For the hardware industry, 2020 has been a very mixed year. On the one hand, new generations of gaming video cards and AMD Zen 3 processors have come out that have changed the balance of power in the desktop CPU segment, and on the other hand, the notorious COVID-19 has brought a lot of problems to humanity. We are talking about supply chain disruptions that have become one of the reasons for the hardware shortage, as well as about changing the format or canceling all events related to computers and the video game industry.
In addition to new CPUs and GPUs, there were many more topics for discussion in the past year. We will focus on the most important ones in the third part of the material following the results of 2020, and we will also try to predict how hardware manufacturers will please PC enthusiasts in the coming months.
Let’s go online
The leitmotif of 2020 is the coronavirus pandemic. In the computer and information technology field, it was remembered for the growth of global Internet traffic, the demand for PC components, and the popularization of gaming. People forced to stay at home began to organize home offices, at the same time causing a shortage of inexpensive laptops, but video game lovers considered quarantine a good time to upgrade their hardware. By the way, Steam regularly sets new records for the number of concurrent users and, due to the influx of gamers, has changed the policy for downloading auto-updates.
At the same time, major events dedicated to innovations in the IT market or video games were forced to go online or were canceled altogether. The «victims of the coronavirus» included Mobile World Congress, GPU Technology Conference, Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Computex, as well as many other exhibitions and conferences. Individual companies and video game publishers began to organize their own online broadcasts, however, they failed to achieve their former scale. An exception is the presentations of Nvidia and AMD, which were watched live by more than one thousand viewers.
A return to the former format is currently not possible, so in the foreseeable future we will have many more online events. For example, Intel, AMD and Nvidia have already scheduled broadcasts for January with the announcement of new products as part of CES 2021. The organizers of the Computex computer exhibition still hope to hold the next event in person. If the situation with COVID-19 develops favorably, then Computex 2021 will be held from June 1 to 4 in the capital of Taiwan.
At the beginning of this year, Intel began to actively promote the ATX12VO standard, which is intended to replace the good old ATX. The latter, we recall, debuted more than 20 years ago and describes not only the computer power supply scheme, but also the main mechanical parameters of the system. ATX12VO implies the abandonment of the ATX 24-pin connector in favor of a 10-pin, as well as the transition to a 12-volt power supply, which will greatly simplify the power supply circuitry. In this case, drives and other devices are powered through converters on the motherboard.
The introduction of the Advanced Technology eXtended 12-Volt Only specification is planned to start with ready-made systems, where power supplies with non-standard connectors are often used. Manufacturers of PSUs and motherboards reacted rather coolly to Intel’s initiative, so it’s too early to retire the 24-pin ATX. The introduction of power supplies with a 10-pin ATX12VO connector to the market is slow, and among the manufacturers of motherboards, only ASRock distinguished itself by announcing the Z490 Phantom Gaming 4SR model.
When 240Hz Isn’t Enough
For the release of a new generation of video cards from AMD and Nvidia, manufacturers of gaming peripherals began to prepare long before the first leaks about new GPUs. As part of the January CES 2020 exhibition, ASUS introduced the ROG Swift 360Hz PG259QN gaming monitor, which, as you might guess, features a 360Hz refresh rate. It was developed jointly with Nvidia, while one of the modifications (PG259QN) received the Nvidia Reflex Latency Analyzer tool. It allows you to determine the total delay of the system: from the moment the mouse is clicked to the response on the screen.
Of course, other vendors have followed ASUS’ lead and introduced their own 360Hz monitors. A common feature of the devices has become a 24.5-inch IPS matrix manufactured by AU Optronics. All of them are designed for a very narrow audience of esports players and ardent fans of dynamic games, so the cost of such monitors turned out to be quite high. For example, the recommended price for ASUS ROG Swift 360Hz PG259QN for Ukrainian retail is UAH 24,999.
