As Bill Gates said in his 1995 book The Road Ahead, "we've all smiled at predictions from the past that look silly today". Not least his own prediction that we may one day decide to "watch Gone With The Wind with our own face and voice replacing that of Vivien Leigh or Clark Gable".
We do, however, have a pretty good idea of what's coming over the next three years. In this feature, we'll reveal all you need to know about the future of processors, memory, graphics and more.
There are lots of exciting innovations coming to the desktop in 2010, although some are more revolutionary than others.
For a start, Intel plans to introduce its first 32nm desktop CPU with six cores. Codenamed Gulftown, the new addition to the Core i7 Extreme series will feature Hyper-Threading for a total of 12 threads.
There will also be big changes to Intel's mainstream line-up, as the move to 32nm beckons the introduction of the Clarkdale processors with integrated graphics. This could enable smaller and cheaper motherboards to be manufactured for innovative all-in-one or small-form-factor PCs.
Perhaps the biggest pushpin on Intel's year planner for 2010, however, is Larrabee. A graphics chip based on multiple x86 cores rather than the stream processors found in today's traditional GPUs, Larrabee threatens to completely overhaul the graphics card business.
According to Intel's vice president of digital enterprise operations, Stephen Smith, Intel is already in talks with game developers who are "looking at making more immersive games by putting in features such as physics or game logic using those x86 cores." Smith said that the first Larrabee product, which he describes as a "high-end graphics card", would be available in the first half of 2010.
AMD and Nvidia
Countering this will be the next generation of GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, although both companies are tight-lipped about their specifications. Nvidia's chief technology officer, Bill Dally, gave us a few hints about what we could expect.
"Clock speeds will increase more slowly," he said. "Because of the power issues, we're not going to be cranking the clock up." Instead, Dally said that future generations of Nvidia GPUs will feature more stream processors, and also claimed that "we may wind up making the individual processors more powerful as well".
Another interesting desktop technology coming from Intel in 2010 is Braidwood, which will combine flash technology with traditional hard drives. Smith explained "we're using flash memory in our next-generation platform as a cache for the disk I/O, and we have a very intelligent controlling algorithm, so with a few gigabytes of flash storage you can get a significant fraction of the responsiveness at a small fraction of the cost."
Smith said that Braidwood could be included in the Calpella (mobile) and Piketon (desktop) platforms that are scheduled to be available in 2010.
In terms of storage, one new feature we expect to see creeping into the mainstream is the 6Gbits/sec SATA interface on both motherboards and hard drives.
However, SSDs will also look increasingly threatening. Rumours about Intel increasing the capacity of its SSDs to 320GB this year are already circulating, and if it doesn't happen this year it's certain to happen during 2010.
Smith commented that "Intel expects SSDs to follow Moore's Law - roughly speaking every couple of years you would expect capacities to be doubling in density."
In 2010, SSDs will still be too expensive in terms of cost per gigabyte for the mainstream, although Windows 7 could boost the SSD business further.
Corsair's co-founder and vice president of applications, John Beekley, pointed out that "current operating systems and file systems were designed for mechanical storage devices, but Windows 7 will integrate features specifically designed to optimise performance for SSDs, such as TRIM [which tells the SSD which data blocks are no longer in use]".
The arrival of Windows 7 will also encourage more people to go 64-bit (see September 2009, page 90) and rapidly expand the amount of RAM in their systems. Corsair claims that it's seeing strong sales of 12GB triple-channel kits, and is already planning to launch 24GB kits.
Next: Laptops in 2010...