You know what's always fun? Dream Machine predictions. Not because they ever turn out to be very informative, but because it's always fun to look back and see just how wrong we were about the future.
Why's it fun to be wrong? Because even though sometimes we get a little too optimistic, more often than not our predictions are wrong because the future turns out even more awesome than we expected. We asked everyone around the office to make their predictions for Dream Machine 2015, so that in 4 years we'll have something to have a good laugh about. Check out what we thought, then hit the comments and leave your own predictions for the future.
The 2015 Dream Machine?
First, it’ll still be a desktop computer, but it’ll probably be smaller. As laptops and tablets gain prominence in the lives of average users, desktops will become more and more the domain of the power user, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stay as huge as they are. I predict the 2015 Dream Machine will have a micro-ATX or Mini-ITX motherboard, a 24-core processor, and maybe 48GB of RAM. Sure, that’s a lot, but it’s only 3x the RAM of this year’s DM, and twice the RAM of last year’s. The Dream Machine will still have dedicated GPUs, but that doesn’t mean most machines will—GPUs integrated with the processors will be the de facto standard of 2015, and only enthusiasts will bother to have dedicated GPUs—which means the Dream Machine will have ‘em. And the GPUs it does have might not be PCIe at all—optical Light Peak could have superceded it by then. The DM will also have at least 1TB of solid-state storage, though I’m sure it’ll still have mechanical drives for mass storage. Most computers of 2015 will be glorified docks for smartphones and tablets (take the Atrix concept to its logical conclusion), but the Dream Machine, though it’ll surely have a phone dock, won’t rely on the portable processor for most of its juice. Beyond that? 30-inch panel (what? It’s a sweet spot!), mechanical keyboard, laser mouse (we’re classicists), a really great headset, and we’ll be in business.
I think that picking 2015 for a year to make predictions about was an interesting choice—it’s close enough at hand that we can make some pretty educated guesses, but just far enough away that in our current climate of perpetually accelerating technological progress, all those guesses could be totally wrong.
What I think we can say for sure is that (despite contrary predictions) the desktop PC will still exist in more or less its current form in 4 years. It’ll still feature an x86 processor, but with 12 or more physical cores running at more than 5 GHz. You’ll find at least 64GB of RAM (probably more) in the system, and one or more terabyte-class SSDs. If we’re even still bothering with HDDs and that point, we’ll only need one for massive capacity storage. I don’t think Dream Machine 2015 will feature any optical drives.
Finally, I think DM 2015 will still be running Windows 8. Microsoft will have to step up their game, though, or I think it’s unlikely that DM 2020 will be running a Windows OS at all.
To really appreciate what Dream Machine 2015 will look like, you have to look backwards four years. In 2007, the “Ultimate PC” ran a 3GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6850 processor overclocked to 3.66GHz. Graphics were courtesy of two XFX 8800 Ultra (remember those?) XXX Editions on an EVGA 680i board, a 750 Watt PSU and yee haw – four 1TB Hitachi drives. In the RAM department we opted for a controversial 2GB of DDR2/10000 to aid overclocking instead of “maxing” it out at 4GB and well, because, Vista was a mess.
So what possible configuration will make today’s Dream Machine seem pathetically antiquated in comparison? I’m going to say that the rig will run one single x86 processor sporting 12 cores. It will be built on a 15nm process and clock in at the 4.5GHz range (overclocked). The CPU or APU or BPU by then will have eaten even more graphics capability but discrete graphics will continue to be king. Switchable graphics, however, will finally work so the 90 percent of the time your PC isn’t pushing heavy duty 3D needs, it’ll be running on the onboard chip’s graphics. Hardware encoding acceleration in the processor will allow native 4K editing and encoding without breaking a sweat. Security features in the chip will also continue to help Embedded DRAM, or eDRAM, will be present in the chip as well but likely won’t play a large role in an enthusiast configuration. The box will likely sport 64GB of DDR4/3333.
