The “Not So” Late, “And Still” Great Desktop PC

Talk about a category that doesn’t get much love. Desktop PCs are considered by many to be the dinosaur of the device category. After all, they’re big, bulky, typically heavy beasts that don’t exactly fit the mobility profile with which everyone seems obsessed.

And yet, they continue to lumber on. Sure, shipments have slipped from their peak and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, there were still just under 100 million desktop PCs shipped worldwide in 2017. No matter how you look at it, that’s still a big number.

More importantly, desktops continue to evolve and improve, and they continue to be the form factor of choice for a wide variety of applications, from professional eSports and PC gaming through professional audio, music and video digital content creation (and let’s not forget cryptocurrency mining). In their fortified workstation versions, desktops still dominate for applications such as 3D modelling, scientific research, and much more.

Plus, for those who love to tinker with and build their own compute devices, absolutely nothing beats a desktop PC. Whether it’s the range of color light-equipped RGB fans, or the auto engine-style heat pipes, there’s no shortage of ways to customize the look of your custom desktop rig.

The customization possibilities continue “under-the-hood” as well, with an enormous range of hardware components and software utilities designed to wring the absolute maximum potential performance out of a given desktop PC system.

The latest entry into the desktop component fray is AMD’s new second-generation Ryzen (though not Ryzen 2) family of desktop CPUs, topped by the 3.7 GHz, 8-core, 16-thread, Ryzen 7 2700X. Long a sentimental favorite of the DIY PC crowd, AMD has had difficulty competing against Intel from a performance perspective for many years, but last year’s Ryzen launch and the additional refinements in this year’s CPUs have made things interesting again in the world of PC benchmarks.

Thanks to a variety of refinements to algorithms that dynamically boost clock speed based on workloads and power efficiency (Precision Boost 2 and XFR, or Xtended Frequency Range, respectively), as well as some reductions in latencies to on-chip caches and system memory, these new CPUs offer mid-single digit percentage improvements versus last year’s models, despite having very similar overall architectures.

More importantly, in my mind, are the refinements that AMD has made to their Ryzen Master CPU tuning and overclocking software. Like Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility, Ryzen Master provides an overview of the performance, temperature, and other various settings of each core in the CPU. While its primary intention is to enable overclocking and other performance enhancements—and with the help of some liquid nitrogen can apparently enable speeds up to 6 GHz per core—the refined UI of Ryzen Master offers an IoT-like snapshot of the physical characteristics of the different Ryzen CPU cores. It’s a fascinating example of how people can now get a much more detailed view of their technology devices at work.

Desktop PCs are clearly not the right choice for everyone, but they clearly are a great choice for a significant, and often overlooked, group of people. Given the renewed competitive energy between Intel’s Coffee Lake generation desktop CPUs and these new second generation AMD Ryzen chips, there’s also a surprisingly strong but typically overlooked set of technologies benefitting today’s desktop market.

Thanks to these advancements, as well as the continuously growing range of workloads that are being performed on both consumer and commercial PCs, it’s safe to say, we’ll likely still be talking about a desktop PC market for decades to come.

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Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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