AMD takes the console gaming market.

Posted: March 2, 2013 by ryanlecocq in Technology

So I thought I was done with this series as it looked like AMD was pretty content to dominate the low-end budget market and Intel the high-end market.  It looked like there wouldn’t be any more game-changing developments in the CPU wars this generation.  Then the new video game consoles started to release tidbits of information.  It is now confirmed that the PS4 will use an AMD Jaguar CPU and the new Xbox will use an as yet unconfirmed AMD CPU.  That means the Wii U is the only system continuing with an IBM PowerPC processor like all 3 used in the previous (7th) generation video game consoles.  As all 3 new consoles feature ATi GPUs, this means that roughly 80% of the game console silicone will be shipped by AMD.  That is one hell of a slick market position and really I worry the most about IBM as video game consoles were their big easy money since losing the Apple contract.

What this means is that gaming is likely to go strongly in AMD’s favor over the next 5-10 years as games will just obviously be optimized for AMD platforms.  When all 3 consoles and at least half the PC market run on ATi graphics, what incentive is there for developers to develop on nVidia/Intel systems?

Industry analysts haven’t really made a big deal of this yet, but I guarantee you this development has just changed to fate of the Intel/AMD cold war.  It no longer matters if Intel’s CPUs can beat AMD’s in a fair benchmark.  There are about to be no fair benchmarks for Intel as everything is likely to be optimized for AMD’s “less power, more cores” philosophy.  So while Intel has pretty much owned benchmarks for the last few years as they have catered to the good ol’ “two fast threads” design Intel excels at, we may be seeing a big shift.  Since AMD’s processors emphasize multiple threads across all cores and full DirectX 11 and direct compute support, I think we’ll see AMD climbing the performance charts in the near future.  Not because their chips are getting faster, just because the market will now be forced to cater to them by necessity.

For years now, the line by tech journalists has been “AMD’s multicore design may yet come into it’s day when highly threaded applications finally arrive.”  Well, apparently the software industry was happy to keep re-iterating the same crap we invented in the 90s forever and it took console gaming to finally force some change.  PC developers were happy to speculate about this grand future of full system utilization across various cores, but they weren’t really willing to risk any money on it.  Thank you Microsoft and Sony for just realizing the obvious:  Many low-powered cores used flexibly is the future of consumer devices like game consoles and AMD is the only company in mainstream hardware even trying to do it justice.  I would not say that Intel has anything in it’s Atom or i3 line that really looks half as attractive for the price from a game console standpoint.  Console manufacturer’s are already used to having to creatively use the systems resources to extend it’s lifespan.  An Intel processor and dedicated card by either brand is now exactly what it will be five years from now.  In an AMD/ATi system the chipset, CPU and graphics are all the same brand.  So as we’ve seen with the greatly improved Dual-Graphics drivers, future updates could drastically improve the function of the hardware.

Finally the big way this affects you if you aren’t planning on just buying a console, regardless of what’s in it, is don’t rush out and buy a Steambox just yet.  Although Valve and Gabe Newell have always toed the elitist PC gamer “go big or go home” Intel/nVidia line, they too will have to change their tune.  The majority of PC games have all aimed for high cross-platform support in recent years and that is about to mean AMD compatibility.  Valve would honestly be insane to think they could fight a console war against all the giants at once.  If they went Intel/nVidia for their Steambox, they would literally be doing this.  As the PC is the weakest selling platform for multiplatform games, it’s hard to imagine them being able to win over many publishers to develop games optimized for their one underdog platform.  I’m not quite willing to bet on it, as Gabe Newell’s ego has led to not a few similar blunders, but I would be very surprised if the Steambox does not become AMD powered in the near future.  If so, it will be a very serious blow to Intel’s market domination.

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