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Week in Tech: The end of graphics, and other stuff

seven billion transistors

Bit late with this installment due to a near-death experience with pharyngitis. But that's actually allowed a few things shake out into the public domain. And the overall upshot is that PC hardware took an odd turn this week. The launch of a new high end GPU from NVIDIA really only served to confirm 2013 looks odds on for slim to no progress in graphics technology. More than that, it's basically the end of the graphics refresh cycle as we know it. Sounds grim, but actually means now is a great time to buy a new pixel pumper. Meanwhile, Dell wheels out a crazy 21:9 aspect ultra-wide display and ye olde graphics benchmarks get an update.

When I wrote this first time around, I was due to attend a conference call with AMD for an update on its graphics kit and in fear of being left bound, gagged and writhing in an NDA dead zone.

As it happened AMD merely confirmed the rumours that 2013 will be a case of everything stays the same. No new graphics. The soonest we'll see any new AMD chips is right at the end of the year.

Read my lips: No new AMD graphics

Why it's happening is an interesting question. AMD was previously expected to unload its next-gen Sea Islands GPUs, otherwise known as the Radeon HD 8000 series, no later than early 2013. Personally I doubt the delay indicates any problems at AMD's end.

Instead, it very much smells like we've moved into a new era for PC graphics. We simply won't be getting epic new graphics chip every year. Both sides of the graphics war seem pretty comfortable with this. AMD actually has a very strong GPU line up currently. It's super competitive at all points of the market and arguably has its nose in front regards overall bang for buck.

Somehow, however, NVIDIA seems to be increasing market share of late. The numbers vary according to who's doing the telling and whether you're talking all PC graphics or just add-in boards.

But the point is that it looks like NVIDIA is doing just fine and has no plans to squeeze out a real-world replacement for the GeForce 600 series any time soon. AMD's recent revelation, then, is very likely a response to that.

If you're wondering about NVIDIA's new GeForce Titan, that's easy. It's the long awaited desktop version on NVIDIA's mystical GK110 chip. It's been on sale for a while as a Tesla board for industrial compute applications and it's completely bonkers.

Bonkers as in seven billion transistors or double the number of transistors of the GK104 GPU found in the GeForce GTX 680. It's easy to be blase about the march of technology, but just ponder that for a moment. Seven billion.

£800. That is all.

Despite that, it's not twice as fast as a 680. A fair few of those transistors are expended on compute-related rather than graphics specific functionality.

Consequently, GK110 and thus Titan doesn't have double the 1,536 shader count of the 680 and makes do with a mere 2,688 functional shaders. It doesn't clock as high as a 680, either, so the net result is more in the region of 50 to 60 per cent more performance than a 680.

Still fugging quick, you say? Yup, but you'll pay for it to the tune of 1,000 bucks. Factor in the VAT man's pound of flesh in Blighty and you're looking at over £800.

In my book, that makes it irrelevant, much as I'm pleased to see GK110 finally make its way into PCs. In fact, it's not really part of the usual GPU cycle. NVIDIA confirms that the replacement for the GTX 680 won't be faster than the Titan. It's not part of the conventional product line up.

And thus the good news that comes out of all this is that now is a great time to buy a new graphics card. You can be confident it won't be immediately usurped by something with added spangliness. AMD isn't planning anything soon. GeForce Titan is a one off.

How wide is too wide?

Meanwhile...Dell has pulled the covers off the Ultrasharp U2913WM. It's a 29-inch freak of a monitor with a 21:9 aspect ratio and 2,560 by 1,080 pixels.

I'm no fan of super-wide aspects for desktop computing, but the gadget whore in me would love to give it a go in games. Getting review samples out of Dell is a Byzantine process that's about as much fun as a tax return, so my hopes aren't high of getting one in.

For the record, it's an IPS panel with an LED backlight and sports the latest styling vogue in the form of a pseudo no-bezel design. Admittedly, it's pretty niche, but it's not actually as expensive as you might think. It can be yours for a whisker under £500.

I've soft spots for displays with crazy specs and particularly high end Dells. Money no object, I'd have one for giggles.

Pointless. But fun.

And finally...Unigine and Futuremark have both rolled out new graphics benchmarks. They're really anachronisms from a bygone age when benchmark scores generated big internet traffic. Unigine Heaven 4.0 is more a case of a bit of graphical spit and polish than a new benchmark, while Futuremark 3Dmark is all new and crammed with all manner of shimmery, tessellated visual shizzle.

Pointless gimmickery? Perhaps. But I've always enjoyed perving over the true potential of PC hardware, freed from its console shackles.

P.S. After a little delay rounding up the bits, our gaming rig give away prizes are now on the way to our lucky winners. Thanks to David Domínguez of Argentina and Peter Bruffell of York for their patience. Hopefully we'll catch up with up them a little later to see just how much their gaming lives have been shaken up. Until then, enjoy the clobber!

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Jeremy Laird