With Moore’s Law changing and Intel taking longer to shrink their transistors, there’s been talk of silicon becoming a thing of the past in the semiconductor industry. If silicon’s days are indeed numbered, it looks like it’s going to go out with a bang — thanks to a couple brand new, lucrative, and very power hungry markets, chipmakers are starting to churn out some monster processors.
Those monsters were the stars of Computex, Taipei’s annual electronics trade show that just wrapped up. That’s not a new trend — at its core, Computex has always been about PC parts, with Intel, AMD, and Nvidia often unveiling new CPUs or GPUs. What was different this year was the considerable step up in power on display. For the first time in years, Intel introduced a new enthusiast line in their Core X chips, while AMD continued to promote their new Ryzen processors, including the massive Threadripper CPU. Meanwhile, Nvidia is making a GPU powerful enough to push AI development forward significantly in the Tesla V100. In all cases, the leaps forward aren’t simply the incremental ones we’ve been seeing in recent years.
So, why now? Truth is, computing power wasn’t advancing by leaps and bounds because it didn’t need to. The average user can get by perfectly fine on a CPU and GPU from five years ago, because basic computing tasks have only gotten marginally more demanding — it’s not too surprising that clock speeds haven’t changed all that much over the years. Gamers have been in need of steady GPU upgrades, but there wasn’t much reason to amp those up until 4K gaming started demanding tons of processing power.
It’s always been the professional applications that have driven computing power forward. But, even pros like graphic designers and engineers, while happy to make use of advances in computing power, only ever needed incremental upgrades. For the industry to rocket forward by leaps and bounds, there needed to be brand new markets that demanded it — and they needed to be lucrative.
Those markets are esports and AI, and they’ve both got different needs. Esports seems to be behind what Intel and AMD are up to this year. While raw power is increasing, the two competing chip makers are putting a bigger emphasis on adding more cores and threads to their processors. The whole Intel Core X series is dedicated to blowing past four cores, with one of their new i9 chips containing a ridiculous 18 cores and 36 threads. AMD’s competing Threadripper is no slouch either, with its premium chip boasting 16 cores and 32 threads.