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Why building a PC right now is a terrible idea

There are quite a few exciting launches coming up like the Intel Core i9-7980XE, AMD ThreadRipper, RX VEGA but there’s also the DRAM shortage and GST.

Of late, I’ve seen a lot of folks wondering if they should move to AMD since there’s a lot more cores and threads on offer for a much lower price. And then there has been a slew of announcements around not only CPUs but also GPUs primarily thanks to AMD because they’ve finally got great CPUs and GPUs out. Both Intel and NVIDIA have started proactively making changes to their product lines and schedules to combat the red thread. NVIDIA recently released the GT 1030 and that too without any fanfare to combat the RX 550 that AMD released. Intel dropped prices across the board when the Ryzen 7 was announced and did so again when Ryzen 5 was announced. Not only that, but there’s also a Hyper-Threaded Core i5 processor that’s supposed to come out soon. Traditionally, Hyper-Threading wasn’t seen in Core i5 SKUs but that’s set to change as the Ryzen 5 1400 and 1500X both pack 4 cores and 8 threads thanks to SMT (generic term for having multiple threads for one physical core). However, these aren’t the exciting announcements.

ryzen 1800x
Bringing competition back.

Enter AMD ThreadRipper

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should have heard about ThreadRipper and Basin Falls. The former is an upcoming CPU from AMD with 16 cores and 32 threads while the latter is the upcoming Intel Extreme processor platform which has an 18 core / 36 threaded CPU at the top. Some of these have already launched with the remaining processors set to come out in August later this year. Both AMD and Intel seem to be heating up the CPU race and I couldn’t be any more happier. It’s going to drop prices for CPUs which have been quite expensive of late. I’m not going to mention what my current configuration is for the sake of avoiding embarrassment. It’s high time I upgraded and even I’m willing to wait for a couple of months more just so that I can see this battle play out.

AMD thread ripper
Credit: PC World

Then there’s the Intel Core i9

Intel’s Basin Falls platform has not only high-end processors which generally fall under the Core i7 series but there is also the new Core i9 brand and the flagship 18 core / 36 thread CPU is probably going to be the Core i9-7980XE with 44 PCIe lanes emanating from the CPU and a TDP that should be around 160W or more. Holy Cow! (No offence to any right-wingers) That’s a lot. Then there’s the 7900X, 7820X and the 7800X. All of these are going to need motherboards featuring the upcoming X299 chipset.

Intel Core X
The new Intel Core-X series

On the other hand, AMD has the Ryzen 9 1998X which is the 16 core / 32 thread behemoth. It seems as if AMD went all Super Saiyan on the Ryzen 7 1800X to birth the Ryzen 9 1998X. Of course, even AMD will have multiple SKUs in the Ryzen 9 sub-brand. And by the looks of all the leaks that have surfaced over the last couple of weeks, it appears that AMD will have more SKUs at launch. Nine SKUs to be precise. And here’s the good part, every single one of them will support 44 PCIe lanes. With Intel, only the 7920X and 7900X had 44 PCIe lanes. The next two CPUs will only have 28 lanes so that’s a massive loss for the consumer. You see, of late, a lot of motherboards have begun including multiple NVMe slots for SSDs. NVMe uses PCIe. So the fewer PCIe lanes there are, the fewer features can be included on a motherboard. Of course, there are methods like adding multiplexers to increase more PCIe lanes but that’s an additional cost which trickles down to the consumer at the end of the day.

ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme x399 motherboard
ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme x399 motherboard

While it may seem that AMD is offering more, you need to take a closer look at Intel. The core clocks on the Intel CPUs are higher with the Turbo clocks taking it much further ahead. AMD, on the other hand, has had trouble with hitting the high clocks. Moreover, single-threaded performance and gaming haven’t exactly panned out in AMD’s favour. So now it seems Intel has a significant advantage thanks to its legacy optimisation.

The trouble is that neither AMD, nor Intel have released CPUs with such a large number of cores packed into a single die. Server processors are a different story and are clocked way lower than desktop variants. So there are challenges for both brands that need to play out.

Don’t forget AMD VEGA

Yet another launch looming on the horizon is the new AMD GPUs which will be released under the AMD Vega brand. Since the RX VEGA isn’t out yet, all we can do are mention the rumours surrounding the upcoming GPU. The latest leaks suggest that the flagship AMD VEGA graphics card will perform slightly better than an NVIDIA GTX 1080 while all previous leaks were pointing to it being in league with the GTX 1070. The fact is that the latest score has been obtained from an overclocked graphics card and RX VEGA’s retail product will be more in tune with the GTX 1070. the good part is that this is expected to drop prices again in the flagship GPU market.


The bad news

All of the above mentioned points work out in the customer’s favour, you’re getting better performing components at lower prices (fingers crossed since we’re talking about the Indian market). However, there are a few recent event which aren’t exactly going our way. The first being the cryptocurrency craze that has resulted in a graphics card shortage in the market. Every Tom, Dick and Harry, who’d otherwise not have purchased an RX 480, RX 470 or GTX 1060 is now buying these cards in bulk to mine Ethereum. This has resulted in a ridiculous markup on whatever is left in the market. The recently launched RX 580 is selling for Rs.36,000 against its usual price of Rs.21,000. That’s how expensive “mid-range” cards have become.

Then there’s the recent malfunction at Micron’s lab that resulted in Micron suspending one of its fabs. This, in turn, has resulted in a reduction of DRAM production to the magnitude of 60,000 wafers or roughly 5.5 percent of the global DRAM production. And we all know what happens when supply drops in the face of an increasing demand for a certain category of goods. Yep, price hike. Expect RAM modules to get dearer in the near future.

RAM Modules
RAM’s getting costly

And lastly, there’s GST. While certain components have gotten dearer and certain components have become cheaper, there’s a lot of confusion around GST since it’s a relatively new thing. But sneaky retailers have started charging GST as an addendum over the previous pricing. To make things clearer, let’s say an 8 GB module of RAM could be purchased at Rs.5,ooo pre-GST with 15% tax included (Rs.4,347 without tax). The same module is now being sold at Rs.5,000 + 18%. So you’re paying Rs.6,553 i.e. Rs.1,553 more as opposed to paying just Rs.129 more. PC builders and System Integrators are being fleeced in plain daylight.

Which is why you should wait

On one hand you have increased competition among brands leading to a price reduction and on the other hand, you have shortages and GST which is pushing prices skywards. So building a PC right now isn’t exactly a great idea. Which is why I shall wait till these issues are sorted out. Also, I’d prefer to get my hands on test samples for the upcoming hardware so that I can test them personally to figure which one I should get. I suggest you do the same.

This article was first published in the June 2017 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.


Mithun Mohandas

While not dishing out lethal doses of sarcasm, this curious creature can often be found tinkering with tech, playing vidya' games or exploring the darkest corners of the Internets. #PCMasterRace