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Wacky PC-gaming design has gone too far

Razer BlackWidow

PC Gamer's Tuan Nguyen published a piece on PC-gaming hardware and how it needs to grow up. I agree with many of the points raised, though I also have some different thoughts.

Gone too far

Why do I agree with Nguyen that manufacturers of peripherals and PC components need to reconsider how they design products for consumers?

We see this sort of design language through the entire industry. Everything from motherboards, to graphics cards, to monitors, to headsets and more. Instead of making things efficient and comfortable, ridiculous and often useless design language takes a front row seat.

This is where I'm absolutely in line with the argument that something has gone slightly wrong with gaming gear. Manufacturers certainly need to be applauded for research and development. We've advanced from simple desktop towers and bulky laptops to numerous styles and formats. And that's just for mainstream consumers. Products specifically designed and launched for gamers have effectively left this world.

Companies opted to evolve wild designs to set their gaming product lines apart from not only mainstream variants, but also the competition. We now even have RGB connected-lighting effects on the main PCB board. But while this is great news for many who are fans of various effects, has it gone too far? I don't believe so. Should a choice be available, I believe that's excellent news for everyone with regards to a subjective view on whether or not a particular feature or design looks good.

However, Nguyen rightfully pointed out that certain examples of products have gone beyond levels of madness and are now simply bonkers. Two headphone stands were compared, one was as you'd expect. It looked functional and sported a single black color scheme. The other added blue plastic, angular elements, and a claw-like main structure. It's indeed weird how this is now seen as "gamer gear." Why do some products targeting this specific demographic have to be so strange?

ASUS Motherboard

Motherboard

I agree with Nguyen that when this sort of design choice negatively affects the performance of products it's a problem. The massive cooler shroud, sporting three fans and LED RGB lighting on the GTX 1070 AMP! Extreme Edition GPU by Zotac is at least functional. The fans effectively cool the board and components, while the shroud, back plate and lighting effects not only add to the visual experience, they don't hamper anything.

Motherboards on-the-other-hand are a whole different experience. It's no secret that the aggressive-looking heatsinks on north and south chips, as well as other parts of a $200 motherboard, are no more efficient than the standard heatsinks one would find on a $40 motherboard. So what gives? Why do manufacturers insist on downgrading cooling for a motherboard to look, well ... cool? Because, unfortunately, there's demand for it.

Faster than it looks

I like to think of PC modding as akin to car modding. Generally, you want your car to look the part without spending thousands on a vehicle that has the power. It's why you're seeing a hard push by carmakers in the competitive-hatchback segment to introduce sporty design elements and customizations to entice customers into believing they're investing in a car that goes faster than it does. Trim levels are now available with sporty elements, stiffer suspension, larger alloys, and more without necessarily increasing power output.

PC parts that look more advanced and futuristic are generally considered to be faster, especially when you look at overclocked GPUs and systems. Wondering around the most recent Insomnia UK gaming festival, it was easy to spot interestingly-designed PCs. Seeing just what the owner had installed, if it looks bonkers or is a tasteful design, for example. You could have a case with LEDs installed, some aftermarket all-in-one CPU water cooler and only be running a Pentium processor and R7 265 GPU. It's easy to make your machine appear to be more capable than it actually is.

But your PC looks the part. It looks as good as those that cost big bucks and have insanely powerful systems. That's what sells flashy components.

For mice and keyboards, I am a fan of these "special" designs, even though deep down inside I'm a fan of minimalism. It's good to have different approaches to design, too. Just because I don't like that lime green keyboard with pink LED backlighting and a built-in, 10-inch display for connectivity with supported games, it doesn't mean it wouldn't sell.

I believe it's down to perception and how one can effectively represent hard work and money invested in a system. If you were to look at two identical desktop PCs — one with RGB lighting, angular edging, an overall aggressive design, and the other a mere black unit — which would you immediately assume is more powerful? The one with an interactive light show, correct?

PC LED Lighting

Is it a problem?

I believe certain design choices have a place in components, but manufacturers (and consumers) need to draw a line when it comes to taking things too far. Functionality should never be negatively affected by such inclusions, but everything else is fair game as far as I'm concerned.

