Beyond3D's 2007 "Bricks & Bouquets"
Welcome to Beyond3D's 2007 edition of Bricks & Bouquets! What is it, for those of you who haven't joined us before for our annual tradition? Well, it's equal parts Year in Review, psychiatric therapy for the deeply disturbed on the cheap, and love notes to the class cuties. In other words, we're going to get off our chests everything we liked and "not so much" about 2007 in the graphics world. AMD, NVIDIA, our colleagues in the techie press --no one is safe from our criticism or sloppy kisses. First, staff from site and forums argued with each other, and now we're inviting you to pick up the cudgels and heart-shaped candy boxes and have a go in the commentary thread linked herein. Just remember, Guido will be collecting all knives, chains, and BFGs at the door. . .and we'd appreciate if you'd recall the general guidelines for rotten fruits --"Not in the face!". So read on already, and then join the party.
1). Video Card of the Year:
I'm going to have to grant this one to AMD's RV670; not because it's the most awesome new product ever (it's not), but for sheer technical excellence and for making the best out of a bad situation. Going from 420mm² to 192mm² and shipping on an A11, while improving performance and implementing FP64? It might not be the 'perfect GPU', but it sure as hell is the 'perfect derivative'.
Hardly a contest, the RV670 powered Radeon HD 3850 wins my vote this year. The readily available for €/$149 card is the best bang you could get for your money performance wise this season. Being the enthusiast, if not bordering graphics elitist, outlet that we are, you might expect us all to be choosing the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX yet another year, for it is the performance crown holder yet again. But no, AMD and the HD 3850 really deserve some props for making competition meaningful again in a segment of the market that was abandoned by both IHVs, both hoping that the fallout and halo effect of the hype surrounding their bleeding edge cards would sell whatever lemon they had in store for the price-sensitive parts of the market.
8800 GT. Apparently spooked by early performance rumours from AMD's RV670 GPU, NVIDIA gave us near 8800 GTX performance at a $250 price-point in a single slot package.
8800GT, a shocker I know. Very fast and very inexpensive.
When was the last time a high-end product held a pretty much rock steady price for over a year, only challenged by in-house overclocked variants, and thoroughly deserved it? Never. GeForce 8800 GTX again for me. I've got one in my system, same one I bought on launch day with my own hard earned, and I've never felt the need to get an Ultra or another one until very recently.
Well folks, you are not watching a re-run of "Groundhog Day". I'm really going to give it up again for 8800 GTX, the same card I gave it to last year. 2007 was the year of the G80, and while G92 is a nice GPU, it still hasn't quite made me get slippery in my nether regions over it. And frankly, I never quite got over the grotesque introduction price of 8800 Ultra to say anything nice about it. Pehaps this is commentary on stagnation in the graphics industry. Or perhaps it's commentary on what a kick-ass piece of kit G80 was and is. Discuss.
2). Disappointment of the Year:
If you're a Beyond3D reader, perpetually committed to the proposition that the big dog GPU is the highest ideal of perfection in the high-tech world, then I honestly don't know how you don't give this award to AMD/ATI. Sure, RV630 was a nice part that had good OEM success. Sure, they've been pushing the production process envelope with parts like RV670, and we all welcome that. Nevertheless, as enthusiasts, we absolutely count on having AMD/ATI contend for performance leadership at the very top, and there's no way to look at ATI's performance in 2007 from that perspective without a tear in our eye.
Richard: AMD's Phenom and the R600. The first because of its drawn out launch (and name) and the later because it just didn't compete. If we had a "Pleasant Surprise of the Year" award I'd give it to the RV670 though because after R600 I didn't believe ATI was capable of such a swift recovery.
Farid: Well, it would be hard not to mention the GPU architecture RV670 is based on. First started as R400, and then dubbed R500, only to be released as R600 (with a preview on the console side under the codename C1/Xenos), the fabled Unified Shading Architecture from then ATI now AMD did miss its stage entry, to put it that way.
It’s hard not to qualify R600 and the Radeon HD 2900XT, the board it powers, as anything else but disappointments. For a long time, the chip was expected to be the first desktop GPU supporting a unified architecture, so when the G80 exploded into the light and stole that thunder from the yet-unreleased R600, things did take a turn for the worse right off the bat for AMD. Yet, people at least expected the chip to be fast --Dave Orton went out on a limb and promised the chip would take no prisoners.
