I like to play games, like millions of the rest of us. And I have several machines to do that, unlike many of us. But my career was software engineering, so that’s to be expected.
But I have a problem that millions of the rest of us have too. Gaming laptops don’t work very well for serious gaming, and gaming desktops work great, but are cumbersome to sit next to.
I’d much rather be sitting in my recliner with my 15 inch gaming laptop while I play my MMO, or Black Ops, or whatever, than propped up in an office, or gaming chair, in front of my big screen gaming desktop.
Gaming Laptops are Hot and Heavy
Sure there are lots of companies that build gaming laptops and I’ve had a couple of the best. Inspiron 8500, in it’s day had a great Nvidia graphics board, and the Alienware m15x has a hot graphics card – enough for my MMO gaming needs, but not good enough for Black Ops, or Crysis.
But the problem is that gaming laptops are heat death waiting to happen. The power required and heat generated by a high end graphics card is not consistent with the small form factor of a laptop. Battery life is a joke, the power supply is huge and the graphics card is cooking itself because no matter what you do it’s not cooled enough. A laptop cooler is a cumbersome solution and for a gaming laptop like the Alienware m15x does not actually solve the problem. It’s not possible to get enough airflow on that graphics card to cool it. The graphics card is generating too much heat in too confined a space.
Over the last 4 years I’ve replaced 4 Nvidia Graphics boards in my m15x. And I’ll bet I’m not alone. This problem is not unique to Alienware , there are many companies making such laptops and they all have this power/ cooling problem. The power / cooling requirements of gaming laptops are too challenging for the small form-factor of laptops.
A solution for the power / heat / performance problem for a Gaming Laptop is to move the display and user interface away from the desktop to a laptop form factor, but leave the power, heat and weight behind with the desktop or console.
Create a remote console for your Gaming Desktop or Game Console. Sure, this won’t work for someone who actually wants to carry their laptop to a coffee shop and play games, but I’ll bet most don’t. I’ll bet most folks with gaming laptops are within 100 m of their Gaming Desktop – or could be.
How big is your gaming laptop? I want a 17″ display, but that means a lot of extra weight. What if there were a solution that allowed me to have a large display without the large weight penalty? Read on.
Remote Gaming Console Requirements
What are the requirements for a Remote Gaming Console [RGC] to provide a remote gaming experience for a gaming machine?
- 15 inch or 17 inch display. Wide screen format and 1920 x 1080 whatever size it is. Maybe only a 17″ display since the cost is not that much more and the weight is pretty low for either.
- Keyboard and trackpad [which can be turned off so it’s not in the way if I’m using a mouse].
- Keyboard and trackpad are back-lighted of course. Many gaming laptops don’t light their keyboards. We don’t need fancy lighting like AlienFX, but just some lighting so we can play in the dark.
- USB ports. For Gaming keypad, mouse, USB thumb drives, etc. I use a Cyber Snipa keypad, but that’s just my preference. There are dozens of them out there, and everybody has a preference, so provide remote USB ports to attach favorite gaming pads, or joysticks or whatever. The RGC needs several USB ports – two on each side at least – for attachment of keypads and mice and to allow lefty’s and righty’s to use the console.
- No on-board hard drive. This is a fix function device. All the smarts are in your Gaming Desktop.
- No hot power-hungry on-board graphics card. At least not a high speed one. Just enough to decode and display the video. It’s a special purpose device. The game does not run here.
- High Frame Rate. You need to be able to play serious games on this device. This means a frame rate of more than 30, and maybe as high as 60 for the full 1920×1080 display. This sounds serious, but it’s really the same as playing a movie, isn’t it? We need to talk to serious gamers to see if they actually require a higher frame rate. 30 is high enough for most MMOs like World of Warcraft, but shooters probably require a higher frame rate.
- Responsive input. If you are playing a FPS game [First Person Shooter] any lag in the input will cause you to die early. The delay of the keyboard/ keypad/ mouse input must be as rapid as possible.
- Media slots would be nice. I can do a lot more work if I can upload my photos from here too. Say an SD card slot that also accepts Sony Memory Stick [if we think that’s important.] CF is not required here. Keep it simple. Most cameras are moving to SD card slots.
- Security. The wireless protocol needs to be encrypted so no one can snoop / intercept the protocol. You wouldn’t want someone outside your house controlling your desktop after you went to bed would you? WPA should be fine if we are using 802.11.
- Software updates. Via a USB thumbdrive boot downloaded from your desktop. The console has an internal “thumb drive” it boots from and this can be any size that is convenient.
