What started as massive complexes has been trimmed down to a single chip inside your PC. Processors have come a long way and the buzzword when it comes to die size is 32nm down from the past year’s 65nm and 45nm chips. TDPs have been brought down from insane highs to sub-100W levels as a new standard. The focus has shifted from pure clock frequencies to features like integrated graphics and memory controllers on each chip and power utilization. L1, L2 and L3 cache sizes have taken on much more importance.
Hardware based virtualization helps you run multiple OS copies on a single system, and hyperthreading lets you practically “simulate” multiple cores as and when the need arises. The number of physical cores have also risen from just 1 to 2 in Intel’s Core 2 Duo lineup and today’s i3 and i5 processors. AMD’s X2 processors have 2 cores too. Talking about quad and hexa-cores, we can find examples in the latest Intel i5, i7 and AMD Phenom and Athlon II X4 processors. The last 2 years also saw the advent of unconventional, yet very effective tri-core chips and some Intel Xeon processors with as many as 12 cores. Maximizing physical cores seems to be the new mantra.
The next big change after the Turbo Boost facility will come in the form of the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture in 2011.
Graphics and Display Technology
Computer graphics have taken a huge leap from 2D sprites on CRT monitors to 3D images coming alive in front of your very eyes, so real you could almost reach out and touch them. 3D monitors with high refresh rates coupled with proper 3D shutter/polarized spectacles are in vogue. Soon, the need for glasses will be eliminated with companies like LG, Sharp and Sony testing out 3-dimensional auto-stereoscopic displays.
Coming to display technology, there is no doubt LCDs will soon be passe just like CRTs before them. LED television monitors are becoming more common, and Organic LED (OLED) displays are the future.
The graphics processors that produce these images themselves have advanced by leaps and bounds. The more monstrous ones even require liquid cooling and have enough power to find new protein combinations. While ATI and Nvidia battle it out, DirectX 11 has taken computer gaming visuals to a whole new level. Even integrated graphics processors (some on motherboards, some on i3s and i5s) have enough power to produce high definition video output.
Storage - Temporary and Permanent
Blu-ray drives, though less commonplace than DVD-RWs, are changing the permanent storage scenario. The Blu-ray Disc Association has just finalized specs for a single disc with a 128GB capacity. HD DVDs have gone the way of the dodo though.
Hard drives have received a shot in the arm with the advent of Solid State Drives (SSD), which are akin to massive banks of NAND flash memory. Access times are blazingly quick, and there are no moving parts. The middle ground is found in hybrid (traditional HDD + flash buffer) drives.
With DDR3 RAM, tri-channel memory access has resulted in blisteringly fast RAM chips at effective clock speeds as high as 2133Mhz. Tight latencies too are being achieved with much more ease.
Touch interfaces have flourished and we’re seeing more monitors with multitouch screens. It won’t be long before we have PCs being fully multitouch enabled. Apple’s Magic Mouse was the first step in the direction, along with the Magic Trackpad. Windows 7 integrated touch capabilities and Microsoft has promised to come out with an affordable version of its Touch Surface within the next 3 years.
With so much happening in the tech world, a single article is hardly enough to address the query “What’s New in Computer Technology?”.