Another year has passed through the PC PowerPlay labs, which means I’ve mashed my fingers on countless motherboards, grazed my knuckles on a gazillion GPUs, and had the occasional electric shock or two while testing power supplies. It also means it’s time to sit back, take a breath, and see which goodies took out the Tech of the Year awards for 2015.
I’ve now been blessed with the job of technology reviewer for over 16 years, and have to say that 2015 was a rather big one in terms of innovation. While it’s becoming trickier than ever for Intel and AMD to create faster CPUs, the rest of the hardware industry found ways to improve on their goodies. Monitors in particular picked up steam, thanks largely to Nvidia’s G-Sync technology. AMD teamed up with VESA, the folks who create the industry-wide standards used on our PC displays, to develop an open version of G-Sync, called FreeSync, and through the year I watched this evolve from a rather buggy, limited standard to a product that is basically equal to NVIDIA’s proprietary tech. I give it another three or four years before FreeSync is supported by every display and GPU on the market, and that includes Nvidia.
Storage solutions also saw massive leaps in performance, with the adoption of both M.2 and NVMe doubling and tripling SSD speeds. I’m now using an M.2 drive in both my gaming and office rig, and the desktop performance improvements are palpable, though games don’t see much of a boost. Thankfully the ongoing GPU war between AMD and Nvidia did give our games a framerate boost, though it was a shame to see AMD’s brand new GPU design fail to give Nvidia the black-eye it needs to stay competitive.
One thing that was really noticeable over the year was how terrible our Aussie dollar was. As it plummeted in value against the US dollar, the prices of new release products increased to the point where they simply weren’t good value – buyers were better off buying older products that were imported on a stronger dollar. It was good news for me though, as it meant local Aussie reviews really had a point of difference to those written in the US and UK, where the price/performance ratio was totally different, though I’m sure the local hardware vendors weren’t as impressed.
Anyways, the following pages are a tidy little summary of all the award winners that graced our pages in 2015, which should serve as a great buying guide if you’re on the hunt for hardware. I’ve also taken a little look at 2016, or as I like to call it, the year Virtual Reality became a Reality. At last.
GPU of the Year
WINNER: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti
Ouch. That’s all I could think of when Nvidia released the GeForce GTX 980 Ti chipset to GPU makers in May of 2015. It was a double whammy of pain for many in the hardware community, firstly the poor bastards who had forked out $1600 for the Titan X. Just two months after spending big on the Titan X, the 980 Ti came out with basically identical speeds and feeds, though with half the onboard memory, for a whopping $500 less. Sure, that lack of memory didn’t help performance when running 4K games with stupidly high levels of antialiasing, but for everything else the two products were on par. Throw in overclocking, and the GTX 980 Ti actually performed better than the Titan X in many regards. Oh Nvidia, when will you learn to take care of your early adopters, aka whales?
But the company I felt really bad for was AMD, as the GTX 980 Ti was really just a spoiler to the biggest product launch AMD had lined up in years, the Radeon Fury X. If it wasn’t for the GTX 980 Ti, the Fury X would have been the best high-end gaming card of the year… but it wasn’t. The GTX 980 Ti managed to handily beat AMD’s uber-card in most of our benchmarks, a fact that wasn’t helped by the Fury X’s limited 4GB of onboard memory.
I reviewed several GTX 980 Ti products through the year, but two stood out as worthy of mention. MSI’s GTX 980TI Lightning was an overclocking behemoth, able to hit frequencies 20 to 30% higher than reference thanks to its high-quality build and beastly air cooler. And then Gigabyte delivered an even more capable beast, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce, which had built-in watercooling to allow super-easy overclocks. Both of these cards are still retailing for well over a grand, and I’m packing two GTX 980 Ti cards in SLI mode in my main gaming machine. I can testify that there isn’t a game out there that isn’t beaten to a pulp by NVIDIA’s killer chipset of 2015.
Commended: AMD Radeon Fury X
Oh AMD, you came so close to claiming the performance crown in 2015 that it truly does pain me to give you the commended award. The Fury X had it all – new HBM memory that is set to become the standard for high-end GPUs, integrated water cooling to keep it all cool, and blistering performance. Sadly it wasn’t quite enough to beat out the performance numbers of the GTX 980 Ti, and I’m guessing the Fury X wasn’t cheap to make thanks to its cutting-edge tech, which meant AMD couldn’t undercut Nvidia’s pricing. Here’s hoping your 2016 Greenland architecture puts you back in the top spot, you deserve it after being the underdog for too long.