- RF standard? Use Wifi 802.11n if possible. Make sure that it will work with and not interfere with home networks and other WiFi traffic. What bandwidth is required for a high frame rate? What kind of compression can we use? Not sure, but some research will turn up a solution, no doubt. Other folks have solved those problems.
- Hackable? Shall we open the software? Base it on Linux and make it Open Source? Someone is going to try to hack it anyway, and the security is more trustworthy the more eyes we put on the code.
So what does this look like? Why it looks just like a gaming laptop. Only it weights maybe 3 or 4 pounds instead of 7 – 12 lbs. And it will not cook itself as you play Black Ops. It will play Crysis, unlike the best gaming laptop. And you can use it with your PS3, or your XBOX or your Gaming Desktop. Or even with your Wii as long as your aren’t trying to dance around the room. It’s not for that kind of game.
Don’t Forget LAN Parties
And if you are into LAN Parties, you can take your LAN Party PC and this to the party, leave the PC under the desk and unfold the Remote Console on the table and go. It looks like you are playing a laptop, but you have the power of your LAN PC to smoke them.
At the Desktop / Console End
Along with it comes a little box that connects to your Desktop or Console that has the following connections:
- Display input from your Desktop/ Console [DVI, HDMI, Display Port?].
- Display output [DVI, HDMI, Display Port?] for a local monitor.
- A USB output that connects to a USB port on the Desktop/ Console.
- A button to switch between local and remote operation.
That’s it. This little box acts like a KVM switch between the local desktop and the remote gaming console. And since the logic is in the remote box, and not in software in the Desktop/ console the following is true:
- It will work with any desktop / console with DVI / HDMI / Display Port ? video output.
- It will allow you to completely control the desktop/ console at all times, even through a boot sequence.
I’m not in favor of some software solution that requires a driver and only gives you partial control over your system. Such a device will not work well on your PS3 or XBOX console either. Of course if you want to dance around the room, this device is not going to be much use either. And if you want your game displayed on your large screen TV, then it’s not much use, although I see no reason that the local / remote switch should turn off the local display, so the big screen or local desktop monitor would still work.
The box next to the desktop is the Local Gaming Connection [LGC] and has two functions:
- It compresses the video and forwards that over wifi to the RGC. High framerate is the key here as mentioned before.
- It remotes some USB ports from the RGC and some USB devices [keyboard, trackpad] to usb ports on the Gaming Desktop.
No drivers are required in the desktop, or the gaming console, so that XBox, PS3, and Wii can be supported without any licensing or software required. Any console that supports USB inputs and video output is supported.
Remote USB Device Support
Not all USB devices will be supported of course. This list of remote USB devices includes:
- The RGC keyboard. This appears as a USB keyboard to the desktop.
- The RGC trackpad. This appears as a USB mouse to the desktop. [Or a trackpad if possible.]
- Keypads. Not sure if there is a way to allow non-standard ones to be supported. But if it looks like a standard keyboard then that should be no problem.
- Joysticks / Game controllers – Not sure if there will be much demand for this, but it should be considered.
- SD Cards, USB Thumb drives. Two simple storage media are supported by the RGC. General cameras and other storage protocols are optional. It’s probably not a big deal to walk to your desktop to plug in a special device.
Overview of the Idea
They Almost Got It Right
Intel and Netgear make devices sort of like this, but they are putting your Laptop, or maybe Desktop display on your TV wirelessly. This is part of the problem.
- But Intel requires software on the PC end, so it won’t work with Consoles.
- And Netgear does not get the input in the reverse direction.
But both of these folks miss the point that a Remote Gaming Console addresses. Displaying your Laptop on the TV does not solve the problem of not having a gaming laptop. And you can’t watch TV and game at the same time. I don’t know about you, but I watch TV while I’m playing a game, so neither of these solutions address my problems.
- Gaming Laptops are a bad compromise in terms of power and cooling, and they are either under powered, or they cook their video card as you play games.
- Gaming Laptops are heavy and cumbersome.
- But I want to have the power of a Gaming Desktop in my recliner or easy chair as I play games.
The Remote Gaming Console solves these problems, and works with gaming consoles like XBox, PS3 and Wii too.
Services are beginning to appear that stream video from games so that you purchase a service rather than the game. OnLive is an example of one of these. The service executes and renders the game video on servers and streams it over the internet. I’m not sure that you can play BlackOps this way or that WOW will be licensing their code to these folks anytime soon. But for a longtime to come we will have the problem of high-end laptops being too hot to handle.