In Pictures: 2011, A Year In Review

A Look Back At The Year In Tech

We've seen quite a bit over the past 12 months: skyrocketing hard drive prices, the passing of several technology greats, and of course a slew of new products, from processors and graphics to kick-ass games.

Not everything that hit our labs was as great as we had hoped. While technology always marches forward, we had our share of disappointments, too. Even still, we're hoping for even more exciting news in 2012. But before we ring in the New Year, let's take a look back at some of the major events, people, and products that affected the technology world in 2011.

Major Events: Thailand Flood

Have you seen the prices on hard drives recently? Within the last two months, they've more than doubled, most recently affecting our System Builder Marathon series. This all started with the 2011 monsoon season in southeast Asia. Unusually high rainfall displaced thousands of people and caused several major industrial areas to flood.

Thailand is the world's 2nd largest producer of hard drives, accounting for ~25% of production. This hit number-one manufacturer Western Digital especially hard because two of the company's assembling facilities are located there. Even drive vendors not located in Thailand were affected by component shortages. This caused Seagate, Toshiba, and others to suffer similar supply issues, even though their facilities are located elsewhere.

According to representatives at Seagate and Western Digital, a near-complete recovery is expected in the first quarter of 2012. Let's cross our fingers for lower prices on storage next year.

Major Events: Tohoku Earthquake

On March 11, 2011, one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history hit Japan. With a magnitude of 9.0 (Mw), the 2011 Tohoku earthquake is what set off the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which topped headlines for weeks thereafter.

Unlike the flooding in Thailand, a wider range of industries were affected in Japan (everything from DRAM fabs to turbine production). Some of the hardest-hit include: Elpida (DRAM), Fujitsu (PCs), Panasonic (consumer electronics), Renesas (fab), Texas Instruments (fab), Toshiba (fab), Applied Materials (semiconductor materials), MEMC (silicon wafers), Canon (printers), Nikon (cameras and scanners), and, of course, all of Japan's automakers.

Memory Prices Plummet

Does your system sport less than 4 GB of RAM? If ever there was a year to upgrade, 2011 was it, as DRAM prices dropped significantly. Back in August, upgrading a notebook with a dual-channel kit would have cost $166. Today, that same kit runs $40.

Remember A Few Technology Greats

For better or worse, Steve Jobs changed our industry. But he is by no means the only notable name in technology deserving a moment of silence. While others didn't necessarily make headlines as often, their contributions advanced technology, too.

Clockwise (from top-center):Jean Bartik
was one of six women who programmed ENIAC.Daniel D. McCracken
wrote some of the first books on computer programming. His book on Fortran is still considered a standard.Dennis Ritchie
created the C programming language and, with Ken Thompson, the UNIX operating system.

Remember A Few Technology Greats, Continued

Clockwise (from top-center):
John McCarthy coined the term "artificial intelligence," invented LISP, and was a pioneer in time-sharing.
John R. Opel was IBM's CEO between 1974-1985, and basically built the behemoth we know as IBM today.
Max Mathews fathered the creation of digital music tools. You have him to thank for computer music.
Charles Walton pioneered the rise of RFID technology.

Intel's Sandy Bridge Architecture

Although the company certainly doesn't need it, Intel earned itself a pat on the back early on in 2011 when its Core i5-2500K took our 2011 Recommended Buy award. Solid per-clock improvements, the addition of Quick Sync, and an unlocked multiplier all piled on top of solid efficiency to make this a favorite that lasted a full 12 months.

Intel's Sandy Bridge-E Architecture

We realize that this one's a little more controversial than the Core i5-2500K, if only because an overclocked Sandy Bridge processor is almost every bit as fast as an overclocked Sandy Bridge-E-based chip. However, for the enthusiasts able to use six cores and eager to future-proof with PCI Express 3.0, LGA 2011 really does represent the best of the best.

That's why our editor-in-chief, Chris Angelini, gave his first-ever Best of Tom’s Hardware award to Intel’s Core i7-3930K. Why the -3930K and not the flagship -3960X? With more than $400 separating them, and very few hardware differences, you can get just as much speed out of the cheaper CPU.

AMD's FX-8150 (Bulldozer)

As Intel prepares for its Ivy Bridge launch, AMD suggests that we need to let go of the old "AMD versus Intel" mindset that pretty much defined processor comparisons since Tom's Hardware was started back in 1996. A few short months ago, its Bulldozer architecture was introduced to a lackluster reception, and you can read our Bulldozer coverage right here.

The company validly points out that Bulldozer is an architecture in its infancy, complemented by an aggressive roadmap. However, it'll have to evolve in a major way if AMD hopes to size up to its competition's next evolutionary project. Like it or not, those AMD versus Intel comparisons will continue being made so long as both companies keep designing mobile, desktop, and server processors. 

We want competition, and we want it now. It’s disappointing to see Zambezi suck down the power of Intel’s highest-end processors under load, perform like its competition's year-old mainstream chips, and wear the branding of a family that, eight years ago, actually made Intel squirm.

