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William George (Product Development)

Hardware Trends of 2021

Written on December 22, 2021 by William George
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Introduction

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I was thinking back on developments in computer technology over the last year. As I'm sure most folks who care about this industry know, recent years have been scarred by component shortages, supply limitations, and price increases - but they have also seen the launch of products from Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and other manufacturers. I was curious to see if looking at our sales data across some broad categories would reveal anything interesting, so I threw together some graphs and decided to write this short blog post to share them with our customers and readers.

Since it is still only mid-way through December as I am writing this, I am excluding this month from the charts below. They will cover January through November of 2021, and they go by unit count only - not by price or value - since I want to focus on trends of customer choices in systems they purchase rather than revenue.

Processor (CPU) Manufacturers

To start off, lets look at the breakdown between Intel and AMD processors across the systems we've sold so far this year. We've already looked at this a couple times in recent months, but its a helpful refresher.

Chart of 2021 CPU Unit Count by Manufacturer (AMD vs Intel)

The biggest takeaway from this graph is that we had a busy summer here at Puget! While we've had growth in our business over the course of 2021 as a whole, June and July saw a particularly strong spike in orders.

AMD is still very clearly leading Intel in our system sales, but that may turn around as we head into 2022. Intel launched their latest 12th Gen Core processors in early November, but because of motherboard availability we were not able to start offering them until December - which means any uptick in sales they brought for Intel isn't reflected in the chart above.

AMD CPUs

From AMD, we started the year off with the mainstream Ryzen 5000 Series and high-end desktop (HEDT) Threadripper 3000 Series. Those offered up to 16 and 64 cores, respectively, with the Threadripper also supporting more memory channels and higher total RAM capacities. Mid-way through 2021, AMD released the workstation-oriented Threadripper Pro line, which has similar core counts to the normal Threadripper but adds additional PCI-Express lanes, support for Registered ECC memory, and even higher memory bandwidth. We don't carry AMD's Epyc line of server processors, which are roughly analogous to the Threadripper Pro models but with lower clock speeds.

Chart of 2021 AMD CPU Unit Count by Brand (Ryzen vs Threadripper vs Threadripper Pro)

Nothing huge stands out in the graph above. Ryzen sales have steadily risen over time, Threadripper held relatively steady overall, and Threadripper Pro has had slow but consistent growth since its introduction to our line in June.

Intel CPUs

Within the Intel processors we carried in 2021, three broad product families were represented. Intel's "Core" branding is used for their mainstream CPUs, but the top-end models in each generation perform well enough to be used in many of our workstations. "Core X" was used for higher core count models that were aimed at the HEDT market, but Intel has let that segment lapse in recent years. Lastly, "Xeon" is the broad family of workstation and server-class processors that Intel makes, varying from lower-end models which are akin to Core chips but with extra features all the way up to dual and quad CPU configurations supporting tons of threads and high memory capacities.

Chart of 2021 Intel CPU Unit Count by Brand (Core vs Core X vs Xeon)

2021 has seen the drop - from our product line, at least - of Intel's Core X processors. The most recent models in that family were launching in late 2019, so they had a very respectable two-year run. Newer generations of the mainstream Core processors out-performed them in lightly threaded workloads, though, while Xeons and many of AMD's competing processors offered even higher core counts. Squeezed from both sides, so to speak, there weren't any applications left where Core X was the best choice.

There is also a noticeable dip in both Core and Xeon processor sales after our busy summer. I suspect that the drop in Core sales was a combination of strong competition from AMD's Ryzen chips along with industry anticipation of the 12th Gen Core line that debuted in early November, and which hit back hard at AMD with great performance.

The Xeon portion, however, is most likely due to changes we made in our product line. We had long carried rackmount systems for dense arrays of drives and multi-GPU nodes, almost all of which utilized Xeon processors, but manufacturing delays from our suppliers forced us to drop several of those options from our line. Around the same time, we moved to Intel's latest Xeon W-3300 series for our desktop workstations, but those too had limited availability of some core components (motherboards and CPU coolers) for a few months. That has mostly been resolved now, but likely contributed to reduced sales in the September to November timeframe.

Video Cards (GPUs)

We use exclusively NVIDIA graphics cards these days, but it is interesting to look at the breakdown between their mainstream GeForce line and their "professional" grade cards. That second group used to be consolidated under the Quadro brand name, but recently NVIDIA has dropped that naming from new products - so the chart below includes both Quadros and the newer RTX A-series:

Chart of 2021 NVIDIA GPU Unit Count by Product Line (GeForce vs Professional)

This chart may be a little tricky, since a single computer could potentially have more than one video card - or, indeed, might have none (if using a motherboard and CPU that feature on-board graphics). However, it is clear that we sell far of the mainstream GeForce cards than the various "professional" models from NVIDIA. That makes sense, since only a few applications that we optimize workstations for really need a pro-grade video card... and they cost a lot more as well. They do have some advantages, like generally being better built for multi-GPU configurations, but the clear preference from our customers is for the better price:performance ratio offered by GeForce. We also have a great purchasing team here at Puget who have worked hard to keep in touch with suppliers - enabling us to keep up on building systems in the face of pretty extreme graphics chip shortages this year.

Storage Drives

Pretty much all of the systems we sell these days have solid-state drives (SSDs) for the primary drive, where the operating system and applications are installed - and in fact, the vast majority use fast NVMe drives for that purpose. However, we still offer SATA-based SSDs and hard disk drives (HDDs) for additional storage. This chart shows the breakdown of those three drive types across the systems we've sold this year, including both primary drives as well as those used for extra storage capacity or other purposes:

Chart of 2021 Storage Drive Unit Count by Type (NVMe SSD vs SATA SSD vs HDD)

As was the case with the video card chart previously, computers we sell can be equipped with multiple drives - and of varying types, depending on the customer's workload and budget. There was a spike in sales of NVMe SSDs during the summer, which fits since almost every system we build utilizes one of those as the primary drive, but oddly there was not a corresponding spike in the slower SATA-based SSDs or platter-style HDDs. In fact, it looks like hard drives may be on a very slight decline over the course of the 2021. SSDs have certainly taken a lot of their thunder over the last decade or so, but HDDs still offer the highest per-drive capacities and the lowest price per TB - making them ideal for storage and backup uses, where SSDs might still be cost-prohibitive.

Operating Systems

This last chart isn't technically about hardware, but I thought it was still interesting to see how many systems we sell with Windows (both consumer versions and the occasional Server edition) compared to Linux. Most of our Linux installations are Ubuntu, split between desktop-oriented configurations with a GUI and server-focused / CLI only setups.

Chart of 2021 Operating Systems (Windows vs Linux)

No surprises here: each of our computers has to include an operating system, and most of the applications we focus on building solutions for run on Windows. We do continue to offer Linux on request with most of our platforms, though, since it is the OS of choice for a lot of scientific workloads. Those tend to be very powerful systems, often loaded up with cores, GPUs, and memory, but the sheer number of them is dwarfed by content creation and engineering workstations.

I'd Love to Hear from You

Is this sort of end-of-year summary of trends at all interesting? Would you like to see this return next year, and if so are there other hardware categories you'd like to see included? More details or a deeper dive into anything specific? Please let me know in the comments below!

Tags: Intel, NVIDIA, Microsoft, Linux, operating system, Processor, Windows 10, Hardware, AMD, CPU, GPU, SSD, Samsung
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