Shadow finally took the lid off a streaming service update first promised in 2019. But that was before the company went bankrupt and subsequently reborn. However, we are now getting an RTX 3070-level PC in the cloud, but it’s been a long time. And I certainly have concerns, not necessarily about the company’s staying power under new management, but about the value proposition it’s offering now.
Shadow has been one of my favorite streaming services ever since I got my hands on the cloud gaming PC in 2018 and used it regularly when traveling – when traveling was still one thing – so I only needed to take a small ultrabook with me and it still effectively had access to a high-powered gaming laptop.
It is different from all other game streaming services which basically hide their systems from end users and only offer the games for you to play. And then only the games it has licensed access to give you. Instead, Shadow is a fully persistent PC that is entirely yours and lives purely in the cloud.
That means you can install whatever you want on it, run whatever you want on it, and access it from wherever you want.
It’s an impressively powerful service, only really let down by the four Xeon cores the GPU was connected to, which slowed down gaming performance.
At least it was impressively powerful four years ago when a GTX 1080 gaming rig was up there with the best systems available. One of Shadow’s founding promises as a long-term service, and what made its high subscription price acceptable in the face of spending on a local machine, was around future updates.
The idea was that you paid your £27/month sub and you’d end up paying the equivalent price of a full-price gaming PC in three years. But within that three-year period, you could expect Shadow to upgrade the hardware on their servers and still pay the same amount of money and perform higher.
Shadow could compensate for this by offering a lower cost level by using the old hardware for a new audience.
And this seemed to be confirmed when, facing the launch of Stadia, it received a cash injection of € 30 million in 2019, promising to release two new higher tiers of pack in Feb 2020. The original GTX 1080 equivalent tier was being discounted to £13/month, with the mid-range RTX 2080 and RTX Titan packages costing £25 and £50 respectively.
But 2020 was difficult for everyone, and the new packages were repeatedly delayed until 2021 the company filed for bankruptcy.
A change of ownership has occurred and new people, as well as a significant number of original employees, make up its workforce. And all of them are now moving forward to bring Shadow back to the top of the streaming service’s tech tree.
The new Power upgrade pack delivers RTX 3070-class GPU performance, though in a few yet-to-be-revealed locations that will actually come from AMD RDNA 2-powered hardware, the Radeon Pro V620. It also features a shift to AMD CPU cores, with an EPYC 7543P doing the processing of its four-core, eight-thread equivalent. You also get some extra memory, with 16GB of RAM.
It looks like you still only get the same 256GB of storage, so you’d have to pay another £2.99 for an extra 256GB you want.
So costs go up because the Power Upgrade will cost you an extra £15 on top of the base £30/month. And yes, that £30/month subscription still gives you system access equivalent to the GTX 1080, meaning you’ll need to shell out £45/month for your RTX 3070 cloud PC. just four cores and has only 256GB of storage and will be next-gen hardware when it launches as Nvidia’s RTX 40 Series will likely have been released by then.
I will say, for me, the storage level wasn’t a big issue. With the 1Gbps connection at the end of Shadow, you can install a new game by sucking 1GB of game data in 13 seconds, so managing your Steam library wasn’t the pain it could have been.
But it still feels miserly, given the promised specs of the ‘Infinite’ package it once promised. This RTX Titan powered system was supposed to have a six-core CPU equivalent, 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage for £40/month.
Shadow tells me that the costs of everything have increased significantly, and maintaining these servers certainly isn’t cheap. But still, Power Upgrade aside, the £30/mo tier GTX 1080 in 2022 certainly looks hard to swallow four years later. Especially when it was £12/month, what Shadow is now calling ridiculous pricing, a few years ago.
For less than half the price of the Power Upgrade, you can get the GeForce Now top package, which lets you play with the full power of an RTX 3080. It might be more limited in terms of access and general use, but as a service game streaming is a great value alternative that makes Shadow a hard recommendation.
Honestly, I’m almost more excited about the free Shadow Drive online storage solution, which will also be released in the fall, with 20GB of free space.
I have no doubt that the Power Upgrade will be great, and the actual experience of using the Shadow PC has always been excellent, even on the limited bandwidth of random AirBnB WiFi networks while on vacation. Like I said, I’ve always been a fan of the service itself. But at this price, and with less certainty about future upgrade possibilities, it’s harder to point to as a valid alternative to buying your own local machine.
Pre-orders for the Power Upgrade go live in the summer with an expected release globally in the fall, so we’ll see how popular this is and how effective the GPU upgrade really feels when it’s still tied to a quad-core processor, when we got our hands on an ephemeral Shadow PC to retest ourselves.