The End Of Wintel (Part 2)

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A gamer’s rant

As far as gaming is concerned there has been a marked shift towards consoles and tablets with PC support being added only as an afterthought. How many big name titles have you seen for the PC that have been specifically developed for it? Granted, there are games that bring even the most powerful of systems to their knees, but they are few and far between and who, other than a few enthusiasts, has the money and patience to keep up with the upgrade race that defined the PC gaming experience? Console graphics are, well, abysmal when you compare them to that of a half-decent PC but so what? When most kids these days haven’t experienced PC gaming on anything more powerful than a “gaming” laptop, and a PS3 (RISC architecture power’s this beast) is the ultimate in graphics they’ve seen, they won’t know any better. Ignorance is bliss. It isn’t just ignorance though. When you take a console you are assured a consistent experience, assuredly sub-par in terms of graphics, but consistent nonetheless. It is easier for developers to code for such platforms and when the hardware is fixed, so is the game engine; translating into more time that can be spent in creating a better game. The problem Wintel creates is that of an ever-changing standard (DirectX) that game developers and hardware manufacturers alike have to meet. Take the GTX290 for example, extremely powerful, a little over two years old and already obsolete because it doesn’t support DirectX 11.1. This monopolistic control of the entire market by Micro-soft was not appreciated by developers or hardware makers, but since Wintel ruled the roost” they had no option but to comply. It was a race to keep up and it was harsh. Everyone couldn’t keep up and there were many that got left behind, and they jumped on to the easier alternative.

The GTX 290

The GTX 290

The monster in your room

People no longer want power hungry “monstrosities” cluttering up their house. Few people have the time to maintain them. The face of the PC has changed. It is smaller, more efficient and is idiot-proof and hence, intelligently designed.

Take the current tablets for example, everyone has (or wants) one, they’re powerful enough to give you console level graphics, can output video to a TV wirelessly, let you browse the internet, check your mail, are sleek and portable, give you 10+ hour battery life, support basic photo and video editing; they are the new PC. It won’t be long before your workstation becomes nothing more than a large monitor with attached keyboard and mouse and using your tablet or phone working as a thin-client of sorts (Ubuntu mobile for example).

Ubuntu mobile

Ubuntu mobile

As geeks we would (and do) find this state of affairs to be very sad, but to an average person, things are looking up. The PC is no longer the domain of the geek, there are no complicated settings and everything just works. The devices don’t need instruction manuals and even a child can set them up and use them. The power and flexibility of Wintel is currently unrivalled, but nobody needs it anymore. The Windows OS is currently too heavy to run on low-end PCs and Intel doesn’t have the efficiency to compete with ARM. Windows RT and the Intel Atom are a step in the right direction but it is a step too small. Windows RT isn’t yet fully optimized, has no apps and eco-system to speak of and the Atom is too power hungry for the performance on offer. On the other hand, ARM is too slow to support a full-blown desktop OS and while way more efficient, lacks the freedom that x86 offers.

A RISCy future

The only future is some sort of middle ground between these differing architectures and the company that reaches there first, wins. Intel has been too dependent on Microsoft and even though Apple has also switched to Intel CPUs, there are very persistent rumors floating around that Apple might switch to ARM for all future devices. The PC has been relegated to the state of a true workstation now, for someone who needs that amount of horsepower, such as a gamer, graphic designer, etc. Even AMD is planning a switch to ARM-based Opterons in the future which, if designed right, might sound the final death knell for x86.

If the future is RISC then both intel and Microsoft need to move really fast to come up with a compatible architecture

If the future is RISC then both Intel and Microsoft need to move really fast to come up with a compatible architecture

If the future is RISC then both Intel and Microsoft need to move really fast to come up with a compatible architecture and OS but the fact remains, that unless something is done soon, both will have lost the initiative and might end up sharing the same fate as Nokia. In this cut throat market, too little too late is just not going to cut it anymore. People want complete ecosystems and functional devices that will not disrupt their lives and still provide them with a better experience than they are used to.

Is Wintel dead?

No. The current PC market has received a severe shaking up, the dust is yet to settle and no true winners (there have been losers) have been spotted yet. The current ARM based Windows RT is disappointing and unfinished; Intel’s Atom is RISC architecture masquerading as CISC and is woefully underpowered when it comes to graphics. Wintel is not the monopoly that it once was and needs to adapt fast to keep its position.

The current state of Wintel’s income and market share has jolted them from their complacency and made them face the fact that the PC has changed, but they need to understand that compromises and arm twisting (pardon the pun) are not acceptable anymore. If Wintel can do that, redefine computing on their terms, provide a compelling experience for users, give them a platform that they can trust and use, they will find themselves back at the top instead of at the bottom desperately trying to play catch up.

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