HomeTechnologyNewsRemember when new CPUs were always a great upgrade?

Remember when new CPUs were always a great upgrade?

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Nowadays it seems that many PC hardware upgrades are mostly iterative and incremental upgrades. Other than a few extra cores, or cores with faster clock rates, we don’t get anything really exciting or groundbreaking. What happened to the good old days?

PCs in the 2000s

I’m probably one of the younger writers on this site, and I’m part of Generation Z, so most of the great moments in the PC space of that era happened when I was a kid. Still, I’ve always been a nerd, and the first gaming PC I managed to get my hands on was a powerful Intel Pentium 4 that belonged to my uncle. I also remember asking my parents several times to buy me a PC with an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU.

Sadly, I never had one: my first personal PC was an Acer netbook that is somehow still alive today. But multicore chips were all the rage in the 2000s, and they were the centerpiece of a grueling fight between Intel and AMD to see who could do better.

An orange CPU chip with heat and smoke coming out of it.
BLKstudio/Shutterstock.com

AMD first made 64-bit processors with the Athlon 64 in 2003, then Intel and AMD launched their own initial dual-core offerings with the Pentium D and Athlon 64 X2 in May 2005. Intel then went ahead with the first quad-core. core. Core CPU, Intel Core 2 Quad, in November 2006. We went from single-core chips to having four processing cores in a single CPU in just a year and a half.

As you can imagine, many of these releases were pretty rough. The Pentium D was notorious for being slow and hot, and is widely regarded as one of Intel’s most disastrous releases of all time. But once those issues were fixed, we were left with amazing, high-performance chips.

After 15 years, quad-core, and even dual-core, CPUs are still prevalent in many laptops and desktops.

Where did things go wrong?

To make a long story short, one of the two fierce competitors, AMD, began releasing chips that didn’t measure up to Intel alternatives, slowly falling out of favor among enthusiasts and eventually average users. Intel was then left as the only major player in the desktop CPU space, and innovation and competition seemed to slow down.

Many Intel CPUs of the early to mid 2010s were basically incremental innovations. We didn’t get any higher core counts, and in many cases, we didn’t even get big performance boosts. This trend continued for a long time. Back in 2017, the seventh-generation Core i7-7700K, the cream of Intel at the time, was… still a quad-core.

CPU competition is heating up again

Close-up of an AMD Ryzen 5 3400G CPU being held between a person's fingers.
Alberto Garcia Guillen/Shutterstock.com

Intel’s throne was shaken with the launch of AMD Ryzen in 2017, which brought the major increases that people have been waiting for. And Intel reacted immediately with the release of hexa-core CPUs and further increases in core counts in later years. But even then, in 2021, the company’s flagship 11th-gen offering, the Core i9-11900K, was still an octa-core.

Thankfully, it looks like Intel has finally gotten a grip on things again. The 12th generation CPUs that were released at the end of 2021 had a new P-core and E-core system, and the 13th generation continues this trend: the Intel Core i9-13900K has 24 CPU cores. AMD’s Ryzen 7000, released in 2022, is basically a continuation of what the company was doing with the previous generation, but we don’t doubt that AMD will soon have a proper answer to Intel’s hardware.

And maybe, just maybe, another PC war will break out when that happens, resulting, once again, in making PC upgrades hugely exciting.

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