The End of the Era of Speed: The Video Game . . .

Over two years ago, I wrote an article called “The End of the Era of Speed.”

That article talked about CPUs, though we did note later on that it was a matter of time before the GPUs caught up.

Well, they’ve just about caught up. 🙁

It’s not the first time we’ve seen power estimates like this one. If true, these are video Prescotts.

Competition is all well and good, but one problem with it is that when you’re faced with a technical boundary like a heat wall that will be an enormous and expensive challenge to really fix, you’re sorely tempted to play chicken with the competition and keep pushing up the power one last time. Then you pray every night that somehow, someway, the problem magically (and inexpensively) goes away.

That’s what happened with Intel. It wasn’t that current leakage suddenly sprung up with Prescott, it first became a difficulty with the PIII, and really exploded with the PIV. Rather than call time out and truly deal with the issue, Intel dinked around with design, then circuits, then when all else failed, built bigger fans and new form factors until nothing worked any more.

AMD didn’t quite do that; they bit the bullet (a rather bigger one than they expected), and went with SOI (probably because IBM was doing the heavy lifting), but the fact is that Hammer designs would have melted sooner rather than later if they hadn’t.

The situation with video cards will be even more intense, with shorter generations and stiffer competition. Again, if those numbers are right, the game of chicken has already progressed beyond that of CPUs.

And these folks are pushing SLI?

This game of chicken is likely to turn expensive: for you. A major rampup in heat doesn’t just cost the price of the video cards, it also costs in bigger (and hotter) power supplies, not to mention a lot more advanced (and expensive) cooling to get rid of all the increased heat caused by all that increased power. Plenty will skimp on the cooling (especially on the OEM side) and that’s going to mean a lot more machines are going to face an early grave.

ATI and nVidia still have a couple tricks left. They can move to smaller processes like 65nm quicker than they would have otherwise. ATI may have liked AMD for its SOI.

Nonetheless, the handwriting is on the wall. The video card companies can pay the price now and rethink the video card, or they can pay later with their own Prescott-like fiasco.

The irony is the path being trod by the video card companies is inevitably self-defeating. Track out the trends some years, and you’ll find yourself with machines that will have eight CPUs, a dozen video and/or video physics cards, need a refrigerator unit to keep from puddling out, chew up three or four kilowatts, and cost somewhere north of $10K.

Then two thousand people will buy it, and they’ll all soon get bored playing against each other because the other two hundred million gamers will be playing XBox and PS3.

Seems awfully nEarsighted to me.


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