Is Now a Good Time to Buy a New Computer for GIS?

by | Sep 22, 2022

Today we have a guest post from Tripp Corbin, Business Development Manager for SAM, LLC.

I have been pondering building a new computer. (Yes, I build my own systems) My current personal workstation is now several years old and is now two generations behind the most current technology. While my existing system still performs pretty well, I know newer components would greatly improve performance when I am rendering new videos, doing GIS work or playing games. However, I have been putting this off due to the absurd prices of components, especially video cards, and availability. The cost to upgrade has not been worth the cost or wait.

The computer hardware market has experienced significant drops in prices making the thought of upgrading much more attractive. A video card that was going for over $2,000 a couple of months ago is now $1,200 or less. You can now get 8-core processors for under $300 and a 16GB stick of 3200 speed DDR4 RAM is only $60. In addition, the components are now readily available. You can find components in stock at both brick and mortar stores as well as online outlets. Therefore, with these costs being so much less than a couple of months ago and the parts being on the shelves, it would seem to be a great time to get a new computer. Nevertheless, it may not be.

Why would now not be a good time to buy a new computer if you can get one now for a lot less and don’t have to wait for weeks on end to get one? That is a great question.

The first reason I would say wait is AMD, Intel and NVIDIA have or will be announcing their next generation of product launches.

·         Late last week, AMD confirmed they would be releasing the next generation of their flagship Ryzen CPUs at the end of September 2022. AMD says the new 7000 series of CPUs will have a 15% performance increase over the current 5000 series. For more information about the new Ryzen 7000 series CPU go to https://www.amd.com/en/press-releases/2022-08-29-amd-launches-ryzen-7000-series-desktop-processors-zen-4-architecture-the

·         Intel is expected to announce the release of their new 13th generation CPU, also called Raptor Lake, on September 20.  This new generation CPU from Intel will have more cores and higher clock speeds than current 12th generation CPUs. Unlike the new AMD 7000 series CPUs, the new Intel chips will continue to support DDR4 RAM allowing for lower cost builds. For more information about Intel’s 13 generation CPU you can go to https://www.tomshardware.com/news/intel-13th-gen-raptor-lake-release-date-specifications-pricing-benchmarks-all-we-know-specs

·         Intel has been working on developing its own line of video cards called ARC. (I know we have never seen anything called Arc before) They have been working on these for a while now. Intel is planning a series of ARC GPUs to compete with both NVIDIA and AMD GPUs. Intel has delayed release of these new graphics cards several times and has had driver issues with the couple of models they have released to date.  Currently, Intel is indicating a release of their higher end ARC video cards later this year. For more information on these GPUs from Intel you can go to https://www.tomshardware.com/news/intel-arc-alchemist-release-date-specs-pricing-all-we-know

·         NVIDIA is expected to release the next generation of their RTX video cards also later this year. These new RTX 4000 series cards will have higher clock speeds, up to 70% more CUDA cores and increased VRAM over the current 3000 series. No verified benchmarks are out yet so performance is hard to judge yet. For more information about the new RTX 4000 series GPUs go to https://www.pcgamesn.com/nvidia/rtx-4000-release-date-price-specs-benchmarks

·         AMD is also planning to release a next generation GPU, RX 7000 series. This are built on their update RDNA 3 technology. These will released around the same time as NVIDIA’s new RTX 4000 series and should, if the past is any indication, compete well against NVIDIA for gaming and other graphics applications. However, not sure this will be true for ArcGIS. Esri appears to have optimized performance for NVIDIA.  Go to https://www.gpumag.com/amd-rdna-3/ for more information on AMDs new GPUs.

Therefore, as you can see the newer more powerful technologies will supplant all the current available components. This leads to my second reason for suggesting you hold off on a new computer. The release of the new technologies should also push down prices of the current latest generation even more. You will still be able to purchase a very powerful computer for less money even though it will not be the latest and greatest technology.  Another advantage of going with the previous generation is those platforms are well tested. Hardware is like new software. When vendors release new hardware, there is a period of instability as the vendors try to patch all the bugs and incompatibilities that crop up. So it will take a couple of months before software runs smoothly and reliably on these new platforms.

With all this said, I would strongly recommend waiting until November or December of this year before you actually purchase a new computer. By then prices on the current generation should have leveled out at a good low point, many sales will be running to get old inventory off the shelf and we should be able to see if the new tech provides enough improved performance and stability to warrant what will surely be a bigger price tag. I hope this helps for those considering a new system.

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