PC Building in 2017: Recapping a Record Year?

What a year it has been for us builders! Many have been hailing this as one of the best years ever. But is that indicative of the overall hype that has been thrown around over the course of 2017? Read on as I look back on the year that was 2017, and evaluate how the biggest releases have stacked up against their hype.

Why has it seemed so good?

I personally think one of the main reasons the “best year ever” phrase has been thrown around is down to so many dull years before. If you think back to 2016, we had Intel CPUs ruling over a years-old architecture from AMD. (Although many liked how you could overclock the hell out of those old chips!)

This was generally the same in the GPU market too, with NVIDIA releasing their 10-series Pascal cards, destroying everything outside of an entry level GPU which seemed almost beneath them. In the absence of significant competition in that year, these offerings from Intel and NVIDIA—while powerful—were also expensive. In 2016, builders had to pay a huge premium to get their hands on that power.

So we had the performance; now we wanted value for our money!

This is why 2017 has been so popular for many. You might not have even bought one of the newer items out in 2017, but because of this sudden boom in competition, the still impressively powerful 2016 releases received huge discounts as manufacturers suddenly had to compete for our hard-earned money.

For me, it has been a fascinating ride. I joined Logical Increments in January of this year and I’ve been right there with many of you, creating builds based around new releases aplenty and getting excited as each new release came around. So it seemed right, as we reach the end of 2017, that I take a look back at the big releases of the year and see if they lived up to the hype!

March: The Launch of AMD’s Zen Architecture

I feel like at this point in the year, regular readers will know that I really like this CPU line from AMD. The Ryzen launch saw a return to competition in the mainstream CPU marketplace from AMD. Yet this also rippled out through the year into their more high-end performance chips in Threadripper, all the way to their server-grade EPYC.

Now although the average builder wouldn’t have any need for the up to 64 cores, 4 TB of memory, and 128 lanes of PCIe connectivity from EPYC, what this did do is make Intel wake up and get on the defensive. Although they didn’t have an answer for AMD’s release until later in the year, they slashed the prices on many of their CPUs in an attempt to prevent a mass exodus to AMD.

In the months that have followed the launch, the landscape for this release has shifted slightly. Threadripper sits alone in our Extremist build on the parts page, only beaten off the top spot on there by a CPU double the price! This is something I might attempt to address shortly too, as EPYC are becoming more easily available…

Anyway, the Ryzen 7 CPUs now aren’t recommended for most builders, although they do still have a place for specific build requirements (like my recent post about my editing build). We do still, however, recommend both the Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 CPUs for their value for money with the performance they give.

Did the Zen architecture live up to the hype?

All told, regardless of if you personally purchased one or not, this is one release this year that certainly lived up to the hype. We got some genuinely powerful CPUs from AMD across the various performance brackets—which brought us much needed competition, driving down prices and giving us builders much better value for money!

April: GTX 1080 Ti Launch

Look at that moody lighting on NVIDIA’s official shots! A short 10 months from the launch of the GTX 1080 came the monstrous GTX 1080 Ti. In what seemed like a big F U to the early adopters of the 10-series GPUs, the release of the 1080 Ti brought higher performance than the existing Titan at the time, allowing for 4K 60fps gaming off a single card for less than the insane $1200 Titan price tag.

Becoming the new big boy on the block, the 1080 Ti had gamers overjoyed and frustrated in equal measures, with some wondering how on earth NVIDIA made such a jump forwards less than a year after the first 10-series GPUs. This led some to wonder if NVIDIA knew they were so far ahead in performance that they could do essentially whatever they wanted to in the market and charge whatever they wanted for their products.

2018 doesn’t look like it’s going to change either. Right at the end of the year we have seen the release of the Titan V, their first outing into the Volta architecture.

Did the GTX 1080 Ti live up to the hype?

So was the hype worth it? Based off performance, I would say yes; but the issue with short refresh times and cost does taint the water a little.

April: Radeon RX 5xx Refresh

When I first wrote builds for the RX 580 and 570 back at their launch, I mentioned that on paper these looked just like a 5-10% overclock of the RX 4xx series GPUs for the same price. Although not super ground-breaking, these GPUs have been great for the average builder. With the boost in performance, the RX 580 and the RX 570 have been great for 1080p gaming, proving popular with everyone building shiny new AMD Ryzen builds!

So what was the problem with these GPUs? Well, it comes down to how popular they became with a particular sub-section of our building community… THE DAMNED CRYPTOMINERS!!!! Manufacturers never really complain of course, yet for anyone not interested in cryptocurrency, the lack of availability and the price inflation really hurt.

Did the RX 5xx series live up to the hype?

