What Makes Gaming Hardware Become Obsolete?

What Makes Gaming Hardware Become Obsolete?

Everyone hears the tems "memory", "processor", "storage" and "graphics card", and they understand that these are somehow parts of a computer, but not everyone has a grasp on what these parts mean and what they do.

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But aren't modern GPUs turing complete these days? Even if bling mapping isn't currently supported, it could surely be implemented with a driver update, right? No need for a new card, unless my current card is too slow or needs more memory.

Bad Jim:
But aren't modern GPUs turing complete these days? Even if bling mapping isn't currently supported, it could surely be implemented with a driver update, right? No need for a new card, unless my current card is too slow or needs more memory.

That depends, a graphics vendor might be able to emulate a hardware feature in software, but it will take a big performance hit in doing so. That's why there is a bit of furor right now over Nvidia apparently not having hardware support for asynchronous shaders and having to emulate it with software, meaning that their cards may well be considerably slower than the AMD equivalent in DirectX 12 games that use asynchronous shaders.

If you have a PC, or even a console that allows it, chances are it's not that easy to actually run out of memory.
Because, several decades ago, someone hit upon the idea of virtual memory.
Virtual memory is great. It allows you to pretend you have way more memory than you actually do, and the OS fills in the shortfall by figuring out what you actually are using at any one moment and taking the stuff you aren't using out of memory and putting it on the hard drive temporarily.

for most computer programs, this is fine, and really only a positive thing.

For games, however, it can cause serious problems.
If you have 3gb, and your game needs 3.1 almost all the time to run, the OS will go crazy swapping stuff into and out of memory constantly.
And since, as the article mentions, RAM is about a million times faster than a hard disk, guess what happens to your game if it starts to need virtual memory?

Though, lack of memory can hurt you more than you might think.
I had a laptop once with 1 gb of ram.
Loading times for some games would take many minutes.
Then, I switched it to 4 gb, and suddenly it took a matter of seconds instead.

So, that's another think with performance problems.
The source of the problem isn't always what you might expect.

(Would you expect loading times to improve from adding more RAM to a system?)

In general, you can see that computer hardware follows the 'weakest link' rule.

Whatever the weakest component in your computer is, that will usually be what limits how well a game runs on your computer.

Of course, in reality, games are very unpredictable in how much demand they put on different components.
If a game does a lot with the GPU but very little with the CPU, you might not notice that the CPU is weak, because almost nothing is being done with it.

And some components have more... Specific effects. A slow hard drive will slow down loading times, but probably won't have much effect on anything else. (unless you have another problem as well.)
Slow RAM might be a problem, but only if a lot of information is being read and modified repeatedly.
(Which GPU's do a lot of, which is why GPU manufacturers often boast about 'memory bandwidth' - Because creating an image that's the combined result of 20 different 4096x4096 textures requires A LOT of memory reads... XD)

Ah computers.

Then of course, there's endless arguments to be had about performance.
Even if something runs, how slow is too slow?
120 fps?
60?
30?
20?
15?
10?

Where do you draw the line between what's playable and what isn't?
And honestly? that line varies depending both on the person playing, and the nature of the game.
(A fast-paced action game needs a much higher framerate than something like virtual chess. VR needs 90+ FPS for entirely different reasons to the usual arguments made about framerates. And so on.)

I used to find it perfectly OK to play games that hovered in the 15-20 fps range...
Some people might find that completely intolerable...

Clearly, what qualifies as 'obsolete' in that sense depends on what your expectations are.

CrystalShadow: Those are all outstanding points, and actually make a great extension to the column.

And then you have Valve, who would continue to do bling mapping through code, and write more efficient code for it than everyone else, but not support Nvidia's dedicated bling mapping circuit. And they'd still include an option to turn it off in case your hardware just can't handle it. And the Linux port runs at half the framerate of the Windows version on anything except those new Nvidia cards even though it still doesn't use the special hardware, and nobody knows why.

I always assumed it was when the fps dropped below 30 on the lowest settings possible then it was obsolete

The analogy I devised for next time I have to explain to my father (again) that hard disk space, despite being measured in similar units, is not the same as memory, was this:

Imagine you have a personal library. In this library is a very smart research librarian and the librarian's desk. The library is the hard drive, the desk is memory, and the librarian is the CPU.

The librarian can very quickly access any information that's on their desk (that is, in memory.) Or they can bring books back from the library to put onto their desk so they can access those books more quickly- but they have a limited amount of space on their desk, and can only hold so many books before other books have to be put back.

The analogy worked better before librarians became multi-core, of course.

Shamus Young:
Repeat after me: The hard drive is not memory. There. Now you will avoid making the single most embarrassing gaffe regarding computer technology.

Of course it fucking is. If you're going to try teaching people about something, telling them something completely wrong is hardly going to help matters. Storage (often not actually hard drives at all these days) is non-volatile memory, while RAM is volatile memory. Explaining that they are different types of memory that serve different purposes is fine, but pretending one of them isn't memory at all is not going to help educate anyone, it's just going to cause even more confusion. I mean for christ's sake, the technology in SSDs is explicitly called "flash memory". And as if that wasn't bad enough, claiming that actually getting your terminology correct is the single most embarrassing gaffe possible to make is just utterly retarded. That goes way beyond over-simplification and suggests more that you simply don't have the slightest clue what you're talking about. Which, judging by how frequently this poor excuse for a column makes similarly stupid mistakes, appears to be the case.

Wow, Shamus's production values are incredible! I imagine it must have taken him much longer to render up that fake screenshot of ShootCraft than it did to write the article. I never knew he was such an artist. Good show!

 

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