After numerous hardware re-spins, R600 was eventually released and it took all the prisoners it could: performance, IQ, drivers. The rest is history.
Arun: NVIDIA's nForce 780i and AMD's Phenom. The same problems apply to both, really: awful products, awful branding, awful delays. The world would have been a better place had both of these terrible products never been released, and both companies should take a page from Steve Jobs' philosophy: you should be proud not only of shipping products, but also of not shipping all of them.
Rys: Crysis. What a boring, hyped-up piece of derivative gameplay, AI, physics and -- dare I say it -- graphics. Unless you could turn AA on with this game, and so few can, it's a noisy mess of pixels for most of the game because of the jungle setting. Graphics aside, the AI spoiled it so much, with far too much inconsistency in action (which wasn't simulated random human behaviour, unless they intended to simulate stupidity), and some truly random difficulty. Rubbish, in my humble opinion.
Mark: Windows Vista. From a gamers perspective it was supposed to be faster and more efficient when in fact it turns out to be the complete opposite. Even DirectX 10, which was supposed to be one of the best reasons to upgrade to Vista, offers little to no eyecandy improvements over DX9 with the current crop of games yet manages to slow things down to a snails pace.
3). Innovation of the Year:
It mostly felt like a pretty barren year innovation-wise for graphics this year. So I guess I'll take the retail launch of Vista in January of this year as an excuse to give the award to the guys and gals at Microsoft for DX10. And while possibly it's stretching the definition a little, an honorable mention to AMD for supporting an Open Source Radeon driver --the graphics world is so paranoid about protecting proprietary bits and bobs that we fully appreciate how much internal pucker-factor they had to fight through to make that decision.
I'd have given that to NVIDIA's Hybrid SLI (and AMD's upcoming equivalent), but obviously it was delayed to 2008. So, what about UVD and PureVideo 2? That level of decoding acceleration truly puts AVIVO and PureVideo to shame, and for a rather minuscule die size too. That also means $40 CPUs are now viable for HTPCs; maybe it makes Intel cry at night, but that's the point isn't it?
Was there even really innovation this year? It all just seems like refinements of past ideas...
There was true innovation in 2007? I didn't notice.
4). Most promising trend of the year:
Increasing acceptance of alternative OSes. From Apple's increasing market share (probably due in no small part to being able to run Windows natively on it too) to AMD's plans for an open source Radeon driver, it certainly looks like users will have a real option of not using Vista in the future... (see next topic for continuation).
AMD's look toward opening up graphics driver developments on the Linux platform. Even though there's apparently some resistance from the old ATI alumni still at AMD, it looks like there are some really great advancements being made in the area. Hopefully the trend continues and gets the support and attention it needs from everyone involved.
General acceptance of alternative OS by both a larger crowd, thanks to the rise of community driven websites, and by manufacturers. One of the high notes on that front this year is, of course, AMD opening the specifications for some of its GPUs. On that page, we’re working on an interview with the Novell/Suse folks behind the RadeonHD open source drivers.
The low-end is becoming increasingly appealing for both CPUs and GPUs. DX10 IGPs in 2008 are likely to be quite good, with discrete GPUs being mostly senseless for Joe Consumer, unlike in 2006 and 2007. It will be very interesting to watch IGP vs Discrete penetation for the 2008 Back-to-School OEM cycle.
The performance/value/feature proposition of graphics hardware like Radeon 3870. The continued pace of graphics development on the PC is still fairly staggering, and you get more for your money now than you ever have in the key graphics midpoint. The scary thing? 2008 should be even better.
Secondary, and driven into 2008 by the primary trend, is the continued trend to do more with your graphics card than draw pixels. GPU computing is Big News, and Big Money, and it's enabled by staggering amounts of programmable flops in everyone's PC. CPUs can only dream about some of the things even a low-end GPU can do, never mind something like a full-flight G92 or RV670.
GPGPU. Larrabee, CUDA, CTM, Intel talking smack. This in spite of some sigs around here, not to mention any names (that's okay, we've placed another member of the B3D illuminati going forward in this area, mwahaha).
Fast cards, at affordable prices with low power consumption.
5). Most discouraging trend of the year:
(continued). . . if it weren't for the complete mess of OpenGL 3. How could this have gone so badly? Honestly, at this point, I'll be shocked if I see OGL3 drivers before June, and God only knows when Mount Evans will show up. With all the progress we've seen for other operating systems, this is just dismaying.
