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An introspective, completely unsubstantiated view of the technology enthusiast, in late 2007

More than a few times someone asked me why does DailyTech cover all that global warming stuff, or defense tech, or automotive breakthroughs.  There's a good answer to that, but its not a simple one.

In 2004 I already saw the writing on the wall.  PC technology started commoditizing, and at a brisk clip as well. 

When I got my first K6 processor, it was not just the overclockers that cranked up that 66 MHz front-side bus.  Anyone who bought a computer had to know some of the essential differences between MMX and 3D-Now!.  A lack of knowledge, in those days, would set the up and coming computer user back hundreds of dollars if he wasn't careful.

Whether you agree with Karl Marx or Karl Rove (or anyone in between), a telltale sign of commodification occurs when the manufacturer stops focusing on tangible aspects of the product and starts pushing less tangible selling points.  This often occurs when competing products are too similar, or at least indistinguishable from the purchasers point of view. 

Where have we seen this before?  Well, my HTC Hermes did everything the iPhone did a year beforehand, but I'm pretty sure Apple sold a whole lot more iPhones.  Look at today's motherboards: any manufacturer would tell you its  all-solid capacitors are better than the next guy. And don't even get me started on the memory industry ...

I remember the exact instant when computer hardware became a commodity.  Steve Jobs got up in front of one hundred journalists and in less than 60 seconds, a million Apple zealots went from ardent Intel naysayers to hardened Intel devotees.  In that moment I realized it didn't really much matter to anyone which CPU was better than another, it only mattered what Steve Jobs told everyone to think anyway.

Other signs of the death of the PC enthusiast are littered across the Internet like the tattered remains of a kite breaking up on rentry.   The birth and demise of AMD's Quadfather, the ubiquitous lack of support (or interest) for quad-GPU graphics, failed physics processors and inconsequential sales of "killer" network cards. 
In a recent conversation with Jon Stokes, both of us agreed that while PC tech has seen some great growth over the last few years, this growth is not keeping pace with the Internet as a whole.  PC technology, as a journalistic discipline, is unfortunately niched to the degree you'd find with muscle cars. 

This leads me to answer the question I started out with: the PC industry, as a whole, just isn't as fast-moving or interesting anymore.   Attempting to debate the merits of largely intangible technology topics is a discussion more akin to politics than science.

You bet I'm excited about CPU-GPU integration and new OLED technology, but another unfathomably high frequency bump in the sea of JEDEC memory timings completely fails to pique my interest.  Analysis of Google Keywords would indicate those more mundane markers of progress in the PC industry fail to grasp even the smallest of demographics on the Internet as well.

That does not discount the importance of the tech enthusiast.  Those of us who grew up debating the merits of CPU architecture in the 1990's are the pioneers in virtual discussion.  We are what the majority of consumers will become over the next decade when new, broader forums come to be. 

Don't worry, I'm still the first person in Taiwan with Intel's next-generation roadmap.  However, as this industry withers and new ones blossom, I encourage you all as pioneers and enthusiasts to look beyond the chips and bits once in a while.

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By SavagePotato on 12/1/2007 12:36:30 AM , Rating: 5
Things in the world of the PC seem to be moving in a very positive direction in my opinion. The $3000 enthusiast pc that is needed to run "todays games" in any kind of acceptable way can die a horrible death as far as I'm concerned.

The quad father platform, the killer NIC, these stand out not as enthusiast products but throw your money away for nothing products. Honestly a $200 nic that gives you a 1ms and 1fps advantage? A dual socket quad core solution that gets blown out of the water by the competitions single slot?

A $300 quad core that overclocks by 50% and smokes a stock $1200 processor, with a $250 video card that outpeforms the $600 enthusiast card on the market, I would call that progress. Aside from calling it progress I would call it a heck of alot of fun.

To take a mainstream part and make it perform like that, it engages the enthusiast in a far better way than spending $200 on a NIC.

RE: Inevitability
By SilentSin on 12/1/2007 3:54:59 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't really call the past couple of months a "positive direction" per se, it's great don't get me wrong, but I don't see it as permanent. It's more of a cycle. There have been video cards and CPUs released in this pricing segment for the enthusiast every so often, they just aren't a constant. Remember the Celeron 300A? Northwood 2.4C? Barton 2500+? Or the Radeon 9700? Those are enthusiast class products, and sometimes the market is ripe for them and the hardware manufacturers are at the right point in their product cycle to fill that need. It seems more random than actually being thought-out.

As a side note, I hear a lot of smack talk against the KillerNIC that is slightly unjustified. People completely forget that the higher end version basically offers you a computer on a card, you can run a Linux kernel on this thing ! I haven't kept up with application development for it at all, but off the top of my head I could come up with a few dozen different awesome uses for something like that. If you're someone with the skills to take advantage of such a beast than I'm sure the KillerNIC was actually a good deal.

