As much as I’m trying to remain positive about the year ahead, there is a large part of me concerned about a layer of stagnation settling over the PC gaming platform like an all too comfortable weighted blanket. It is, after all, the year of the first big new console generation in a long time. And when new platforms arrive there is generally a bit of a tech plateau ahead of it while everyone waits to see what the impact of the bruising heavyweight encounter between Microsoft and Sony’s new game boxes might be.
I mean, that clash alone is quite exciting from a tech point of view – shiny new consoles sporting potentially game-changing technology. Especially since the last few generations have essentially just been cobbled together from PC componentry and locked behind limited operating systems. They’re the driving platforms for much of tomorrow’s developers’ gaming outputs and so a vast number of the games on the PC over the next few years will be heavily influenced by the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X hardware.
But outside of that we’ve got little on the roadmap to really excite my PC tech sensibilities in 2020. The Intel Xe discrete graphics card is possibly the only thing that’s has my curiosity piqued – I know it’s not going to be a game-changer on its own, but it could be the start of a fascinating journey. An odyssey, if you will…
Sure AMD is going to carry on releasing great processors, but the die has been cast now, and we know, more or less, what the 7nm+ Zen 3 CPUs are going to offer – higher IPC, better gaming performance, more MHz, and probably, somehow, implausibly more corez. It’s going to shoehorn ray tracing into its RDNA 2.0 GPUs because Sony and Microsoft demanded it for their consoles, but I don’t really expect too much else hugely exciting from team Radeon in 2020.
Yeah, it might have chunky 500mm2 Navi 20-series GPUs – the oft promised ‘Big Navi’ – but if it really becomes a thing that feels like AMD brute-forcing gaming performance by throwing cores and cash at the problem. Though that has always worked for its green-tinged rivals…
Nvidia is going to tread the same familiar course too. Its next-gen GPU, whether Ampere or Hopper, is going to deliver higher rasterising performance, better ray tracing chops, and be cooler and more efficient. The standard gen-on-gen improvement you would always expect. How boring.
And outside of its new Xe GPU, Intel will keep on shipping as many 14nm CPUs as it can manage to squeeze out of its fabs, on the same essential CPU architecture it has for years.
So yeah, there’s PC tech stuff happening in 2020; with most of it looking pretty iterative until the exquisite details of all the Nvidia, AMD, and Intel tech gets released closer to launch. But what of everything the past has promised that actually isn’t going to happen in the PC gaming world of 2020?
1. Quantum computing becoming relevant
We love quantum computing. It’s brain-meltingly complex. And complex in a way that means no-one actually seems to be sure if it even really exists, or is anything other than snake oil and dog eggs. Maybe it’s all just lies and damned statistics, but quantum computers sure look cool. Like, seriously cool. Getting dangerously close to absolute zero cool. Literally.
They’re these massive machines that look like the room-filling computers of early NASA footage, and one day we’re going to look back at them in the same way as we look at the IBM room-fillers of old next to our shiny little PC boxes. But not this year. No, quantum computing is not going to get anywhere nearer real-world relevance in 2020, even if it does manage to level-up and complete the total cryptography of Bitcoin one afternoon.
2. 8K gaming monitors
There might well be some 8K gaming monitors shown off at CES or Computex in 2020, and there are bound to be 8K TVs at the big consumer tech shows too. But you’re not going to see them on your desktops. They’re not going to be ‘a thing’ for a few years, not until we’ve got graphics cards that aren’t brought to their knees by games running at 4K with just a few post-processing effects dialed up.
At the moment we’re talking about today’s hardware struggling with a little over 8 million pixels, and you’re expecting them to be able to deal with scenes chucking around more than 33 million pixels? Hell, it’s taken long enough to encourage gamers to move on up to 1440p from good ol’ HD…
3. Sound cards making a comeback
No-one cares about good audio. People wear Beats headphones and think they sound good. Sound cards aren’t going to make a comeback. Ever.
4. Half-Life: Alyx revitalising VR
I know I’ve dropped this into my Top PC Tech of 2020 article too as an actual possibility, but honestly I’m still about 50/50 on whether Half-Life: Alyx is really going to be enough of a lightning bolt to reanimate the desiccated corpse of virtual reality. It could well be a little shot in the arm of the Valve Index maybe, but whether it’s going to be enough to pick up the entire frickin’ VR industry, I’m not sure.
Maybe if Valve had managed to get its hardware-making shit and its game-making shit together at the same time, and released both HL: Alyx and the Index at the same time that could have been a watershed moment. But, y’know, Valve Time isn’t the same as normal time.
5. Intel getting its manufacturing shit together
Speaking of getting hardware-making shit together… can Intel sort out its manufacturing shizzle? Given that it hasn’t been able to sort out its 14nm capacity problems over the last couple of years that’s looking… unlikely. Despite more volume production on 10nm, there are still going to be a huge number of legacy products still rattling off that 14nm production line and Intel is still lining up more releases on that same node in 2020 with the Intel Comet Lake range.
Maybe it’s really hoping for PC demand to completely tail off and/or for loads of people start switching allegiance to AMD’s Ryzen CPUs. That would spare it from the demands of customers actually wanting Intel’s chips and give it some breathing room. Hell of a thing to hope for if you’re a big chip maker…
6. AMD releasing an industry dominating, high-end gaming GPU
So while AMD is starting to really dominate the CPU market, and most especially the high-end desktop market with its stunning Threadripper chips, it’s really not at the races in the graphics card game. It’s not a million miles off, however – 2019’s Radeon RX 5700-series actually proved AMD could make quality graphics cards that could rival at least some of Nvidia’s GPUs.
But, importantly, it still hasn’t been able to demonstrate actual performance leadership at the very top. And that’s something Nvidia seems to put a lot of stock in because it’s been launching enthusiast class graphics cards for years, first in the Titan cards and then in the Ti versions of its top GPU ranges. In that rarefied air there is nothing to rival the $1,200 Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti.
And for all the noises about the ‘Big Navi’ card being AMD’s ‘Nvidia Killer’ we’ve still got nothing but hearsay and rumour-mongering to suggest the red team is going to present a high-end GPU to dominate the gaming market. Even then Nvidia will likely just release a new 7nm chip, jam it full of even more transistors, cores, and fixed function units, and continue its lengthy rule at the top.
7. Nvidia going easy on our wallets
We live in a relentlessly capitalist society, however much Jacob wants to change that. AMD isn’t likely to challenge Nvidia’s hegemony at the high end of the graphics card stack and so the trickle down effect isn’t going to be moar powa at the lower echelons, it’s going to be prices still remaining artificially high.
Because that’s how our society works, and that’s how big companies keep making the big bucks. It kinda sucks, but that’s why we have nice things. Just only nice things at a heavy, heavy price.
8. HDR working on PC
Forget about it. Not going to happen. Seriously. It’s still going to be a clusterfuck getting HDR gaming working on PC throughout 2020.
9. Google Stadia gitting gud
Bless. When I first saw what was being promised by the Google Stadia game streaming platform I felt a very real sense of existential dread. Why spend on local PC hardware when a streaming service with the might of Google behind it could offer more power over the net tubes than you could match at home?
Well, the promise still has yet to come to pass. And, despite Stadia’s free Base subscription set to arrive some time this year, offering 1080p streaming on purchased games without a monthly fee, it’s going to have to work a lot harder to actually git gud. In fact, we’d argue it’s going to have to completely rewrite its business model in order to achieve any sort of relevance in today’s market.
There are still just 27 games in the Stadia library and even the self-deprecating ‘Best of Stadia’ list is just a litany of titles that perfectly exemplify 7-out-of-10 gaming.