PAX East 2016: Killer Rigs And VR Dominance Punctuate A Thriving PC Gaming Industry

Alienware Oculus Booth And A 3 Hour Line
Whoever the Einstein was that declared this a "post PC era" needs talk to the gamers and enthusiasts that flocked to Boston Convention And Exhibition Center this weekend for the sold-out PAX East show. And in good ol' Bean Town, the Murphys might dropkick that genius for being overly impaired and "ship him off" promptly. In a record attendance of around 90,000 or so, there was plenty of console gaming going on, as well as mobile gaming on tablets and smartphones, and even board games but nothing compared to the crowds flocking around booths from major PC manufacturers and ecosystem partners like Kingston, Gigabyte, Corsair, EVGA, Logitech, NVIDIA, AMD and Intel. And VR was center stage with the prominence of the PC as a platform and driving force powering the experience. In the shot above, you're looking at a 3 hour plus wait queue for Oculus Rift VR demos, all of which were powered by full-up desktop gaming PCs. "Post PC," that's rich.

In Intel's recent layoff announcement, you might be fooled into thinking the company's restructuring to focus on the IOT and cloud/data center, and shifting away from "client PCs," was a sign of the times. However, if you sift through the tea leaves a bit more, you'll note the company underscored the fact that 2-in-1s and gaming PCs were still a growth opportunity, and I would also argue that the latter is a better profit center opportunity as well, akin to the high-end products required in the data center (cloud) with plenty of architecture commonality.

But those are just the cold numbers for bean counters to pour over and as far as gamers go, the PC gaming buzz at PAX East 2016 was big, bad, modded, tricked-out, amped-up and virtually splendiferous.

Alienware Area 51 Team V1 Tech Mod
Team V1 Tech Custom Modded Alienware Area-51 Desktop Gaming PC

Alienware Area 51 Mod

Dell's renegade Alienware crew descended upon Boston and lit up the Oclus VR demo area as the system provider powering VR experiences for attendees. Most those machines were tucked in demo rooms and not as prominently on display as some of the other machines in Alienware's booth, like this custom mod of the Alienware Area 51 (full review). Team V1 Tech put this UV green and blue-lit starship together, adorned in crop circles and alien head logos, for Alienware's 20th Anniversary. Thee-way GeForce GTX 980 Ti SLI, an octal-core Core i7 CPU, liquid cooling and that "Triad" chassis design - as AW notes, "forget everything you know," and we did later that night, but that's a story for another day.

Cybertron CLX 2
Cybertron CLX RA - Custom Z170 Skylake Gaming System

Cybertron CLX

A new entrant to the boutique gaming PC market, CybertronPC, made a showing at PAX East announcing their high-end CLX line was now available and shipping. Seen above is the flagship CybertronPC CLX RA with it's Foundry Tempered hardline cooling system, Gigabyte's Z170X Gaming G1 motherboard a Core i7 Skylake processor, Samsung 950 EVO PCIe M.2 NVMe SSD, 3 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti cards in SLI and its slick amethyst purple paint job. We're actually eager to see how this monster stacks up versus Maingear's latest killer RUSH SuperStock system.

Cybertron CLX 14 inch Notebook
Cybertron CLX Osiris 14-inch Gaming Notebook

Cybertron also had a CLX gaming notebook that caught our eye, specifically this little 14-inch fellow called the Osiris. This is roughly 5 pound compact machine is powered by an Intel Core i7 6700HQ quad-core CPU, HM170 chipset, 16GB of DDR4-2133 memory, a Samsung 950 Pro 256GB SSD, a 500GB Samsung 850 EVO SSD and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M graphics. Based configs start at $1349.

EVGA SC17 Gaming Notebook
EVGA SC17 Gaming Notebook W/ Intel Core i7-6820HK Quad-Core CPU, GeForce GTX 980M

EVGA's SC17 gaming notebooks first made an appearance at CES 2016 in Las Vegas but were back at PAX East and refined with some potent horsepower under the hood in the form of a 4K UHD display, Intel Core i7-6820HK, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M graphics, a 256GB PCIe SSD and a 1TB 7200RPM HDD.

Kingston Booth
Kingston's Sales Counter - Selling peripherals, memory, storage and other gear

And of course peripheral and component manufacturers like AMD, Logitech and Kingston were setup in full force as well. In Kingston's booth, the company had a store counter setup selling anything from SSDs to RAM and headsets, to an enthusiastic PC gaming crowd looking for deals on gear they experienced fresh off demos in the booth.

AMD Wraith and FX APUs
AMD's Wraith Cooler, FX-6350 6-Core APU With MSI Motherboards And MSI Radeon GPUs

With the announcement of AMD's Wraith cooler being bundled in as standard equipment with FX-6350 and FX-8350 APUs, AMD was raffling off boxes of APUs to lucky attendees to much applause at the show. Free stuff is great and PC gamers were stuck to the Red Team like thermal paste on a copper cold plate.

Gigabyte Gaming G1 X99
Gigabyte's G1 Gaming X99-Pheonix SLI Motherboard

We were pretty fond of Gigabyte's Z170X G1 Gaming motherboard for the Skylake platform, so when we happened upon it's yet to be released X99 big brother, capable of supporting full-up Haswell-E octal core CPUs, we were more than enthused. Notice the M.2 and Amp-Up Audio as well. This plank of silicon looks to be a winner.

Last but certainly not least, the peripherals and accessories giant Logitech really stole the show with their very cool, totally retro G810 RGB gaming keyboard wall that was made up of over 160 keyboards, with individual LEDs under each key cap, that account for 18,400 lights on a massive 10x15 foot wall.

Logitech Keyboard Wall
Logitech G's Giant 10x15 Foot G810 RGB Gaming Keyboard Wall

Logitech partnered with Right Brain's Kent Suzuki to program the entire wall to render some really cool retro scenes. This project was 6 months in the making and was an idea that Logitech G’s VP and General Manager Ujesh Desai thought up as a showcase for their G810 RGB gaming keyboard. Well done, Ujesh. You got our attention, as well as all the people stopping by to look in the middle of our video shoot.

All told, the PC gaming industry's presence and footprint alone was a clear barometer that major brand OEMs continue to see significant growth opportunity in the sector and are keyed-in and capitalizing on it with new products and technologies. And the PAX East 2016 crowd's intense engagement with all the high-end PC gear and VR demos, not only in Alienware and Oculus' combined booth but also sprinkled across various booths all over the show floor, was a clear testament that enthusiast PC gaming is not only very much alive and well, but thriving and more relevant than ever.