As for the quadfather/skulltrail platforms I just think those were too little, too early. The only things they were good for were the jobs that server farms have been traditionally good for for years. And that's basically all those platforms were, server farms in a box without the need for a rack. 4 or 5 years from now come back to this topic and tell me that having an extra socket to throw another CPU in (or whatever they're calling it at that point) isn't something you desire. The computer industry is in the midst of a major paradigm shift from brute strength to highly parallel force. In the next few years we'll see the use of multicore GPUs, GPUs merging with CPUs, and other types of specialized cores made to run their piece of the puzzle in unison with the rest of the parts of your systems. Where adding an extra CPU or GPU will give you net gains close to 2x what you were at previously. That's precisely what these crazy multisocket platforms were aiming for, there's just not the software support to take advantage of it at the moment.

RE: Inevitability
By SavagePotato on 12/1/2007 4:11:10 PM , Rating: 4
It is a time for change, and change is good.

The reason the celeron 300a was popular was simple, because you still had to pay $1200 for a high end chip in that day, and said high end chip was just enough to run all the games of the day.

The 9700 pro? I had one, in fact I was probably the first person in the city to have one as I got one fresh off the first shipment. The cost at the time was close to $700.

This is a new age, the days of having to spend huge dollars to get a good machine are over, and not a moment too soon in my opinion.

PC gaming has been on an ass backward slide for some time just because pumping out 1500$ on video cards just to be able to play the latest game makes for piss poor sales on the PC. This trend is the best thing that could happen for making and keeping the PC a viable game platform in the years to come.

You can doom and gloom about things if you like, I'm excited about the future.

RE: Inevitability
By Jedi2155 on 12/1/2007 5:27:41 PM , Rating: 2
9700 Pro's were MSRP at $400 USD...what caused you to pay $700?!?!

RE: Inevitability
By xsilver on 12/1/2007 6:37:49 PM , Rating: 4
Some people that come here are not from the USA, for Canadian or Australian dollars the 9700pro would have $700 at the time.

About the article, I so totally agree that the "enthusiast" industry has had a total slide; 10 or even 5 years ago, very few people would have known about overclocking or anything enthusiast and that creates some separation from the general crowd.
Today, there is not much that an "enthusiast" can be in tune with that a regular person trying to buy a PC wont know.

RE: Inevitability
By SavagePotato on 12/2/2007 4:27:04 PM , Rating: 2
The fact that I am a Canadian and the Canadian dollar at the time equaled about 65 cents USD.

Welcome to the wonders of the rest of the world outside the USA.

RE: Inevitability
By murphyslabrat on 12/4/2007 1:18:04 PM , Rating: 2
*blink* *blink*.... Wha?

RE: Inevitability
By sxr7171 on 12/1/2007 6:16:21 PM , Rating: 2
Thank you. Who in the enthusiast community even cares about AMD Quad FX? This is not 2003 when enthusiasts were buying AMD. Today you can take a really cheap Intel Core 2 Duo or Quad and overclock it to unbelievable performance levels. With 45nm Penryns coming out at prices that are like stealing them, watch people reach even higher overclocks at low, low prices.

Intel could easily sell their processors at higher clock speeds and charge higher premiums right now, but they don't because they can't afford to be "too competitive" right now and take the heat of being a virtual monopoly. So we benefit by paying less for these monster processors. We have almost unbelievable performance abilities in even $250 processors today.

This is great time to be an enthusiast. The board manufacturers are catering to us with high-end boards, even 600w power supplies are sitting below $100, and there are sicker and sicker cooling products coming out by the day. You can even watercool your processor for far less than before.

I don't see any reason to be whining about the state of affairs in the enthusiast market.

RE: Inevitability
By SavagePotato on 12/2/2007 4:34:36 PM , Rating: 2
I did Just that, I bought a core2 duo e6600 @ 2.4ghz and easily overclocked it to 3.4ghz. A 50% boost never hurts. I've been running this solution for about a year now and I've been thrilled with how well it has held up performace wise compared to my past purchases in the processor arena.

My last chip was a bit of a lemon opteron 175 that ran at 2.2ghz and wasn't "a cherry" so to speak in that it was only good for about a 2.4ghz overclock.

With this overclocked little core2 I got to enjoy beyond $1200 cpu performance for at the time about $300.

RE: Inevitability
By iFX on 12/3/2007 3:01:25 PM , Rating: 5
<<<This is not 2003 when enthusiasts were buying AMD>>>

Enthusiasts have been buying AMD over Intel starting with the original Athlon up until mid-year 2006. The FX-60 was king of the hill mid-year 2006 until C2D was launched. Don't try and say people didn't buy AMD but for one year.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton
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