How the PC hardware market has changed in the past 5 years...

I’ve mostly ignored the hardware market for the past 5 years… until my desktop started acting up, which then caused an unplanned 2-week project to get my computer going. It all ended well. I didn’t even need to resort to my BackBlaze backup.

A bunch of stuff hasn’t changed, not in the slightest. Anandtech is still there, for example. My giant ATX tower case that dates back to the 90s is still totally able to handle the latest and greatest motherboards.

Here are some things that have changed in the past 5 years or so:

  • GPU coin mining is presently a thing. Like, I’ve been following the whole bitcoin thing with people building ASIC miners for BitCoin and all of that stuff.. but lately, people have been obsessed with some of the GPU-friendly coin mining systems. And I already knew that it was totally a thing to run sketchy setups. But there’s now a bunch of GPU cluster-friendly motherboards, where you set up all of the bits on a table, where they have a motherboard with 12-19 little 1x PCIe slots, where the slots don’t even mechanically allow you to plug things in. And then you plug a little $10 pair of header cards to bridge a PCIe 1x link via a USB 3.0 cable that doesn’t actually speak the USB protocol, it just happens to be a easy-to-find cable that meets the right levels of signal quality. Also, I found out that the homebrew powerwall was a thing after my coworkers and I started pondering if the homebrew coin mining facility or the homebrew powerwall was more dangerous.
  • RGB lighting control. The reasonably priced motherboard with the right sort of options can do RGB lighting. It comes with an integral light strip. It can then be used to sync against a variety of other also RGB lit peripherals. Like I could get RGB DIMMs and an RGB video card and even an RGB mouse and keyboard and everything will be beautiful and magical and literally rainbows. My motherboard isn’t gamer enough to have outboard controller ports to drive RGB LED strips, however.
  • My new CPU and old CPU have about the same clock speed, number of threads, thermal design power. The cache is marginally larger on the new one and it has 4 real cores instead 2 real cores with hyperthreading. Then again, my old CPU didn’t feel perceptibly slow, which makes it hard to tell if the new CPU is doing more instructions-per-cycle.
  • In fact, thermal design power has pretty much stayed fixed. My power supply from last time is perfectly fine.
  • None of my slots are in use. Like, my old fanless GeForce 210 still works, but I looked things up and it turns out that it is significantly slower than the integrated Intel GPU and doesn’t support all of the new features. I kinda want to put a discrete GPU in there just because I was the first kid on the block with a 3dfx GPU, but it doesn’t feel worth it right now. I feel like I should be putting something in one of the slots, but I can’t even think of anything that’s really worth the effort besides maybe a video card down the road. Old habits die hard?
  • Motherboards have M.2 slots for SSDs now. M.2 SSDs that plug straight into the PCIe bus, even.
  • Ethernet is still Gigabit. 10 Gigabit Ethernet is too expensive and too messy and a small-form-factor-pain-in-the-butt and they didn’t really realize that maybe it would be good to go up to 2.5 gigabit or 5 gigabit until last year.
  • There’s a bunch more USB 3.0 ports, plus an extra-special USB 3.1 port. As opposed to a bunch of USB 2.0 ports and an extra-special USB 3.0 port. But there’s still a bunch of USB 2.0 ports.
  • If I really want to have a Mac-like Thunderbolt experience, there’s a card that I can plug in that requires me to string a 5 pin cable from the motherboard, plug the card into the motherboard, snake a cable from the existing DisplayPort plug to the card from the outside, and then plug my non-existent Thunderbolt peripheral bits into the card. Oh, world of desktop PCs. Never change.
  • I had to retire a working but very old DVD burner because there’s no Parallel ATA to be found on a motherboard. I have a new Blu-Ray burner, one I picked out largely because it’s really quite reasonably priced and because I’d meant to upgrade some years ago. It’s gotten one use so far, and that’s to install Creative Suite CS4 from the disks.
  • Armored motherboards are now a thing. I’m surprised it’s taken this long because it probably reduces the amount of bad-hardware-build short-circuits and otherwise makes the motherboard look badass and/or displays questionable industrial design values.
  • UEFI BIOS is pretty weird right now. Fully text-based BIOS is apparently not really a thing. This turned out to be annoying, because my new UEFI-with-compatibility-mode BIOS has a bunch of quirks to it that the motherboard documentation didn’t really help with because the motherboard-specific docs didn’t help and the general-purpose docs were still written in the world of text-based classic BIOS.
  • I’d assumed that Microsoft would love to cut out middle-people and retailers and fraud and stuff and sell me Windows directly via a download. I’ve installed Linux a bunch of times via a USB stick or via a downloaded USB drive. I’ve had the best results, frankly, out of the thing where I download a minimal version of the OS that just formats the drive and sets up the TCP/IP stack and then downloads a streamlined fully-updated set of packages. I could not manage to make a bootable Windows 10 key drive. My best friend tried burning a DVD-ROM and her version didn’t work either. Granted, part of the problem is that I have exactly one Windows machine, so I couldn’t run their downloader. But I can’t help think that Microsoft is doing something wrong there.