Here’s my terrible attempt at a Chasing Amy-style monologue…but about computers.
There’s a lot of excitement in the tech world right now about Ryzen, AMD’s new CPU that’s priced affordably and offers their first solid leap in performance in years. For the first time in a long time, Intel has some real competition. And so, everyone in the tech enthusiast crowd is rushing to either buy one, or wait for Intel to respond with some killer price drops.
I’m glad that competition is coming back to the CPU market, and I’m glad that someone is going to finally push Intel beyond the 4 core/8 thread platform they’ve dominated with for so long.
But none of this means anything if there’s no software to support it.
For those that aren’t using heavily multi-threaded software, they may not see any benefit whatsoever from an 8 core Ryzen chip, especially if they already own a modern Intel CPU. In gaming for instance, multi-core development environments have been the mainstream norm for at least 12 years, since the launch of the Xbox 360 in 2005. And yet, most major PC titles don’t offer massive performance gains from highly multi-threaded processors. There are a few standouts like Battlefield 1 (incidentally, one of the main gaming titles AMD has chosen to focus on) but that’s the exception right now rather than the rule. Will that change over time? It very well could!
But also…people have been saying that for 12 years.
It’s almost impossible to truly predict where the technology market is going to go. It’s so vast and varied, and home to so many different audiences now. The hardcore enthusiast PC user is worlds away from the average smart phone consumer who spends money on free-to-play games. Sure, there’s some overlap, but no one really knows where the money will flow. It’s all guesses. Educated guesses at best. Further, treating the whole market as one big monolith is a mistake. Rather, I try to think of it as a number of segmented audiences that are interested in very different things. You wouldn’t expect the same exact crowd to go to two different genres of movie, and the same is true of the technology world. A computer that works great in a server room would be terrible for gaming, and so forth.
My advice to you is this: Don’t get caught up in the new hardware hype. Follow your software needs instead!
Time and again, this has served me well. And I’m not always good at following it.
Sometimes the hype is real and there’s no stopping it, hah.
The Ryzen seems pretty cool, and it’s definitely going to shake up/advance the CPU market. But if you’re buying one solely because it’s the new thing…that’s not good enough. Look at the software you’re using. Would it benefit from more cores? Is your current CPU more than few generations old? Then maybe consider upgrading to something new, Ryzen or otherwise.
Let’s look at some other recent examples.
Remember VR? How it was supposed to be the future? And now we live in a world where Best Buy is dumping their Oculus Rift demo units less than a year after launch. The Rift started as an open platform, because they understood that software is vital to hardware. Hardware is literally a worthless pile of nothing without good software. But then, after their Facebook acquisition, they screwed that all up by trying to tie down developers into exclusivity agreements, building their own proprietary DRM-laden marketplace, and cutting off support for enthusiast development platforms like Linux.
And VR still hasn’t become the future, in spite of several cool games existing across all 3 major platforms. So much of the coverage focused more on the hardware and the experience of using it instead of how good the games were, and I wonder if that had the disadvantage of making people less excited? VR might still get there. But it’s not there yet.
Remember the launch of the PS4 Pro just a few months back? When it turned out that developers had to manually patch each game to support the new hardware? And no one at Sony published an official, detailed list of improvements, leaving it to fans to figure out many of the changes on their own? Suddenly, the Pro was a big brick of incredibly powerful hardware… with barely any software library to go with it. That might be exciting to enthusiasts…but does a more casual fan really want to spend $400 to play Knack with a faster framerate?
(That’s not a dig on Knack. I actually like Knack and I’m glad it’s getting a sequel. But I’m a weird person).
Fortunately, Sony is pivoting and adding the PS4 Pro Boost Mode, which allows all games access to that extra power without needing a patch. Now, it can be about the software again.
I get it. It’s fun to be enthused about new toys. It’s fun to think about potential computing power, and “live the dream” of building the best possible system available for the lowest price.
Just…don’t forget about the software. The software is why you bought all this hardware right?