GPGPU gaming physics. Umm, what happened, fellas? A year ago Dave Orton (you remember him, he used to be a somebody in GPUs) predicted that GPU physics would be moving significant amounts of his company's kit by the summer of 2007. Now Richard Huddy is sounding the dirge.
Secondly, a dishonorable mention to Vista driver quality, completeness, and availability, particularly in the first 1/2 of the year.
The apparent approach to games by designers who value eyecandy over game-play. This years Crysis (boo, Geo!) and Heavenly Sword are two great examples of this, but the trend has been going on for quite awhile (though to be honest it's us, the eye-candy loving consumer, that is as responsible for this trend as anyone else).
All the obviously good but also obviously flawed games released this year getting perfect scores. This has always happened but I don't know what (nearly) all the reviewers have been drinking this year because the truckload of games getting 10/10 this year is stunning.
AMD not executing. I hate talking about them now, but it's our yearly close-out piece so I have to give it a nod. Even if NVIDIA and Intel were to stand still in 2007, AMD would still have got to close of play for the calendar year looking really subpar as a company. They've got the engineering talent to turn it around, but can the rest of the company assist? That Hector is still there beggars belief.
How, when you consider yourself a technology enthusiast, not to be saddened by the fact that the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX is still the king of the hill, more than a year after its unveiling? It seems that on the GPU side the arms race slowed down, just when the CPU market started to wake up from what seemed to be a long slumber with the arrival of Barcelona/Agena from AMD, as unimpressive as their start may be, and the future Penryn and other Nehalem family of CPUs in stores at Intel.
Is this slowdown the result of the long talked about, yet never seen, longer research and development cycles? Or is it just a hiccup on the road? If I was to pick a reason, I would say a mix between the two sounds plausible, with 75% of the former and 25% of the latter comprising the whole thing.
6). Dan Rather "Courage" Award:
Geo: Scott Wasson for his more-in-sorrow-than-anger schooling of AMD PR. People, unless the spotlight is on you, you have no idea how hard it is to do that well, and pull the trigger on a piece of content that you know in advance will call down every fanboy of that company in the world to administer a red hot poker enema to your own sensitive parts. People who do it really badly and coming from an ego-driven place can find themselves with a B&B catagory named after them (see #8). I've been around the block a time or two, and feel confident I can recognize the difference betweeen personal bile or cheap sensationalism and an honest conviction that the writer feels he is "Speaking Truth to Power" about an issue that Power needs to hear about for its own long-term good, and has reconciled himself in advance to getting pummelled for his trouble. Bravo, Scott --put one of those hemmorhoid rings for your editorial chair on my account.
Arun: All of our Intel Ninjas for leaking us Larrabee's entire RTL a couple of months ago. Okay, just kidding - does anything even really fit this category? There were a couple of controversial editorials at TechReport and other places, but that's about it really.
7). Person in the Industry/Community I most wanted to stick a sock in their mouth:
Ken Levine of 2K Boston. Sorry but in all those interviews you must have been preaching about a different game. The game I played certainly wasn't a RPG, not even an Action-RPG at that. I also failed to notice any ground-breaking A.I. in it.
Tim: Oh, how the mighty have fallen--a year after I gave him Article of the Year, it's got to be Jon Stokes. I hate to say that the guy's completely biased towards Intel, but considering his ridiculously uninformed comments about raytracing as well as the tone of every Intel-related piece he's done in the past year, I don't think I really have a choice there. It feels like he's skating by based entirely on his reputation from his past articles; you really need to get back to that kind of thing, Jon, and focus on what you really know.
Arun: AMD's Hector Ruiz, for his senseless statements on his company and its stock price, plus the ridiculous bonus he got for his 2006 performance despite nearly killing the company with the decisions he made that year.
Geo: My go-to guy (initials KB) having let me down this year by only engaging in run of the mill outrageousness, I'm left with calling this my "moderately miffed" award. So, I hereby give it to PC Perspective because it seemed like every time I noticed a round of obvious "Carrying NV PR's water" pieces hit across the web all at once, PcPer was usually at the head of the parade.
Rys: 2007 was pretty quiet on the "man, I wonder if we can bribe someone in their datacentre to set fire to their rack" front this year. Long may it continue.
