As we close off what’s been an, er, eventful year, to say the least, the festive break offers a perfect moment to take stock and look at what you can expect PC hardware-wise going into 2021.
2020 ended up being a pretty big year for PC gaming hardware – even if actual PC gamers have struggled to get their hands on any of it following delays due to the global pandemic and no end of scalping drama.
We had major graphics card releases from Nvidia and AMD, with the new RTX 30 series delivering a sub $400 card that beats Nvidia’s RTX 2080 Super from last year at half the launch price. An impressive feat, no doubt, until AMD dropped a very similar lineup with the cherry on top being a genuinely competitive high-end GPU . Then, on the processor side, AMD released its new 7nm Zen 3 CPUs with huge performance increases, which took the fight to Intel’s Comet Lake-S lineup. That’s just to name a few, but we’ve got a full roundup of the best PC hardware of 2020 here, too.
2021 looks to follow in the promising footsteps of 2020 (minus the stock issues, we hope), with some big advancements expected when it comes to PC hardware.
The next generation of memory modules is set to become available to consumers in 2021, a welcome upgrade from its six-year-old predecessor, DDR4. In that time we’ve had massive improvements in CPU and GPU performance, so it’s time for RAM to play catch-up. The benefits of DDR5, simply put, are further-improved performance and stability.
The memory manufacturer TeamGroup has already confirmed the release of its consumer DDR5 memory sticks for 2021, running at an impressive 4,800MHz out of the box, and a performance increase of up to “1.6 times”.
None of the current AMD or Intel chips support DDR5 though, so we’ll be waiting for AMD’s Zen 4 coming in 2022, and Intel’s Alder Lake-S chips in 2021/2022 for that compatibility.
more nvidia graphics cards
There’s been no shortage of rumours and leaks about the arrival of more cards in Nvidia’s RTX 30 series lineup, such as a top-end RTX 3080 Ti and a budget RTX 3060. This is looking more and more likely with Nvidia now announcing its ‘GeForce RTX: Game On’ event at CES in January. So, what do we know about these as-yet unconfirmed cards? Well, nothing, but reports suggest they’ll boast more VRAM than the previously-released Ampere cards, which should show its benefit in games like Microsoft Flight Simulator.
New products are all well and good, but we’ll have to wait and see if Nvidia can keep up with stock. If it can meet demand, maybe next year you’ll actually be able to get your hands on some of the already-released Ampere GPUs, or even AMD’s Big Navi.
We can also look forward to the next generation of Nvidia graphics cards codenamed Hopper, rumoured to be on a 5nm process, packing even more processing power – although looking forward is all we’ll be doing as they’re not slated to release until 2022 at the earliest.
intel rocket lake and alder lake
Intel’s upcoming 11th-generation processors, code-named Rocket Lake-S, have already been confirmed for release in Q1 of 2021, still running on the LGA 1200 socket for backwards compatibility with current motherboards. We’ve already seen a few rumoured specification leaks and benchmarks. No surprises with the naming here, with each model just being an iteration from the previous generation.
Intel is finally catching up to AMD with these chips, however, as they’re the first from Intel to have PCIe 4.0 support, (provided your motherboard does, too) doubling bandwidth and speed over the previous PCIe 3.0 standard, and taking advantage of even faster fourth generation PCIe NVMe SSDs that team red has been enjoying for over a year already.
By the end of the year, or maybe even the start of 2022, we’ll see the release of Intel’s 12th-generation Alder Lake-S processors. These will be the first to support DDR5 RAM, and it’s thought Intel will switch to a larger LGA 1700 socket, so you’ll need a new motherboard to keep up with the performance leap.
new mobile cpus and gpus
We’re also expecting gaming laptops to take a big step forward in 2021, which is when AMD’s first Zen 3 mobile processors are expected to arrive – likely to be announced at CES in January. We’ve seen some promising benchmarks appear from one of these processors, already, with a multi core benchmark score similar to Intel’s i7-10700K, which is one of the best gaming CPUs you can buy right now.
Nvidia is also expected to release its RTX 30 series mobile graphics cards – again, at CES 2021 – which should give gaming laptops a leg up in the most demanding titles like Cyberpunk 2077. Current high-end gaming laptops still use previous gen RTX 20 series mobile GPUs, so there’s plenty of headroom for improvement.
amd competes with nvidia’s dlss 2.0
Nvidia’s new DLSS 2.0 super sampling technology has proven itself to give significant performance uplifts in games which otherwise struggle to get a decent frame rate in even the best graphics cards – particularly when ray tracing is enabled.
AMD hasn’t got its equivalent yet, which is evident in the poor ray tracing performance of its new RX 6000 series cards when compared to Nvidia’s RTX 30 line-up. However, AMD does have its own DLSS alternative in the works called FidelityFX Super Resolution, or FSR for short. We still don’t know when AMD’s solution will arrive or how long it’ll take for developers to adopt the technology, but when it lands, AMD’s latest and greatest cards should have a real chance at matching the ray tracing performance we’ve seen from Nvidia.
And there you have it, our roundup of what PC hardware you can look forward to as we enter 2021. If you’re looking to build a gaming PC right now, you might just want to hold off for a few months and see what PC gaming hardware arrives.