DDR5 is just around the corner
The DDR4 RAM standard began its journey to the masses more than five years ago, so it is not surprising that RAM manufacturers are increasingly talking about the introduction of DDR5. This summer, the JEDEC committee approved the final Double Data Rate 5 memory specification. It provides not only a twofold increase in the effective frequency, but also an increase in the capacity of RAM modules. The volume of unbuffered DDR5 DIMMs, designed for use in personal computers, will be up to 128 GB, and server LRDIMMs — up to 2 TB.
The official DDR5 specification assumes the release of modules with a bandwidth of 4.8 to 6.4 Gb / s per contact, i.e. with an effective frequency of 4800–6400 MHz. Of course, in the future, faster solutions will become available, as was the case with the same DDR4. One of the first «consumer-grade» DDR5 modules is promised to be brought to market by Team Group. In the third quarter of 2021, 16 GB DDR5-4800 sticks will be released, samples of which have already been sent to motherboard manufacturers for further testing.
According to analysts’ forecasts, 2021 will be the year when DDR5 will begin to be actively used, however, this RAM standard will become truly massive only in 2022. It was then that not only server, but also desktop platforms with its support will enter the market. In the desktop segment, the era of Double Data Rate 5 will begin with the release of Intel Alder Lake-S and AMD Ryzen 6000 (Zen 4) processors. More details about them will become known in the second half of 2021.
Ray Tracing is now on consoles
In 2020, the reason for the upgrade appeared not only among the PC-Boyars, but also among fans of game consoles. In the fall, Sony and Microsoft launched a new generation of consoles — the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X / S. The companies decided to go the proven route and ordered AMD to develop single-chip systems for new devices. And this time, both companies released two versions of nextgen consoles: with and without an optical drive.
The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S shared eight x86 Zen 2 cores, a graphics unit based on the 2nd generation RDNA architecture, and a PCI Express 4.0 SSD. The transition to SSD can be called a colossal achievement for both vendors without exaggeration. By the standards of the PC market, the used drives are not enough stars from the sky, but in game consoles, which until recently used hard drives, this is a huge step forward. It is quite expected that the responsiveness of the interface and the loading time of games were up to par.
PlayStation 5 supports M.2 NVMe SSD installation
In the fight for a potential buyer, Sony and Microsoft released two versions of the consoles. The first was limited to the removal of the Blu-ray drive in one of the versions of the PlayStation 5, leaving the hardware component unchanged. Meanwhile, Microsoft, in addition to the Xbox Series X, released the Xbox Series S model. In it, the software giant not only abandoned the drive, but also put the graphics unit “under the knife” along with the solid state drive, its capacity dropped from 1 TB to 512 GB.
Another «chip» of the current Xbox and PlayStation was the hardware acceleration of ray tracing, for which special blocks called Ray Accelerators are provided in the iGPU. They can also be found in desktop graphics cards Radeon RX 6000. The raw processing power of the PlayStation 5 graphics core is 10.3 teraflops, in the case of the Xbox Series X this figure is 12.15 teraflops, and in the Xbox Series S it is 4 teraflops. For comparison, the Radeon RX 6800 graphics card provides 16.2 Tflops at reference frequencies, but it also costs at least $ 80 more than the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 modification with a Blu-ray drive.
Motherboard Sony PlayStation 5
Modular Intel NUC
Minicomputer manufacturers are increasingly turning their attention to AMD Ryzen APUs. Today, in almost any class of devices, there are products both on the «blue» and on the «red» platform. For example, those who are not satisfied with the computing power of Intel NUC computers should take a look at systems like ASUS PN50 equipped with Ryzen 4000 APUs. -cores and graphics module as part of AMD hybrid chips.
In an effort to introduce a new form factor for gaming systems, at the same time strengthening its position, Intel introduced the NUC 9 Extreme line of devices to the market in April. They are remarkable not only for the support of dual-slot video cards, but also for their modular design. The main elements of the computer (processor, system logic, RAM, M.2 drives, cooling system and a set of interfaces) are located on the Compute Element board. According to Intel’s idea, to upgrade such a computer, you simply need to replace such a module.
Vendors liked the idea of separating all the main elements of a computer into a separate block. During the year, many cases and ready-made mini-PCs based on the Intel NUC 9 Extreme Compute Element were introduced. Most of them have a quite familiar form factor and are often not much more compact than their counterparts with Mini-ITX motherboards.