8). Sander Sassen Memorial Professional Suicide award:
This one goes straight to the communication agency and/or marketing buff that came with “Phenom.” I think it was quite a feat to come up with a product name that happens to sound stupid in many different languages.
I have to respectfully disagree with my esteemed colleague of the Gallic persuasion. When somebody finally gets to playing "Global Thermonuclear War" to completion, it's the marketing guys who will be left with the cockroaches to rule the planet. They're indestructible.
9). Interview of the Year:
Arun: Our interview with Intel over raytracing was pure awesomeness. The answers were so profound, so deep in meaning - it was truly a sight to behold. Never had so little given so much insight over a company's long-term strategy. In fact, that shouldn't be very surprising, as it turned out to be a division by zero.
Geo: At the risk of being called names for gross homerism, the truth is for awesome techy-dweeby GPU-oriented interviewing I have to give it up for our own Rys Sommefeldt and Tim Murray for their Tesla/CUDA launch interviews here, here, and here.
Rys: Yeah, Tim and I sitting down with Kirk, Keane and Buck did rock, didn't it. What do we win? Oh, this. Sweeeeeet.
Mark: Like Geo, I have to go with Beyond3D's own interview with AMD's John Bridgman on Radeon, Linux, and Open Source 3D.
10). Article of the Year:
I'm making mine "Information of the Year" instead, and handing it out to Vivendi Universal merging its gaming activities with the game publishing giant and veteran, Activison. And thus forming the largest third party publisher in the world: Activision Blizzard. Consolidation was and still is inevitable in an ever changing market with development costs rocketing, but this alliance definitely came out of the left field. Now, all of a sudden, Electronic Arts lost its leadership position to a new behemoth capable of having much better operating margin than EA could ever dream of.
I'll jump that bandwagon and hand it out thusly. . . .arguably Intel, Larrabee, and their seeming focus on raytracing has the potential to be the biggest earthquake or grossly disappointing squib on the graphics horizon for quite some ways. I'm fairly proud of us standing up to the saber-rattling from Intel's lawyers to publish Carmean's leaked presentation,
and it seems to me that Beyond3D hosted the best "conversation starter" on raytracing this year in Dean Calver's article.
And, hey, Intel, now that "the graphics adults"
have arrived over there, maybe you'll revisit the questions we gave you that Arun referenced upstream. . . .who knows, maybe you can make B&B 2008 for "Interview of the Year". You certainly could do a lot worse than having Matt Pharr become the public face of high-end Intel graphics. Our door is always open to you. Jus' saying.
I don't know about a specific article, but TechReport seemed even more awesome this year than last. Part of it may be due to the new presentation, but the content is nearly perfect all around for the audiences they're targeting, and the recent editorials have been excellent. Outstanding job, guys!
11). Specialty niche reporting:
Rys: Hardware.fr's exposé of what's going (wr)on(g) with PC video. It's a shame it's not in English, or that I don't have time to do the English equivalent here at B3D. The experience of HD DVD and BD video acceleration on the PC is such a mess.
Arun: Hands down victory for View from Silicon Valley --the dual focus on both real estate and the semiconductor industry might appear a bit strange at first, but that doesn't make it any less interesting.
Geo: The struggling, fits-and-starts, long-delayed (can you tell I'm not bitter?) transition to 802.11n networking has had me visiting Small Net Builder quite a lot in recent months. It's the only site I know of that focues so tightly on router performance on all the new hardware in geekalicious detail. I think it likely it will be an oft-visited site by many the next year or so.
12). Other articles I just felt like giving some love to:
Arun: Many of hardware.fr's articles and news pieces (aka behardware.com), for sheer quality and not being afraid of uncovering inconvenient truths.
Tim: Tech Report in general. I read that site more than is probably healthy.
Geo: I dunno, it just seemed like often as not when I felt inspired to follow an interesting link to an article that didn't suck, it turned out to be at ExtremeTech. They certainly aren't GPU-specialists, and lord knows I don't agree with them all the time, but nice work for the most part, fellas. An honorable mention to DailyTech for a couple pieces on the impact of advertising money on editorial decisions around the PC hardware enthusiast web. Now, if only they'd named names as their research had put them in a position to do responsibly, they'd have gotten the "Courage" award instead.