As I said, discrete graphics will still be king for anyone who actually cares about gaming and DM2015 will sport no fewer than two GPUs in the PCIe 4.0 slots. I’d guess it’ll have two 2TB SSDs in RAID 0 plugged in to the SATA 12GB/s slots, which, believe it or not, will still be a bottleneck for the SSD’s of 2015. Hard drives will continue handle bulk store with say, a total of three 9TB drives for 27TB of storage. USB 4.0 running Thunderbolt will be integrated into the chipset as well. The PSU, interestingly, will continue to be topped out at 1,500 watts as there’s simply no where to go from there. The panel will support native 4K or 4096x2160 pixels and 120Hz capability for 3D and touch capability. The OS will be the next, next-generation of Windows, but by then, Microsoft will have learned a lesson from Apple and simply increment by tenths for future iterations. Thus, Dream Machine 2015 will run Windows 8.5 codename: T-Rex.
Being completely unqualified never stopped anyone from assuming oppressive dictatorships, and it's in that spirit that I pull my predictions for the 2015 Dream Machine from my posterior.
We'll begin with a motherboard accommodating 96GB of RAM, which we will max out, of course. The board includes four Thunderbolt slots, as well as plenty of USB 4.1 and SATA7 ports, as well. These are just for show, however, because as dutiful early adopters, you are already on board with the health-hazardous, but ever-so-convenient 802.11x standard and transfer anything and everything wirelessly.
For storage, we've finally gone all solid-state. Three 3TB SSDs make a respectable 9TB data dump. We wanted to break double-digit terabytes, but what do you think this is, 2016? Dual octa-core processors clocked at 5.5GHz and four graphics cards clocked at 2GHz each ensure that you'll have a top-notch machine for at least a good three months before ridiculously bloated software and Windows X knocks it down a peg.
This machine will certainly win a Kick-Posterior award. In fact, this machine will be so powerful, that President Ron Paul will declare it a threat to national security and put the offices of Maximum PC under constant surveillance. Okay, I admit there's no way Ron Paul will ever be president, but you can take the rest of these predictions to the bank.
In 2015 there may very well be large numbers of people who don’t own a desktop PC, or even a notebook, as smartphones are showing all signs of evolving into pocket-size powerhouses capable of meeting many computing needs on their own– in conjunction with the cloud, natch. But I certainly don’t think the PC will be extinct. That’s because content—be it games, video, or data—will itself continue to evolve, getting ever more intensive and requiring ever more computing muscle to manage and manipulate—more than what would be practical in a mainstream device. Just as now, there will be power users who want a machine that’s up to any task.
It’s quite likely, however, that the Dream Machine of 2015 will be smaller than DMs past, while packing way more power. The processor will have a massive number of cores, of course, many of which will be GPUs. Indeed, by then, discrete graphics cards will probably be obsolete. Local storage—because who would entrust the cloud with all their data?!—will be handled by flash memory. And advances in cooling will further shrink the rig’s size. This mighty mite will be paired with a large, high-res display, possibly curved, that’s capable of displaying 3D content sans glasses and 4K video in all its glory.
Dream Machine 2015 will almost certainly feature a glasses-free 3D display of some sort—and with the average display size creeping ever larger, the display in question will likely be 30+ inches. Maybe 35 or 37 inches, and there will be at least two monitors. I also think that there will be some type of mobile aspect to it—an associated tablet that docks to the PC, or a smartphone dock... perhaps some sort of flexible tablet? Perhaps a projected hologram or 3D image? Either way, the mobile aspect will be impossible to ignore or exclude. I'm also thinking—and this is pure speculation—improved/increased voice controls, better/more cloud adaptation freeing up memory and hard drive space, and heavy home integrations i.e., controlling your front door, home theater or alarm system with your PC.
I wouldn't hazard to posit anything about the specific components we might find in Dream Machine 2015. But I do think that on the CPU side of things, the so-called "power wall" will continue to forced Intel and AMD to mitigate clock speed limitations with multi-core designs. How many cores exactly? I'll reserve speculation! Sure, new process technologies will eventually emerge that allow us to handle thermals and power issues at very fast frequencies, but don't expect any mass-market breakthroughs within the next four years.
All that said, I'm willing to state with utmost certainty that the CPU in DM2015 will be running an X86 architecture. It won't be ARM so that we can all play the desktop version of Angry Birds 4. And we'll probably see some type of iteration of Thunderbolt. And while notebook, tablets and even smartphones will continue to chip away at desktop sales, we'll still see a thriving PC hardware enthusiast community in 2015, and we'll continue to be using desktops for games, video editing, and mundane office crap. Home entertainment box functionality will also be more important than ever before. None of this is a matter of idle speculation. It's on industry road maps.