2011v3 OC Socket (for better uncore clocks) and 2 USB 3.1 ports. I just wish they had not taken away the conformal coating for the Z170 series. I hope it will return in future motherboards. It isn’t common to see blingy hardware that lives up to its looks, but sometimes it happens.
What I hope to see
I just hope that for an older, more mature audience, companies do not forget about us. Function first, and keep the looks relatively conservative.
The ideal hardware would be:
- Conservatively styled hardware (as you can probably tell from this post).
- Function over form. Look at the heatsinks on that Asrock X99 OC Formula. The ideal heatsinks would be nickel plated copper heatsinks to maximize surface area and actual cooling to the VRMs.
- Designed to take abuse. I actually liked Asrock’s idea of Conformal Coating for this reason. It could be useful for not just LN2 overclocking, but for water coolers, and even high humidity environments. Electronics after all hate heat and humidity (it makes them age faster). The backplate on the Asus ROG Armor is another good example of something that is functional that I would like to see.
- Some degree of overengineering is desirable for high end hardware.
I have nothing against computer mod rigs, and I actually encourage it. I just don’t like the excessively bling forced on me. The big difference with custom modders is that they usually mod their motherboards in a tasteful visually appealing manner. The “gamer” style seems to appeal to younger, less audiences.
In the meantime, avoid most gaming products as they are overpriced and of inferior quality. Perhaps if enough of us enthusiasts vote with our money, we will force companies to change.