One of my eccentric beliefs is that the state of the art of computing is the state of the art of gaming and not the other way around. My Linux loyalty has greatly limited my gaming agenda but it has given me an interesting perspective. When it comes to serious computing, I can’t help but notice that gamers lead the way. Consequently I like to keep informed about what the major trends are there.

Glance over this search I did for "best cpu motherboard". The word "gaming" in some form appears in 8 of the 10 first hits (it features prominently on the links of the other 2).


Are non-gaming people not interested in the "best cpu motherboard"? I’m going to say that as far as market forces go, no. Your CAD draftsman or molecular modeler or video editor or spreadsheet farmer doesn’t need the "best" today. Anything will do for them. But the gamers are always looking to push the frontiers.

A source of some interesting data is the Steam Hardware Survey. This is where Valve’s venerable gaming platform harvests a lot of data about exactly who is doing what with what.

Of course the most interesting thing about the Steam Hardware Survey to me is not necessarily the hardware. Before looking at that, let’s first look at what platforms the games are supporting these days.

Games appearing in search results constrained by OS.

Obviously these aren’t mutually exclusive. Let’s just say that everything runs on Windows. To be precise, only 23 of 48056 go missing when you limit search to just Windows. Still 24% of games available to Linux is pretty extraordinary given the situation as little as five years ago.

With the knowledge that about a quarter of the games are available to alternative platforms, what does the actual usage look like. We can check with the hardware survey and see who’s running what. Here is a very depressing plot of the OS ecosystem in gaming.

55.87 Windows 10 35.57 Windows 7 4.53 Windows 8 3.07 OSX 0.57 Linux 0.22 Windows XP 32 bit

Talk about hanging on by a thread! At least Linux grew .02% since the start of 2017.

This is a bit surprising to me since Linux has enjoyed the aforementioned huge surge of compatible games in recent years. With impressive Wine support a lot of games are running better on Linux than their original target. But still, if you’re simply a path-of-least-resistance player, passing up on a non-negligible number of games you’d like to play may not be realistic. I’m going to take these Linux numbers to represent vive-la-resistance players!

What’s also strange is that with Android, tablets, and cloud office suites, it seems like Windows is teetering on the edge of insignificance. Here’s a good article about how Windows is being internally dismantled at Microsoft. But apparently gamers didn’t get the message. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Office move to an online platform and Windows get branded as a game platform like Xbox. Clearly Valve has their work cut out to fight Microsoft’s monopoly and Linux is a key weapon in that fight. Here’s a recent article on the whole showdown.

I was kind of surprised to learn that 0.22% of Steam users were using 32 bit Windows XP. Ouch. Reminds me of some ancient computers which are forever stuck to some equipment in science labs I know.

Among the 3% of people using Macs for games, it seems like they mostly keep them up to date.

1.47 10.13.4 0.28 10.13.3 0.09 10.13.2 0.07 10.13.1 0.51 10.12.6 0.28 10.11.6 0.15 10.10.5

I think I found the language preferences most interesting. English dominates Linux users a bit more than it does in general. Here’s an interesting look at the language settings. When all OS choices are looked at, Chinese is dominant. But when you focus only on Linux users, the trends shift quite a bit to Russians and Europeans.

27.54 Chinese 10.67 Russian 4.59 Spanish 3.69 Portuguese 3.54 German 2.70 French 1.78 Korean 1.67 Polish 1.66 Turkish 1.08 Japanese 0.87 Thai 0.71 Italian 0.49 Czech 0.37 Swedish 0.35 Hungarian 0.33 Dutch 1.00 Seven Others All Steam 4.05 Russian 2.72 German 1.98 French 1.54 Spanish 1.33 Portuguese 0.81 Chinese 0.57 Polish 0.45 Italian 0.25 Japanese 0.24 Czech 0.19 Ukrainian 0.13 Hungarian 0.10 Dutch 0.35 Eight Others Linux Only

Note that these don’t add up to 100% because it is missing the majority of people who use English language settings. Note also that a lot of Russians (I can personally assure you) and Chinese and everyone else often use English despite that being a foreign language for them.

That was interesting to me with respect to Linux. But there’s much more of interest to the whole computer using world. Let’s look at the hardware.

Monitors are pretty standardized now. 60.49% have a 1920x1080 monitor. And 34.87% have two such regular monitors for a grand total of 3840x1080. I have two regular monitors set up for serious work for a grand total of 2160x1920 which really bakes Steam’s noodle.

I’m a little shocked that 60.51% have 4 CPUs but in the many years this has been standard only 4.15% have 6 CPUs and only .99% have 8. That leaves 31.40% of people using 2 CPUs like my laptop had in 2006. The conclusion would seem to be that a lack of more processing cores is not generally a serious performance bottleneck in gaming.

RAM seems to not have become much more plentiful either. There are roughly three equal groups: less than 8GB, exactly 8GB, and more than that. At 38.97% the setups with 8GB are most prevalent. But 36.67% have more than 12GB. The survey format doesn’t even explore silly levels of RAM that people like to have for VMs and video editing. But again, I think we must conclude that after 8GB, going crazy on the RAM has diminishing returns on gaming enjoyment.

Graphics cards are a rout — 15 of 16 most popular graphics cards are Nvidia GeForce. Here’s a rough breakdown of popular video cards. Don’t get too upset if I’m a couple percent off — I think the survey was too. The interesting thing to note here is that half of gamers have pretty decent cards. My guess is that the other half are making do with laptops and tablets and such.

32.46 GeForce 10xx 17.93 GeForce 9xx 10.38 GeForce 7xx 8.76 GeForce 6xx 10.20 Radeon 10.53 Intel 11.96 Other

Last year I wrote about how prices are stablizing in the computer world. Usually that’s a good thing but since computers have been getting delightfully better and cheaper historically, this feels like the end of the party.

I’m really curious how this will all turn out. Clearly Intel has some serious challenges. Here’s a nice article discussing Intel’s many strategic problems. Clearly they’ve lost to Nvidia on what matters to the serious people, the gamers. And from that gaming enthusiasm came GPUs that are now the default way technical people do advanced technical things. Intel may want to catch up but I’m not sure that will be easy.

The only prediction I will make is that gamers will continue to greatly influence what technology gets seriously developed — more than the other way around.