How quickly generations of components change and why it is beneficial for manufacturers

New lines of processors, motherboards and video cards enter the market every year. And many other components, such as SSD models and RAM sticks, are sometimes updated in the assortment even more often. Does each new generation really bring significant changes? Or is it all mostly marketing, and is done only to increase sales?

Generations of computer components replace each other at lightning speed. Yesterday, 11th generation Intel processors were relevant, and today the 12th generation is proudly striding ahead of its predecessors. In the camp of video cards, due to mining, there is now a relative calm, but a few years ago, every year a new line of video cards was born, surpassing the old one in everything. Solid state drives are also affected by this trend, and sometimes there are so many different new models on the market in a year that you can’t keep up with them.

All this applies to other components, as well as finished PCs and laptops. At the same time, promotional materials from manufacturers beckon to change the recently purchased processor or SSD to a new one. After all, he is said to be “faster, taller and stronger.” Is this really so, and why do generations of components change so often?

Technology Development
Technology is really developing very fast. Changes in the architecture of processors and video cards, new SSD controllers, optimization of the production of memory chips for RAM and permanent memory to achieve higher performance – this happens every year.

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As a result, there is a growing need for higher busbar speeds. And this, in turn, leads to the development of new standards for connecting devices and memory. Progress in one direction automatically pushes progress in the other. Therefore, it turns out that new technologies are constantly developing in almost every segment of computer components.

Improvement of production and technical processes
Technological standards of production are also improved every year. Thinner technical processes are able to provide lower heat dissipation and higher frequencies to products even without a radical change in the internal architecture. At the same time, more blanks for chips can be placed on one standard plate used to create crystals. That is, in addition to progress, it is also economically more profitable.

A striking example is Intel’s tick-tock strategy, which involves alternating a cardinal architecture change and transferring chips to a thinner process technology. At the same time, each step implies the release of a new generation of processors – both using a new architecture and optimizing the old one. A similar approach in production is often used by NVIDIA and AMD, as well as many other companies.

Development and release of new products
Manufacturers of processors and video cards have accustomed us to the release of new generations of products almost every year. At the same time, you might think that the development of new products also takes about a year. But this is far from true.

The development of a new generation of products is initially planned by each manufacturer in advance, usually several years before the final products enter the market. But depending on whether the product is a development of an old one or a completely new one, the development timeline also differs. The potential of the product itself depends on this – whether it will be a revolution, or another planned evolution.

For example, the first touches of the AMD Zen architecture processors began to be designed back in 2012. When the final product enters the market only five years later. But at the same time, compared with the previous products of the company, the new ones were marked by a tremendous increase in productivity.

Processor AMD Ryzen 3 1200 BOX 16 799 *
The opposite example can also be given: 8th generation Intel Core processors were developed and brought to market in a hurry – within the same year as the previous generation. That is why their architecture and process technology remained the same as those of the generation of the past – only the number of cores increased. And although the manufacturer released new chipsets for their work, the craftsmen proved that after modification it is quite possible to run new processors on old boards.

Dependence of one component on others
Simultaneously with new processors, manufacturers almost always release new chipsets. Accordingly, new boards for them enter the market. They are not always a necessity, in many cases the previous generation of boards is enough for new processors. But manufacturers do not think so, and often put “spokes in the wheels.” Sometimes “softly”, adding some new features to a more recent chipset that its predecessor lacks – like overclocking memory or more PCI-E lanes. And sometimes “hard” – simply changing the socket, although sometimes there is no extreme need for this.

RAM is more loyal to the transition from platform to platform, especially in recent years. So, for example, DDR4 strips from 2015 may well work with Intel processors from 2021. The memory standard usually changes every 4-6 years, but even here it is not so simple. To unlock their potential, new processors increasingly need high-frequency memory, which enters the mass market far from the first years of the introduction of the standard. That is, the very “soft” scenario of the development of events comes into force again – you can use the old memory, but you will lose some of the performance. If you don’t want to lose, buy a new one.

