Razer CEO: PC market rewards mediocrity, not innovation

Razer CEO: PC market rewards mediocrity, not innovation

Summary: Min-Liang Tan wants to reinvent the desktop with the company's Project Christine concept, but says he faces resistance from manufacturers.


After starting out as one of many companies creating controllers and other accessories for PC gamers, Razer has thought bigger -- much bigger -- in recent years. Most notably, it introduced the pricey, but super-sexy, Razer Blade gaming laptops, and, at this year's CES, presented what may be its wildest concept yet: Project Christine (pictured above), a modular PC that would allow users to swap out self-contained components with ease.

While elements of Project Christine had been seen before (there are some computer chassis with the same open-air, modular design), the overall vision of Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan was radical: Consumers would no longer have to purchase a new "PC"; instead, they could purchase new components and slot them in, or even subscribe to a service that would provide upgraded components over time.

Tan's next task in order to turn his project into something tangible was to persuade manufacturers to buy into his vision. After all, having other companies partner with Razer would move Project Christine from a niche product into something that could shake up the moribund PC industry.

So how has Tan fared in his task? According to a new interview with the gaming site Polygon, he hasn't had much luck. This should probably come as no surprise given how disruptive his model is to an industry that has a longstanding pattern of selling new systems to people every few years, but Tan did have some choice words for the manufacturers, who aren't exactly making out like gangbusters in recent years as smartphones and tablets chip away at their earnings.

"The problem is the PC market, at this point of time, just doesn't reward innovation. It rewards commoditization. It rewards mediocre, sh*tty project[s] because it's become this vicious cycle of sorts. Anyone who tries to innovate, like for Christine, everybody wants it, but they all want it to be immediately at commodity pricing."

Tan says OEMs are fixated on margins and units shipped to the point where they have no interest in innovation, which is ultimately why Razer had to sell the Blade laptops itself. He claims that his company is willing to forego any profits on Project Christine's design schematics in order to establish the ecosystem. His hope is that Razer could work on the high-end modules, leaving the mass market to other partners.

While Project Christine is seemingly no different than a million other grand visions that could revolutionize an industry if immediate bottom-line considerations didn't snuff it out, the industry it seeks to upend is troubled. Desktop PCs won't go away anytime soon, but they will continue to decline in importance and sales as mobile devices keep surging. Perhaps the traditional sales model the market has been using for 30 years will no longer be viable, and a "subscription" PC is a better way forward. Perhaps that requires the type of innovation that Tan is propsing with Project Christine.

Just don't expect it anytime soon, if Tan is to be believed: "All they ask about is, 'How much money can I make out of this?' They're not interested in innovation at all."

What do you think of the Project Christine concept? Should PC manufacturers embrace this new way of building a computer, based on upgradeable components instead of brand-new boxes? Or is this just a pipe dream? Let us know your thoughts in the Talkback section below.

Topic: PCs

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  • It isn't a "new way".

    In the old days, a bus was a collection of standardized wires - no intelligence involved. This also meant that there was no limitations on speed either.

    Each item plugged into the backplane had to meet the specifications of the bus controller - which did have speed limitations.

    So you could plug in any CPU, memory, peripheral as desired. Upgrade the bus controller and you could upgrade the maximum bus speed - as long as the new controller could also work with the older devices.

    Replace the CPU, or even put multiple CPUs in (depending on the bus controller of course).

    Then came the PC... which put CPU, memory, and bus controller on one motherboard. A bit cheaper as only peripherals had to be plugged in. But it meant that you couldn't replace the CPU or memory type. And it limited your peripheral choice as well.

    Call it "planned obsolescence".

    And a way to force the spending of even more money replacing everything for an upgrade.
  • I like the idea

    Software and software licensing are tied to a specific machine or hardware configuration. Even software that is offered as a cloud service identifies users or devices per subscription. I feel for any user that has to convince MS that his upgraded machine doesn't need a new licensed OS.
    • I've never faced that problem.

      But then again, I don't buy OEM copies of Windows.

      If you buy a Retail license like a gamer should (in my opinion), you won't have to worry about the motherboard lock.

      It's only a difference of $20, after all.
  • It's all a sales gimmick so that he makes money

    What's so "innovative" about his concept, except for the higher then needed cost?
    They've had modular designs in the past, but what was discovered is that cost vs upgradable standardization we have today was the preferred model.

    I'm guessing all upgraded parts for his chassis come from his company, so I can see why he's pushing the concept.

    Right now, if I want to upgrade from the 5.1 to 7.1, I just add a card, and disable the onboard. Simple and cost effective. No new box needed. Same with Video, network, ect.

    As for the MB, even that's upgradable, though not as easy as a backplane model, but not something that happens once a week either, so no big deal there.
  • I like it

    It has a nice design and I'm fed up with cursing at fitting components into chassis.

    I would spend more money on computers if they were designed like this. I would upgrade my computer components regularly if it wasn't such a hassle.
    Kjell Ahlström
  • Kinda like complaining the a WORK PICKUP buyer............

    .....does not reward STYLING!
    PCs started out as BUSINESS tools and branched out to consumer use, but are back to business tools. Consumers are going for Tablets and Phones (that communicate with and rely on PCs to accomplish tasks) but could care less what the PC looks like!