Shadow has a pretty big year. On top of releasing the highly anticipated Power Upgrade for playing modern games, Shadow has introduced cloud machines for professionals and businesses. This year’s review will primarily be focused on the gaming tiers though. There are two tiers in the newly defined Gaming category of Shadow machines. We’ll be covering both. So, is Shadow worth your time and money? Can you play the best games? You’ll find out here. Let’s start with what Shadow really is first.
- Platform Overview
- Many Apps for Devices
- App Features
- Pickup n’ Play vs Cloud PC
- Boost Shadow
- Power Upgrade
- Issues for Both
- Better Competition
- Getting Hacked
- What Shadow Needs to do This Year
Shadow Tech is a cloud based rental Windows PC service that you can basically do whatever you want with…well almost. It started as primarily a gaming PC but it doesn’t just have to be gaming. This is your own Windows gaming PC in the cloud. They pretty much dominate the industry when it comes to rental Windows based cloud gaming PCs because of the ease of use. Let’s go into detail.
Many Apps for Devices
Shadow is one of the most popular cloud services, not necessarily because of how powerful the cloud PCs are, but how easily accessible it is to almost every device. As you can see on their downloads page, they have a native app for almost every device you can think of.
All you have to do is signup for a monthly or 6-month subscription, wait a short period of time for activation, download the app for any device that is supported, and login to your Shadow machine to use like any other Windows based PC. It truly is that easy.
The app makes things very easy to start and use your cloud PC which sets them apart from just about all other cloud PC services on the market.
Monitors and Color
The app also has great features like Dual Monitor support as long as you have a fast enough internet connection. It also supports 4:4:4 chroma color subsampling for crisp full color video streams – again, if you have a fast enough internet connection to support the video bandwidth.
One of the great things they added just recently is browser support. This is something that the Shadow community has been asking for awhile now.
If you have newer Shadow PC with 28 GBs of RAM, all you have to do go to pc.shadow.tech and login normally to get up to 1440p 60 FPS gameplay through your browser. Chrome is recommended but most modern browsers can work.
Drag n’ Drop
Another feature that is available in beta is drag n’ drop. Drag a file from your local PC to your Shadow PC. This is available but you’ll have to download the beta app to get access to this.
No one in the industry has features to this extent which is why Shadow is one on the best in the industry.
And let’s not forget Shadow support. This isn’t an actual tech feature but Shadow also has a live chat and ticket based support system backed by a full support team who can solve most of your Shadow issues in a timely fashion.
Shadow primarily has datacenters across North America and Europe. For those wishing to use the service in South America, Asia, or the Middle East, you will have to wait until Shadow’s parent company OVHCloud expands the service to those regions.
Pickup n’ Play vs Cloud PC
Now for those wondering what the difference with Shadow vs a service like GeForce NOW, as I mentioned, Shadow is your own cloud Windows PC you can do just about anything with. Unlike GeForce Now where you chose the game you own and play that game only. You can do many other things with Shadow other than gaming like making 3D graphics, creating digital art with Adobe products, or anything else you would do on a workstation PC. This is why they made the Pro and Enterprise tiers. Make sure not to crypto mine though.
Another thing Shadow has over GeForce Now and platforms like it is the ability to install game mods. Since you have full reign over your Shadow PC, you are free to install any mods that you want for any game that you want. Be aware that there is no guarantee that all mods will work for every game though. So, mod at your own risk.
Since our last review, Shadow has undergone a complete corporate redesign. Their base Shadow machine – The Boost tier as they have gone back to calling it, is the machine that started it all and nothing has changed. This tier is still running the Nvidia P5000 GPU which is comparable to a GTX 1080. This GPU is very old now. And since this is so old, it doesn’t support technologies that would make gameplay better like DLSS or Ray-tracing. FSR which is AMD’s version of DLSS, is supported but it looks terrible on most games especially if you are lucky enough pull off 4K on any modern game. The same goes for their old Intel Xeon CPU they are running on this tier too.
This first tier of the Gaming Shadow PC costs about $32 a month if you pay monthly. You do have the option to pay bi-annually at 6-months at a time which will save you 16% over the span. The monthly price will be $28 and change. It’s up to you whether this is worth it or not. And if you are wondering why things are so expensive if the hardware is so old. Well please note that you are not only paying for the use of the machine, you are paying for the Windows license and your own personal cloud storage with a base of 512 GBs for anything you want to download and install. Additional storage can purchased in 256 GB increments at $2.99 a month and this can go up all the way to 5 TB.
No Windows 11
Another thing that the original Boost Shadow can’t support is Windows 11. The hardware running these machines is again, just too old to handle even the latest Windows.
In terms of performance, expect a top-of-the-line gaming PC for the year 2015. The best results for modern games you will get is 1080p to 1440p with low to MAYBE medium settings with no ray-tracing. Now if you are gamer who loves their popular competitive shooters like Rainbow Six Siege, Apex, or CS:GO which all have been developed last decade. These games are generally old enough to be played pretty well on the Boost Shadow machine. Good luck with newer games though. The struggle is real.
