If you’ve been holding off on making any major PC upgrades — because you couldn’t get what you wanted, or it was too expensive to be worth it — then 2022 is shaping up to be The Year. And I’m not talking about just one or two components, either.
Both the major manufacturers of the guts that make up your gaming PC — that’s AMD and Intel, whose hardware powers the CPU and motherboards that your overpriced GPUs, RAM, hard drives and so on plug into — are set for major overhauls in the next 12 months. For the past few years, particularly if you’ve bought an AMD Ryzen CPU, PC owners have been fortunate enough in that their motherboards, RAM and CPUs have all stayed fairly compatible across generations.
AMD’s insistence on using their AM4 platform, for instance, meant you could get away with using an older motherboard once BIOS updates were made available. Similarly, there hasn’t been much of a need to upgrade RAM modules for either Intel or AMD platforms, as both have happily used DD4 for aeons. Sure, you might miss out on certain features or compatibility — newer motherboards added support for PCIe 4.0 and more NVMe slots — but for those without cash to burn, it’s nice to be able to keep the older gear going.
But 2022 will change all of that. It’s already public knowledge that Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake line of processors will support PCIe 5.0, DDR5 memory and a design that means your super-fast PCIe 4.0 NVMe drives won’t tap into the same bandwidth that’s reserved for graphics cards. More crucially, it’ll also be a new motherboard socket, so you won’t be able to use a new Alder Lake CPU with your existing Intel motherboard, and existing Intel CPUs won’t be compatible with it either. You’ll have to upgrade both at the same time.
AMD is following the same path. They’ve done wonders in keeping their AM4 motherboard platform going for as long as they have — it was introduced with the Ryzen family back in 2017 — but by the end of next year, that’ll all change. Robert Hallock, AMD’s director of technical marketing, confirmed AMD would move off the platform in late 2022, which will force AMD users to eventually upgrade as well.
Existing AM4 coolers will work on the new AMD platform, though. And existing Ryzen owners will get a new product early next year that AMD promises will offer up to 15 percent performance improvement in games, courtesy of the introduction of 3D V-Cache technology.
As always, this hasn’t been tested, and the actual performance benefit will vary wildly between games. AMD’s own marketing says you won’t see much improvement in, say, League of Legends. But games like Monster Hunter World enjoy a noticeable bump, and you’d imagine there would be some correlation with Monster Hunter Rise (which will be out on PC by the time these products eventually make it to Australia).
Neither company has made a lot of noise about what the newer DDR5 memory can do for video games. It may actually take a few years before any gains are noticeable, however. The first DDR5 consumer modules will generally have relatively high latency timings, which means you’ll probably see comparable, if not marginally better, performance using the older, but much more finely tuned, DDR4 memory sticks.
It’s an interesting turn of events, though: for the first time in a while, Intel will actually beat AMD to the punch with the latest CPUs. AMD’s more modern process nodes have allowed the company to claw back a ton of market share from Intel, but Alder Lake is looking hugely impressive already. It’s also a complete architectural overhaul with a new big/little design, where part of the CPU is made of cores designed for power (gaming, 3D rendering and so on) and other cores that are more power efficient.
Crucially, Microsoft has made sure Windows 11’s scheduler supports this Alder Lake’s new architectural design. That’s a massive deal: AMD’s Ryzen CPUs had many hiccups in the early years as Windows, and occasional games, got to grips with its chip design. (Funnily enough, Windows 11 is still a no-go zone for AMD users, especially if you don’t want reduced performance in games.)
As it turns out, next year will probably be the only time we start to see some normalisation in the crazy world of GPU pricing anyway. The chip shortage has been so extreme that most vendors I’ve spoken to — and most executives when asked in public — expect things will stay this way for most of next year. And that’s probably when we’ll start to see the next generation of GPUs anyway. The RTX 3000 series will be two years old by then, and as good as the Ryzen CPUs have been, AMD’s Radeon GPUs still have some ground to make up on Nvidia.
The one benefit of all of this is that competition has never been healthier across the board in the PC market. That’s not going to save you much money in the short-term, especially if you have to do a big motherboard, CPU, GPU and possibly a new PCIe 4.0 hard drive upgrade all at once.
But the horizon is looking good. There’s a lot of interesting technology that’s on the cusp of becoming available, not to mention the potential impact of things like DirectStorage and what that can do for loading times and texture streaming. Newer CPUs and more power-efficient offerings should help make 4K gaming a realistic baseline, rather than an aspiration, which will then push monitor manufacturers to start offering more higher refresh rates and designs in that space. And it’ll be interesting to see what some of the newer architectural designs can do in the laptop space, especially Intel’s big.little design, which mirrors the approach taken by ARM CPUs (of which Intel’s excellent M1 chips are based on).
But fair warning. If you’ve been holding off on a PC upgrade for a while: get saving.