VR will ignite a slow-burning desktop hardware refresh

After years of stagnation, there is finally a reason to upgrade your desktop, if VR and AR are your thing.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

I have in my possession a symbol of why computing hardware manufacturers have had such a hard time in recent years. It's a desktop computer made up of a circa 2009 i7-920 processor, and over the years has been updated to possess a 2012 GPU, and a new dose of memory and SSD storage from 2014.

And frankly, the only times I am reminded of its age are when it comes to recent gaming and doing large amounts of compilation.

Despite the wishing of Microsoft, OEM vendors, and other associated hardware suppliers, recent versions of Windows have not pushed consumers to new purchases of PC hardware like they used to.

This isn't surprising when one of hyped features of Windows 10 is the ability to log in without a password, hardly something that drives hardware upgrades.

In the time since my 2009 desktop first turned on, chips have got faster and better with power usage, memory bandwidth has improved, and storage has come along in leaps and bounds. But for everyday usage, the sort that happens in the lower end of the market, there's been no application that has pushed that seven-year-old hardware.

At the recent Computex event earlier this month, there was a nice surprise. After years of trying virtual reality headsets and walking away disappointed by tearing, a frame rate that wasn't quite there, or simply watching a pre-rendered scene because the hardware couldn't keep up with real-time interaction, in 2016 it looked as though VR was finally ready for prime time.

Powered by the latest GPUs, and coupled with a number of handset options incorporating handheld controllers, from this point on the hardware is in place to make VR an option for the masses. To which there is no lack of interest, over the past 18 months at computing conferences across the globe, there have been few things that punters will line up for to give it a try. One is electric cars, and the other is to experience virtual reality.

While VR usage is currently residing with the enthusiast and gamer crowd, as other applications of the technology slowly appear, mainstream users will need updated hardware to get on board.

For the first time in years, a use case exists that requires new equipment. It's a return to the former mindset of knowing that if you use hardware that is more than a couple of years old, you will not even get close to the minimum recommended specifications.

Take note at how the term "VR ready" will be bandied about by all manner of hardware makers -- some of which make devices that will have no impact on a VR experience. OEMs have waited a long time for an actual reason to get users to buy hardware with a purpose, so they will do their best to milk it for all it is worth.

It may not be full-fledged VR that many users find themselves using first, as augmented reality could be encountered in some industries before VR hits the mainstream.

In what has been a more or less stagnant industry for a number of years, the uptake of virtual reality looks to be a rare bright spot.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

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