I've been reading lots of opinion columns from tech writers recently, and picking the brains of lots of hardware enthusiasts who are not incredibly happy with the state of technology at the moment. 'It's too boring', they say. 'There's not enough innovation, we've seen it all before. The hardware isn't there.'
To a degree, I can see their point. There's been nothing like the leap of the original GeForce for a while. Sure the 6 series was a huge improvement in frame rate over the FX series, but it was mostly the same-looking thing (albeit a lot faster).
"SLI is going to play a major part in re-invigorating hardware sales, and dual-core processors will provide an insane performance boost"
But you know what? Gamers have never had it so good, in my opinion, and I'll tell you why.
The hardware market right now totally kicks butt. Gaming hardware has never been faster, more affordable, or more appropriate. For the first time in years, gamers have games that are actually pushing the limits of the hardware available.
Doom 3 is here, and whilst it sucked a little gameplay wise, the tech is revolutionary. It's going to be licensed for the next 4 years, and there are going to be some spectacular games based on it. It fully utilises the top-end hardware, but also runs incredibly well on lower-end stuff - that's broad appeal that unifies gamers in a way that hasn't happened since Half-Life.
Half-Life 2 is almost here and, almost as importantly, CS Source will re-invigorate the Counter-Strike community that really kickstarted the move of multiplayer gaming into the popular mindset. That's two epoch-defining games, and an update to the most popular multiplayer game in the world, in the space of 6 months.
The hardware is faster than ever before, and it does things better than ever before. We have never had performance like the GeForce 6800 or the ATI X800; or for that matter the Intel Extreme Edition or Athlon FX. Whilst the top products cost a premium, a 3000+ Athlon 64 is ludicrously cheap, and the GeForce 6600 provides fantastic performance at the price point. PC gaming has never been so accessible.
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On the other side of the fence, console-gaming has never been so exciting either. Halo 2 is due to launch for Christmas and is sure to be an incredible experience, decked out in 5.1 multi-channel audio. Burnout 3 is proving to be a serious contender for game of the year and is just one of a stream of obscenely good console games we've had this year. The PlayStationPortable is going to revolutionise mobile gaming - have you seen Need For Speed Underground running on that thing? The Nintendo DS is going to become so ubiquitous, you won't be able to sit on the Tube without wirelessly bumping into someone else for a quick game (the DS wakes itself up when it spots another DS in the vicinity, opening the way for a whole new form of social networking. Now that's cool hardware).
"Console-gaming has never been so exciting"
Sure, a lot of the problems are still the same: a solution to the benchmark problem hasn't been definitively found (although we are beavering away incredibly hard to bring you the most accurate hardware reviews around). Driver releases are still buggy in parts, and the web still hasn't provided a one-stop enthusiast read that's definitive (although, believe me, we're working on that too). But with new enthusiast magazines launching and a new awareness of PCs through the actions of companies like Alienware and gamers like Fatal1ty in the mainstream, PC gaming is really kicking off.
It's only going to get better. Bigger, better, faster, more: the maxim will hold true for 2005 when it comes to gaming hardware. We won't have Doom 3 or Half-Life 2, but we will have its licensees, and we will have sleeper hits like Dawn of War has been this year. SLI is going to play a major part in re-invigorating hardware sales, and dual-core processors will provide an insane performance boost. Xbox 2 and PS3 are going to be fantastic new platforms to game on, and the increasing focus on user experience - HD audio, HD visuals - are going to make the next few months the best that gamers and hardware zealots have ever had.
Bring it on.