The Year in PC Hardware – 2020

Well, what a year eh? In spite of all the chaos that has unfolded (and continues to unfold), the world of technology has been particular busy in the last twelve months, and so I invite you to join me in another rundown of the major PC hardware launches over the last year.

As I did last time, 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.

I feel it is important to say upfront that I will NOT be discussing the new console launches, as though they are evermore overlapping with the personal computer sphere they are still very much their own thing. I will, however, be discussing some hardware that does not require a dedicated rig to utilise —such as Google Stadia, Oculus Quest, etc— since such products or services can be run from a PC if you so wish.

And on that note, let’s kick things off with a look at the world of virtual reality.

Virtual Insanity 2: Social Media Boogaloo

The Oculus Quest 2.

After being acquired by Facebook (we’ll come back to that), VR technology company Oculus had a hit last year with the release of the Oculus Quest, a headset that could run video games with no additional hardware. 2020 saw an upgrade of this platform, the Oculus Quest 2, and the reviews were yet again extremely favourable. Perhaps not *quite* worth upgrading if you already owned the first iteration, but still an affordable and relatively painless option if the thought of setting up multiple motion-tracking sensors in your office was putting you off.

However, there was one feature that caused almost universal consternation amongst the VR community; to use this product, you were required to login with a Facebook account.

Pre-empting a wave of fake accounts with names like “Guy Incognito”, Facebook made a point of reminding users that their terms of service did not allow the creation of such accounts and anyone breaching this rule would have their account terminated. Since your Oculus software library is tied to the account, that would mean if you were banned from Facebook, you couldn’t play any of the titles you’d purchased for it. Existing Oculus accounts would still be functional until a certain point in the future, when they would be transferred over to the social media platform.

Otherwise, there wasn’t too much in the way of new VR kit, with the exception of the HP Reverb G2. This was HP’s second generation of Windows Mixed Reality gear. Reviews were… OK.

PC Gaming Without a PC

Google Stadia running on an LG Velvet.

The games streaming sphere widened a little this year, with Google Stadia rolling out to more devices and phones and some remodelling of the free and paid tiers (the free “Stadia Base” was renamed simply to “Stadia”). Stadia also collaborated with Electronic Arts, to allow some of their popular titles to be played on the service.

GeForce NOW (which has been around for a few years at this point) had a slightly rocky start when it left beta early in the year, with several big publishers pulling their titles from the service. These included Activision Blizzard, 2K Games and Bethesda. I actually have several months of GeForce NOW Premium, but I’ve never really found an opportunity to use it anywhere.

Not wanting to miss out on all the fun, Amazon launched their own games streaming service, Luna. That is all I know about Amazon Luna.

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Jensen Huang, president and chief executive officer of Nvidia.

After much speculation and rumour-mongering, Nvidia finally showed off their next generation of graphics cards and associated features, the RTX 30 Series. The early benchmarks were wild and independent reviews confirmed that, indeed, this was the generational leap in power we were hoping for after the slight let-down of the first RTX cards.

Anticipated demand was high and launch day was shaping up to be a case of “Get in before they all sell out!” And sell out they did. Quickly. Almost suspiciously quickly.

Scalpers, armed with software bots that could snipe the new cards before you’d even got your credit card out to read the number, ensured the launch day was a shitshow. All the major retail websites crashed. I ordered my card (a Gigabyte 3080) on launch day and waited two months for it. Cards were appearing on eBay with ridiculous prices. The consumers sulked.

So when AMD announced their new range of Radeon graphics processors, the just-as anticipated “Big Navi” 6000 series, people hoped that the same launch day problems wouldn’t afflict them. Well they did, arguably even worse. To rub salt into the wound, third-party versions of the new AMD offerings were retailing for more than their Nvidia alternatives in some cases, which meant you could pay more for less perceived performance.

At present, the situation has calmed down somewhat but nabbing any of these new gizmos is not a given.

Oh Intel, We Hardly Knew Ye

Dr. Lisa Su, president and chief executive officer of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

Although AMD had been making significant leaps and bounds in the CPU sphere with their Ryzen processors, they were still behind Intel when it came to single-core performance. The consensus was that although Ryzen provided excellent value for money, Intel chips were the ones to go for if you valued real gaming performance.

Then the Ryzen 5000 chips were announced and AMD hadn’t so much upset the apple cart, they had destroyed the apple cart with lasers and turned the apples into smoke.

Even on the lowest offered processor, the 5600X, the single-core performance smashed the competition. The 5000 series chips began topping benchmark results and receiving gushing recommendations from hardware reviewers.

Of course, the same flood of eager consumers meant they almost immediately sold out (combined with, you know, everything going on in the world right now) though, thankfully, stock numbers are starting to looking look a lot more healthy already.

Smokin’ Hot Case

Damage caused by short-circuiting on an NZXT H1 PC case.

On a slightly different tack, American component company NZXT had a spot of bother when it turned out that a manufacturing defect on one of their cases —the NZXT H1— could cause it to, er, burst into flames.

They immediately ceased production of the case and offered a fix to any consumers affected (apparently this was quite a small amount), as well as working with the authorities to recall the faulty units.

The issue was caused by an electrical short that could occur on the graphics card riser, which is necessary to fit a graphics card in such a compact case.

Conclusion

So, perhaps not the smoothest of product rollouts this year but definitely some big ones. So what about your thoughts? Did you upgrade your computer at all or were you stymied by the scarcity of parts? Any plans for the future?

Feel free to share your builds, plans and comments below.