Who needs high-performance graphics – —it’s just for games, right?

Posted: 08.08.05

Last year the graphics chip industry shipped over 44 million high-end AIBs, about 54% of the total discrete shipments and 23% of the total desktop, for a total of 44.5 million AIBs.

There aren't 44 million game enthusiasts in the world, and they would have to be very enthusiastic to buy a new high-end AIB every year, wouldn't they? So we looked at the categories and applied our magic slide rule to the numbers, and came up with the following model.


You can find yourself in this list if you have a high-end AIB. I place myself in the Serious category. I love PC computer games (never really could master those console controllers, just not enough vernier for me), and I play a couple of hours whenever I can. Now, would I buy a high-end AIB for that duty load? Yes, in a heartbeat, and most of my friends (many of them reading this) are in the same category and would do the same thing. We'll use our systems most of the time for the same things other information workers do, but when there is that opportunity to unwind and have a little fun, we want the best. You could say that places me in the Connoisseur category and I wouldn't argue with that except I tend to think of connoisseurs as being a bit dilletante-ish, and I have to work for a living, to support my expensive habits.

So whereas the mod'ers get all the headlines, they are but the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

And yes, of course, you can move the percentages around in the model or even collapse some of the categories into one—let's not argue how many angels on the head of a pin, but rather understand the nature of the buyers of 44.5 million AIBs with an ASP of $350 making a $15.5 billion dollar market per year! And if you want to have fun with numbers, just apply that ASP (or any ASP of your choosing) to those category numbers.

The market is even bigger when you add in the games. I, Mr. Serious, buy one or two a year (yeah, and I get given a lot too, but they are not all interesting to me). My last purchase was $49 for "Chaos Theory" (which, BTW, came on a DVD, that's how big the textures files and shader programs were). Part of it is research, and most of it is fun.

We think the Serious, Casual, and Connoisseur users buy an average of 2.5 games a year for $75. They also buy other gear to support their habit. So high-end AIBs are the catalysts for a big, big market. The gamers, whatever category they fit into, go to the store (physical or virtual) looking for either a game or an AIB, and once there, they usually come home with at least one additional thing.

So that's what we're doing this week up on Mt. Tiburon and down in L.A.— we're playing with the numbers. We just finished our quarterly count of graphics chips, and if you don't get that report you're missing some juicy stuff, not the least of which is the predictive aspect of what the next quarter's PC volume will be like.

We've just finished our DCC report, which looks at where some of these high-end AIBs go. Next up will be the Workstation Report, and then we'll have a pretty complete picture of the graphics market.

And speaking of numbers, if you look at reports of PC shipments you'll notice PC shipments worldwide rose 14.7% in 2004 to 177.5 million units according to IDC, while rival firm Gartner reported an 11.8% increase in PC unit shipments to 189 million, or 183.3 million for an average.

And we reported that 239 million graphics thingies shipped in 2004—a difference of 55.8 units or 23%.

One of the reasons for the difference is where the measurement is made. We use our data to make a forward-looking report—we start at the front end of the process, whereas the PC counting firms start at the back end of the process, so if there's any growth in the market, we're about a quarter ahead of them and that accounts for some of the difference.

The other thing, or things, is we get it all; they only get PCs—finished goods. We get:

• Inventory

• Aftermarket sales of AIBs

• Double load of IGCs and AIBs with one-size-fits-all motherboards

• Industrial and military systems

• CE devices

• Other platforms (e.g., POS, kiosks) and "misc."

So are high-end AIBs just for games?

Yeah, kinda. They get into some other things, too—some military systems like Quantum3D makes and the big sim systems E&S and SGI make. A few find their way into high-end medical systems and some photo layout systems, and odds and ends that not even JPR tracks. But the majority of the high-end AIBs are used for games, just not exclusively for games, and that's the key point here. Yes, high-end AIBs are used for games, but those of us who buy them for games also use them when we're doing other work.