13). Game of the Year --PC:
For me it's a toss up between Crysis and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. The first really shows what a high end PC is capable of and the later has become my multiplayer timesink.
Geo: Crysis. It kicked your PC's ass like a pimp bitch-slapping a recalcitrant 'ho. And you still looked forward to it all year and couldn't wait for it to abuse your rig. 'nuff said.
Tim: Richard and Geo got it completely wrong. There are two options: Portal or Bioshock. Portal is fun and new in terms of what it does with gameplay, Bioshock is the kind of cinematic single-player experience that I love. So... I'm not going to pick! Flip a coin!
Mark: Valves' Orange Box. Portal and Team Fortress 2 in particular make this hands down the best gaming value this year (possibly ever!). Sold individually they probably would have generated at least twice the revenue for Valve. Portal, with it's ultra-unique gameplay and deceptively simply storyline and TF2 with it's classic art style, over-the-top humour, and addictive gameplay elements were both so well done that they each could win a GotY award on their own. Together in the Orange Box package for $45, which by the way also includes Half-Life 2, HL2:Episode 1, and HL2:Episode 2, they made Orange Box the best thing to hit the PC so far this decade, never mind this year. And look, Achievements!
Rys: Portal, closely followed by TF2. A pair of great-looking, great-to-play titles from those master game creators at Valve. They don't require 8-way 8800 Ultra SLI to play and it's impossible not to enjoy them.
Arun: What?! There were new GAMES released this year? Sigh, why doesn't anyone ever let me know about these things!
14). Game of the Year --Console:
Mark: BioWare's Mass Effect for Xbox 360. With a clearly proven track record of creating some of the best RPGs on any platform, the guys at BioWare made this one of the years most anticipated titles on the Xbox 360 and delivered in spades.
Richard: Gears of War... for the PC! Playing it with a XBOX 360 controller on the couch and connecting my PC to my HD TV gave me a taste of what all the cool kids are enjoying nowadays. What I did enjoy were the higher resolution textures, extra missions... ok, I'll stop.
Rys: Man, I loved so many games this year, I don't know if I have a fave. PGR4, DiRT, Lost Planet, Bioshock and GRAW2 all got lots of playtime from me on 360.
Arun: Wii Sports for... oh, just kidding, come on... Please don't kill me!
Tim: Rock Band. Get some friends, have a few beers, and sing some Bon Jovi. It inspires a certain level of self-loathing, but it's still really fun.
15). Gaming related kit of the year that's not a video card:
Richard: In my day we'd have to walk up-hill both ways to get a math-coprocessor in our 386s and 486s. Now, a couple of hundred quid will get you a quad-core powerhouse, like the Intel Core 2 Q6600. Games such as Supreme Commander, Crysis, World in Conflict, etc. are starting to push dual core machines so this is an excellent future-proof upgrade, especially with the news that GPU-powered physics may... fizzle out.
Arun: Intel's Conroe has remained completely and utterly dominant in 2007 - and further price cuts have made quad-cores very attractive indeed. Maybe that level of dominance isn't good for the consumers in the long-term (given the impact on AMD), but it certainly was this year: CPU prices have arguably never been that attractive.
Tim: Core 2 Quad Q6600. Sure, maybe it's just a result of the constant price war between Intel and AMD, but what a fantastic deal.
Mark: Affordable 1080p HDTVs. Let's face it, next-gen consoles might as well be first-gen if you're still hooking them up to a 13" CRT. Big brand name 1080p panels are coming within the price range of most folks now, and with next-gen consoles also falling in price at a seemingly monthly rate, there's no better time to be a gamer.
Rys: I said displays last year and I'll say it again this. There's no real excuse to skimp on your main display, be it for gaming on the PC or a console. You can get excellent PC monitors and TVs for not much money, and it's the one thing in a PC gaming setup that changes the least for an avid gamer. You owe it to your eyes and your gaming nirvana to play on something goddamn sexy.
Geo: Cheap big screen LCDs. By the Fall one could buy a 22" 1680x1050 LCD for around $200. Okay, maybe they weren't the highest quality monitors in the world, but in my book they made a big step forward to mainstreaming > 1280x1024 gaming resolutions.
There you have it! 2007 has been a great ride, and we are confident that 2008 holds plenty more chills and spills for us all. We've stuck our collective necks out above on the highs and lows of 2007, so please join us in the commentary thread with your own thoughts.