Why mobile gaming is about to get seriously cheap

28th Nov 2012 | 11:37

Why mobile gaming is about to get seriously cheap

Eurocom's little Monster and the trend towards affordable gaming portables

PC gaming can be affordable. PC gaming can be portable. But it can't be both. That's pretty much always been the case, but is it about to change?

It's something I've been wondering about for the last few weeks thanks to Eurocom's little Monster. It's a wee 13-inch beastie with some fairly decent performance chops.

On the CPU side, we're talking quad-core Intel Core i7 mobile chip. Graphics-wise it packs an NVIDIA Geforce 650M GPU.

OK, the 650M isn't the most powerful mobile graphics chip in Christendom. So the Monster is a little heavy on CPU performance and light on graphics to be perfectly optimised for gaming.

Then again, its 1,366 x 768 pixel 13-inch panel isn't the most demanding in terms of keeping it fed with pixels. Anyway, the result is a pretty decent frame rates in most modern games with plenty of the graphics details and options enabled.

Put another way, games look good and play nicely. And it's a genuinely portable little brick. Yes, a Macbook air is slimmer. But this is no chunky back breaker.

And you get it all for around £650, which is pretty darn affordable by gaming laptop standards. Yes, I could tell you about the rather anonymous chassis. And the screen's mediocre viewing angles.

Wahey, it's a whitebook

But this is a system based on a Clevo whitebook. So you knew all that. It comes with the territory. No, the real problem is that even at £650, the Monster is a significant investment.

To be clear, it's aggressively priced by current standards. If you're in the market for a laptop that's both highly portable and has genuine gaming chops, the Monster should be on your shortlist.

But with mobile computing becoming increasingly commoditised, I'd like to know when a gaming-capable lappie will be available for £300 or less. The answer is that it might be as soon as next year.

There are two new technologies that might combine to make it possible. The first is Intel's upcoming Haswell processor architecture. As we've explained previously, Haswell isn't looking too sexy on the CPU side.

No more cores

Just like current Ivy Bridge chips, it'll max out at four processor cores. OK, each one will be a bit more powerful. But performance improvements will be incremental. 10 per cent more grunt would be a good result.

Not so for the graphics core which gets a massive boost from 16 to 40 execution units in Haswell's most powerful form. And again, each unit will be more powerful than those in Ivy Bridge.

That alone will be a big boost. The other piece of the puzzle is some new software from graphics boutique Lucid. Best known for enabling Intel's integrated graphics to work simultaneously with discrete graphics cards, Lucid has turned its attention to making mobile graphics faster.

The result is Lucid Dynamix. It's a software layer that sits in front of a PC game and has a sniff of everything being asked of and sent to the graphics card. Every frame in the graphics pipeline is analysed and optimised for performance.

What about the IQ?

That's the claim, anyway. The caveat is that it does involve reducing image quality. Lucid says the price is a few digits of image quality in percentage terms in return for a doubling of performance.

TechRadar's very own Dave James has seen it action and was impressed. It seems to actually work. Therefore combine Lucid Dynamix with Haswell graphics and you never know, but a basic £300 laptop with Intel integrated graphics might just be gameable.

If there is a snag, it's drivers. Intel's graphics drivers pretty much suck. But you never know. Haswell laptops with Lucid Dynamix technology will hopefully be available within the next six months. In the meantime, Eurcom's Monster is probably as good as it gets.

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