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Plug & Pay Monthly: Is The World Ready For Razer's Crazy Modular PC?

Jonathan Lester
PC, Project Christine, Razer

Plug & Pay Monthly: Is The World Ready For Razer's Crazy Modular PC?

You've got to hand it to Razer: they're always willing to think outside the box with crazy new ideas. Quite literally, because CES 2014 saw the reveal of their latest Skunkworks concept, a modular PC that takes the jargon, mystery and wrist clips out of upgrading a rig by not using a case at all. Project Christine is effectively a skeleton tower with space to slot processors, graphics cards, RAM, power supplies and storage drives directly into it with no fuss or hassle, allowing users to build a rig much like playing with DUPLO.

Want to upgrade your graphics card? Just buy a better one and plug it in, perhaps even leaving your old one in place for extra grunt. Fancy some additional RAM? Stick it in and you're good to go in seconds.  Each module is self-contained, boasting the plug & play drivers alongside liquid mineral oil cooling in a single sealed unit. There's nothing to open up, nothing to bodge and to potentially break, completely demystifying one of the most intimidating parts of the PC experience for inexperienced or time-pressed gamers.

It's a fascinating idea, and doubly interesting since you could potentially buy it on a monthly subscription - receiving the latest and most powerful new modules through the post and thus keeping your rig on the bleeding edge with no work whatsoever, or "any prior technical knowledge."

But, as with any number of Razer ventures, there's a world of difference between a blue-sky pitch and a viable, saleable product. Is the world (and its wallet) ready for Project Christine?

Plug & Pay Monthly: Is The World Ready For Razer's Crazy Modular PC?

The potential benefits of Project Christine are plain to see even in this concept stage: convenience and accessibility. This has long been a thorn in the PC's side despite numerous steps forward by OEMs to streamline the purchasing, software update and upgrade process; scoff if you will (we understand), but PC gaming still has a fearsome reputation for newcomers, longtime console owners or more casual hobbyists. Any number of manufacturers will build you a bespoke rig if you're leary of taking things into your own hands, but Christine goes one step further by letting everyone get hands-on with their PC on a basic level.

Like building a simple LEGO house , Project Christine makes buying and maintaining a powerful rig child's play, all without requiring a screwdriver, thermal paste or any messing about with drivers. Since the PC is doing its best to get into the living room and appeal to a wider audience, anything that can help to streamline user convenience and declaw some of the myths about PC ownership can only be a good thing. For many, Christine could well act as a 'my first gaming PC' that introduces gamers to the smorgasbord of delights available on download marketplaces, before letting them eventually graduate to building or upgrading their own.

Plug & Pay Monthly: Is The World Ready For Razer's Crazy Modular PC?

The idea of a monthly upgrade subscription goes one step further, and is actually a very interesting notion. “Instead of having to pay thousands of dollars in a single shot, there could be a standard subscription fee and you could have always, at any point of time, the best possible PC,” Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan posited to Gamespot. Many of us buy phones on contract. Some buy PCs on finance, perhaps paying out monthly for an Alienware Aurora or somesuch. We're used to paying subscriptions now, for everything from cars to online multiplayer, but Project Christine would actually improve and evolve over time, effortlessly future-proofing your PC rather than making you shell out for a device that'll technically be obsolete in days.

In theory. Naturally, since Project Christine is itself in a purely theoretical stage, and potential pitfalls abound. Not only would it require a significant amount of space by the looks of things, but the project will require significant momentum to break through many gamers' unwillingness to buy into new ventures - especially one that will shackle them into a particular form factor and manufacturer over the course of several months and years.

Plug & Pay Monthly: Is The World Ready For Razer's Crazy Modular PC?

And, of course, there's the small question of money. Those liquid-cooled bespoke modules won't come cheap whether bought separately or on subscription, especially since Razer aren't exactly famed for their wallet-friendly RRPs. Sure, Christine takes the busywork out of upgrading, but most PC owners (even newcomers) will be willing to mug up on YouTube videos or phone a more knowledgeable mate to save hundreds of Pounds. Just how valuable is our time? This isn't a glib rhetorical question, since Razer will need to literally put a price tag on convenience... and let us decide for ourselves.

It's not just gamers that need to accept and embrace the idea, though. Long-term, Project Christine can only work if hardware manufacturers like NVIDIA and AMD sign up to it wholesale, willingly creating bespoke components on a regular basis to stay on the bleeding edge. The whole point of the venture becomes moot if it's impossible to get the latest and greatest tech as soon as it's available, a seriously big ask considering the extra work required to both manufacture the pricey modules and facilitate true plug-and-play functionality.

Plug & Pay Monthly: Is The World Ready For Razer's Crazy Modular PC?

As is Razer's wont, Christine exists almost purely in their and our imaginations, requiring fan feedback and a solid show of support to start progressing from pitch and prototype to product. Like Project Fiona, the ball will only start rolling if enough gamers get behind it and push, push, push.