Tentatively, I would say yes. At the end of the year, as mining has been once again returning to a period of unprofitability, the prices are slowly-yet-thankfully starting to normalize. So these are becoming more worthwhile again!

July: Whatever the X299 Launch was…

x299 issues

Oh man. Remember that thumbnail in July? 4 months after AMD launched Ryzen came the response from Intel. We saw some new i7 and i9 CPUs released, and along with it some overheating issues and some bitchy PR moves.

Part of me understands Intel here. AMD beat the crap out of them, bringing decent performing 6- and 8-core CPUs at a low cost, blowing away their equally priced dual- and quad-core offerings. They felt like they had to respond. So instead of being a smart company and thinking of their long-term business, they reacted to the short-term prospects… badly.

So—although Intel will never admit it—they clearly rushed this launch, causing overheating problems on an overpriced platform. Not to mention that a few months later, we had a whole new 8th generation line-up from them, which used a different platform again and you couldn’t upgrade if you had purchased on X299.

All told, this was probably one of the more stupid decisions by Intel in recent memory. Had they simply had a little patience, they could have taken the short-term hit from the AMD Ryzen launch and come back swinging. It was this childish behavior from them that made me purchase a Ryzen 7 1700X instead of waiting for the 8th Generation Intels or investing in a platform that was dead on arrival.

Did the X299 launch live up to the hype?

Nope. We were all curious to see how Intel would react, and this was a very bad step by them—something which I’m sure they’re hoping we’ll all forget going into 2018.

August: RX Vega Launch

With AMD throwing all the punches in the CPU market, the Radeon team came up to bat with the—frankly odd—RX Vega launch. The super-fast HBM2 memory had everyone wondering just how powerful these could be at different tasks. Some said “they could be more powerful than a 1080 Ti,” while others said they would be useless at everything but being a paperweight. What we ended up getting was something that was somewhere around the GTX 1070/1080 for gaming, with a little more powerful results for intense 3D design tasks like rendering, and a higher price.

Like the X299 launch detailed above, the RX Vega launch was confusing to consumers. The main way to get your hands on the GPU models at launch was with what they called Radeon Packs, which were designed as a way to prevent cryptominers disrupting the availability. What ended up happening though was a very, very poor uptake from consumers who were mostly interested in standalone GPUs and not necessarily all that came in the packs to make them worthwhile.

Even today, 4 months after launch, there is little to no stock and I suspect Radeon are just going to let these cards quietly die. Unless you fancy spending $1500 to get a model from a 3rd party seller of course…

Did the RX Vega launch live up to the hype?

This was one launch that had plenty of hype and sadly nothing to back it up. Hopefully 2018 can improve on this, as they will have to compete with Volta (NVIDIA’s platform for HBM2 based GPUs) coming too.

September: AMD playing Smart with Bargain CPUs

I do like it when a manufacturer has a planned range refresh that comes out right when the competition is struggling for stocks. The new A-series CPUs from AMD were never meant to set the world on fire; they were simply a refresh of an older architecture as the last piece in their 2017 lineup. No cutdown Ryzen CPUs were to be found here, just what was in essence re-purposed bulldozer CPUs which builders on a super-tight budget could overclock to the moon and get decent gaming performance.

This completely sneaked in from nowhere, too. When I was speaking to the team about the launch, I don’t think any of us really expected quite so many models from AMD. 11 CPUs in total, all ranging from $60-110, some with integrated GPUs (some without) and some with coolers too.

What it broke down to in the end was one main 7th generation range which had GPUs built in, coming in 35W and 65W variants, and then just the CPU models (Athlon 7th gens).

The biggest advantage these have for budget builders is that they are compatible with the AM4 platform, the same one used by Ryzen. So even if you can’t afford a shiny new Ryzen CPU now, at least you’re future-proofing your upgrade path. With the Zen 2 chips due to be announced in February 2018 to run on AM4 too, this is a great option all told, when compared to Intel’s fractured and recently non-existent upgrade paths.

Did AMD’s newest low-end CPUs live up to the hype?

With coming out of the blue for most people, there was zero hype for these at launch. And even now, with how low the stocks are for some models, there’s no big calls for AMD to get more back in stock. So: a nice addition for sure, but nothing groundbreaking here. Just a smart move by AMD to act as a counterpoint to Intel’s issues.

October: Intel 8th Generation Launch

Just about 3 months after their previous new platform launch in X299, Intel reset things again with the full launch of their 8th Generation CPUs. Overall, we were much more impressed with these CPUs: they gave a genuine performance increase over the 7th Generation CPUs, thanks to the i3, i5 and i7 models all receiveing a core increase for almost the same price in many cases.

