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Desktop CPU Performance at a Standstill?

As I wrote in Computers Are not Getting Faster in a Meaningful Way, GPU is Half-Baked Tech, Too Many Software Developers Suck, computer performance has hardly changed in 3+ years. All while most software continues to make poor use of CPU cores, so a double whammy from two different directions.

ArsTechnica comments on the CPU situation in Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake review: Is the desktop CPU dead?:

With identical performance to Skylake, Intel brings desktop performance to a standstill.

The Intel Core i7-7700K is what happens when a chip company stops trying. The i7-7700K is the first desktop Intel chip in brave new post-"tick-tock" world—which means that instead of major improvements to architecture, process, and instructions per clock (IPC), we get slightly higher clock speeds and a way to decode DRM-laden 4K streaming video. Huzzah.

Update 04 Jan: are at least a few reasons why the Intel 'Kaby Lake' release is significant:

  • Improved graphics performance.
  • My understanding is that the Kaby Lake 'H' series supports 32GB memory, thus making a MacBook Pro with 32GB of DR 23000 DRAM possible. But whether the power draw is viable on a laptop is unclear (meaning what we could expect from Apple, given the rationalizations seen with the Nov 2016 MacBook Pro).
  • The i7-7920HQ 3.1 GHz (turbo boost to 4.1 GHz, 4 real CPU cores) might be suitable for a MacBook Pro.
  • The i7-7700K 4.2 GHz (turbo boost 4.5 GHz) shoudl be suitable for an iMac. This perhaps is the “standstill” point—that’s only 5% faster than the 4.0 GHz iMac 5K that sits on my desk today—at the cost of a 95 watt TPD.

Even if CPU performance is stuck in 3rd gear for now, all is not lost. In particular, Apple could go back to a real “pro” desktop by making it a big box again, with features like this. I bet that it would be a best-seller Mac Pro:

  • A choice of 4 to 18 CPU cores, or whatever the limit is currently. Even better: dual CPUs again.
  • 8 memory slots accepting up to 256GB. Stretch goal: 12 or 16 memory slots for up to 384GB.
  • 12 Thunderbolt 3 ports, split across 3 busses.
  • Support for three external 5K displays.
  • Single outrageously fast GPU.
  • Two 16x PCIe slots for optional 2nd or 3rd GPU and/or extra PCIe SSD, etc.
  • Internal SSD options of 1TB or 2TB or 4TB, option for 2nd SSD with same capacity options, running at 3 GB/sec.
  • Space for two internal hard drives, thus allowing 20TB internally in addition to the SSDs.
  • Nice to have: 4 USB3 ports to keep connectivity hassles down with useful legacy devices (mouse, keyboard, camera card readers, USB3 drives, etc).

Why not? Apple could re-establish itself as a serious player for high-end performance. Make it a box, but very quiet box, a big cylinder if some nitwit demands that as the tradeoff, but make it robust.

BareFeats.com has a a very interesting survey highly relevant to the above points: 63% prefer a tower form factor, 62% prefer six or more CPU cores, 34% prefer 128GB or more memory, few users want AMD GPUs (NVIDIA strongly preferred), 73% want support for at least two displays, 39% want 5K support, 43% want at least 4TB of internal storage. And so on. Clearly there is a desire for a high end machine.

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