A host of new components

It seems 2009 is going to be another big step up for the component market, with another version of Windows on its way, and the inevitable upgrades that follow, and the release of several core technologies presenting an opportunity for some major upgrade purchases.

It seems 2009 is going to be another big step up for the componentmarket, with another version of Windows on its way, and the inevitableupgrades that follow, and the release of several core technologiespresenting an opportunity for some major upgrade purchases.

Intel and AMD will be bringing in a new host of technologies for 2009,although Intel still seems to have the upper hand, with the 32nmWestmere platform due some time in 2009. As if quad-core processorswere not enough, it looks like both AMD and Intel could releaseeight-core processors for high-end users before the end of 2009.

Last year’s new kid on the block was Intel’s Atom processor, which wasa hit with entry-level and ultra mobile users, with figures showingAtom sales almost doubling the growth of the processor market to over15% year on year, pushing Intel’s market share to 87% in the mobilemarket, according to IDC.

The trend looks set to continue this year, with dual-core versions ofthe chip already out and significant speed bumps on their way and thepotential for a quad-core version later in the year.

In the motherboard market there is potential for a big hit for AMDusers with a shift to the new AM3 platform (although AM3-basedprocessors will work in the older AM2+ boards). This shift should startto drag down the price of DDR3 memory as requirement for it rises. Withquite a few new core technologies for motherboards being released thismight not be as big an issue for AMD and it will be interesting to seesome of the new boards when they arrive.

AMD does not only do processors, of course, and the battle between whatwas ATI and Nvidia is now even closer, with both companies bringing outnew graphics platforms and taking advantage not only of the 40nmprocesses but also DDR3 support which will become the standard during2009.

The trend of putting multiple GPUs on one card to create high-endmonsters will continue and some awesome performance should be deliveredby both the new RD890 from AMD and the GT216 from Nvidia.

If you do not think you will need all this power, wait until you seewhat can be done with the soon to be released DirectX 11, the firstversion of DirectX to be multi-threaded so it can finally take bestadvantage of multiple core processors.

As ever, with increasing software complexity and ever more “friendly”user interfaces you will need even more RAM, with 2GB being thestandard now and many “performance systems” coming with 4GB. SinceReadyBoost technology appears not to have lived up to its hype, itseems plenty of users will be increasing their memory or upgrading withnew memory purchases as people finally move to DDR3.

One of the new core technologies due towards the end of 2009 is USB3.0. With 10x the speed and almost 10x the power capacity of itspredecessor, and full backwards compatibility, USB 3.0 has the abilityto enable huge changes in the way we move and handle data. It is sofast that a standard hard drive cannot keep up with it – to put it inperspective, you could transfer a full HD movie (roughly 25GB) in justover one minute.

With the increase in power you will also be able to run more powerfulaccessories – fingers crossed for an external 3D graphics acceleratorfor notebooks, even if it takes two USB 3.0 connectors (yes, I knowthese have been done before, but they either did not work or requiredspecific connectivity).

The extra transfer speed will come in handy as the increase in storagecapacity is set to take another big leap in 2009, with 3.5in desktophard drives due to step up to between 2.5 terabytes and 4 terabytes,depending on which manufacturer you talk to, and 2.5in notebook drivesgetting up to 750GB – a lot of storage space by anyone’s standards.

The rise in popularity of solid state drives will continue, withcapacities of up to 512GB by the end of 2009, the only constraint beingthe cost over standard hard drives which will start to dwindle asproduction ramps up.

That is some of the technology to look forward to in the year ahead, but what opportunities does it offer?

With many people feeling the impact of the financial downturn,entry-level Atom-based units such as Asus’ E-box will grow as a marketsegment, and the likewise equipped Eee-PC and its clones will start topressure mainstream notebook sales.

High-end purchases will continue to be dominated by gaming software,with “grade A” titles triggering a raft of processor, memory andgraphics card upgrades. Keep an eye out for Bioshock 2, Starcraft 2,Halo Wars and Resident Evil 5 as they all look as though they will needsome significant horsepower to run properly.

To end where we began, with Windows 7, which is still rumoured to bedue in late 2009, although many industry insiders are resigned to a2010 release for the much-needed Windows Vista replacement. It seemsthat component sales will have to stand on their own technological feetand not get the benefit of a big OS change, so here is hoping the majortechnology vendors can deliver their new products on time and insufficient quantities.

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