|Desktop PC Platform: Killed By Overclocking|
|Articles - Opinion & Editorials|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Tuesday, 10 August 2010|
Desktop PC Platform: Killed By Overclocking
In part one of this editorial series, Desktop PC Platform: Fears and Predictions, you were introduced to the basic framework of threats surrounding the desktop market segment. That article wasn't meant to be a self-sufficient story, but instead provide an illustration of the chain of events that have precipitated to create the perfect storm. Desktop PCs are our life blood, after all, and you wouldn't be here unless you held a vested interest in the future of this platform. I've already got more content prepared in support of my initial post, but this article will focus on one of the lesser-known threats: overclocking.
No, it's not the act of overclocking itself that threatens the survival of desktop computers as a platform; it's the overclocking market that's killing the industry. Manufacturer's have turned a hobby into a product, and then turned that product into their flagship model. Allow me to illustrate my point with a few passages from our recent Best CPU Cooler Performance series:
In this paragraph, I state how overclocking desktop computer hardware was born from need, not packaged as a product. I go on to demonstrate how the industry picked-up on this enthusiast hobby:
So overclocking began when enthusiasts simply needed hardware that could drive at the speed limit, and not necessarily to outperform a reasonable need for speed. That's when the component hardware industry stepped in to make a profit:
At its inception, overclocking computer hardware was a tool for making the incapable into something more capable. Professionals, students, enthusiasts, and countless personal users, have all discovered that using a computer was more enjoyable when it was able to keep up with the demands placed on it. For the longest time, the industry couldn't sell a piece of hardware that satisfied the fast-paced tasks a user could throw at it. When it slowly began to happen, which is subjective due to individual perceptions of speed, the computer component industry created an entire market segment dedicated to hardware enthusiasts and overclockers.
The age of overclocking hardware was born. Effectively standardized overnight, computer hardware components were separated into various categories of quality. There was budget, mainstream, professional, and then enthusiast. We've witnessed this trend for years now, as graphics solutions, processors, system memory, motherboards, and even power supplies have all be segregated by class. That's when overclocking stopping being the solution, and became the problem.
The examples are everywhere: Intel's $1000+ 'Extreme Edition' desktop processors, Gigabyte's $700 GA-X58A-UD9 motherboard, and $300 system memory kits made explicitly for overclockers. While there are people willing to buy these items, they often lose sight of the original purpose behind overclocking: making something slow become fast, and getting something more for no added cost. Tacking $2000 onto the price tag of your computer system is hardly keeping in the original spirit of overclocking, and is more closely identified with showing off how much money you can spend. The problem only gets worse, because now manufacturers have found ways to feed on this.
Back when I was taking my first baby steps into overclocking by risking everything to push a lousy Cyrix M-II 233MHz processor an extra 33MHz, the reward was a 15% bump in speed and a noticeable increase in performance. That was before computer hardware could keep up with user demands. These days, most hardware components are faster than you'll ever need. Enthusiast-branded products simply mean you're paying a premium for the privilege to own hardware capable of yielding an overclock... but once you've paid their price there's no guarantee you'll experience any difference.
At some point the computer industry went from asking consumers to pay more for the faster products, to paying more for products you might be able to make faster. This runs opposite of other industrial markets, which is why manufacturer's have spent so much of that added cost on convincing you that the purchase was necessary. Intel's Core i7-980X 6-Core CPU was advertised as the "Ultimate Gaming Weapon", but testing proved it did nothing at all for video game performance when paired with a suitable (and much less expensive) video card. The same message is parroted by memory manufacturers, who have notoriously labeled their products as gamer this-or-that. So how long can this business model last?