So what is PC gaming? It's really simple: gaming means having good graphics and CPU performance to get the best experience out of your games. Gaming means decreased load times and higher clock frequencies. Gaming means optimizing a system to speed up texture loads, and using high refresh-rate displays. It means having low latency and no network lag. It does not mean adding more junk onto PC hardware or making uncomfortable design choices in the name of — ugly — aesthetics.

The same could be said for vehicles. Why have four prominent exhaust tips on the rear with aggressive aerodynamic styling? Because it makes the car look faster. It's the idea that adding a go-faster stripe to your vehicle will automagically add to the engine output. Now, fetch me the vinyl strip for my PC. I need to add 5GHz to the CPU and 3 teraflops to the GPU.

If we want manufacturers to change their ways, it's down to the consumer. Are you with manufacturers (and more importantly the gaming community) with regards to how component design is progressing, or do you value functionality over looks? Are some LEDs and unique elements welcome as long as they don't handicap the more expensive item you're purchasing?

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

39 Comments
  • This reminded me of SUVs I have seen driving around at night that have lights on their running boards.  Why does anyone want to see their running boards when they are driving?  They would only be useful when the vehicle is not running and you're trying to climb up into the rediculously large vehicle that you don't need.
  • haha so much agreed. I wish there was a decree that said no more SUV's. Literally the most wasteful vehicle out there when you factor in that most people who have them can't handle a vehicle that size.
  • You try to take my SUV from me! Just try!!! ;)
  • Never said I was going to. Read closely.
  • Yes you did. "There should be a decree that says no more SUVs". If there was such a decree then that would mean they would take away his SUV.
  • and I never said *I* was going to. I can't make a decree, not to mention the fact the way laws usually work (especially when it comes to automotive) current owners are grandfathered in. I know thinking is hard, but try it sometime.
  • what? Why is this a problem? Everybody has his/her own taste. You dont like it but I like it :)) its a matter of our personal taste. The same goes for PC. Seriously, who will see my personal PC at home at my desk? Me, my GF or very occasionally my friends but nobody else
  • Actually no, it's not equal for PC. As you specifically pointed out, your PC parts only effect you and a small subset of people. An SUV, effects a much larger group. Not to mention, no one actually said you shouldn't be able to get the PC parts.
  • But with an SUV there's more space between you and the ground making people less likely to get hurt compared to cars (which seem like a better comparison than trucks based on your comment.) Plus there's more storage room and better handling in the snow if the SUV has 4-wheel drive.
  • What are you saying? Extra ground clearance (which is not gaurnateed in an SUV) does not provide some magical safety net. If anything is increases the possibility of a roll over. As for your 4wd argument, there are plenty of cars that have 4wd as well so that point means nothing, especially when you add to the fact that in most cases 4wd is not necessary when the vehicle is properly equipped and properly trained. Lastly, storage space is also a non valid point. A minivan can easily net you greater storage, as can a hatchback car. If you need something greater than that, or need to tow, a pickup truck is more than enough.
  • If someone lives in colder climates like Michigan or Wisconsin, 4-wheel drive is necessary due to snow or ice. Maybe my ground-clearance argument wasn't said well enough, so I'm going to specify what I meant. Sometimes there's a lot of snow so people need to be able to drive without getting stuck while storing a bunch of stuff in the back of their vehicle which is something neither a minivan nor a hatchback can achieve. Besides the fact that hatchbacks are considered "ugly" by most people, myself included.
  • As a life long new Englander I know quite well what it takes to drive in colder climates. 4wd is NOT necessary if the vehicle is properly equipped and the driver knows what they're doing. Plenty of people survive in those climates without an SUV year after year. There's nothing that proves an SUV is a necessary vehicle unless you have some inferiority complex you need to fill.
  • Cars might be fine for most people in the north, but when someone lives on a private drive and usually takes the back roads, they can't use a car. Especially with lake-effect snow.
