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The biggest hardware moments of 2018

The biggest hardware moments of 2018

The biggest hardware moments of 2018

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When it comes to hardware news, 2018 is full of scandals, exploits, big releases, you name it. We saw Nvidia introduce ray tracing, the cryptocurrency bubble finally burst, the net neutrality battle intensified, and Walmart entered the world of gaming PCs with its line of Overpowered desktops and laptops.

There doesn’t seem to be a single topic in the hardware world in 2018 that hasn’t been touched. Here’s our review of all the big stories.

Crypto Bubble Bursts, GPU Prices Affordable Again

It seems that everyone is jumping on the cryptocurrency bandwagon. Samsung started making special chips specifically for cryptocurrency mining. Crytek has partnered with Crycash to launch a cryptocurrency for gamers. Even Kodak got in on some action. The craze has also caught the attention of some not-so-honest miners, including some crypto robbers from Japan who stole $5 billion worth of NEM (XEM) tokens. There must be a fever, and the only cure is cryptocurrency.

There must be a fever, and the only cure is cryptocurrency.

But the exploding cryptocurrency value has meant that GPU inventories have been depleted and prices have skyrocketed, making graphics cards inaccessible and affordable for many. For example, at the beginning of the year, the GTX 1080 Ti was selling for an average of $800, which is $100 more than its launch price of $699—if you can find it. Prices for AMD Vega and RX cards tilted further, but the mining boom increased AMD’s market share, making it more competitive with Nvidia. Between the high price of GPUs and the high cost of RAM, this made it difficult for the average gamer in the first half of 2018 to build a new rig.

However, what goes up must come down. Amid the hype, there are concerns about power and hardware longevity, the initial cost of hardware, and the price volatility of the cryptocurrency itself. These concerns are not unfounded. Anyone who invested time and money in mining saw prices plummet mid-year, with many currencies down 90% in value by August. As a result, GPU prices stabilized and retailers were able to keep enough stock that PC gamers were finally able to buy GPUs again. That’s not good news for Nvidia, whose shares have nearly halved since peaking in early October.

Some people and companies are not ready to say goodbye to cryptocurrency mining. Asus is still going all out with its quantum cloud service for gamers who want to make money when they’re not playing. It seems that 2018 won’t be the last time we hear about the crypto boom.

(Image credit: Flickr via Free Press)

The never-ending war on net neutrality

The idea of ​​treating all internet traffic the same, with no additional surcharges or restrictions on consumers, is definitely a hot topic in 2018. Many people worry (and still worry) that without net neutrality regulations, ISPs will charge more for certain services like social media or prevent lower-income households from getting higher speeds with premium “fast lane” services.

While there was general support for keeping the regulations intact, the FCC voted to repeal it, with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spearheading the effort. On June 11, 2018, the repeal came into full effect. But none of this has stopped some states from taking matters into their own hands. In September, California lawmakers voted to pass a net neutrality bill touted as the most powerful net neutrality legislation in the United States.

While then-Governor Jerry Brown eventually signed the bill, the U.S. Justice Department immediately sued California in an effort to block the legislation from taking effect, supporting the lawsuit, saying the law prohibits companies from offering consumers streaming plans without data restrictions. With so much debate surrounding this issue, net neutrality is far from settled. It is very likely that we will continue to see controversy surrounding it in 2019.

CPU under severe attack

Just as the new year began, researchers revealed that AMD, ARM, and Intel CPUs built over the past 20 years are vulnerable to hardware-based exploits that essentially extract data from process memory that is should not be accessed. .

The exploits, known as Meltdown and Spectre, both operate in similar ways, but Spectre is the scarier of the two. While all major operating systems should have been patched to stop any issues with Meltdown in its tracks, Spectre is harder to guard against, mainly because it targets AMD and ARM CPUs, as well as Intel. Also, any fixes applied to the CPU have the potential to cause performance degradation.

Various CPUs, GPUs, operating systems, and gaming companies have not taken it lightly, rolling out protections. Nvidia released new GPU drivers that were patched for Spectre within days of the initial announcement. Epic Games took precautions to protect itself from the Meltdown exploit. Asus eventually patched older Intel motherboards for both vulnerabilities, and of course AMD, Microsoft, Intel, and others have released their own patches to protect users.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Intel’s Meltdown and Spectre patches are causing reboot issues on older PSUs and are also facing 32 class-action lawsuits for exploits. AMD patch bricks some PCs due to claims of other chip security flaws. Phishing emails claiming to have links to exploit patches also started circulating. It’s madness, the madness we tell you.

Walmart now sells gaming PCs

It’s only a matter of time before Walmart finally makes a foray into the world of PC gaming. Walmart has been selling pre-built gaming PCs and laptops for a while — along with cases, GPUs, CPUs, RAM, and other components — so its own line of gaming PCs is really the next logical step.