Let’s talk about the Power Upgrade. This is the tier that was designed to handle modern games. Is the hardware upgrade worth it to play modern games over the Boost tier? Well, the real question is, how much of an upgrade is this actually? Well the GPU the Power Upgrade is running is the Quadro RTX 4500. This is a workstation GPU which comes very close to the power of an RTX 3070. They also are running one of the better AMD server CPUs from the third generation of EPYC line of processors. They give you 4 cores hyper threaded into 8 – which can actually be a massive bottleneck for many games. On top of this, they give you 28 GBs of RAM for new customers.
The Power Upgrade can also support Windows 11. For those looking to use Windows 11 as their main OS, it is completely possible with this tier. Is all this what you need to play the modern games you love efficiently?
The answer to that question is yes and no. Today’s new games have been known to perform terribly and are many are incredibly unoptimized. This is isn’t Shadow’s fault but it can hurt the Power Upgrade’s performance especially at 4K.
For example, the Modern warfare 3 performance has been quite stellar. I was able to play at 4K with Extreme settings with minimal scaling assistance from DLSS technology.
But, games like Starfield is a completely different story. When the game was released, it wasn’t necessarily because the Power Upgrade couldn’t keep up. It was because Bethesda didn’t optimize the game efficiently. The Power Upgrade was still not powerful enough to overcome the negligence of poor optimization unlike some other more powerful cloud gaming tiers. You won’t be going Ultra settings in this game at 4K. I mean, the RTX 3070 or I should say the A4500 is a GPU in the previous generation. It’s unfortunately not an up to date Ada Lovalace generation card.
You can get the Power Upgrade for about $50 a month and again, this can be reduced if you pay at 6 months at a time just like the Boost tier.
Issues for Both
Now, all this sounds good BUT there are downsides so let’s talk about the problems for both machines because they both share some especially with a recent elephant in the room which I’ll get into later.
Games Not Playable
First, you might be asking, “Can Shadow play popular games Fortnite, Genshin Impact and Valorant?” Yes to Fornite, but not to Genshin Impact and Valorant. The Shadow service consists of virtual machines and these games cannot be played on virtual machines. Shadow has a deal with Epic for Fortnite to make this possible as seen here. Only certain cloud services are allowed to run Genshin Impact and Fortnite. I don’t believe Riot wants people to play Valorant on the cloud as of now.
Streaming problems (decoding)
Recently, more app issues have been occurring like the frame decoding problem that many have been reporting on. It was plaguing us so badly that we even got a new Power Upgrade machine to see if that helped – it didn’t. Decoded frames are the frames you are actually receiving from the stream. To see the frames you are decoding from the stream, activate the Quick Menu and hit Win + Alt + I. The decoded frames will be presented on the right. And depending on the game, you might get the constant frames you are supposed to or not. It’s been hit or miss but I’ve noticed these problems have been happening with more modern games at 4K rather than older games from last decade. Also, the app seems to decode high 1080p frames with no problem. But again, many games at 4k is another story.
I’m not sure what they need to do to fix this but this has been preventing me from enjoying playing games on the platform. I’ve compared the stream with other streaming programs like Parsec. Playing on Parsec versus the native shadow app has yielded better streaming results. Shadow, this really needs to be fixed. (Use The Last of us footage) What’s the point of getting a high FPS when you only getting 20-30 FPS from the stream?
They really need to get their act together because stiff competition is right around the corner. The Power Upgrade being their best tier with only the power of an RTX 3070 is coming up to be 2 generations old now. Heck, it’s not even the top tier of its own generation. If it was comparable to an RTX 3090, this might be a different discussion.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – the September security breach. I’m not even going to harp about what happened and why or whether I think the hack was ridiculous or not. Water under the bridge. I’m sure they got their ducks in a row now. That’s not my issue.
My issue is that now, so many people have left the service since they got hacked. We made our own poll and 70% of almost 500 votes said they cancelled Shadow immediately after Shadow reported getting hacked. This is staggering to me. That cannot bode well for the company as a whole. Will this hack be the end of Shadow? I hope not, but to counter this, they need to do just a few things this year to gain the trust and continued business of current and new Shadow users.
What Shadow Needs to do This Year
First, they NEED to fix the app to decode streams efficiently. If Nvidia can figure out how to stream at 120 FPS in 4K resolution, so can you. Figure it out.
Second, you are going to need to upgrade these tiers. I don’t think you can really call it the Power Upgrade when your GPU is about to be 2 generations behind. And the Boost tier is WAY beyond this point. Now, it has been rumored that some Boost tiers in Europe have been upgraded to a Quadro RTX 4000. This would give the Boost tier a decent…well boost. Especially, with the introduction of Ray-tracing and DLSS with this card. Make it happen.
And lastly, ensure that a “hack” like you had, never happens again. Make sure you are telling customers in news updates, newsletters, and on social media that you have procedures in place to make sure customer security is your utmost importance.
Overall, Shadow is a solid choice to play games in the cloud since you are in control of any game you want to download and play. Well, almost any game. And no, these tiers aren’t the most powerful and you might have to settle with lower graphic settings but both these Shadow generally run pretty solid.
Make sure your internet speed is at least 50 mbps especially for 4K streams. Ethernet is preferred but for more mobile devices, make sure you are connected to 5GHz WiFi. Shadow does have their worked cut out for them but hopefully the service improves because stiff competition is right around the corner.