  • Keep making excuses to drive an unnecessary vehicle and contribute to overuse of fuel and pollution. A properly equipped AWD (not necessarily a sports car) and a driver that knows what they are doing can get through the same snow an SUV can, and if it can't, the SUV shouldn't be in it either. Case and point, here's a video of a WRX in 18" of snow: https://www.windowscentral.com/e?link=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.kqzyfj.com%2Fcli...
  • I'm waiting for the H.R. Giger edition case.
  • I highly agree with this article. One thing I'd love to see is somewhere that you can compate "Gaming" and non-"Gaming" componants easily, like you enter in the "Gaming mobo and it tells you the standard equivilant. (if there is a place someone please share). I can see some use for it though, I'm in the process of doing a fully custom desk with a PC in it. I want everything to look cool. But my last build could have done without anyhting special, I just needed a lot of USB ports lol.
  • I think some builds with leds and glass panels are beautiful. But i still prefer to build with closed cases, i don't really need to see whats inside, and with that i can put whatever hardware i want not caring how it looks or how the colors will be different from one component to the other.
  • And this allows for Noise Blocking. My new rig makes less noise than my heating, except when i push it to the limits with 4k gaming.
  • To quote a retail owner I know, "if you stop buying Christmas decorations in September, I'll stop putting them up in September." There is a market for tacky devices and I don't think there is a problem with companies going after that market. To each their own. If I want to buy tacky, LED-lit PC accessories, it doesn't hurt you. Unless you walk into my apartment unannouced, you won't see it anyway. I don't, by the way. I have a big ugly LAN box I use for my gaming rig but I got it for the wonderful airflow. I prefer minimalism myself. But I'm not bothered by the person who could light up a foggy moor with their gaming rig.
  • I built my first PC couple months ago. Has an i5-6500 and 1060(3G).
    The only lighting I have (so far) are four small red LED's from my mobo, which DIDN'T cost a tonne, and I never bought it for the lights too. I'm pretty comfortable with its performance and looks. If I'm planning to upgrade aesthetics, then I'll add an LED fan in the front, if I'm going further, I might replace my stock cooler with a decent air cooler. These don't cost a lot and help in cooling too Other than that, I'm not gonna spend on LED strips or any RGB stuff in general.
  • How much did it cost ? (entire pc)
  • After conversion its around $900 (Including 1080p monitor). Yea pricing of PC components is a bit high where I live!
  • I remember when getting a mobo circuit board that wasn't green or beige was custom and badass.
  • I don't actually agree. Everyone has the freedom to choose what they want. ALL high end stuff is excentric or cost 20% more for 5% gain in performance. Personally I prefer more basic/classic design. But I can spend the same amount and have a gaming PC that looks like a gaming PC or one that's subdued.
  • Agree!
  • I recently bought a PC, and the RGB lightning is in the motherboard.  I found a setting to link the temperature of the system to the color of the led at least the coloring will do something "smart".
  • There was an option in the BIOS of friends motherboard to have the power light blink/stay lit up/ or pulse in various ways. I thought it was weird
  • Most cases a $40 mobo heat sink will not perform as well as a $200 mobo ESP when or if you overclock.
  • Just built my PC with an i5-6600K and a GTX-1080.  Love the build. People have their own taste.  I actually went the more conservitive route.  Everything is set to red, but the lights are minimal.  That really helps when you live in a small apartment and there isn't a bright light shining in your eyes when you're tryin to sleep.
  • I built my first PC in 2001. I had helped my dad build several before that... but this one was all mine! Cold cathode tubes, side panel window, big coolers... all before it was popular and easy to add. It was ugly... though I would not admit that at the time lol.
    2nd PC was less ugly... but much the same.
    3rd PC I learned my lesson. Still had a window... but it was because in 2006 it was hard to find a decent case that didn't have a window! But most of the money went into good hardware, and I was far happier with it.
    4th PC I went for size and trying to build a small-ish PC (still ATX lol) that was still capable. Mostly a success, and it was cute and small... and also loud.
    My last PC I gave up. I got a free used case that was huge (Cosmos 1), and I filled it with extremely quiet but powerful equipment, put it as far away from me as possible, and ran really long DVI and USB cables to my desk area. It didn't need to look pretty, but I just didn't want to look at it or hear it anymore.
