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Written by Olin Coles   
Saturday, 28 August 2010

Desktop PC Platform: Saved By Overclocking

Opinion and Editorial pieces are an efficient means of gathering reader feedback and learning their position on a given topic. For the past few articles of this series, I've concentrated on playing devil's advocate for the demise of desktop PCs. Some say it will live on past the imminent threat of notebook computers, mobile smartphones, and gaming consoles; others think the market has already passed its glory days. Each of my articles posed a narrative perspective describing real-world scenarios that continue to impact this industry. Each topic offered a form of speculative research, which I like to call job security, on the relative health of our hobby. That's right, I called it a hobby.

Desktop computers can be bought easy and cheap in OEM flavors of HP, Dell, Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba, Sony, etc. The users who buy a pre-built desktop PC are seldom the same person that visit websites like Benchmark Reviews, and they usually don't get very deep into hardware beyond memory upgrades or the occasional mouse replacement. They're the consumer who browses the web for cake recipes or check email for forwarded jokes. They're also the same users that believe it's bad to shut down the computer after you're done using it. You and I, we're not those people, right?

Back in the day they called OEM systems 'IBM clones', and our custom-built computers were referred to as a 'beige box'. We bought our motherboards from one manufacturer, and video card came from another. There was seldom a time when any two internal hardware components originated from the same company, and we would pride ourselves on the supernatural ability to build desktop computers from scratch. Lian Li became the Mercedes of computer cases, and everyone knew ASUS motherboards were good for years of stable service. It didn't matter what we were doing with our piece-meal PCs, it just mattered that we could. Somehow we convinced ourselves that desktop PCs would always be the preferred platform, forever and ever, amen.

But if all we ever wanted to do on a computer was browse the web and answer email, these simple tasks could be accomplished using any of the devices I've previously mentioned. Sure, we do all of those things on our desktop PCs, but we also like folding proteins with a powerful GPU/CPU to help find cures to common human diseases, and we really enjoy playing our video games in high-resolution detail on multiple displays. We occasionally still use our desktop computers for work, too. So while there are several reasons why desktop PCs may one day become endangered, there are nearly as many reasons keeping them flourishing in the wild... even if the statistics show otherwise.

The desktop enthusiast hardware industry was made popular by knowledgeable members of the community willing to share their overclocking experience with others. Passionate hobbyists aligned with similar goals graciously helped eager learners to tweak hardware components until they performed like the next model in the series, or maybe get a few more frames out of a graphics card to improve video game quality. The PC hardware industry soon caught on, and found a way to substitute their 'next best model' with one that allowed you to do all of the extra work. Motherboards are the perfect example, because now we're seeing hardware components sold as 'OC ready' with an added premium applied to the cost just so you can pay time and money for the possibility of added performance.

One of the points made in my Killed By Overclocking article was that pre-tweaked enthusiast products were slowly driving down the number of people who qualify as overclockers. If you followed my logic in that piece, you'd agree that it's our special ability to do the unthinkable with computer hardware should be revered; not something bottled and sold to the highest bidder. Some may disagree, but I still believe that it's our unique ability to tune every last drop of performance out of component hardware that will keep the desktop platform alive. It's not easy watching our hobby get dumbed-down to the point where the push of a button can replace years of trial-and-error experience. At some point, the real overclockers will return to save the desktop platform.

It's not going to be easy. Too many people have become comfortable with their push-button overclock, and they've become complacent to the technology changes that were once fascinating to them. I would like to think that just because the front-side bus was replaced with something more complicated it hasn't driven entry-level overclockers away from the hobby, but very few people take the less traveled path of enlightenment. At some point, it's going to become important again to understand how and why a particular technology can be stretched - rather than just doing it because we've been sold the ability.

If you're not too weak to stand on your own to feet again, Benchmark Reviews offers several resources to get you started on the road to recovery:

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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Saved By OverclockingRobert17 2010-08-27 17:50
Long live Frankenclones !!
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Saved By OverclockingJeroly 2010-08-29 03:31
This is almost as ridiculous as the 'killed by overclocking' article.

Desktop PCs will either continue to flourish or not depending on supply and demand, and profitability, not whether or not 'real' overclockers are doing yeoman work.

First of all, overclockers probably represent under 10% of the overall market, and while they probably represent a larger share of the profits generated by PC parts sales than their market share would indicate (as they buy pricier and more profitable components than average), the tail does not wag the dog.

My prediction would be that we will see the desktop market continue to exist but not flourish as it has the past 20 years. The reasons for this will be the following:

1. Most people prefer mobility, and lightweight tablets and smartphones will continue to increase in market share.
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# RE: RE: Desktop PC Platform: Saved By OverclockingDOug 2010-08-30 15:14
I think both articles, right or wrong, were thought provoking, not ridiculous. I do think you're right and Olin says that exact thing: That people who only want texting, email, and light internet work, such as finding "cake receipts," will opt out of desktops. Laptops proved that. iPhones underscored it. Where are desktops going, then? well, I think you're right again--they will follow demand, pure and simple market economics.

