People perceive the personal computer as aging and obsolete next to our shiny new mobile phones, voice-activated home gear, and cloud-based software. In reality, the PC looks more relevant than ever, even as the PC market matures. A new emphasis on power efficiency, higher performance GPUs, and fast, but tiny, SSDs are reshaping what we think of as the PC. Let's take a look at the trends and technologies reshaping the PC as we know it in 2016, and how those will affect what we choose to buy or build.
Incremental technology improvements, PC gaming, and a shift away from performance to power management define the personal computer in 2016. I'm also seeing a resurgence of the 2-in-1 laptop, with detachable keyboard and tablet-like display, mostly due to Microsoft's Surface 4 Pro and Surface Book. On the wane: experiments in new or exotic form factors.
Let's look at a few of these key trends and see what they mean for building and upgrading PCs in the coming year. First, we'll take a look at changes on the component level, then figure out what that means for different classes of PC users.
Incremental Technology Improvements
While you can measure the difference in performance between Intel's 32nm Sandy Bridge processors and today's Skylake processors, that difference doesn't translate to big gains overall. That seems surprising; after all, Skylake is the third generation beyond Sandy Bridge, and two process nodes smaller.
If you start looking at platform differences, you find more substantial reasons to upgrade. The last chipset dedicated to Sandy Bridge, the Z68, only offered integrated USB 2.0 and PCI Express 2.0. USB 3.0 didn't arrive until Ivy Bridge, and while you could run Sandy Bridge processors on Intel x75 or x77 core logic, they were really built for Ivy Bridge.