So I’ve been here full-time for just shy of a full year and its been a great experience. Throughout 2012 I’ve tracked technology trends, reported on some of the most interesting technical achievements and met some great people through the awesomesauce that is rAge. So what’s in store for the new year? Loads more tech than you can shake a stick at, lemme tell you. I’ll run ten predictions by you – let’s see how close I get to the truth.
1) RABBITS OUT OF AMD’S HAT – THERE’LL BE PLENTY TO GO ROUND
We’re going to see two things happen at AMD that could change the company’s fortunes forever if they play their hand well. With the PS4 and the Xbox Durango/Infinity/8 both running APUs as evidenced in the early development kits the internet exposed this year, the surge from the next-generation consoles may be what AMD needs to kick-start its growth phase and back things up to the levels we all expected before the Bulldozer release. Its APU and FX lineup based on Piledriver is doing very well currently and if the two biggest players in the console market use their technology, we can expect a lot more games to run better on the AMD platform on the desktop and mobile sectors.
The new HD8000 family may take things up a notch with a design revision on the 28nm process, bringing more performance to the fore with better driver management and lower power consumption. Take note that Graphics Core Next has only been out for a year in the public’s hands – its important that AMD takes its time refining the products and their process if they’re going to see GCN-based graphics cores inside their next APU family based on Steamroller.
In addition, I think AM3+ will be up for a chipset revision next year. The 900-series chipset was launched in tandem with the first Bulldozer chips back in 2011 and its been a while since AMD has planned anything for their high-end desktop platforms. I’m crossing my fingers that they revise the socket with a new 1000-series chipset, bringing more native USB 3.0 ports, PCI-Express 3.0 compatibility and features like Thunderbolt to more motherboards. This will be in preparation for Steamroller, due out sometime early next year.
2) WHAT’S NVIDIA TO DO IN THE MEANTIME, TWIDDLE THUMBS?
I’m expecting that a simple Kepler refresh will be the order of the day for Nvidia, but this will only apply to their high-end lineup in the second half of the year. Currently, most of their cards have a lot of thermal headroom and use less power than the PEG sockets they’re connected to provide – ergo, there may be some rebrands with higher default core clocks, looser GPU Boost settings and possibly some more beef in the form of higher default memory clocks, possibly in the 6.5GHz and higher realm. Because Nvidia fits many of their cards with a 192-bit bus, the higher RAM clocks would be able to squeeze more bandwidth out of the memory subsystem for games that now allow use of higher levels of FXAA and TXAA.
There’s already something happening on the mobile front with Nvidia, which I’ll be detailing later today (no doubt you’ve already caught wind of the new handheld, Android-powered console they launched last night). Because of the impending ARM invasion in the desktop space in a year’s time, I expect Nvidia to be hard at work bringing out new and better versions of its Tegra SOC, starting with Tegra 4 which also had its birth announced to the world this morning. Because of the company’s huge R&D budgets, it may even be a strong player in the ARM space once it invades the desktop – not only will Intel have to worry about other ARM players, but a company like Nvidia, which rivals the desktop chip-maker in terms of size and bank balance, will certainly be a massive pain to deal with.
3) INTEL WILL DRAG ITS FEET WITH DESKTOP PERFORMANCE AS USUAL, BUT QUICKSYNC WILL SUFFER
Quicksync was a development by Intel to help accelerate hardware decoding on machines running an Intel chip with an integrated HD2500 or higher graphics core. Because we’ve got much larger players embracing OpenCL, not to mention the fact that Nvidia’s CUDA still has more support, I predict that Intel won’t put too many resources into Quicksync development for the time being. Only a few apps support it at this point in time and there are many other ways to get better quality recodes in shorter time frames.
Beyond the gaming scene, the company’s going to want to put its Xeon Phi co-processor into as many servers as possible with better SDK documentation in order to steal market share away from Nvidia and their Quadro and Tesla lineups. But since Nvidia’s cards do a lot more than just parallel computing, its going to be a trying time for Intel to get this project off the ground. Technically, Xeon Phi also has the advantage when you’re building a virtualised network or a server farm, so it may find a home in those markets because of its multi-core design.
As for the desktop and gaming space, the company has another socket revision lined up for this year and requires a new motherboard. LGA 1150 may even have some more quirks in store that we aren’t aware of, so for now hold onto your money if you’re planning on buying into the tech. The company’s new practice of a socket revision every two years is annoying, but lets hope it continues to benefit the desktop market and enthusiasts. We can expect a big improvement in their graphics performance from their integrated GPU, but it’ll still be a ways away from what an AMD APU can manage.
On a related note, though, I don’t see Intel improving their CPU performance that much. They now have a bigger focus on energy efficiency and conserving battery power, so they’ll skim along with performance increases while putting all their R&D into making their chips use less power. Remember, ARM’s greatest benefit is that it sips power but extracts a lot of performance from their designs. In terms of performance per watt, they have everyone beat.