If I could get my desktop power in a box the size of a Blackberry, I'd do it today (If the price was comparable). If the small power module was a closed system, like early Packard Bells, et al., I may or may not. Who wants that huge box sitting in the dining room anyway?
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Saved By OverclockingJeroly 2010-08-29 03:32
2. A good chunk of desktop sales is being driven by folks getting second, third and other additional desktops for their homes - for the kitchen, for their children, for the living room. Once the 'build-out' is completed over the next few years this demand will subside. Moreover, the portability of tablets will lessen the demand for multiple desktops.

3. The embedding of functionality formerly only seen in desktops into televisions, refrigerators, alarm systems, etc., will also significantly reduce demand. How many people really need an HTPC when their TV can show Netflix-on-demand, photos from SD cards, etc.?
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Saved By OverclockingJeroly 2010-08-29 03:34
4. Much of the demand for desktops over the last 20 years has been driven by the replacement market - not because of a physical wearing out of the old PCs but by a desire for new functionalities which the older PCs could not support. The incessant surge in processing power over the years has resulted in CPU strength beyond that needed by virtually any home application, and current i7 CPUs probably outstrip processing requirements of the typical home user by a factor of 10. Therefore I think that there will be no new 'killer apps' that will make everybody want to run out to buy a new desktop for perhaps another ten to fifteen years, as their current desktops will be able to run the new apps. This is even more likely under the 'cloud computing' scenario, whereby additional processing power can by provided off-site by central servers.
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# RE: RE: Desktop PC Platform: Saved By OverclockingDOug 2010-08-30 15:21
Well, right and wrong. I want to reduce my time form 6 seconds to render a file in Photoshop to 1 second or less. (I'm a photographer and do this a million times a week.) Every second I can shave off of my work day gives me more time, and yeah, even 5 seconds per render adds up. In the "old days" when we were the slowest link in production, we were limited only by as fast as our bodies could more. Today, we are limited by how fast our brains can think, and many times waiting for files to encode, decode, and render. And that fact means I will be buying faster CPUs as long as I'm waiting for files to finish their 1010 dance.
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# PhotoshopBruceBruce 2010-08-30 15:28
I can't imagine doing photo editing with anything but a mouse or tablet, and a full-sized screen. 90% of the time I work with smaller images, so computing power is not the issue for me. But I can see it being an issue for about 25% of photoshop users.
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# RE: PhotoshopOlin Coles 2010-08-30 15:32
You can still have a large display and keyboard/mouse with devices that are not desktop PCs. In terms of photo editing, my (connected) laptop processes to the same speed as my desktop. Both have SSDs, plenty of RAM, and dual-core or better CPUs. The difference is that I can take the notebook with me and work elsewhere.
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# RE: RE: PhotoshopDOug 2010-08-30 15:43
But can you're laptop process or encode/decode as fast as my 920 at 3.8Ghz and 12 GB of Ram with a file that is over 500MBs? THAT IS THE QUESTION! lol
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Saved By OverclockingJeroly 2010-08-29 03:38
5. There has been a lot of demand driven by ignorance. Many people think that when their PCs have demonstrated slowing performance it is because their PC is 'broken.' I think that the market in 'PC tune-ups' will burgeon and thus reduce demand for new desktops; especially in a down economy, people will be interested in getting their current PC to work as it did out of the box for say $100 instead of paying $500 for a new one. Moreover, the new OSs are improving the way they do housekeeping so performance will not degrade they way it used to.

6. Multi-core PCs will reduce the need for multiple PCs to handle multiple tasks - people can have one PC retrieve email while they watch a movie, compose a presentation, and edit a photo, for example.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Saved By OverclockingStan 2010-08-30 11:35
Think desktop market will continue shrinking, but ther is still a segment where mobile systems are not the best option - nearly neglected now professional workstations.

While in most cased $300 desktop (or $600-700 laptop) will do all the imaginable tasks, the workstation segment still needs extream power.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Saved By OverclockingHR 2010-08-31 17:04
Desktop will flourish because most households still want a "main PC".
All of my friends are looking at Netbooks to surf the web from the couch etc - but ALL of them understand the importance of having a "main computer" with at least 2 hard drives etc.

The other proof that desktops will flourish is that more and more people are building their own. Look at the huge growth PC parts shops compared to just 5 years ago. 5 years ago none of my friend did, now several do.

And look at the growth in on line OC/moding sellers - FrozenCPU, PerformancePC, CoolerGuys, PCcaseGear. Compare this to 7 or 8 years ago, and you`ll realise that even the OC community is growing.

As much as our western education systems are being dumbed down by politically correct so#ts brainwashing and feminising boys, there is still a growing number of boys who beat that system to become PC gurus.
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# desktop for lifeAgent X 2011-04-02 13:58
I've used laptops before, my first personal computer was a laptop. The down side to laptops is that they can only go so fast, which means slow statups, slow shutdowns, slow program loading, slow almost everything. Gaming aside I see where you are coming from but I'll die before I go the mobile or 'cloud' route.

The future of the desktop is clear, to me at least, the real enthusiasts will not go anywere. Even if it means we have to buy professional grade hardware to get the performance we need so be it. I'm also glad I'm not the only one who thinks these "easy oc" options are BS, half the fun is in the challenge without that its just an empty victory.
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