The future of PCs may look a lot like the Netflix model

Blade's Shadow Box transforms any screen into a powerful gaming PC.
Image: blade

PC ownership is dead. The future of PCs is subscription-based, just like Netflix.

That’s what Asher Kagan, president and co-founder of Blade, a French cloud-based computer startup, basically told me as he showed off the full-fledged PC version of Rise of the Tomb Raider — detailed 3D graphics and all — running on a phone, tablet, and MacBook Pro.

Founded in 2015, Blade’s philosophy is simple: Kill the PC as you know it. “A revolution is coming to the PC that will replace it with nothing. No hardware, no upkeep,” Kagan says.

Instead of monstrous towers that sit underneath your desk, Kagan sees personal computers migrating to the cloud, accessed through a streaming service for a monthly fee. In other words, just like how you access movies and videos through a media streaming service like Netflix or Hulu.

Shadow, the company’s cloud-based streaming PC service, launched late last year and has racked up over 5,000 users in France. Germany and the UK are next on the launch list, but so, too, is the U.S.

Making its American debut at CES 2018, the Shadow service will first launch in California on Feb. 15. Service availability for the rest of the U.S. is expected by the summer.

Users will have three options for renting their cloud-based PCs: $35 per month for an annual subscription, $40 for a three-month subscription, or $50 for a no-contract monthly subscription. Committing to an annual subscription will save you the most money with a total cost of $420 per year.

Blade’s Shadow cloud PCs aren’t puny Chromebook-power machines — they’re the equivalent of a $2,000 gaming PC with a bleeding-edge 8-core Intel Xeon Core i7 processor with 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a high-end Nvidia graphics card with 8.2 teraflops of processing power and 16GB of VRAM. 

The company didn’t specify which graphics card it’s using in their cloud computers, but the specs put it on par with an Nvidia GTX 1080, which is pretty beefy. That’s enough punch to run games at 1080p resolution at 144Hz or at 4K at 60GHz.

Over our company’s 300+ Mbps Wi-Fi, Kagan streamed the PC version of Rise of the Tomb Raider to several devices to give me a look at how well its Shadow PC and service would perform.

The real test will be when the Shadow service goes live for thousands of users trying to simultaneously access their cloud PCs.

He promised zero lag in performance and, for the most part, the Shadow PC located some couple thousand miles across country in a California-based data center, delivered when streamed to a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and an Android phone and tablet connected to a Bluetooth controller.

Lara Croft and her archeological surroundings looked quite good and the game ran pretty smoothly. Though we had things on a fast Wi-Fi connection, Kagan says its PCs can be streamed with connections as low as 5 Mbps. Granted, you won’t be able to do much gaming on such a slow connection — 15 Mbps is recommended — it should be enough to get most work-related tasks done. Obviously, the faster your internet connection (wired or wireless) is, the better your streaming experience will be. It’s no different than dealing with Netflix when it’s trying to buffer.

The real test, however, will be when the Shadow service goes live for thousands of users trying to simultaneously access their cloud PCs. Will there any peak time lags? That remains to be seen. 

Personally, I’m pumped to see how Blade’s cloud PCs handle hardcore work, like video editing. There’s no doubt the computers have the processing power. But could a video producer do their job using an underpowered (but lightweight!) ultrabook instead of needing to lug around a laptop with a discrete graphics card?

Streaming PC games to mobile devices and a laptop worked pretty well in our demo.

Image: blade

The launch of the Shadow streaming service in the U.S. isn’t the only thing Blade’s going to show off at CES. 

The company’s also launching a “Shadow box,” a compact geometric-shaped micro-computing box, that’ll let you connect a keyboard, mouse, or game controller up to any display (like your TV) and essentially turn into a PC. Additionally, it can stream the cloud-located Shadow PC to your mobile devices.

The Shadow box will cost $140 full price or you can pay $10 per month to rent it out. 

Image: blade

If Blade’s vision with Shadow really is the future of PCs, expect more competitors to leap into the arena. Short-term, Shadow seems great — Blade manages and upgrades your remote PC with the latest and greatest computer components — and you just enjoy the power from your device of choice. But add up the total cost of renting a Shadow PC over the course of five years (the average time most people keep their PCs for) or more and the cost-savings — $2,100 if you subscribe for five years — may not be worth it. 

That said, I thought nobody would ever prefer renting their $1,000 iPhones, or cars, or movies, and yet here we are. Maybe Kagan’s right, and ownership is dead. I hate to say such a cliché, but only time will tell whether it’ll be the Netflix for PCs or end up like the failed OnLive game streaming service.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2018/01/05/blade-shadow-cloud-pc-rent-like-netflix/