The KFConsole gaming system deserves special attention. The June announcement of a device equipped with a food warming chamber seemed like a joke until KFC, along with Cooler Master, officially introduced it. Inside the KFC bucket-shaped gaming PC are the NUC 9 Extreme Compute Element and an unnamed GeForce RTX graphics card from ASUS.
Solid State Drives
The SSD industry has been relatively quiet over the past 12 months. Prices of NAND chips remain at a fairly low level, which cannot but please end users, while chipmakers are looking for ways to reduce production costs. Intel considered it unprofitable to develop its own NAND business, and sold it to SK Hynix for $9 billion. With this deal, the South Korean firm should become the second largest manufacturer of flash memory.
If we talk about specific devices, then this fall Samsung finally brought to market its first line of consumer SSDs with PCI Express 4.0 interface — 980 Pro. The speed performance of NVMe drives turned out to be quite good, as expected, but the V-NAND MLC chips, traditional for the Samsung Pro line, were replaced by less durable V-NAND TLC.
Increasing the density of 3D NAND chips allows vendors to produce impressive volume drives not only for servers, but also for home PCs. For example, the American company Nimbus Data is ready to offer corporate customers a 3.5-inch ExaDrive SSD with a capacity of up to 100 TB. The price of such a drive is 40 thousand dollars. At the same time, the capacity of traditional 2.5-inch SATA SSDs now reaches 15.3 TB. Such a device is present in the assortment of Team Group and is estimated at four thousand dollars.
Talking about the results of 2020 in the world of hardware, one cannot fail to mention sports overclocking enthusiasts, thanks to which the limiting operating modes of hardware become known. The team of our Overclockers.UA conference, led by captain Yaroslav «StingerYar» Girik, continues to hold the fourth place in the HWBot Team League ranking. An amazing result, looking at the modest number of active members of the team.
In July-September, our enthusiasts performed more than adequately at the HWBot Team Cup 2020 tournament, competing with other teams from around the world. This time the Overclockers.UA team won the seventh place, however, the struggle this year was very intense. Meanwhile, Ukraine has risen in the ranking of countries with the strongest overclocking community by two positions over the year and now occupies the 15th line.
What’s in store for 2021?
This year it was very interesting to follow developments in the PC components market. Announcements of video cards and processors went one after another with an interval of a couple of months, giving enthusiasts a lot of reasons to upgrade. The only thing that overshadowed the large number of hardware releases was supply problems. As a result, prices for highly anticipated new products, for example, GeForce RTX 3000 and Radeon RX 6000 graphics adapters, have increased by one and a half to two times compared to the recommended ones and, apparently, will remain at this level for at least a few more months.
Manufacturers do not intend to slow down, so in the next half of the year we will have a lot of high-profile announcements. In less than two weeks, the CES 2021 online exhibition starts, which will include presentations from AMD, Intel and Nvidia. Lisa Su’s team will introduce the Cezanne APU family with Zen 3 microarchitecture and rumored Radeon RX 6700 (XT) graphics cards based on the Navi 22 graphics core.
Nvidia plans to announce a line of mobile 3D accelerators GeForce RTX 3000, as well as desktop graphics cards GeForce RTX 3080 Ti and GeForce RTX 3060 in versions with 6 and 12 gigabytes of memory. Well, Intel Corporation, according to reports, is preparing the formal debut of Rocket Lake-S processors (Cypress Cove architecture) for the LGA1200 mass platform along with 500-series chipsets.
In addition, it will be interesting to look at Noctua’s passive cooling system and the successor to the NH-D15 supercooler, the Intel Xe-HPG gaming graphics card with support for hardware accelerated ray tracing, Apple Mac desktop computers based on «apple» ARM processors, the characteristics of the first DDR5 modules, etc. , how quickly vendors will be able to solve problems with undersupply of hardware. Stay with us and Happy New Year!
Overview of the main events of 2020. Processors and platforms
Overview of the main events of 2020. Video cards