Without any doubt, Valve’s Steam Hardware Survey is probably single most important survey in the world of PCs. If you want to see the rise and fall of hardware and software companies among the users, 25 million user accounts can’t be wrong. As such, January 2010 survey was very important, given that it accounts for all the new computers bought over the course of Holiday shopping season.
OS Wars: Windows 7 overtakes Vista, XP in sight?
What was expected, finally happened – much criticized Windows Vista finally gave way to Windows 7 on all accounts: 64-bit version of Windows 7 is now second most popular operating system, ran by 19.50% of all users, i.e. out of 25 million, 4.88 million run 64-bit Win7, almost four percent up from December [+3.89% month-on-month growth]. 32-bit Vista now holds a third spot, with 19.09% overall share [-1.62% MoM]. 32-bit version of Windows 7 took the fourth spot, with 9.03% share [1.58%].
But more importantly, when we look at Windows 7 vs. Windows XP, combined total is now 28.53% for Win7 and 42.78% for 32+64-bit Win XP mix [only 0.63% of all accounts run on 64-bit WinXP]. At this rate, with Windows XP losing anywhere between 2-3% on monthly basis, we expect to see a 64-bit operating system taking over majority share during 2010, which wasn’t something majority of game developers counted on. It looks like users are adopting 64-bit operating system on a massive scale, so if there are game developers that still dwell should they expand past 2GB addressable space, they should open their minds. Seven years after AMD launched 64-bit processing architecture, it looks like the software is finally catching up.
CPU Wars: What wars?
Unlike the dynamics in the world of operating systems, the battle for processor marketshare isn’t as active. This 69:31 split clearly shows the polarization between AMD and Intel: both sides have their loyal customers and there isn’t much going on, regardless of how manufacturers try to pitch "value" or "performance". Intel gained ten percentage points and now accounts for the main processor on 69.06% of all users, while AMD finally dropped below 31% to 30.94% [+0.10%]. Interestingly though, single-core processors marked the first gain in years, moving by 0.21% up and being the weapon of choice for 18.29% of all Steam users.
Dual-Core processors dominate the field with 56.56% share, losing 0.37% , mostly to single-core and quad-core models. Quad-Cores now account for 24.13% [0.14% gain], while eight-core [more realistically, eight thread] processors account for 0.06% [0.01% gain], meaning there aren’t many gamers out here owning Core i7 processors that utilize the LGA-1366 processor socket.
GPU Wars: Rise of laptops puts Intel on the map
Playing games of Intel’s integrated graphics isn’t something even Intel will recommend. Whenever we discuss the integrated graphics with Intel employees, they take somewhat defensive line, explaining that those chips are for displaying images, playing movies and some casual games. However, Intel’s 4000 Series marked the highest gain out of all graphics processors, raising by 0.61% to 1.97% overall share.
By looking at manufacturers, nVidia is the weapon of choice with an almost Intel-like grip, with 65.01% of all users running nVidia graphics hardware. AMD follows up with 29.82%, and Intel marked significant growth to 3.61% share. S3, Matrox and others are reduced to "Others" category, which captures 1.56% of all Steam users – a share smaller than dual-GPU configurations from nVidia, for instance.
Looking at a particular model, it looks like GeForce 8800 [12.50%] and Radeon 4800 [12.04%] are losing steam, dropping by 1.14% in case of 8800 and 0.84% in case of 4800 Series. In a way, it’s a shame seeing AMD coming so close to dethroning the nVidia, only to see its cheaper members capturing key points. Also worth noting is that even though AMD shipped two million DirectX 11 GPUs, they’re still not present as individual graphics cards on the main page. We do expect to see 5000 Series as individual boards in a matter of next two-three monthly installments. Big winners this month were notebook GPUs, with AMD and nVidia both receiving lion’s share of the new purchases.
On the high end side, it looks like December SLI blip was just that – back in December, Steam reported 0.47% gain for Dual-GPU SLI configuration, only to dip this month by 0.39% to 2.01% of all user accounts. This was followed by ATI Crossfire setup losing two percentage points to capture 0.16% in total. Do bear in mind that dual-GPU boards, such as the Radeon HD 4870X2, 5970 or GeForce GTX295 count as a single product, not as an Crossfire/SLI parts.
Memory: 4GB, 6GB and more on the rise
In terms of memory, more is always better. Thus, we’re not surprised to see gamers moving away from 2GB [30.05% overall, 0.89% drop] and 3GB [29.00%, 0.99% drop] setups to 4GB , 6GB and more. In case of 3GB/4GB, this is closely link to a move away from 32-bit operating systems that could not see more than 3.25GB [in reality, from 2.75 to 3.7GB were visible but 3.25GB was the most common limit] to 64-bit Windows 7, thus enabling Steam to see more memory. 4GB is now used by 16.51% [+1.47% MoM rise], while users with six, eight or even more gigabytes of memory account for a grand total of 7.97%.
Hard drive space is always a premium, more so in case of Steam users. Being a gamer usually implies orientation towards multimedia content. Thus, we are not surprised to see users abandoning smaller hard drives in droves. Large capacity drives [1TB+] made an impressive growth of 0.81% to 13.31%. Largest group of users rely on 320 to 500GB drives, with 32.13% of overall users running one of these two.
Display: The rise of notebooks and Full HD
As expected, widescreen displays were a hit of this Christmas shopping season. More than quarter of a million 1920×1080 i.e. 1080p displays became a member of Steam family in January, making up for a grand total of 7.92%. 1920×1200 followed with a single percentage point to hold 5.96%. Gains came at the expense of a resolution that’s been "here" since 1995, i.e. 1280×1024. It looks like the owners of both LCD and CRT displays are waving good bye to this resolution, as FullHD is gaining ground. Second biggest loser is 1680×1050, dropping by 0.79% to 19.19%
Also, notebooks are coming in full force, with 16:9 resolutions taking most of market growth: 1366×768 gained 1% to 3.62%, 1600×900 gained 0.45% to score 1.94% . As far as Widescreen vs. Normal ratio goes, summer of last year saw the rise of Widescreen and taking over the conventional aspect. Today, conventional screen ratio of 4:3 or 5:4 makes up for only 36.4% – that is a staggering difference compared to only 12 months ago. By this rate of adoption, it isn’t unimaginable that widescreen could pass 80% share by the end of the year. Widescreen ratios of 16:9 and 16:10 now account for 63.6% – a 13% gain in six months.
As we move with times, gamers adopt the latest hardware. For instance, reading stories of AAA titles coming out without the support for widescreen aspect or patches and hot fixes really goes to say that developers who have issues are obviously out of touch with the market realities. In any case, Steam is providing an invaluable insight into the purchasing aspects of 25 million gamers worldwide.