Why care about a balanced PC configuration?

There has been an incredible amount of discussion in the high-tech community talking about “balanced platforms” or “optimized systems”. The conversation or press coverage has interestingly enough been more about which component is more relevant versus the need for a balanced platform. Statements or misquotes like “the CPU is dead”, the “GPU is not needed anymore”, or “no one needs 4 CPU cores” have been thrown around loosely in the past few weeks.

In my opinion, this is the wrong conversation to be having.

The right conversation is how the industry can optimize, deliver, and educate on the right balance of CPU,GPU and chipset to effectively and efficiently address the workloads or applications about which the customer cares most. In this and future blogs, I will frame and highlight a few of the challenges and offer some solutions to help address the issue.

It all starts with what consumers want to do or are actually doing with their PCs. Let’s look at some research from AMD and other sources, which I like to joke is sometimes like “grasping at the obvious”, because when you stand back, it looks so evident.

  • Digital media goes mainstream. Consumer client usage model growth is moving toward the heavy consumption, editing and sharing of digital media (1). That’s a broad statement, but the fact that this is now “mainstream” is incredible. The digital media wave started with music, moved to digital photos and now it is video. The popularity really makes sense given that digital media is also cutting horizontally across communities like MySpace and Facebook. My friend’s and family’s “spaces” are proudly adorned with their pictures, videos, and music which are entertaining (although some of their home-grown content can be a bit “scary” at times).
  • PC gaming goes mainstream. Sure, I have heard the conjecture that PC gaming is dead. The facts paint a very different picture. An employee of one of our biggest technology partners has informally told me that up to 83% of all Windows users play PC games. Recent research from NPD says that 72% of the entire U.S. population played games in 2007 and 90% of those who played online in 2007 reported using a PC to do so. NPD also described the PC as “the driving force in online gaming.” One fun fact that really exemplifies the casual gaming phenomenon is the popular title “The Sims.” This game franchise has sold over 100M copies, so by their calculations, this means that one out of seven homes in Europe and one out of three homes in America are likely have this PC game title. (2). It’s not time to call my co-workers who get up at 6A.M. every Saturday and tell them to stop playing COV/COH together.
  • Multitasking matters. Mainstream consumers understand the whole concept of doing many things at the same time and how it applies to their PC purchases (1). Enthusiasts I have talked with have embraced what we like to call megatasking or extreme multitasking, defined as running multiple, multi-threaded apps simultaneously.
  • Other stuff is peripheral. Consumers are still doing things like doing word processing, but they believe every PC can do this well (1). Of course.

I believe that effectively and efficiently delivering on these usage models requires the right balance of CPU, GPU and chipset. Some of the use cases above require a heavy duty CPU, some require a heavy duty GPU, some require a heavy duty chipset and some require all three. The industry needs to figure it out. While AMD can’t solve it independently, we plan to shine a big light on the issue, work with others and do our own part in the industry to help solve the problem.

In my next blog, I will be double-clicking on a few key usage models and generalize on the required balances of CPU and GPU. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

(1) Proprietary AMD Research 2005, 2007.

(2) Electronic Arts Press Release: http://info.ea.com/news/pr/pr1052.pdf