When it comes to picking out your next GPU there are always many factors to consider, and for most of us this requires some serious thought. Likely this involves some benchmark comparisons, an assessment of your gaming requirements, perhaps a consideration towards power draw if you're one of those people that is determined to cling on to an ageing PSU. However, once you've made your key decisions and picked out a card that suits your needs, a whole world of design options opens up to you. Perhaps you're looking for something to suit a particular aesthetic, or small form-factor, or god forbid, something subtle.
These are all valid concerns, and AIBs have taken notice. A cursory glance at the GPU market confirms that design is a key selling point when it comes to graphics card variations, and it's not difficult to find a whole host of different features, some practical and some aesthetic, to separate each offering from the pack.
However, while diversity in all things should be championed, there is a growing sense that some manufacturers are becoming, shall we say, more than a little desperate?
Enter, the latest travesty in GPU design: The ASL RTX 4060. At first glance, this may appear to be a regular twin-fan cooler in a blocky silver shroud, with nothing notable to separate it from its competitors. But wait! What's that we spy at the end there? An RGB LED perhaps? A little flourish of neon-lit design, an attempt to add some much needed flair?
Nope. That, my friends, is a fully-functioning spirit level. Well, I say fully-functioning. What I actually mean is, while this absolutely needless addition to an otherwise thoroughly un-exciting GPU does in fact tell you if your card is level (and only from the least useful axis, I hasten to add), it's not actually visible once the card is installed.
That's right. Not only has this card been blessed with a spirit-level that serves no useful purpose whatsoever, but once it's been installed in your machine, you can't actually see it.
Genius. I'll take two.
To be fair, this may not actually be the most egregiously unnecessary feature we've seen on a GPU to date. No, for my money that dubious honour belongs to the Yeston RTX 3080-10G D6X YA, a GPU that at first glance seems like it might be an interesting choice on account of its somewhat overblown cooler, complete with a printed anime design on the backplate. It's not to everyone's taste of course, but if you were in the market for something a bit different you may well consider this a desirable aesthetic. That is, of course, until you scroll down the listing to reveal its party trick. Brace yourselves.
Yep. The Yeston RTX 3080-10G features, amongst other things, a "flower fragrance module". I don't know about you, but I've often thought my GPU was woefully inadequate in the aroma department. Think of all the money you could save on air freshener, if your PC components were merrily farting out a pleasant flowery fragrance every time you booted up your machine.
We could go on. How about an RTX 4060 Ti with an integrated SSD slot? At least that adds some functionality, as ridiculous as that might seem. Or, and this was a very close candidate for "worst we've seen yet", would your perhaps prefer your next GPU to come with hubcaps?
Underneath all this silliness there is of course, a serious point. While these increasingly absurd features and designs give all of us a good laugh, they betray a deeper level of uncertainty within the industry as a whole. While genuine diversity is still to be found amongst competing AIB designs, there is a growing sense that the market has become crowded, and desperation to stand out is beginning to reach an increasingly absurd pitch.
While most of us will quite rightly laugh in the face of such shallow attempts to generate hype around a new GPU design, it is telling that these ridiculous offerings are serving the purpose for which they were meant. That is, to draw attention to a product that would otherwise fall by the wayside in the relentless march of PC hardware coverage.
It is said that in the last days of Rome, the games at the Colosseum became increasingly more absurd. While it may be something of a stretch to make a direct comparison here, it is telling that some AIB partners are going to such extreme lengths to differentiate themselves from their rivals. Competition brings variation, we are often told, but are we really seeing anything being brought to the table here other than an obvious gimmick?
Gone seem to be the days of genuine innovation, and instead we find ourselves increasingly awash in the ridiculous, the TikTok friendly, the bizarre. Are we to believe that there is no room for meaningful innovation in GPU design, or is it simply that hype-bait is fast becoming king?
One wonders what lies in wait for us next. My money's on a smoke machine and disco ball, or maybe a cat toy that spins with the fans. An in-built pizza oven perhaps? No?
I'll see myself out.