Yet, there have been a few niggling issues. The ghosts of the X299 platform still seem to be hanging around, with overheating becoming a major issue for any amount of overclocking. Plus, we have the more-than-annoying decision that Intel insisted on a new motherboard platform in Z370, to the point that the “older” Z270 boards are completely incompatible with the 8th Generation, despite manufacturers saying there’s no reason they couldn’t be (outside of Intel making it so).

Although stocks have been a struggle since the launch, making us wonder if these too have been rushed out the door a little, the more powerful CPUs did manage to dislodge the AMD Ryzen 7 CPUs off our parts list.

This is what confused me about Intel pushing out X299 when they did. Sure, this range was in the works and would have meant that AMD would have completely ruled the roost when it came to the consumer and enthusiast CPU market for 7 straight months. Yet this could have easily righted the ship by itself, as the 8th gens are clearly powerful. Instead, some of us simply didn’t trust (or like the lack of transparency) from Intel and bought AMD anyway.

Their short-term actions may have done a lot of damage here. Lo and behold, this launch made the previous generation of motherboards incompatible, splitting your upgrade paths once again—while AMD is quietly working away on what is now an entire range of CPUs with the 2nd generation of them coming in February.

Did Coffee Lake live up to the hype?

The hype here was based around more of a “don’t do this like X299 please” mentality. And, although we have had really solid upgrades in performance, Intel’s insistence on a new motherboard platform (not to mention the low availability) has soured for some what could have been a really great launch. This definitely isn’t a complete failure like X299, as the chips themselves have delivered on the promised performance, but Intel still really needs to step up their game for consumers in 2018.

December: Titan V and NVIDIA getting drunk on power

When coming up with this article, the one oddity I had to decide whether to include was NVIDIA and what on earth they have been doing with their Titan GPUs. I was initially going to put the odd 1070 Ti release or indeed the Star Wars Collectors Edition Titans here (just… why?) as the last item. But considering we had less than a year and a half between the Titan X, Titan Xp, and now Titan V, I felt this was a good point to end this post on.

Does anyone else think NVIDIA are just messing with people at this point? When Titan X was released, it was the most powerful single GPU on the market. Then they released the 1080 Ti which was more powerful and they couldn’t have that! So they released the Titan Xp a month later, only 8 months after the Titan X was launched.

Which brings us to December, another 8 months on with ZERO competition and NVIDIA throws out Titan V for the hell of it. I don’t want to phrase this as something crude, but NVIDIA knows it has the biggest stick and is really enjoying swinging it in all our faces.

For $3000, NVIDIA knows it all too well. But hey, at least they give free shipping! I will say: at least NVIDIA are pushing this to the compute market and not to gamers. It does not have SLI capabilities, instead having some features which have zero use to the gaming enthusiast. That being said, assuming your CPU doesn’t become a bottleneck (a very high possibility with this GPU), the Titan V does push some insane numbers, pushing well over 80fps averages at 4K when overclocked on even the most demanding of benchmarks (looking at you Ashes of the Singularity), but still losing out to 2 Titan Xp cards in terms of performance-per-dollar.

Did the Titan V live up to the hype?

Since no one was really expecting this and it’s not really a gaming card, that kind of depends: What does this mean for 2018? Well, potentially, it means that the mainstream Volta range is going to be an expensive one and instead NVIDIA will probably have them running in tandem with the 10-series GPUs. Unless NVIDIA suddenly finds a way to make the super fast HBM2 memory cheaper that is!

So… record year?

I will say that overall this has been a good year for builders, and a very exciting one.

There have been some very notable missteps from Intel with X299 and from Radeon with RX Vega. Yet, with AMD releasing Ryzen, Threadripper and EPYC off the Zen architecture, they have brought a great deal of competition back into the CPU market place. And Coffee Lake did deliver on many of its promises in response, although that delivery came with the non-optimal caveats of no backwards compatibility and shaky availability for months following release.

Because of the RX Vega’s poor outing, NVIDIA have enjoyed an insane year as the undisputed king of the GPUs, rounded off with the launch of the gratuitous and pricey Titan V for us to swoon over. Unfortunately, unless we’re going to see some genuine competition arise here, we’re not going to see the mainstream Volta-based GPUs at anything but premium prices. Instead, what we might see is competition (finally) for their Pascal based 10-series, which should bring those down in price for more reasonable 1080p, 1440p and 4k gaming—not to mention VR gaming too.

So for me, this has been a solid year, yet still some improvement would have been needed in the GPU space for it to rank up there with one of the absolute best ever.

What do you think? Was 2017 one of the best ever? Are you waiting for 2018 releases instead? Let me know in the comments!