The future's bright for PC hardware this year

PCs ruled the roost in 2009. While console gaming hit the brick wall of its own technical limitations, PC gaming technology just continued to get better, faster and cheaper as the year wore on. And now that 2010 is well underway we know that the coming year is going to be a belter for new PC computing and gaming tech.

Above: DirectX 11’s advanced tech promises smoother curves and subtly detailed models

“It’s a big year for PC gaming with Windows 7 bringing massive improvements like DirectX 11 and hardware costs still dropping,” agrees Patrick Goss, editor of “It’s about time the major players like NVIDIA, AMD, Intel, Microsoft and, of course, Valve manage to come up with some way to drag people away from the now aging consoles and back to the PC as a primary gaming platform.”

We’ve gotten ourselves excited about NVIDIA’s new 3D-gaming goggles, and Jane Douglas, editor of MSN’s Tech and Gadgets channel agrees with us that “hardware makers and publishers will keep plugging away with 3D gaming…” but adds the important caveat, “until games themselves are designed around 3D experiences – until they require 3D viewing – it won’t catch on. If the 3D element can’t open up new kinds of gameplay, it’ll remain a gimmick, at least until 3D systems that don’t need glasses and extra kit are commonplace.” However, let’s not get too downhearted. Lots of very cool 3D stuff is happening, but it will remain a niche and fairly costly activity amongst PC gamers this year.

Luckily there are a bunch of other new and emerging technologies that we equally look forward to playing on and with in the coming months, including (in no particular order) new tablet computers from the likes of Microsoft and Apple; new cloud gaming services such as OnLiveand Dave Perry’s Gaikai; that immense new 9.1 surround sound speaker system and new gaming audio tech from audio hardware developers Dolby; powerful netbooks that are capable of running proper games and – the one issue that divides us like no other – tactile control methods, including Project Natal-inspired motion control tech and new forms of enhanced touchscreen control in Windows 7.

Above: Dolby’s 9.1 surround sound system: audio overkill or audio joy?

On top of all that we have some major developments in processor tech to look forward to, and yet more ridiculously fast new graphics cards being promised from NVIDIA and ATI. As graphics are the meat and potatoes of PC gaming, let’s start with that.

New CPU and GPU

Intel recently released Westmere, its 32 nanometer revision of the Nehalem microarchitecture seen in Core i7 desktop CPUs. Essentially the Westmere is the first PC processor that combines the central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processor unit (GPU) in one, single package. At the affordable end of the scale, you’ll see the dual-core Clarkdale Westmere CPUs sold under the Core i3 and Core i5 brands. Whereas at the silly-money end, if you want endless computing power, then Intel’s six-core Gulftown processor will be your chip of choice in 2010. This should be available at some point in the early summer.

Above: Intel’s 2010 range of processors combine CPU and GPU functions

Elsewhere, AMD don’t look like they’re going to be pushing as many boundaries in 2010, with their new Bulldozer core architecture and the CPU/GPU fusion chip (or Accelerated Processing Unit) not slated for arrival in our homes until later in 2011. That said, the company isn’t resting on its laurels and is set to release a new cheap-ish six-core chip called Thuban. This will be a slightly sprightlier version of its Phenom II CPU which, at that price range, should be tempting for many gamers.

Above: Soon netbooks won’t be limited to old games

Graphics-wise, we have some equally appealing tech to whet our whistles. NVIDIA’s Fermi packs in 3 billion transistors. The company claims it has 10 times the processing power of any previous NVIDIA graphics chip. Although AMD’s dual-chip HD 5970 card might well give it a run for its money. And there are whispers of the release of the new Radeon HD 6800 series later in the year.