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The Year in PC Hardware – 2019

Harold Wilson (probably) once said that a week is a long time in politics. Well, a year is a long time in the world of technology so, as the world prepares to usher in 2020, please join me as we take a look at how the last twelve months have altered the PC component marketplace.

I shall be discussing the broader trends and notable new products, as well as the perceived “winners” and “losers” of the year. In the comments, feel free to discuss your own purchases and upgrades, upgrade plans for the future or any general PC building queries you might have.

We shall start with, in my mind, the biggest alteration of the personal computer landscape; AMD’s huge successes with their latest generation of CPU’s.

The Rise of Ryzen

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When AMD -the perennial underdog to Intel’s dominant position in the processor field- released their Ryzen series of CPU’s in 2017, the PC world took notice. With decent performance at an affordable price (based on AMD’s own Zen architecture), the 1000 series of desktop processors and Threadripper range for more commercial applications showed that the Santa Clara boffins still had a few tricks up their sleeve. 2018 saw an iterative increase in power and performance with the 2000 range (annoyingly rendering my Ryzen 5 1600 almost immediately obsolete) but it was in 2019 that they really blew the lid off the market.

The Ryzen 3000 series were hotly anticipated by the PC enthusiast, both because of the relatively low price/power ratio due to AMD’s continued improvements as well the convenience of utilising the same AM4 socket that the 1000 series used (though the 3rd gen of Threadrippers required a new motherboard, sadly). And, if you’ll pardon my language, AMD fucking knocked it out of the park.

When Amazon had their Black Friday sale in November, nine of the ten best-selling CPU’s were AMD. When the 3950X was released the same week, it sold out WORLDWIDE almost immediately. In Japan, people were lining up outside computer stores to make sure they got hold of one. The Steam Hardware Survey reported that percentage of customers with AMD processors had shot up to over 20%.

Intel seemed relatively uninterested in responding with much in the way of innovation. Their high-end i9’s continued to offer an impressive amount of raw power (at a price) and the 10th generation crept out at the eleventh hour, but when it came to a lot of review websites and their top 10’s of the year, it was all about Ryzen.

Red and Green Should Never Be Seen

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Somewhere AMD perhaps did not fare as well was in their graphics card division, Radeon.

Though Nvidia’s RTX 20 series were not as warmly received as they might have hoped in 2018 (reflected in their stock price taking a bump), they were still the most popular choice when it came to a dedicated graphics processor; 75% as of November this year.

Despite bringing out the 5000 series in the summer (accompanied by a rather cheeky price drop just before launch) AMD/Radeon failed to capture the imagination of those that demanded high-end GPU performance. When it came to sheer horsepower, Nvidia were well ahead of the curve.

However, Nvidia seemed to infuriate their own loyal consumer base by bringing out a confusing range of iterative increases, rendering cards that weren’t even six months old obsolete with the release of a slightly tweaked up version later in the year. If AMD play their cards (sorry) right in 2020 with their new Navi architecture, they could really shake things up in the GPU world as much as they have in the CPU one.

Metal Gear Solid State

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Not so much a technological innovation and more of a cost-efficiency one, the price of solid state media continues to fall and fall, putting 1 or 2TB drives on competitive terms with the traditionally cheaper HDD format. Right now, I can buy a 1TB m.2 drive for under £90. Even just last year, that would have seemed impossible. We can only assume that these prices will continue to drop in the future, putting the dream of an SSD-only system even in mid-range system budgets.

HDD’s are still the choice for mass storage (SSD’s above 2TB get very expensive again) and those of you that backup everything or store files on a network drive won’t be throwing away your hard metal any time soon, but it’s still a trend that shows SSD’s are no longer an expensive luxury for a home system.

Virtual Insanity

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Though it’s arguable if the current attempt to make VR a thing has been a success, hardware manufacturers are not resting on their laurels and have continued to pump out new tech for the platform throughout the year.

Valve decided to go it alone with the Valve Index, having ended their collaboration with Taiwanese electronics manufacturer HTC. I won’t bore you with things like resolutions and frame rates, etc, but the big selling point of this system was the ‘knuckle’ controllers. These recognise the input from individual fingers, allowing a more natural way of interacting with the virtual environment. Valve also announced a new VR Half-Life title, Half-Life: Alyx, to really showcase this tech. The system is a *bit* confusing, as you can buy the controllers separately to use with the old Vive (I think?) but it certainly looks like an interesting piece of kit. Valve also sell refurbished units of the original Vive in the USA, if buying new is out of your price bracket.

Oculus also made waves with their new Quest headset. Retailing for a (relatively) reasonable $399, this system doesn’t require you to be tethered to a cable or even setup external sensors and was praised as an excellent entry-level system for those that wanted to try out VR on PC.

HTC also released their own system, the Vive Cosmos (HTC kept the Vive brand name) but reviews were a bit mixed.

Conclusion

If you are considering building a new PC, or upgrading your current one, this is an excellent time to do so. With the affordability of the new Ryzen range (and cheaper stocks of the 2000 series still floating about), lower-end Nvidia graphics cards offering more bang for your buck than ever and even previously expensive indulgences like large SSD drives or VR units constantly coming down in price, it is definitely a buyer’s market in personal computing right now.

What are your thoughts? Disagree with anything I’ve said or want to offer a correction? Planning to upgrade soon or perhaps build a new system and would like some advice? Go ahead and comment below.