Graphics War: AMD Vs. Nvidia

The graphics war between AMD and Nvidia wasn't as fervent as we've seen in the past. But it wasn't boring, either. The list of cards launched in 2011 includes: GeForce GT 440, GT 520, GTX 550 Ti, GTX 560 Ti 448 Core, GTX 560, GTX 560 Ti, GTX 590, Radeon HD 6450, 6670 and 6570, 6970, 6950, and Radeon HD 6990.

Next year is already expected to be more exciting. AMD's recent preview of the Radeon HD 7970 will give way to more cards based on the GCN architecture. Moreover, Nvidia's Kepler design is expected to arrive during the company's first quarter, which runs from February to April.

First-Person Shooters

There were several awesome titles that kept us strapped to our seats for hours on end this year. Two games, in particular, came in at the top of our list, not only because they were fun titles, but because they allowed our high-end hardware to stretch its legs a bit: Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3. Granted, it took some time for Crysis 2 to incorporate DirectX 11 support, and even then the implementation was considered questionable.

  • Dacatak
    What is that thing in the last picture? (15)
  • jvt6
    Nixie tubes. Not one of 2011's highlights.
  • basbarian
    Thanks Toms! For another year of great reading, youre a ficture on my desktop an it ain't going nowhere! keep it up and best wishes for next year.

    (its a clock, a very cool one :) )
  • CaedenV
    let us also note that Toms has improved much throughout the year; finally using spell check, and getting better with grammar. I dont mean to be insulting, It was really bad there for a while, and we really do appreciate the care and the quality of work you have put out in this last quarter!
    We also appreciate the removal/blocking/banning of the stupid adds in the comments. Bravo to the tech team on that one!

    Looking forward to 2012! Keep up the good work!
  • nottheking
    The sad thing that if we look at a similar article (focusing on tech) from a mainstream media source, the only person's death they take note of is Steve Jobs, and entirely neglect Dennis Ritchie. And here, we see Jobs mentioned in passing, and Ritchie accompanied by numerous other luminaries who perhaps rivaled him in their contributions. (who likewise got zero mention in major newspapers, magazines, and TV) So good work, Tom's, on not letting us down here: we enthusiasts know who really mattered when it comes to technology. We'd mostly all still be here, reading and commenting, had there been no Steve Jobs.

    If I were to boil it down to what impacted the tech industry the most, I'd bring it down to these points:

    - Memory prices way down, HDD prices way up. While the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami was likewise a very tragic disaster and more costly, (in both lives and dollars) it's the Thai floods that really punched tech in the gut, spiking our HDD prices, and eating up all the savings we got from unprecedented DRAM price drops.
    - Intel finally makes Nehalem worthwhile with the 2500K. In all honesty, the Nehalem i5s and i7s just weren't appealing enough, given all the drawbacks and controversy with them originally, to have made them a solid choice. The 2500K, (and 2600K to a lesser extent) changed that, by giving both excellent overclocking capability, as well as perhaps the best higher-end price-for-performance ratio since Intel's Wolfdale-core E8400... From four years ago.
    - Bulldozer finally releases; isn't a bust, but many disappointed. For such hype, it did fail to deliver: the next "Athlon64 vs. Preshot" was what most wound up trumpeting it as. With a slight apparent decrease in per-clock power, it was leapt upon and torn to shreds. Still, given all considerations, it perhaps shows a lot of promise... Let's just hope AMD can scale it quickly, including getting out the 3.9 GHz 8170 soon. (and possibly a 4.2 GHz 8190 might not be too much to ask for, given 5.0 GHz isn't out of the question for 8150s with decent air)
    - Dennis Ritchie Dies. Oh, and a number of other pioneers, particularly Daniel McCracken and John McCarthy, also died... If Steve Jobs' death meant anything to the tech industry, it was more perhaps as a sign that Apple would, in all likelihood, start contracting and eventually return to their obscurity during the non-Jobs era of the 1990s.
    - Android (and iOS) devices set fire. Smartphones and tablets have gone, at first, from niche devices, and just until last year, were still more "premium." Now, smartphones are practically considered "standard," even for the non-technically inclined.
  • Gamer-girl
    Maybe adding a Edit button the comments section can be a 2012 highlight? lol
  • nottheking
    Gamer-girlMaybe adding a Edit button the comments section can be a 2012 highlight? lolClick the "View comments on the forums" link that appears at the top of the comments section. There, you'll be able to edit your comments. Of course, it may feel a little cumbersome, but you shouldn't need to edit repeatedly. The only real downside is that it only works for Tom's Hardware: on Tom's Guide, (which a lot of article links on the front page go to) you can't edit your posts there for some reason.
  • eddieroolz
    The disasters really strike at my heart every time I see the images. More than anything I think the flooding in Thailand and disaster in Japan forced us to realize that a handful of countries holds the key to our technological life.
  • ojas
    Have a happy new year Tom's, you've taught me a lot about computer sciences and electronics in the last 8 months... i dare say that i don't think i'd learn this much at college.

    *respect* :)
  • Lokster1
    Waiting for HDD prices to come back down to get a storage drive for my new build, hopefully it won't take them long to get back in full swing.