4) ITX WILL TAKE OVER THE WORLD, BOARD BY BOARD
Its already going that way. Day by day, we’re seeing more enthusiasts picking up chassis like the Bitfenix Prodigy or the Silverstone Sugo-9 to replace their desktop behemoths. Because many people now store their media on some form of server put in a back room, the full-tower desktop isn’t as popular as it was back in the day. We’ll see more people trend back into the smaller mATX space as well, thanks to the surge in popularity of Cooler Master’s Elite 344 range.
Less is really more this year, it seems.
5) LESS PHOWAAAARRRRRR!
We’re also going to see a large amount of low-TDP products being sucked up for use in HTPCs and media centers, with more companies catering for this ever-growing market. AMD’s entire APU lineup is practically geared towards this use, as well as inclusion into ITX chassis and even all-in-one setups. Don’t deny the APU, its a strong concept. The A10-5700 is especially important because of its 65W TDP and 125W power consumption – that’s well within the same region as consoles, with more benefits if you’re using a full-fledged OS.
On a related note, this whole power and heat efficiency thing is going to make administration of company networks much easier because the components involved produce less heat and use less energy, silently crossing out hardware issues that administrators would normally have to deal with when it comes to hot, power-hungry and space-eating desktops. VESA-mounted ITX chassis are gaining popularity by the day and the D.I.Y. all-in-one chassis will also be a strong player in the workstation market, at least for those with lower computing requirements. Don’t forget, Intel was the one who started this and AMD may very well take advantage of the gaps it’s left in the market for gamers.
6) WINDOWS 9 DEVELOPMENT WILL BEGIN THIS YEAR, WITH A POSSIBLE LATE 2013/EARLY2014 LAUNCH
Microsoft sold millions upon millions of Windows 8 licenses when upgrades for new machines was set at $15 and pre-orders at $40. Mimicking Apple’s OS pricing strategy can work for the company and they’ve already begun to stick to that philosophy – the company recently stopped development of Service Packs, a major proponent in increasing the lifespan of older operating systems. That’s sad news for Windows 7 owners.
From now on, we’ll see a Mac OS-like rollout of the Windows OS over the internet and through stores all around the world. Congratulations, Microsoft, you’ve taken the first important step in becoming a much larger version of Apple.
Either stick with this plan, or dump it as soon as possible for something that benefits you and your users more. Your fans crave stability, not a speed race to match up with version numbers Mac OS is boasting. The more you stick to your guns, the less reason we’ll have to point out your flip-floppity behaviour.
7) 4K SCREENS WON’T BECOME THE NORM, DESPITE THE HOPES OF FANBOYS THE WORLD OVER
Sorry to burst your bubble guys, but 4K screens won’t become the norm for another year or two, at least. You currently need two DVI-I or Displayport connectors just to power one of these behemoths. Lets also not go into how signalling and refresh rates will be affected by the change, the technology is still in its infancy and its simply not ready for large-scale commercial rollouts yet – that’s to say you won’t be able to walk out of Makro with one on your cart. I’ve yet to see any 4K digital content, let alone anyone who can actually afford the insane asking price of these screens.
At best, the first year with 4K screens will be like the first year with 3D – it’ll enjoy flaky support, poor upscaling and most video cards won’t be able to drive screens of that capability. Still, keep that separate bank account open and save up for one anyway – once the tech does work properly, you’ll be glad you planned for it.
8) THE WORLD WON’T END THIS YEAR
Sorry lads, you’ll have to postpone that zombie apocalypse again. The new date for the end of the world is apparently only set in 2020, so you’ll have enough time to finish your backlog of games by then.
9) VALVE WILL LAUNCH THEIR STEAM CONSOLE AND STEAM ON LINUX AT THE SAME TIME
Kinda obvious, but the Steam on Linux beta is going from strength to strength and the Team Fortress 2 port is running very well (mouse acceleration on Linux, however, isn’t). But it makes sense that the company would release both their console with their in-house developed hardware as well as a custom Debian Linux distro that sports Steam on Linux, pre-installed with Big Picture as the default mode – after all, that would be an all-encompassing launch strategy which would be hard to match.
But while we have a whole year ahead of us, there is the possibility that both of these products may not reach prime time before the end of 2013. Valve only does things if it can execute them perfectly – these guys don’t stuff around, really. Already they’re the largest online games retailer, they have a stable and flexible service and their unique hiring process means that only the best minds in the industry work for them – all that can only benefit them with both projects.
As for the console itself, while they were toying around with an Alienware X51 earlier this year, I’m expecting they’ll settle on a SFF set-top box with an AMD APU, an external power brick and a Razer-designed wireless controller. Who knows, their chassis could even be designed to look like an Aperture Science computer – there’s really limitless potential for them here. Speaking of consoles…
10) CES 2013 WON’T BE THE LAUNCH OF THE PS4 OR THE XBOX DURANGO
I’m not taking bets, but I don’t expect new details on the consoles to be shown this week. We’re far more likely to see stuff at E3 this year because there both Sony and Microsoft can upstage each other all they want – the floor literally belongs to them this year because the Wii U is already out the gate and selling like hotcakes. Both consoles will have to be something special because the current gen is spectacular value for money.