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New hardware drives PC gaming at E3 2015

From better displays to exclusive games, this may be the most PC-friendly E3 ever.

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Dan Ackerman/CNET

The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles is known for its over the top showcases and press events. Most of those are aimed at living room game consoles and the disc-based games that play on them, but for the past couple of years, PC gaming has been experiencing something of a renaissance at E3, as it's known.

That's partly because the current generation of consoles, the Xbox One , PlayStation 4 , and Wii U , have largely failed to become the must-have devices some of their predecessors were. Gaming computers have stepped in to fill that void, offering extreme flexibility, with games available from many sources (including budget-friendly digital download services like Steam and Gog.com), hardware configurations that run from under $500 to $5,000 or more, and -- even in mid-range PCs -- performance and graphics that the Xbox One and PS4 struggle to match.

AMD makes a big play

AMD, a maker of both processors and graphics cards, is making a major PC gaming push at E3 by putting on a separate event called The PC Gaming Show. Co-produced with the publication PC Gamer, the show will be held a few blocks from E3's Los Angeles Convention Center location at the Belasco Theater in downtown LA. The event is on Tuesday, June 16, and will feature PC game demos and developers, and potentially some new PC hardware from AMD.

A G-Sync monitor (right) next to a standard one. Sarah Tew/CNET

Nvidia G-Sync comes to laptops

AMD's GPU rival, Nvidia, also has some new technology that will be found in several products at E3. G-Sync is a system for allowing graphics cards and computer monitors to talk to each other, making sure each new frame of animation is sent to the display only when needed, thus preventing an on-screen artifact known as tearing. On the desktop setups we've tested it on, the effect is impressive, making games look faster and smoother. Now it's coming to laptops, a move first announced at the Computex show in Taipei earlier this month. At E3, we'll get our first chance to see and demo some of these G-Sync laptops from boutique PC system builders up close.

Steam Machines are finally here, almost

Since late 2013 we've been hearing about a new PC-based gaming platform from Valve, the company behind the Steam online game store (as well as games such as Portal and Half-Life). The Steam Machine hardware/software combination, including a clever new controller , has been delayed several times, but Valve recently announced that some Steam Machines will be available as early as October .

Dell's Alienware Alpha is being turned into a Steam Machine. Sarah Tew/CNET

One key partner, Dell, will have its Alienware Steam Machine at E3, and we look forward to trying it out. We've previously reviewed the Windows-based version of this machine, called the Alienware Alpha .

A big year for PC games

Aside from the powerful hardware and extreme customization available from PC gaming hardware, the other major draw is massive library of playable games. PC ports of console hits, original games from indie developers, and decades worth of classic games are all available and dwarf the number of games available for consoles.

As 2015 has so far been an anemic year for big console games, much of the attention has been PC-centric, such as the excellent PC versions of The Witcher 3 and Grand Theft Auto V. The upcoming sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, an excellent strategy game, has recently been announced as a PC exclusive, and the show's most anticipated game, Bethesda's Fallout 4, will likely follow the lead of other ambitious open-world role-playing games and offer a better experience on PCs, including better graphics and customization, and tools for gamer-made add-on content.

Virtual reality is almost a reality

And lastly, let's not forget that many of the big players in these very early days of VR, including Oculus and HTC/Valve , are preparing launch products that not only require PCs, but very powerful PCs at that. We don't expect any additional new details from Oculus, following the company's revealing pre-E3 press conference, but the Oculus booth will likely be one of the more popular ones at the show.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2015 on CNET and GameSpot.