Gaming Reviews

Shadow review: a gaming PC for £27 a month?

Shadow review
PC within a PC: Shadow lets you stream a games system
Shadow
Shadow review

Product Name: Shadow

Product Description: A gaming PC that can be streamed over the internet to any PC or Mac

Price: £26.95 per month

Availability: OnlineOnly

  • Performance
  • Value for money
  • Ease of use

Shadow scores

An elegant solution for those who want a PC capable of playing the latest games but who can’t afford the upfront cost

Overall
4.2

Pros

  • A cheap way to get decent PC gaming performance
  • Quick and easy to set up
  • No noisy PC and electricity bills to deal with

Cons

  • Reliant on a solid fibre broadband connection
  • Has trouble recognising games controllers
  • The hardware spec could be better

Confession time: I’ve never owned a ‘gaming PC’. I’ve edited PC mags, played PC games, but have never had a rig capable of playing the latest 3D titles. I’d rather do that on my Xbox.

Why? Because a gaming PC is a monstrous, expensive world of pain. You’re looking at a four-figure sum to get a truly decent spec, it will fail to play the latest games at the highest quality within a couple of years. It’s huge, noisy and power hungry.

Shadow smashes almost all of those objections. It’s pretty cheap at £26.95 per month. It’s powerful enough to run the latest games and will be automatically upgraded throughout its lifetime. And it doesn’t take up a single square inch of space in your home.

And that’s because it doesn’t sit in your back bedroom – it sits in a data centre near Paris. 

Shadow review: how does it work?

Shadow is a virtual PC. You don’t actually get a solid chunk of hardware (although you can order one if you want – more on that later). Instead, you access your Shadow PC through an existing computer or mobile device. 

You are, in effect, streaming your PC, much like you stream a movie on Netflix. When you’re playing in full-screen mode, you’d do well to notice the difference between streaming your Shadow PC and having it sat beneath your desk – other than the Shadow PC doesn’t make a noise like a Henry hoover having an asthma attack.

Shadow runs as an application on your Windows or Mac desktop. You’re running a PC on your PC. You can use your current keyboard and mouse, or plug in a games controller, and they react as instantaneously as they do on the real PC in front of you, which is of course critical for games.

Before we get into the nuts of bolts of its spec and performance, I’m going to try and answer a few quick questions you might have about Shadow.

Shadow: Brief Tech Questions

Can I install Steam on my Shadow PC?Yes, you can. Steam installed fine on our Shadow PC and we could install all the games in our library onto our new virtual PC.
Can you run apps such as Dropbox on Shadow so that you can sync saved games?Yes, again. Dropbox and OneDrive both work fine on Shadow, behaving as they would if installed on a regular PC.
Shadow’s based in France – does that cause any region coding issues?Yes, this can be a problem. YouTube thinks you’re in France, iPlayer refuses to play, Netflix (oddly) refused to play content at all. It’s by no means a massive problem – you can still do all of these on your regular PC, but if you were thinking of using your Shadow system for more than gaming, beware.
Can I install anything I want on my Shadow PC?Yes, it doesn’t only accept games. It’s a standard Windows 10 PC, to all intents and purposes. You could take advantage of that graphics card for video editing in Adobe Premiere, for instance.
Does it work aacross multiple desktop screens?No, not currently. Shadow promises an update that will bring multi-screen support, but right now you’re restricted to a single screen.
Do I need any extra hardware?No, you can run this from a regular PC or Mac. Shadow does sell a small box, called the Shadow Ghost, which you can plug into a TV or monitor and use to access your Shadow PC. It has four USB ports, HDMI display ports and a headphone jack for plugging in accessories, and it costs around £100.

Shadow review: what’s the spec of my Shadow PC?

So, exactly how much PC do you get for your £27 a month?

You get eight dedicated processor threads. The processor on our review system is listed as an Intel Xeon R E5-2667 v3 running at 3.2GHz. Xeons are Intel’s workstation processors, designed for the most demanding jobs, although that processor is long in the tooth. It was first released back in 2012.

