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Computer vs. console

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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on January 19, 2001
(Issue 1903, Taxes/Personal Finance)

It's a debate that goes back to the days of the Atari 2600 and Apple II: Which is the better game platform, the personal computer or the dedicated videogame machine? (Of course, early '70s gaming consoles like the Odyssey and PONG had to wait five, six years for the personal computer to even show up. Then again, the very first video game, Space War, was written on a Digital minicomputer by students at MIT in the early '60s).

All through the '80s and '90s the battle continued – both of rhetoric between fans of the two platforms, as well as the technological battle among manufacturers and programmers: Atari 800 vs. Intellivision, Amiga vs. CD-I.

Throughout, what has set the personal computer apart was that the gaming consoles never offered true massive multiplayer environments. PC owners got their first taste of what the future of online gaming held in the late '80s when CompuServe hosted a nonstop World War II dogfighting game. Twenty-four hours a day, you could log in and fight over the skies of Europe. Since then, with the opening of the Internet to the public and the development of faster modems, more and more games written for personal computers have featured multiplayer options in which you can compete with as few as two (Falcon 3.0) or into the tens of thousands (Asheron's Call, EverQuest, Ultima).

Sega Dreamcast

With the latest Christmas season recently behind us, and the Sony Playstation II not yet widely available in the United States, a lot of kids have new Sega Dreamcasts hooked up to the TV. The Dreamcast brings the console closer to the PC's capabilities with the inclusion of a built-in 56K modem. Those Dreamcast owners who choose can now subscribe to Sega's online multiplayer SegaNet ( From there, you can play multiplayer versions of several new titles, from Quake III to NBA 2K1 and NFL 2K1 to POD Speedzone – with more on the way. And at least with QIII, the Dreamcast console offers something the computer can't: Up to four players can play over the Internet from a single machine. It splits the TV screen in quarters, one assigned to each of the four controller ports on the Dreamcast. Try doing that on your PIII or G4.


Next year this time, the hot new game is likely to be Nintendo's next-generation GAMECUBE. Still in development, the GAMECUBE will include a modem port where an external 56k modem can be hooked up offering Nintendo players the same multiplayer options as Dreamcast and computer gamers now have. (Currently, the Nintendo 64 only allows two machines to be hooked up for head-to-head competition.)

Sony Playstation II

While U.S. customers either wait for the full stateside release of Playstation II or try to get friends traveling overseas to bring them one, the rest of the world is already playing the next-generation Playstation II. If you go to some of the other Playstation sites around the world – particularly England's (, you'll learn that some time in the coming months there will be an ethernet card offered to allow you to use your DSL or cable modem to hook your PSII up to the 'Net. Sony is planning to use that connectivity both to allow you to download new games to an external hard drive as well as to offer new multiplayer games.

Microsoft Xbox

With a Republican administration comes less fear of antitrust investigation, and so Microsoft boldly goes in to take over the console market like it did the PC market 15 years ago. But having already successfully published Asheron's Call (as well as other multiplayer games like Motocross Madness II), Microsoft recognizes that the future is online. Thus, the Xbox will include a built-in 10/100 ethernet port for hooking your box up to your cable modem or DSL hub. It's not scheduled for release until November, so few details are available, but keep checking that URL above.

Next week: Can Macs and PCs hold their own?