2013 desktop computer predictions

Around January of this year I built my latest computer, meaning that (given historical trends), I’ll likely do a fresh build sometime in 2013, and so I figured I’d compile various things I’ve read to predict the sort of computer it would be.

The core of any computer is the CPU, and the current go-to part is Intel’s Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, built on the 32 nm node. Next year (2012) will see a die shrink to 22 nm, resulting in Ivy Bridge. Then, in 2013, Intel will (likely) release its next architecture, called Haswell which will form the basis of the new system.

I find a large majority of motherboard features, like RAID, to be unnecessary for my own workload, or to be now so common, like HD Audio, as to not even be worth mentioning. Obviously we can expect more USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps ports as they get integrated into the chipset itself and no longer require expensive external chips. More interesting is a new SATA spec that will allow the climb in SSD speeds, called SATA Express that might be broadly available by 2013. I don’t know whether by 2013 we’ll finally see the venerable PS/2 port go the way of the COM port, but when it does I guess I’ll need to get a new keyboard. PCI Express 3.0 will obviously be there (it’s already appearing in certain motherboards), but 2013 is too early for PCIe 4.0 to make an appearance. How long before graphics cards start pushing the boundaries of PCIe 3 is another matter.

In terms of the history of my RAM purchases, it goes something like this:

  • 2004: 1 GB DDR1
  • 2006: 2 GB DDR2
  • 2008: 4 GB DDR2
  • 2011: 8 GB DDR3

Therefore, I can reasonably estimate that the desktop computer of 2013 will have 16 GB of DDR3 (the speed is largely irrelevant). 2013 is almost surely too early for DDR4, and even if it’s available it will probably be too expensive.

Late this year or early next year we can expect to see GPUs on the 28 nm node, bringing along a fairly hefty performance increase. A newer architecture on the same node and then a die shrink carries us to 2013, where I postulate a GPU on the 20/22 nm node. More stream processing, more pixels doing more things, same story. My current card (a Radeon 6950) has 2 GB of graphics RAM, so I think 4 GB in 2013 is wholly reasonable.

I expect that generally the price per gigabyte of SSDs will decrease over the given time interval, though perhaps not the absolute dollar value of the drives since they’ll increase in capacity. I paid a king’s ransom for my 240 GB earlier this year, and the story hasn’t much improved since then. Still waiting for the psychological $1/GB barrier to be breached. One thing I’m interested in is bringing the idea of double data rate (DDR), where information is sent on both the rising and falling edge of a clock (as has been in the case with RAM for quite a while), is brought to SSDs (which is already happening). I don’t know whether this will be widespread by 2013, though it would be nice to saturate a SATA Express port in that way. As for hard drives, per platter density continues to increase and I conservatively estimate that we’ll see value 4 and 5 TB hard drives in 2012 and 6 TB drives in 2013. When I started this kind of thing back in 2004, my first drive was 300 GB, and now in only 7 years I’ve seen a ten-fold increase in storage (I don’t even want to remember how much I paid for it). Cue some old guy reminiscing about the time he sold his kidneys for a 20 MB drive.

I no longer care about optical drives (mine hasn’t been plugged in for 10 months), so whether Blu-Ray will still be top dog or whether some holographic successor becomes mainstream by 2013 is of only passing interest to me. By 2013 I’ll have probably picked up a new USB key (mine is a 4 GB USB 2.0 from 2006), but who knows.

More generally, I don’t think that 450 mm wafers will be in mainline production by 2013, which I think is reasonable (I’d imagine more like 2017/2018). For a desktop, wired Cat 5e will still be fine, as 1 Gigabit Ethernet should still be plenty for the home. For wireless ethernet, I imagine by 2013 the gradually move from 802.11n to 802.11ac will start becoming more noticeable, though probably not mainstream.

Summary:

  • CPU: Intel 22 nm Haswell
  • Motherboard: PCI Expres 3.0, SATA Express, USB 3.0 common, PS/2 port remaining around is a coin toss.
  • RAM: 16 GB DDR3
  • GPU: 20/22 nm with 4 GB GDDR5 or -6 (I’ve heard nothing about any proposed GDDR6, but a boy can dream)
  • SSD: Still expensive, but cost per gigabyte falling below $1/GB and possibly utilizing DDR techniques for higher speed. Say 500 GB at around $350 if you’re crazy like me.
  • HDD: 6 TB
  • Ethernet: Still 1 Gigabit Ethernet over Cat 5e (no need for household Cat 6 yet), and 802.11n wireless is still the primary standard with rumblings about 802.11ac.
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