Alongside that you get 12GB of DDR4 RAM, which isn’t massive by today’s standards, and 256GB of storage. 

The crucial bit is the ‘dedicated’ graphics card. This means you’re not sharing graphics with anyone else on the Shadow server, but have your own dedicated card. The card in our system is an Nvidia GTX 1080, although Shadow’s spec sheet says your system might come with a P5000, which is a laptop workstation part. We’d definitely want the former… 

Shadow review: performance

So what does this spec offer in terms of raw gaming performance?

As I edit a couple of Fortnite magazines, the game that’s ruining teenagers across the world seemed the obvious place to start.

Fortnite ran smoothly at Epic graphic quality

With all the graphic options turned up to the highest (Epic) level and on a 1,920 x 1,080 Full HD display, the onscreen counter showed a solid frame rate of 60fps during gameplay. It dips to around 45fps when there’s a lot of action onscreen, but it certainly never felt anything other than smooth. A ping rate of around 16ms shouldn’t trouble anyone. 

In my week of testing, I’ve seen the occasional stutter and one or two complete lock-ups during gameplay. It’s hard to tell whether those freezes occur on the virtual Shadow PC, because of a momentary dip in the streaming bandwidth from Shadow’s servers to my PC, or from a dropout on my home Wi-Fi. I suspect it’s probably the latter, especially when the kids are home and hammering the Wi-Fi in the evenings, so I wouldn’t point the finger at Shadow – but of course these factors need to be taken into account. You need a solid, fast fibre connection and decent Wi-Fi to make Shadow work.

I also threw the 3D Mark benchmark at my Shadow PC. In its Time Spy tests it recorded a score of 5,854 and frame rates of 42.73fps and 38.74fps in its graphics tests at Full HD. Those results place the Shadow’s performance somewhere between a 4K gaming PC and a dedicated gaming laptop, according to its online comparator, which feels about right.

The Shadow PC’s performance is certainly stronger than anything you can expect from a PC or laptop without a dedicated graphics card, but neither does it offer the blow-your-socks off performance of a high-end gaming rig. 

One other thing to say on performance. Your Shadow PC has a monstrously fast internet connection. We recorded it at 885Mbits/sec down and 106Mbits/sec up using Speedtest.net. That means, when you’re downloading games from Steam, for example, they should arrive in next to no time. It doesn’t matter if your own internet connection is much slower – you benefit from the Shadow PC sitting in a high-speed data centre. 

Shadow review: what are the downsides?

There are some drawbacks to Shadow. It certainly has trouble recognising my gamepad is plugged in. As soon as I take the gamepad out of my laptop’s USB socket and plug it back in, Shadow recognises it once more, but that’s a minor irritation.

Likewise for fuzzy text. I’ve not had any problems in games, but navigating the Shadow PC’s Windows menus can often result in fuzzy, indistinct text, even in full-screen mode.

And I’d strongly urge you to forget about running Shadow on an Android device. A mobile device just isn’t geared up for controlling a Windows desktop. Even on an Android-enabled Chromebook, the experience was horribly patchy. An iOS app is promised, but I can’t see how that’s going to overcome the inherent problem of driving Windows games from a touch interface.

Shadow review: Verdict

Overall, I’m hugely tempted by Shadow. I’ve never bought a gaming PC and I’d be hugely reluctant to spend a grand on one now, even though I run a couple of games mags. But could I see my way to spending £27 a month to get gaming PC performance on my current laptop? Absolutely, I could.

I don’t think the Shadow performance is high-end enough to tempt the most dedicated gamers, and other variables such as broadband dip-outs would put off hardcore gamers who are trying to shave off every millisecond of latency.

But for casual PC gamers or people like me – who predominantly use a laptop but occasionally need the power of a full gaming PC – this is a smart answer. 

Read this next: How fast does a Tetris champion play?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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