The consumer-focused hardware industry is in interesting shape. Before the Covid pandemic, the companies were introducing their “latest, fastest, and greatest” products mostly in the fourth quarter of every year. We, as tech guys, were advising people to wait for those next-generation products for either a price drop in the older generation hardware or better performance in the newer one. But with the pandemic and its combination of crypto mining madness alongside some other things such as technology transitions, things have gone crazy.
CPU | Insane power draws, DDR5 transitions, weird pricings
I was about to begin the article with GPUs, however, I’ve changed my mind just because of its grim state. Thankfully, the CPU industry looks way better than GPUs. And this is all because of the harsh competition between AMD and Intel.
Before the Ryzen CPUs, we were all bound to buy Intel CPUs with only 4 cores even in the highest-tier products. Because there was no competition, AMD CPUs were just bad. And Intel has spent its “monopoly” time sleeping; slapping an additional 25% performance to the CPUs every year but nothing else. After Ryzen CPUs arrived and proved their reliability and performance, things changed. Intel had to push its CPUs to the limits to squeeze the performance, by running them at insane frequencies with an absurd amount of power, just like AMD did before Ryzen.
Currently, Intel’s 13th gen CPUs are on the shelves, while AMD is countering them with its Ryzen 7000 series. With the release of the 12th gen processors, Intel has been focusing on the combination of P Cores (performance) and E Cores (efficiency), making them similar to the Arm-based mobile chips. With this approach, the company can squeeze many cores into the CPU; because the E Cores are smaller than others. However, despite the E Cores, Intel CPUs are drawing a lot of power; resulting in increased heat in the case, larger coolers, higher noise, and higher electricity bills. But still, Intel manages to deliver the “King of the CPUs for gamers” with its 13th gen lineup at all of those costs; beating every other CPU in gaming except AMDs secret weapon.
AMD has introduced Ryzen 7000 series with more reasonable frequencies and power draws despite not utilizing a couple of smaller cores for the sake of extra efficiency. The new series offers great performance with 170 up to 170-watt TDP and the company recently announced the non-X variants of the CPUs with just 65-watt TDP. The 65-watt versions, especially the Ryzen 9 7900, provide incredible efficiency. Additionally, AMD is deploying its secret weapon with its already-successful Ryzen 7000 series: 3D V-Cache. The 3D V-Cache technology vertically stacks additional L2 and L3 cache into the CPU, which results in great performance uplift in games as we have seen in the only CPU that utilizes it, Ryzen 7 5800X3D. AMD will launch the Ryzen 7000 – X3D variants in February.
By choosing either of those options, you will need to buy a new motherboard. And things go a bit weird here. For Intel, you can buy motherboards with Z690 or Z790 chipsets, with either DDR4 or DDR5 RAM slots. However, for AMD Ryzen 7000 series you can only go for X670E or X670 series; you don’t even have the option to utilize your good, old DDR4 RAMs. And all of them, except Intel Z690, are unreasonably expensive.
My personal recommendation would be to go for non-X Ryzen 7000 CPUs for work-related use cases and to wait for 3D V-Cache variants for gaming-focused systems. For hybrid use cases, you can simply buy a non-X variant and activate PBO (Precision Boost Overdrive) to deliver more power to the chip to catch the X-variant’s performance.
RAM | Increased RAM requirements vs transitioning to DDR5
For a long while, the most common RAM setup was 2 x 8 GB; a total of 16 GB RAM would be enough for almost every task. However, the hardware demand of the software we are using as well as the games are changing. In some cases, 16 GB is no longer enough for our systems.
While upgrading the RAM capacity looks like a simple solution, investing in an older technology feels a bit weird. Sadly, slapping a single 8 GB RAM is not a good idea since it breaks the dual-channel configuration. You will need a dual-channel kit that matches your current RAM setup to upgrade.
If your system’s only bottleneck is the RAM capacity and you are not planning to upgrade the whole PC for at least two years, investing in DDR4 memory could be the ideal solution. However, if you think your CPU also needs to be changed, go for DDR5 memory with at least 32 GB capacity. If your budget is tight, and you really need to upgrade both your RAM and CPU, you can choose from 13th gen Intel CPUs and buy a motherboard with DDR4 support, and simply put additional DDR4 memory in the system.
