In each new line of devices, the three titans of mainstream silicon—AMD, Intel, and Nvidia—usually follow a regular rhythm of low-end to high-end parts. Intel processors range from low-cost desktop processors to high-end gaming and workstation chips in each iteration. When it comes to graphics cards, Nvidia has a long history of doing the same thing. AMD does the same thing with CPUs and GPUs.
You’re aware that there’s a chip shortage, but you’re not aware of the full extent of the problem: While one market sector is in decline, another is on the verge of extinction.
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These days, that’s changed. The chipmakers continue to pump out new high-end and midrange hardware, albeit with most of it subject to scarcity and price inflation. But the entry level has been painfully neglected on multiple fronts. If you want to build a budget-friendly desktop PC today, you’ll be forced to use components that are at least one and likely two generations old. And you’ll be stuck paying out close to what they cost when they were new (if not more).
Given the ongoing pandemic, the well-documented shortages of various kinds of chips in items from cars to appliances, and current shipping troubles, you might assume the lack of low-end chips and cards stems from the same causes. To some extent this does factor in, but the obvious problems don’t fully explain why Intel, AMD, and Nvidia haven’t introduced much in the way of new CPUs and GPUs for the entry level over the past two years. Each company is neglecting this segment in a slightly different way.
AMD: Ryzen and Radeon Rocking, Athlon Apathy
Between the end of 2020 and early 2021, AMD released its new fourth-generation “Zen 3” architecture Ryzen 5000 desktop processors, headlined by the Ryzen 9 5900X and Ryzen 9 5950X. The rollout included a few Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 CPUs as well, the most affordable having an MSRP of $259 (the Ryzen 5 5600G).
AMD also introduced a number of lower-end Ryzen 3 processors with integrated graphics, but these were made available only to system OEMs. See, for example, the Ryzen 3 5300G (a Radeon Graphics-equipped quad-core CPU that the PC builder and upgrader market would likely go gaga over at this moment). Before that, there was the whole Ryzen 4000 desktop line, which existed only in OEM-only chips like the Ryzen 7 4700G.
This leaves the “Zen 2”-based Ryzen 3 3100 and Ryzen 3 3300X as the newest Ryzen 3 processors available to system builders. Given these chips’ 2020 release date, this may not sound that bad, but the “Zen 2” architecture debuted in 2019 and is nearly three years old at this point. In the PC component world, that’s practically a lifetime. And even now, almost two years into the pandemic, good luck finding those CPUs at close to their list prices, especially the 3300X.
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