Walmart enlisted the help of Esports Arena to design and build systems that would be available to consumers when the holidays began. When the initial announcement came out, we were surprised by a decent list of specs for Walmart laptops and desktops: 8th-gen Intel processors, Nvidia GeForce 10-series GPUs, and even 32GB of RAM on some models. It looks like Walmart’s Overpowered line will be a good thing.

Then the comments came in. From messy shipping, poor cable management, poor airflow, single-channel memory on the DTW1 model, and rumors that Walmart is pulling its gaming desktop PCs off shelves due to quality issues, there are a lot of unwelcome features scattered across the Overpowered line. But when it comes to performance, they largely have their own advantages over other pre-built products. These systems have only recently been released, so their longevity remains to be seen.

Intel plans to release discrete GPUs in 2020

In February 2018, Intel shared details of a discrete GPU prototype it was working on, which was a big deal since the company hasn’t released a proper discrete graphics solution in the past 20 years. The news comes shortly after Intel hired Raja Korduri, the former head of AMD’s Radeon Technology Group.

In fact, Intel continues to hire more AMD employees to lead its new discrete GPU project. Former global product marketing director Chris Hook and Derren McPhee, who worked at AMD for over 8 years in various marketing roles, both joined Intel in 2018. It seems that Intel is going all out to compete in the discrete GPU market.

It seems early on that this new discrete GPU won’t compete with AMD or Nvidia when it comes to gaming, but that’s not to say Intel doesn’t have gaming aspirations. In early September, Intel hinted that its discrete GPUs would support VESA Adaptive Sync, which would put them on par with AMD or Nvidia in supporting variable refresh technology. Chris Hook is a big fan of adaptive sync, so there’s a good chance Intel has more info on their discrete GPUs – which really confirms their intent to design high-end discrete graphics solutions for a wide range of computing.

While rumors of Intel officially unveiling its discrete graphics card at CES 2019 are still circulating, we do know one thing: If all goes according to plan, the GPU will be released sometime in 2020.

SSD and RAM price drops, and pricing lawsuits

The farce of rising RAM prices did not end quietly with another drop in 2018. The California class-action lawsuit filed in April alleges that RAM prices rose not because smartphone makers bought all the chips in sight, but because Samsung, Micron and Hynix conspired to drive up DRAM prices by making the availability of DRAM chips.

But that’s not all. The lawsuit also alleges that the pricing plans affected the cost of desktop and laptop computers sold by Acer, Apple, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, HP, Samsung and many others. It didn’t help that there were conflicting reports of RAM prices continuing to rise or eventually falling throughout the year, but if the current price of RAM is any indication, prices did eventually fall back to normal levels.

2018 also saw a decline in NAND flash prices. Most SSD manufacturers have completed the transition to 64-layer 3D TLC NAND flash, leaving retailers with a surplus of 32-layer cells, which means the price of previous-generation SSDs has dropped significantly. RAM and SSD prices are expected to continue to drop into the new year. As for the outcome of the lawsuit, it remains to be seen.

Where are AMD GPUs and why are RTX pricing so crazy?

AMD generally lags Nvidia in higher clock speeds and better efficiency, but with more processing cores, the competition between the two graphics card brands has always been interesting. While there was some buzz around AMD GPUs in 2018, Nvidia stole the show with its new RTX GPUs.

But the initial selling price of the RTX 20 series kept many gamers from getting these cards. The RTX 2080 currently retails for around $800, the RTX 2080 Tis is well over $1,000, and the RTX 2070 is more manageable at $500. With some older GTX-series cards discontinued, options for gamers are limited right now. We might just have to hope for the RTX 2060 in 2019.

Nvidia may have dominated the extreme graphics card market, but most gamers are still using mid-range or low-end graphics cards. AMD released their Radeon RX 590 in November 2018 with a modest asking price of $279. Aside from the RX Vega cards, these GPUs may not beat Nvidia in terms of performance, but they still pack a punch at a better price.

AMD’s answer to Nvidia’s RTX cards will come with Navi in ​​late 2019 — if we see them, that’s it. But for now, without new AMD GPUs, RTX is too expensive. It looks like we just have to be patient and wait for the change.

Ray tracing is the next big thing

2018 was a year of big announcements from Nvidia. Not only did it announce a new line of RTX graphics cards designed with the new Turning architecture, but it also announced that these cards would feature ray tracing, the next big thing in graphics.

In the simplest terms, ray tracing involves tracing the path of a light beam back into the 3D world. As our own Jarred Walton explained before, “To determine the amount of light falling on a single pixel, the ray tracing formula needs to know the distance of the light, its brightness, and the relative angle of the reflective surface to the light source, and then calculate how much the reflected ray should be. How hot.”

Basically, it’s a new technique to make light, shadows, reflections, etc. look more intense and realistic. It also requires a lot of GPU to render all the visual effects, hence the RTX 20 series. But there’s a small catch – almost no games at the end of 2018 were designed to handle ray tracing. There are more in 2019, 21 in total (announced…

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Wilbert Wood
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