For years, installation of a third-party graphics card was one of the most common after-market PC upgrades among consumers. But in 2010, shipments of graphics cards fell by 3.3%, with graphics card giant Nvidia taking a 6.2% hit in sales. These numbers come from a report by John Peddle Research cited by InformationWeek in an article that raises some interesting points regarding the future of dedicated graphics cards.
Integrated Graphics Chipsets are Improving
While originally maligned as a cost-cutting measure that delivered middling performance, integrated graphics have become the norm for mobile devices and even consumer grade desktop PCs. The good news is that the cost benefits are still there—and the performance is getting better. Today’s integrated graphics chipsets are capable of playing back high-definition video and can even handle light image and video editing. For this reason, many PC owners may never upgrade their graphics cards.
Tablets Cannibalize PCs
The rise of the tablet has had a profound effect on PC sales. Many users who may have opted for a laptop for a basic desktop are instead choosing a tablet for general web browsing, light gaming and multimedia consumption. While many tablets use similar graphics processing technologies as desktops, none of them have a dedicated graphics card.
Dedicated Graphics Cards Are Moving to Higher End Systems
While everyday computer users may not benefit from a graphics card, higher end PCs remain dependent on dedicated graphics cards. This is particularly true for gamers, graphic designers and video producers. Experts agree that there will always be a need for high end graphics cards, though the market may need to carve out a narrower niche.
More than Just Graphics
Graphics cards are, in essence, another processing unit that takes some of the load away from the central processing unit. Because of this, graphics cards are capable of aiding in other intensive computer processes beyond rendering graphics. For example, graphics card manufacturers are now targeting institutions and companies that need high performance computers for crunching numbers and calculations necessary for scientific research, financial services and other applications. For example, the practice of high frequency trading on Wall Street relies on split second processing of electronic trades and analysis of stock prices.
Given the above, it’s likely that graphics cards may not appear as prevalently on the shelves of big box stores like Best Buy and Staples. But that doesn’t mean that graphics cards are on the way out. Rather, graphics cards are likely going to evolve to meet the higher end market’s needs and adapt to other tasks beyond graphics processing. Meanwhile, expect integrated graphic chipsets that are built-in to the motherboard or CPU to continue to improve and meet the needs of the consumer market.