Yeahs and Nays For 2005

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Computing Event of the Year

The Year of Cant and Can’t: If geeks had a Chinese-like calendar, 2005 would be called the Year of the Delay. Almost nothing came out on time and/or as expected. From Intel essentially taking the year off to both video companies promising but not delivering on products to IBM not being able to supply Microsoft with sufficient XBox360 chips (and with many of the chips supplied overheating), the PC industry promised more than it could deliver.

It was a sign of the times that when AMD finally began delivering and began seriously producing Hammers, after many delays, this was considered joyful and triumphant.

When you can’t deliver product, you deliver hot air, and boy, we got plenty of that. The message became shriller and more targeted to vulnerabilities and insecurities: emo music for geeks.

Let me ask those of you who paid top dollar for whatever: did it meet the hyped-up hope?

Honorable Mentions:

Video Prices Jump: The video companies raised the sky, then charged as high as it. We saw $750 video cards, but that wasn’t the real news for most. What was the real news was that the average price of a very good video card jumped upward to the $300 or more level.

There’s been some recent signs this hasn’t been working too well in the mainstream, and both companies seem to be cutting prices in the lower-middle range, but both companies are still trying to upscale the cost of gaming.

Overclocking Product of the Year

Socket 939 Opterons Really, what else caused any kind of excitement this year? Problem was, much of the excitement it generated was the wrong kind. You want people to get excited buying your product, not get anxious about trying to find it.

Dog of the Year

The Mainstream Video Card Stunted, pipelines sliced, the medium-range video card now looks more like an act of sabotage than a proud product, with its main purpose being the bait in a bait-and-switch.

Winner of the Year

Nobody: Nobody won big-time. However, not everyone had a lousy year, so like the mainstream video cards, we’ll cut a few pipelines off the award, and, appropriately for the times, rename it the:

Winner of the Year–Special Edition: AMD and nVidia Both companies were in recovery mode this year, grabbing back a big chunk of what they had lost the preceding years against opposition with big problems.

AMD had a good year. They finally got its act together with Hammers, and ended up for the first time making significantly more processors than it did in the heyday of 2000-2001 (though it still hasn’t grabbed back all the marketshare it held back then). Opterons did a bit better than expected breaking into a tougher market than the desktop.

The real question for AMD is whether they can build on this foundation to really challenge Intel in the years ahead, or will they rest on their laurels and let any current advantages they have dribble away in 2006/2007.

nVidia got back to normal, and found ATI struggling for a change.

Loser of the Year

There was considerable competition for this award, but after careful consideration, we decided on a less-obvious choice.

IBM: They struggled with SOI. They lost Apple. They couldn’t get 65nm down in time for XBox 360 and had to try to come up with 90nm chips running at 3.2GHz. This is most likely the underlying reason why IBM can’t make enough chips to keep MS happy, and why the chips they’re providing are often overheating.

This is not the way to beat Intel, and things are going to get worse before they get better.

Hint, Hint, Hint: If you want either an X360 or PS3, and the hype hasn’t completely enslaved you, it might be a really good idea to wait until these consoles are equipped with 65nm processors.

Survivor Award

Intel: When you make products all year than even you say kind of suck, and you retain almost 95% of your marketshare, that’s not bad.

Slick Willy Award

AMD: They got this award last year for looking good despite doing practically nothing. Imagine how good they were when they actually had some good news to report.

Whatever little respect I had for computer media completely vanished this year as I saw one fawning gush about AMD after another. I’m not talking about fan-boy sites (though they were annoying enough), but places that ought to know better than to swallow everything coming from the PR department. After reading some accounts, you half-wanted to check the Chapter 11 listings to see if Intel had filed for bankruptcy yet.

Give the devil his due; Hector Ruiz put on a near-Steven Jobs-like show in 2005. What is truly shameful is not him doing it, but those in the media buying it without question.

What To Watch In 2006

CPUs Get More Interesting: The CPU scene may not get a lot better in 2006, but at least it will be livelier.

Intel will start off right at the start of the new year with its first-generation 65nm processors. Yes, they’re placeholders; they’re Prescotts Reloaded/Defurnaced. No, they won’t improve to the degree we used to expect from a process shrink. Yes, outside of a few games, overclocked 65nm Intel chips will probably perform about the same as current AMD Opteron chips, and a bit better than A64s.

This will probably not last long. We’ll see new processes from AMD sometimes in the first half of the year which will likely give their CPUs a 5-10$ boost, which will be enough to grab a smaller lead back.

Come the summer, and Intel will give us Pentium M for the desktop. Right now, all we know is that it will act more like a Pentium M than a Pentium IV. We are clueless as to how high they’ll be able to be cranked up; but if they can’t get much past 3GHz, they aren’t going to be competitive.

Finally, maybe, we may see a last boost if AMD can get 65nm chips out by the end of the year. There are some indications that the key problem behind the delay is not being able to buy the needed fab equipment. We’ll have to see how that plays out.

Vista and DRM Shifting to a new OS always is an event, but this will cause more change than most. If Vista doesn’t kickstart x86-64 into becoming a mainstream activity; it’s not going to happen.

That’s traumatic enough, but what will get more attention, at least in these circles, is that Vista is meant to be the enabler for mainstream hardware-based DRM.

Whatever happens, it will be the most screamed-about subject of the year.

What Does Apple Do? Apple will make Intel-based Macs this year. They’ll be perfectly capable of running Windows. What will be most interesting this year will be not how Apple makes these computers, but rather how they’ll sell them.

If Apple really wanted to make big inroads into the PC market, what they would do would be to promote the fact that these machines can run both MacOS and Windows, so one can have one’s cake and eat it, too. Buy Apple, enjoy MacOS X, and also be able to run all your Windows programs, too.

They ought to provide the option of machines pre-installed with both Windows and MacOS X, and even better, figure out a way for people to switch from one to the other, much like switching from MacOS X to MacOS 9 mode.

Do all that, and the Intel miniMac might turn into a PC iPod.

Of course, that sort of promotion would mean swallowing one’s pride a little, and it’s unclear Apple can do that. On the one hand, openly welcoming the enemy Windows might be considered the ultimate act of blasphemy in Macdom. On the other hand, Apple hasn’t had a problem making Windows versions of QuickTime or iTunes.

Will Small Become Beautiful? I spoke about this the other day, so I won’t repeat myself, but this could mean the mainstreaming of smaller computers.

Coming Out of the Closet This probably won’t happen in 2006, but should this Intel/AMD trial get going, this is going to become a dirt fight. People are already expecting all sorts of evil revelations about Intel, but it’s going to be more than that.

Intel will of course try to dig up and spread whatever they can about AMD ineptitude, but what I think is going to blindside people are revelations about what both companies do to, uhhh, influence the media, including the computer websites.

I think we’re going to see some of the tech equivalent of the old payola scandals, more of “you’ll love this product or else.”

Again, this probably won’t happen in 2006, but when it does, expect a lot of chunks to hit the fan.

Ed

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