RAM Goodram Iridium Pro [IRP-3600D4V64L17S/8G] 8 GB 4 699 *
Unlike processors, boards, and RAM, graphics cards are not a necessary part of a platform’s high performance in normal use. Their main purpose is games, and only some programs get a performance boost from their presence. And in terms of connection, everything is simpler for them – the PCI-E bus has not changed physically since its appearance on platforms in the early 2000s. Its speed is growing, but the expansion cards remain physically compatible – the outdated one will simply work at a lower bus speed, for which it was originally designed.

But not everything is so simple here either. Modern motherboards have recently “forgotten” how to boot in Legacy compatibility mode. This means that a video card without support for UEFI mode (almost all models that are older than 2011) will not work on a modern platform even if the slot is physically compatible. Among the current cards, there is another problem – some budget models have begun to “cut” PCI-E lines, which affects their performance when installed on motherboards of past years. And again, we are kind of gently hinted: if you want full performance, buy a new platform for a new video card.

Companies agreement
Despite the fact that processor and video card manufacturers compete with each other, they are almost always aware of the competitor’s upcoming products. The eternal debate of users about what is better and more powerful in the next generation – Intel, AMD or NVIDIA – in fact, often makes little sense when judging the global scale of superiority of one over the other. The release of the next product of each company is done with an eye on the competitor’s product, and quite close in time. As a result, competing products, although different, are often close to each other in overall performance in most tasks.

Top processors and video cards from different companies can be both faster and slower than each other by a dozen or two percent. But for a product with a similar positioning and price of one company to be at least one and a half times faster than the same product of another company, this will not happen on the market. And it’s not about whether any of the companies can release such a product or not. It just doesn’t make economic sense.

At lower costs, two roughly equal products will be competing, and the producers’ profits will not go anywhere. But a possible future power reserve can be realized in the next generation, and earn on users again. That is why the confrontation between manufacturers is more in the minds of buyers who prefer one side or the other. For the manufacturer, such agreements among themselves are nothing personal, just business.

Evolutionary and revolutionary technological leaps
If you believe the promotional materials, then the platform and video card need to be changed almost every year. In fact, usually there is not much difference between two adjacent generations. If you delve into the study of computer platforms of past years, it may turn out that components purchased during the period of entry into the market for relatively “revolutionary” products can be used without a lack of performance for many years.

An example among processors is the legendary 2nd generation Intel Core, codenamed Sandy Bridge. The new architecture, new ring bus, new instructions, faster cache and many other improvements have contributed to the fact that even 11 years after the release of the top processors of this generation, you can use almost all everyday tasks. The next real performance leap for mainstream processors took place only at the end of 2017, more than 6 years after Sandy Bridge hit the market.

Processor Intel Core i5-11400 BOX 32 999 *
Among video cards, the AMD Radeon HD7000 series can serve as such an example. Released in early 2012 and based on the then brand new GCN architecture, they were incredibly future proof. If at the time of their release their superiority was expressed only in technical characteristics, then after a few years they were several times superior to their predecessors in performance. Moreover, the top-end HD7950 and HD7970 are slightly faster than the entry-level model that came out almost five years after them and is still on sale – the GTX1050 Ti. And if such an example would be the norm for the processor market, then for the video card market this is an extremely rare occurrence.

Video card GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1050 Ti [GV-N105TD5-4GD] 51 499 *
But there are also opposite examples. NVIDIA’s GTX500 series of cards in 2011 was nothing more than an optimization of the old GTX400 series. As a result, a year later, GTX600 series cards appeared on sale, which were much faster, and the old top could only catch up with the new “middle one”. Consequently, despite the release in 2011, the cards were no longer relevant for purchase after a year and a half – for the same money you could buy newer and faster cards.

As you can see, there is a difference between evolutionary and revolutionary changes in hardware generations. And not every new generation provides the same performance boost. But manufacturers need to sell their products every year. That is why the numbers of models change every year – after all, in order to attract a buyer, the effect of novelty must be constant.

Evolutionary change is an optimization of past achievements. And only revolutionary ones bring something truly new. The recently released 12th generation of Intel Core processors can serve as an example of the latter.

Despite the fact that usually cardinal changes and architectural features are perceived ambiguously at the time of release, as history shows, it is they that give rise to components whose performance is enough for comfortable use for the longest time.