Computing and Gaming in Q4 2020

Within the past thirty days, fundamental shifts in the compute and gaming landscape have manifested to the benefit of consumers that were lucky enough to score upon the limited supply of emerging or marketing leading technologies. nVidia has knocked it out the park with the RTX 3000-series GPUs based on the myriad of reviews and benchmarks available. Alas, demand is far outstripping supply and the potential to procure one of the latest and greatest GPUs has been hit or miss. AMD also came out swinging with the class-leading Ryzen 5000-series CPUs that have taken the single-threaded performance crown from Intel in a wide variety of tests and use cases. They followed up with an unexpected surprise with the Radeon RX 6000-series GPUs that will be available later this month. The RDNA2 architecture appears to be poised to trade blows with the upper echelon of nVidia’s current GPU stack.

Today’s Apple event, where the MacBook Air, 13″ MacBook Pro, and Mac mini were unveiled with the M1 Apple Silicon felt underwhelming in some aspects. It may take a few days or weeks until sufficient data is available to determine how viable these initial platforms are for a myriad of use cases. Opinions on the reveal include the following key points:

  1. The Mac mini is a regression from the configuration and customization perspective. Even with a $100 USD reduction in price for the base configuration, the choices result in selecting an M1 with either 8 GB or 16GB of memory along with integrated storage options of 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB or 2 TB of capacity. The $200 USD increase for the doubling of system memory has no bypass as it does for the 2018 and newer Intel Mac minis. 10Gb networking is no longer available at a reasonable cost uplift. In the absence of benchmarks, it feels a tad underwhelming once one realizes that the 16 GB System Memory/512 GB SSD configuration is at near price parity with the Core i5 model that is still available. For basic productivity work, the entry level unit may be more than sufficient. However, it’s a hard sell in the midst of holiday sales season where a myriad of fairly equivalent and expandable Windows systems can be purchased at a lower price point.
  2. On the surface, distinguishing differences between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro are far less pronounced. Once the Air’s options are modified for the sake of longevity and viability, the Pro may become a non-consequential difference of ~$100 USD more for a brighter display, Touch Bar, active cooling, and one more GPU core enabled on the chip. Significant data will be required to determine the impact of design choices (lower power and passively cooled versus slightly higher power and actively cooled). Again, these may be a tough sell to all but the most diehard Apple fans based on the value proposition offered by manufacturers in the Windows ecosystem. While the screen of the $599 USD Lenovo Flex 5 14″ laptop is not in the same class as either the Air or Pro, the configuration, performance, touchscreen, and authentication options are superior.
  3. The continued reliance on a 720p webcam in a 2020 MacBook Air or MacBook Pro feels like a huge miss during these pandemic times. The 2020 iMac finally received a 1080p webcam. In the price range of these products, it’s possible to get a Windows-based laptop with an integrated 1080p webcam. Segmenting the product stack accordingly so that the Air maintained the 720p webcam and the Pro received the upgrade to a 1080p webcam may have made some purchasing decisions easier for those that were ready to make the switch from an x86 Mac.
  4. The metrics and improvements touted in the presentation came with shady, Intel-like disclaimers for the comparative references. We’ll be interested in actual benchmarks of the existing Ice Lake and Comet Lake-based Apple laptops against the M1-based variants that can be ordered now.

With the official release of the Xbox Series X and S today, along with the official release of the Playstation 5 tomorrow, the console wars are renewed. The inclusion of incredibly fast solid state storage and pairing of customized AMD solutions for compute and graphics will deliver visually stunning experiences. Once again, availability may be a challenge due to pent-up demand. Do NOT feed the scalpers and bot utilizers with the premiums they may be asking on auction or resale websites. Patience will be a virtue as supply catches up with demand!

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