PC Technological Advances in 2020
With CES quickly approaching—which is perhaps the largest technology event globally that is also going virtual this year—key component and sub-assembly companies are not waiting to announce their next generation of components. Here, I will detail new components and performance advances, as well as why you should consider building your own PC.
For the last few months, new-generation announcements have been released, and new component introductions have been made at a rate not usually seen. Companies like AMD for both central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs), NVIDIA for GPUs, Intel for CPUs, and partner suppliers—such as ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, EVGA, and others, including some new market entries—are all in the game and playing to win with advanced capabilities and amazing higher performance. Finally, with everyone becoming more competitive, stable, or—in some cases—providing even lower prices, the results are a generally improved value-to-price ratio.
For those of you who care about attaining high PC performance—such as for the latest games with ray tracing and XR capabilities, advanced high-end photo and video work or AI capabilities, or perhaps you just want or need the latest, most capable, fastest upper-end computer—it a good idea to know the difference between the last generation or two of components and what has recently been or is about to be announced.
If you are going to build your own or update your computer’s components, this information is critical, but even if you are just going to go to Micro Center, Best Buy, or even Costco, it is a good idea to know the difference between this year’s Intel i7 CPU and the i7 chip from 2018. Same name? Yes, but there’s absolutely a performance and capability difference!
Usually, the only way to get all the latest components is to build it yourself. You can wait for the next generation of your favorite brand if you prefer to purchase a completed rig, but you still should know about the new components to be sure that you are not just buying a new release that uses mostly last-generation components.
Another advantage in DIY is that if a new component that you want to upgrade to is released, you can usually upgrade without having to buy a totally new computer. Some brands of computers, usually the higher-end ones, can also be upgraded, but many cannot.
Let’s look at some of the newly released components, starting with GPUs. Last month, I covered the release of the new NVIDIA RTX 3000 series. These devices are sporting amazing capabilities. Now, if you are using a 1080p 60 Hz refresh rate monitor, there’s no need to even consider one of these. After all, why put a 400 hp engine in a golf cart?
But if you have gone or want to go to 4K and/or multiple HDR monitors, you may want to go to XR. Then, you are one of those waiting in line to get one of these beasts. And yes, the first batches sold out in minutes, and over a month after they were announced, they are still almost impossible to find in stock. AMD has also hinted that their latest and greatest GPU, the “Big Navi” series, will also be released soon.
For years, NVIDIA has dominated the high-end GPU market, with one result being that the prices for each new generation have increased significantly. This time, with the latest AMD version coming out and with the significant improvement in the performance of AMD devices—such as the Ryzen and Threadripper CPUs which have given Intel a significant run over the last few years—it appears that NVIDIA was taking no chances and they have kept the prices on their new RTX3000 series to a very attractive value point. There’s nothing like true competition to increase the rate of improvement and to keep prices reasonable.
Speaking of CPUs, for the last 10 years or so, Intel had dominated, and their prices for their higher-end CPUs went sky high. Then, AMD introduced the Ryzen and Threadripper series of GPUs. These were good performing devices at a much lower price point. Over the last few years, they have continued to improve. The latest versions are equal to and, in some cases, higher performing than Intel’s offerings, and as you would then expect, Intel’s latest offerings are available at a lower price than they set a year or so ago.
In this case, AMD seems to have gained the lead and may be pulling further ahead. AMD is now using a 7-nm process, which has allowed them to design more powerful and capable chips in a similar-sized package, while Intel, finding itself losing momentum, is still apparently having to use their now somewhat outdated 14-nm manufacturing process. Intel is still the market share global leader in all categories, but in the DIY market, AMD seems to have taken the lead.
AMD has reached 20.1% of the desktop PC market, notching its highest penetration since the fourth quarter of 2013. AMD has also grown its desktop PC market share for 12 consecutive quarters. Per Toms Hardware, "A bit more than 60% of AMD's increased desktop shipments came from high-end units.” With Apple now planning on using its own silicon instead of Intel, they seem to have a market share challenge approaching.
Now, let’s talk about software. Obviously, the first piece of software you use on any computer is the operating system. Windows 10 dominates this area globally. They lost a little share early last decade with Windows 8, but Windows 10 has regained that loss. Microsoft seems to have accelerated OS updates in the last few years, and the latest version of Windows 10 does so much more than when it was first introduced. Lately, however, it seems like they have pushed updates out perhaps too fast, with the latest ones seeming to cause some instability. Still, they have almost 75% of the global PC market and 95%+ of the high-end DIY segment.
Overall, I find that the most difficult part of building your own computer is choosing the components while keeping in mind your budget, the target performance, and the compatibility of your choices.
The satisfaction obtained when you finish and install the operating system and see it boot up for the first time is well worth the effort.
In conclusion, we still have over a month left in 2020, so let’s see what other new-generation computer components may be announced. Then, there is the virtual CES in early 2021 for us to cover and report on.