So, dear reader, let's open the floor. Would you be interested in the concept? How much would you pay for a PC that can be effortlessly upgraded - and how much would you shell out monthly to stay ahead of the power curve? Is Christine the future or a flash in the pan? Let us know in the comments?

Add a comment8 comments
Quietus  Jan. 13, 2014 at 14:09

I don't think that most people are fearful of building a PC. I've looked at it a few times, and it seems like that's the easy part. The hard part is knowing how many texelflops of product A you need, and how many jigawatts you need for part B. Is part A compatible with B? Is part A or B already obsolete? How do you find out what's currently available without getting a PhD in PC-tech?

I think that more than anything else, the price of the subscription will make or break it. £20 a month or less, and people may consider it, since that'd be almost equivalent to a £1,000 PC every four years or so. People would then know that they have gear good enough to run things.

googleberry  Jan. 13, 2014 at 14:28

When I built my first PC was pretty nervous: the thought of applying thermal paste improperly (and burning out my new expensive CPU), applying the right amount of force on an awkward CPU fan, getting those fiddly motherboard screws into hard to reach places, wiring the power and HD lights to the motherboard correctly, pontificating over the best way to manage the mess of cables, and worrying I was about to blow all my new expensive parts because I inadvertendly bent a transistor out of shape on the MB circuit all swirled in my brain. Immense satisfaction once done though. I think I would have LOVED this as a "starter" kit into the world of PC build. If I had the cash to spare I think this would have been a nice entry point into this world.

I agree with Quietus: knowing which parts work well together based on particular budget is a complex business. Guidance in this space is woefully lacking: perhaps Razr will provice the education here too?

Finally it looks a beast, if a bit ostentatious for my tastes.

Last edited by googleberry, Jan. 13, 2014 at 14:29
r3tract  Jan. 13, 2014 at 15:11

Thought of this idea years ago. (Both elements).

I'm amazed it's actually taken anyone this long to actually do it.

To be perfectly honest though, it's come a little to kate to the party.

Everything will be cloud based before many years have passed including PC gaming.

JonLester  Jan. 13, 2014 at 15:53

@Quietus & googleberry: Well said, and I think that's the key really. Building a PC isn't necessarily all that difficult, but there are so many potentially confusing factors to consider that many people give up at the first hurdle. It's rather intimidating, so a much simpler introduction to the space could be a godsend.

That said, it would probably push plenty of potential buyers away with its price point. I reckon you'd need a hefty up-front purchase and ruinous monthly instalments to keep Christine up to date. It'd be much more expensive than manually building/upgrading, since each component would be significantly more expensive than its off-the-shelf counterpart due to the extra bespoke housing, cooling etc.

@r3tract: your point RE the shift towards cloud computing is well-made, valid and definitely a concern. Mind you, here in the UK cloud gaming faces challenges (technological and philosophical) all of its own - so Christine could well get in early if Razer goes for broke.

Last edited by JonLester, Jan. 13, 2014 at 16:09
Late  Jan. 13, 2014 at 16:20

Nice to see a new approach, that addresses the concerns of those folk like me who are a bit scared of PCs.

I'm pretty sure I'd be up to the job of building a pc (if I had a solid plan mapped out before I started). My fear isn't in putting the components together. It's that once they're together something doesn't work, and at that point I just hit a wall.
Rather than build one myself (thereby saving maybe £30-£50, and inevitably learning a bit more about computer hardware as I go) I tend to buy one that's already been put together. After all, that £30-£50 saving would disappear (and then some) with one trip to the local pc repair centre to tell them I've built a pc but can't get it to work...

I wouldn't actually buy this, Christine, if it hit the market. PCs are low priority and budget for me. But I like the idea and hope it takes off.

googleberry  Jan. 13, 2014 at 16:52

My fear isn't in putting the components together. It's that once they're together something doesn't work, and at that point I just hit a wall.

Yep. That's a biggie. I always say a little prayer when I complete a build! It can be ball ache if something doesn't go to plan.

DivideByZero  Jan. 13, 2014 at 16:58

Building PCs is easy, it's just like expensive LEGO.

The issues come when you have to troubleshoot something that has gone wrong.

I can't see this as being a cost effective solution to anyone's problem... I can't see this taking off, but it is cool.

phil16  Jan. 14, 2014 at 13:35

As someone who likes to do PC Gaming on a budget, I expect this would cost more to buy as an empty case than I normal spend on my PCs...

I usually just build a mid spec machine for a budget of about £500 - Usually lasts me 3 or 4 years. I might even get 5 or 6 years if I upgrade the GPU or ram and nothing breaks. PC gaming doesn't have to be expensive you know. Plenty of places to ask for advise on line as to what works with what (Personally I use hexus.net forums).

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