Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Toaster
Deep within the universe of techno wizardry is the world of computer graphics. One might say that only good things come from the development of computer graphics. For instance, "we have the most powerful parallel graphics processors in the world" or "DirectX 10 and Direct3D 10 will be the greatest advancement the world has ever seen." But I have to warn you not to let the hoopla of well-oiled public relations and marketing machines cloud your judgment. Yes, there are many advances taking place, but there are so many elements with varying schedules that make this whole situation somewhat unclear.
There are several changes that will come with Microsoft Windows Vista. It appears that the new file system and DirectX 10 won't be included in the default retail build. What about the new Aero Glass experience? Yes, that should be in there, but if you are a user of a multi-graphics setup such as SLI or Crossfire you can't use Vista under the current arrangement, because Vista won't let the graphics cards send data to each other.
While we're at it, if you own HyperMemory or TurboCache entry-level graphics cards, they won't allow you to enable all Vista features either. Vista turns the graphics card into a commodity within the system, and it claims everything within to dictate its terms to the parts. This may allow for centralized graphics settings, but it puts the user at Windows Vista's mercy. The issues at hand are all being worked on, and hopefully will be fixed by the time Vista hits retail.
DX10 coming to market will have its impact as well. Yes, we are going to get more sophisticated games and more features, but whenever you get something, you have to give something else in return. The rendering power plants of graphics processors will consist of unified, programmable shaders. As you can easily image, these will make 3D processors even more complex, and thus add to silicon real estate. High-end graphics cards can already pull down almost 150 W without blinking. Expect even higher power requirements to come, as neither ATI nor Nvidia have yet divulged any plans to move to a smaller manufacturing process with their DirectX10 parts.
Another consideration is the fact that graphics cards are sporting larger memory densities to support higher capacities. Even with the advent of GDDR4 and its smaller production process, these new devices mean - you guessed it - that the next generations of cards might consume even more power. Where does that leave the mid-range gamer with older cards? It leaves him or her with increased power requirements, too: older cards drop in price when a new model comes to market, which means that a mid-range gamer will eventually have to upgrade to an adequate power supply as he or she purchases the previous generation high-end cards.