Stardock is about to revolutionize the video-card market for PCs. Not only will it make high-end gaming more affordable, but it also will put virtual reality within reach of millions of consumers.
In an exclusive interview with GamesBeat, CEO Brad Wardell laid out the PC utility and gaming company’s initiative for this radical idea. It’s a software solution that’s part of DirectX 12, and some might forget that Stardock’s main business is making utilities like Fences for Windows. The solution enables you to use AMD and Nvidia video cards in one PC, and you don’t need cumbersome setups like AMD’s CrossFire or Nvidia’s SLI (which link multiple cards together — but only of the corresponding manufacturer, and the cards must be identical). You just plug into your existing PCIe ports. The company and Microsoft plan to talk about this exciting innovation this week during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
“We will come up with a cool marketing name for it,” Wardell said with a laugh. “Basically, it’s multi-GPU. You can mix and match cards however you want.”
It’s really a revolution that could make PC gaming an even more attractive option for game developers and consumers. For graphics-intensive titles, players need beefy GPUs, or they use solutions like SLI. But once this is in machines with DX12, all you need for better graphics are more, smaller, cheaper cards. You don’t have to shell out $800 or more to upgrade. You can do so with just one or two older cards. This will increase the pool of people who can buy graphics-intensive releases, and for the card makers, they potentially sell more GPUs. With many individuals interested in virtual reality facing a costly upgrade, adding less expensive cards could free up the money they need for a pricey headset or CPU upgrade.
This new Stardock approach also enables you to mix brands and generations of cards. You could have an older Nvidia card, like a GTX 690, and add another, older card to boost your video power. Or you can add a new card — or even one of AMD’s Radeon GPUs.
“One of the biggest problems with games is that a new video card comes out from AMD and Nvidia, and they’re like [expensive], and you have to make a call. I like my video card. I can play most games on it, and I don’t want to spend $800 on some new video card. But imagine, instead, hey, they’re having a sale [using my GTX 760 as an example]. Hey, they’re having a sale on an AMD 290 for $75. Wouldn’t it be cool to put this into your computer and double your performance,” Wardell said. “You keep this in there [the 760]. You put this in there [the 290], and your games are twice as fast without doing anything else.
“Nvidia likes this so much. They’re on the PC, and this gives the PC a huge advantage for PC gaming.”
It could even benefit monitor makers. Instead of needing to buy beefier cards to run games at 4K resolution, you could just get one or two older cards to help you meet that threshold. It could also help motherboard manufacturers. People may need more PCIe spots, and it’s cheaper to upgrade a motherboard and use a cheaper card than to buy the newest, most powerful GPUs.
Wardell said that Stardock’s been working on this for a year, talking with AMD and Nvidia along the way.
“They don’t love that part [mixing competing cards in one PC], but [what they do love] is the idea that people will buy more cards. It’s a major friction where someone says, ‘I have a card that works. I’m not going to spend $800.’ They don’t get the sale,” Wardell said. “But you’re going to get the same effect by adding [an] $80 video card [to your existing setup].”
The one negative Wardell sees is overclockers, who “will not have a good time with DX12.” But that’s just a small niche of the overall PC market.
But for most of us — especially those who are reluctant to spend more money for the more powerful cards or futz with cables for Crossfire and SLI — it’s going to make upgrading PCs, playing the latest games, and even trying out VR much easier.
“It’s a game changer,” Wardell said.