    As time has gotten older it has gotten quieter, and closer to my computing area. I still don't see it, and I still don't hear it, and that is what is important. The kids buying all the flashy gear today will feel the same in 15 years. lol
  • Your alluding to the same problem we have in gaming in other ways. Consumers are fools. They spend their money and then complain. Then continue to spend their money and complain again. A prime example is what is happening with DLC. And Microtransacrions. Resident Evil 7 is the latest of this type. People buy it up then wonder why they cut stuff from the finished game and charge you £30 2 weeks after launch for the rest of the game. Or EA getting away with charging £59.99 for Mass Effect 3. Unless people stop supporting it with their money nothing will change. But people are fickle. And will continue to buy, so companies will continue to make it the same.
  • Great article! I like a bit of RGB, but I also like minimalism. I like things that look professional, but I will go for "gamer" look if it gives me more performance or a better color match. For example, I like the design of the reference 1080, but the blower style cooler is both louder and doesn't do its job as well as the 1080 Strix. So I opted for the STRIX, also because the LEDs can be turned off if need be. I don't need things like an RGB motherboard or ram though. I kinda wish I could turn off the LEDs and put a shroud on it, to cover up the shiny metal.
  • Great article! I like a bit of RGB, but I also like minimalism. I like things that look professional, but I will go for "gamer" look if it gives me more performance or a better color match. For example, I like the design of the reference 1080, but the blower style cooler is both louder and doesn't do its job as well as the 1080 Strix. So I opted for the STRIX, also because the LEDs can be turned off if need be. I don't need things like an RGB motherboard or ram though. I kinda wish I could turn off the LEDs and put a shroud on it, to cover up the shiny metal. All in all, I would like a clean, muted color across most of my PC, but monitors rarely look "good" to me. Either they fall into the ugly generic design, with a uninspiring design and a piano finish with chrome/etc, or they are too "gamery" like the ROG line. Things like the Acer Predator XB1 somewhat split the middle; it has a muted red base, but the cheesiest thing is the logo. If they added an anodized black logo in font like the surface line, and I would love it even more.
  • Ours is pretty minimalistic. It has a few blue LEDs on the motherboard even though we had the opportunity to lit fans when it was built. That's about it. I don't want it to look like a toy.
  • This is not a problem. In fact it is an asset!
    Nobody building their 3rd or 4th PC is buying this crap. In fact, most of us are not buying anything at all except for a GPU every 2-3 years. The PC market is stagnating because outside of GPUs and SSDs we have not seen any ground-breaking improvements in 5 years. This means that the only growth market is in attracting new PC builders to the market, and sadly this means expanding the circle of PC users to the populist crowd who just like flashey things. On the plus side, this does not mean there are not any plain-jane good products. In fact, there are still plenty to choose from. So on the rare occasion that you want something nice to replace a failed system (because nobody upgrades, we just replace), we can still get it. In the mean time the kids buying the hot-mess PCs are keeping the industry from collapse. The real issue is what happens if/when PC stagnation continues for another 5 years and we run out of new people to bring into the ecosystem. If the market contracts then we end up in a system where you pay through the nose... but less often. They will still need the same income coming in, it will just be spread across fewer unit sales.
  • «Gaming means...» - This is really a matter of preference, and everyone can choose on his own. PC Gamers aren't dumb, and will buy what's right for them.
  • EXCESSIVE EGOS AND GROUPTHINK Wacky projection of opinion by bloggers has gone too far What I have in the privacy of my own home has literally NO impact on what you are affected by in your life. If I want to build a ridiculous rig that is more design than functionality, that is my private business.  You need to mind your own business instead of trying to project from your small mind how everyone "needs" to think about design.
  • I really need no flashing at all. All I care about is the performance. What happens on the screen. If possible I would prefer to get that experience in a small or invisble form as much as possible. Unfortunately my visions of a perfect gaming PC require hardware, not yet made. Like how it should be common with swapable components and wall-mounted cases no larger than a lunch box and any sort of cooling external enough not to be able to hear it. Time will tell.