Things have been quiet around here, and for a reason. Normally we see lots of new and exciting products being introduced around the end of the summer, products that push the industry forward and thus we have plenty to report on. This year, such products are far and few in between, or are just launched on paper, with the actual products not being available until next year. Frankly there currently isn’t a new product out that we’d advice you to run out and buy, simply because none of the new products offer any compelling new features. If we for example look at processors and motherboards we can only wonder about what Intel is thinking, socket-775 and the innovations that come along with it aren’t worth pouring money into, as they don’t offer any benefits whatsoever. The same can be said about AMD’s Athlon-64, without a 64-bit operating system what’s the point of having a 64-bit processor? And why abandon a perfectly fine socket such as socket-754 and introduce a whole new one?
As for processor clockspeeds, we’ve been stuck at about 3GHz for about two years now, and nor Intel nor AMD seem to be able to push things forward. Granted, processor clockspeed is only part of the performance equation but we don’t see much progress in other fields either. Granted, DDR2 is finally here, whereas its debut was originally slated for 2001, or early 2002, so that too, is two years overdue. Furthermore Intel is touting a new platform which is said to address the ‘bottlenecks’ in today’s PC. Serial-Ata with NCQ, native command queuing, for example, is presented as a solution to the harddisk bottleneck. What they conveniently leave out is that harddisk performance isn’t really an issue anymore; operating systems have been using read-ahead caching and other techniques for years which negate most of the performance drops due to the ‘slower’ mechanics in a harddisk.
The only area where we see big leaps in performance is graphics, Nvidia’s 6800 and ATi’s X800 series of graphics cards significantly boost performance, also on older systems, and do so without the need to upgrade other parts as well. According to a survey from Valve software, the creators of Half-Life and the soon to be released Half-Life 2, the majority of people however aren’t running a 3GHz processor with 1GB of memory and two harddisks in RAID0. The majority of people actually have GeForce 4 graphics, running on a sub-2GHz processor with 256 or 512MB of memory. That’s about a ’01 or '02 spec system, and that’s what all of the software developers will be focusing on. Why do you think Doom3 runs so well on low-end systems? Simply because Id chose a different approach this time, and wanted to make sure that their game ran well on an average system.
This survey actually shows that most of the innovations being introduced over the past few years have not been enough incentive for people to invest in. And quite frankly you don’t need a 3GHz processor with 1GB of memory and two harddisks in RAID0 if you’re the average user that checks email, surfs the net and plays the occasional game. So what this survey in combination with the slow-down in new and innovative products tells us is the simple fact that PCs have more and more become a commodity item. People buy a PC for more mundane tasks and focus on price, not so much on performance. There’s only a handful, by comparison, customers that really are willing to pay the price premium for new features and extra performance, although that’ll go unused in most cases. At the end of the day we can only reach the conclusion that a ’01 or ’02 PC is still running fine in 2004, and only needs a graphics upgrade to be able to play all current games fluently, for all other tasks it has enough computing power to get the job done. Who would’ve thought that in ’01? Keep that in mind when you’re about to ‘upgrade’ to a new PC, most of the products that are currently for sale will not significantly enhance your computing experience.