One can never accuse Razer of being shy and retiring, but after Project Fiona many will have wonder just where one of the leading exponents in experimental design for the PC could go next. The answer was revealed in dramatic fashion at CES 2014: Project Christine.
Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan identifies the minefield of system upgrades as a key weakness in the PC market. Although PCs have for years had replaceable parts, the learning curve for replacing in-situ has acted as an impediment with many users choosing to upgrade whole systems. As a result there's a lot of inefficiency and waste, especially for high-end users without a lot of know-how. For an example of this, just think how many spare but totally functional cards and chips you have lying around at home (don't answer this if you're active on eBay though).
Project Christine addresses the fundamental problem by redesigning the PC chassis as a tree of interconnects rather than motherboard and component enclosure. Each component - HDD, graphics card etc. - is enclosed in a caddy which plugs into this tree using a series of standardised connectors carrying power and PCI-Express signalling. At the base larger PSU and motherboard caddies plug in, providing the core of the electronics even if not actually inside the case proper. In theory this makes the physical process of replacing components easy, making upgrades to key system features a more attractive proposition.
One glance at the photos should raise a key concern - cooling. Razer have catered to the needs of potentially quite toasty components in a novel manner: by utilising mineral-oil as a coolant and pumping it around the entire system. Modules can access the cooling system through one-way valves built-into the Razer interconnect, enabling adequate flow rates and the possibility of overclocking.
Unfortunately that's where concrete information on Christine ends and speculation begins. Perhaps the biggest issue with the theory is the enormous cost implication; by their very nature Razer products don't come cheap, and the prospect of having to purchase the case and each modular enclosure from them is a bitter pill to swallow. Likely each component requiring active cooling - i.e. motherboard/CPU and GFX - will also need to be sourced from Razer or via approved partners as replacing a stock HSF (especially GPU cooler) would be beyond most users. Finally, although PCE-E signalling looks set to stay in the event that the standard does change the whole kit and caboodle would need to be replaced anyway.
All that also doesn't address the software side of upgrading, which in many respects is even more problematic than hardware these days.
Razer are to be commended for attempting to bring solutions to the market, and it's possible that Project Christine or something very similar will be picked up by major component manufacturers. However the potential costs will likely make it a boutique item for those far less concerned by price than the consumers who could really benefit from an easily upgradable system.
For more information and to express interest in Project Christine and encourage Razer to delve deeper in it visit the official micro-site.