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CES: Meet Project Christine, Razer’s Modular Gaming PC

Building one’s own computer has long been a daunting task, or at least seems daunting, to those without a certain base level of computer knowledge and how the different parts interact with one another. While it isn’t as prohibitively complex as one might think, Razer is seeking to change the way consumers approach building PCs with their mysteriously named Project Christine, an eyebrow-raising piece of hardware that looks like a CD rack wrapped in Kevlar.

What is Project Christine exactly? According to Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan, in an interview with Polygon, it’s “the world’s most modular gaming PC design.” The core of the system, the industrial tree, has multiple slots for each individual component, which themselves are stored in enclosed mineral-oil cooled cases, so the user can simply and easily install them on the tree’s PCI Express-powered branches. The modular nature of its design allows everything from graphics cards to CPUs to GPUs to be easily added or removed without the learning curve of traditional DIY PC building.

Razer’s announcement made much of this fact. “Need more graphics processing power or storage? Easy — a user can slot-in additional graphics modules and add more storage by either swapping-out the existing storage drives or adding more modules,” it reads. “Modules connected to the PCI-Express backbone can be added in any order or combination, featuring up to quad-SLI graphics, multiple SSD and RAID storage components, I/O and even power supplies, ensuring maximum flexibility.”

Unlike many of the concept cars, far out consumer tech, and pipe dream peripherals you’re likely to encounter this year at CES, you stand a good chance of seeing Razer’s newest concept on store shelves next year. In 2010, they announced a motion controller in partnership with Sixense only to return in 2011 with it as the newly branded Razer Hydra. 2012 saw the announcement of the mysteriously-named Project Fiona, a strange-looking tablet with controllers attached on both sides. In 2013, we met Fiona again but with a brand new name, the Razer Edge. Logically, it follows that Christine should make her way into our lives by early 2015.

Could Razer’s innovative design work against it? Yes, its modular design allows for ease of upgradability, but it also limits the PC to parts that will fit its unique design. What if Razer stops supporting Project Christine down the road? Given the closed nature of the system, you’ll be stuck with whatever hardware you currently have. For that matter, who knows what kind of hardware Razer will even make available? There are plenty of variables in play here, and the necessity for manufacturers to design for Razer’s exacting specifications could be quite the hurdle to overcome.

“The idea behind the concept is that users can customize what goes in it. When it is launched, users will have the ability to use the best GPU/CPU technology that is currently available,” said Young Bae, Razer’s Global Project Manager of Systems, to PC World

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Another way Razer is seeking to assuage fears over being held hostage by component manufacturers is offering a subscription service. ”Something we’re playing around with is a subscription model so instead of having to spend $2,500 on a new desktop PC, because this is modular it could be a subscription model where you say you want a tier 1 PC at any point in time. Or I want a tier 2 PC at any point in time,” Tan explained to Polygon. “Say a new GPU comes out, we could ship them the new GPU, they take out the old GPU and ship it back to us, and they just plug in the new GPU. And at any point in time, the gamer will always have a tier 1 PC without having to worry about all of that.”

That being said, there’s no price point available at this time. And not all of Razer’s concepts make it from CES to consumer’s hands; their 2011 Switchblade, a small portable gaming PC, never made it to consumers’ hands, although elements of it did in the form of 2012′s DeathStalker LCD keyboard and the Blade, a more traditional gaming laptop. What the future holds for PC building is uncertain, but, if it makes it to market, you can bet good money that Razer’s boutique modular PC experiment will be expensive and exciting.

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What do you think of Project Christine? Let us know in the comments below or tell me on Twitter.

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3 comments

  • A lot of us geeks have already thought of this. It’s just not a cheap solution yet. You can buy hard drives, video cards, and just about every other peripheral to run via PCI-Express. All you really need is just a separate port for cpu and ram and the rest would could all be built to plug into the same thing. Even, USB, firewire, etc… Not a new concept but hopefully they will do a good job with the implementation as they have always done with their HIDs.

  • PC building definitely needs to be rethought. And this is the way to do it, a one-slot-fits-lots, slide-and-snap modular system. I suspect if it succeeds, there will be competing systems until one wins out and sets the new standard, much like the Blu-Ray wars.