GPU | Greedy pricings, insanely high power draws, weird namings, the second-hand market
The GPU industry is in a very weird shape since there is no competition like in the CPU industry. AMD’s GPUs simply lack features and the company does not have an answer for Nvidia‘s top-end GPU, the RTX 4090. Despite this, AMD charges for its RTX 4080-equivalent GPU, RX 7900 XTX a whopping $1,000. This is because Nvidia charges $1,600 for RTX 4090, and $1,200 for RTX 4080. And those numbers are just MSRPs; the partners will charge even more for their products.
This “greedy” approach seems to be the result of the GPU crisis that was caused by both pandemic and the crypto mining madness. People got used to seeing the insane numbers on the GPU pricetags; and now, the companies feel like they can charge that much money for their products. The MSRP of the RTX 4090 equivalent, RTX 3090 was $1,500, and RTX 4080 equivalent RTX 3080 was just $800.
In addition to this price increase, Nvidia had tried to market its current RTX 4070 Ti card as RTX 4080 12 GB, charging an additional $100. It received a huge backlash from the hardware fans; thankfully Nvidia stepped back and fixed this issue by renaming and reducing its price.
While the MSRP prices are absurdly higher now, there are an incredible amount of used GPUs of previous generations in the second-hand market, thanks to the crypto crashes and Ethereum’s direction change from GPU mining this year. The prices of last-gen GPUs, such as RTX 3080, are way too low to ignore. While the newer generation products offer greater performance and efficiency, those cards offer incredible value for their price. I strongly recommend checking the second-hand market for RTX 3080s and RTX 3080 Tis before deciding to go for an RTX 4000 or RX 7000 series GPU. Just be careful while buying; most of the cards were used in crypto mining, try to run benchmarks or stress tests on the card before you pay for it.
If you still want to go for the highly-priced new-generation cards, you should pay attention to the power draws since they can go up 450-watt TDP, which is insane. Keep in mind that the partner cards with slight overclocking will further increase the power draw of the cards. Additionally, RTX 4090 is said to be causing huge power spikes that could exceed 600 watts for milliseconds; causing a shutdown on the system. Thus, you will need a high-power, high-quality power supply for them. However, some of the users have found that you can significantly lower the power draw of those cards by underclocking, leaving only 5% performance on the table. If you don’t want to change your power supply, you can also consider underclocking.
The prices of the new-gen cards are also expected to be dropped in a few months due to the lack of demand; you might consider waiting for this as well.
Storage | PCIe Gen4 for DirectStorage, Resizable Bar, Smart Access Memory
If you are somehow still using old, mechanic hard drives, you should immediately stop reading this article and buy at least a 250 GB SATA SSD to vastly improve your system’s overall responsiveness. SSDs are cheaper than ever now; you can easily grab one to quickly improve an old PC’s performance. Mechanical hard drives are also the most sensitive parts of a PC; they tend to fail after using for a while, causing loss of data.
On the other hand, upgrading to a higher-capacity SSD is a thing to consider as well. The current SSDs or NVMe drives tend to lose performance when they are highly packed with data. Even if you have enough space to fit everything on your drive, keeping it with a lesser-than-30% space will show a loss of performance. Since newer media, games, and software are using more and more storage, it might be time to upgrade your SSD.
There are many NVMe drives in the market that are sold very cheaply. However, the cheap ones generally lack DRAM cache or/and PCIe Gen4 support. PCI Gen4 is a crucial technology that enables some very promising technologies such as DirectStorage and Resizable BAR (Nvidia) / Smart Access Memory (AMD). If you want to buy something by future-proofing, go for Gen4 drives with a DRAM cache. Even if you don’t want to future-proof your storage, you should still look for the DRAM cache on your Gen3-based drive. The cache vastly improves the overall performance of the drive.
Upgrading the existing PC vs buying a new one
Upgrading the existing PC or buying a new one is a complicated question to answer because of many variables. If your PC is at most 5 years old, you might want to consider upgrading just GPU, and storage and maybe add some RAM. However, if your existing PC is older than 5 years, that means your CPU most likely has 4 cores at most, which is not ideal for today. If your system is older than 5 years, I recommend you transform your existing PC into a media device and buy a new PC.
As I said at the beginning, it is a very interesting time to upgrade a PC. Even I am, as a hardware enthusiast, having difficulties while deciding the upgrade path I should follow. I have shared my thoughts about the current situation of the PC hardware market; I hope this article helps you.
Reminder for the people who still use mechanic hard drives: Buy an SSD immediately!