The Couch-Oriented PC Gaming Experience — Lessons Learned After One Year
I’ve had a PlayStation 3 sitting in a box for quite a few years now. It has given me many, many very good hours of entertainment. Sofa, controller, console and the big screen. For some time, I’ve been wondering about switching to a gaming PC but without losing all the benefits of an entertainment machine destined to the living room.
The question that was on my mind was: nowadays, could a PC replace, and even improve, the experience I had enjoyed with the PS3?
My requirements for this new device were:
- CONTAINED SIZE: A machine of a size as contained as possible, silent, to place it discreetly under or behind the television. As a reference, I had my PS3 Slim.
- PORTABILITY: The contained size would be related to the fact that the machine should be, although not necessarily portable, actually transportable. In other words, easy to put it in a large bag or briefcase, and took from one place to another, for example for a vacation or a few days out.
- MODULARITY: Being reduced in size, and this is where the PC would start to shine, I didn’t want to make any kind of compromises in modularity: I wanted space to place all the important components independently, to be able to go like this gradually renewing them according to my needs. A full dedicated GPU, CPU, motherboard, RAM, etc…
- COMFORT: Use a controller of the best possible quality without really needing the keyboard or mouse, to play comfortably on the sofa.
About a year after starting this project I can confirm that this is perfectly possible with the everything that’s available on the market. This machine is a reality sitting almost invisibly behind my television.
I’m enjoying my collection of Steam games there bought trough the years, but also emulators like MAME in which I have rediscovered all the arcades of my childhood, and then some games that I had already enjoyed in my PlayStation 3 (but now in a surprising 4K resolution!), my first steps with virtual reality, which I would give for another complete article, and everything working in the most comfortable way possible through a launcher that I manage through the controller (currently using Playnite for that).
When it came to finding the perfect components for this PC, I found a forum on the Internet that quickly put me on the track of what I needed, the sffpc (Small Form Factor PC) subreddit. There I found the reference of a box that seemed to me the perfect compromise between size and available space, fulfilling at once my contained size, portability, and modularity requirements. It was designed after a crowdfunding campaign by a Polish company called Dr Ząber and although it seems to have been a success, at that time it was no longer available. Luckily for me, a Chinese company named Hzmod copied the design and their product was available in Aliexpress. So after ordering the box, all I had to do was follow the recommendations I found in Reddit for the components I needed.
Here is the list of the current components of my equipment (some things already changed from the first initial assembly), with links, along with their price in dollars at the time of writing this article (amazon.com):
- ASUS ROG Strix B550-I Gaming motherboard ($214)
- AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU ($199)
- Noctua NH-L9a-AM4 chromax.Black fan ($55)
- RAM Corsair 16GB Vengeance LPX ($55)
- Corsair SF750 750W power supply ($160)
- SSD 1TB Crucial MX500 ($85)
- Zotac NVidia RTX 3060 GPU ($394)
Finally, the Hzmod xq69 box, which works great for me in terms of ventilation and performance, although I would rather recommend version 4.4, which improved ventilation. I have to say, I’ve been looking for a shop to link here this case and nowadays seems to be almost impossible to find anywhere, this one in Aliexpress seems to be the only place providing a decent stock, but almost doubling the price I paid.
A note of warning if you decide to go for this box model, at least applying to the version I bought, 4.1:
It contains internal cables that carry the electrical signal to the power supply connection, on Reddit I read a comment warning that they were way too thin, especially for the US electrical standard and above all while using a high capacity power supply and a watt-hungry GPU. To the point that it could become the reason behind an a dangerous fire. It does not require a complex solution, it can be easily solved with a soldering iron and cables of the appropriate thickness, or as was my case through the help of professionals in an electronics store.
This setup allows me to play every single game out there in ultra settings, at 4K, and always between 40–60 FPS, playing a bit with scaling sometimes, if the game doesn’t support DLSS technology etc.
Regarding the controller, I have tried almost all the top models: the last Xbox series controller, the Playstation Dualshock 4 controller and even the Steam controller. Finally, I have set for the DualShock 4, which also offers the very useful trackpad, and the color LED, which also I find useful while using reWASD (described below in software section) to quickly identify the active profile of the controller. On top of that I’ve found that these controllers can be found for cheap in second-hand apps from people replacing their PS4 to the next-gen PS5, around 30€ in my case.
Linux vs Windows question, in order to try virtual reality the possibilities seemed to be much better using Windows. So Windows was the chosen OS.
About controllers, reWASD was really a great discovery, which although it is not really essential since many PC games already support the controller out of the box, it offers truly unlimited possibilities creating profiles, and also in combination with all kinds of mouse or keyboard actions. To the point that makes possible to add controller support to any kind of game. In addition to being able to turn your controller in the eyes of the game to any other standard model, so for example if a game only supports the XBox controller it will be perfectly possible to play it with a DualShock controller.
As a controller-friendly launcher, I have tried Steam Big Picture, Windows tablet mode, simply using Windows desktop shortcuts… and finally I have set for Playnite, which does the better job in my opinion emulating the console experience, easily integrating games all other major game online stores, or all kinds of emulators and emulator managers, such as Retroarch.
If you were a die-hard fan of the PS3 like I was, and you are not doing already, give a try to the RPCS3 emulator, one of the examples of the jewels random people is able to achieve just for the sake of it, capable of running PS3 games on PCs, and then greatly improving resolution and FPS. Playing Little Big Planet in 4K has been such a beautiful experience.
All in all, I couldn’t be happier with the end result. The final question would be: Is it worth all this effort and economic investment (almost $1,500) to play when one can simply buy one or even more latest generation consoles for less money and save a huge amount of time in configuration and assembly? I guess that depends on each one, in my case yes, in the end there is no platform with as many possibilities as the PC, by a long run, and it does not suffer from any type of planned obsolescence by any manufacturer.
PS. This post includes affiliate links for recommended products in Amazon.