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Silicon Shortages & Creative Restrictions

by Taylor Slattery | August 5, 2021

I’ve been thinking a lot about creative restrictions lately. Up until recently, I had been blissfully unaware of the global silicon shortage currently wreaking havoc on consumers and corporations alike. For a number of reasons, parts with integrated circuits, the likes of which are used in just about any electronics, are hard to come by. In the case of computer parts, CPUs and GPUs are few and far between. Any inventory of these parts is quickly purchased and used for mining cryptocurrencies or sold to desperate buyers at exorbitant prices.

With so many people relying on their computers for work, this uncertainty around the availability of computer parts puts us in a precarious situation should something go wrong. I recently found this out the hard way.

I’m no stranger to computer scares. I’ve had my fair share of close calls, but in the end, things have always worked out. Until recently, that is. A few months back I was preparing for the Chia pool protocol and testing plotting speeds using various drives. I was also using my GPU to farm Ethereum and things were going swimmingly. My thermals were fine and my PC was still able to handle my work needs during the day without any hiccups.

Then, one day, I woke up and that was no longer the case. My PC was stuck in a boot loop and I couldn’t get it to POST. I set to work troubleshooting, making marginal improvements but ultimately only changing the error code presented at the BSoD. Now behind on my work for the day, I set a new plan into motion. After narrowing the culprits down to a few problem parts, I started to piece together a list of options for their replacements.

I built my current PC in 2016 at a time when parts were plentiful. I quickly learned that was no longer the case. Realizing that with the state of the market even parts from 5 years ago are expensive, I was confronted with a decision. My initial plan had been to just get functional as quickly as possible, but seeing that the silicon shortage was affecting my ability to do so even with older parts, I now had to decide whether it was worthwhile to sink money into outdated tech or just bite the bullet and build a whole new pc.

Always trying my best to aim for future-proof solutions, I decided to go for the latter and build a machine I could use to finally do some 3D work. With a parts list locked in and the available components ordered, all that was left to do was wait. The following day, with nothing but a non-functional PC and time on my hands, I decided to try some more troubleshooting. After running through the same steps as the day before without success, I removed the RAM and tried booting with one just one stick at a time, and lo and behold, I had found my culprit.

I was able to run my PC with less RAM until the new set arrived, and RMA the old set once the new sticks were installed. Given the state of things in regards to parts availability, it will be a while before my new build is up and running. So far the time being, I’m still using my PC from 2016. Months later, I’m in more or less the same situation except with a collection of new parts just sitting in their packaging collecting dust.

Which brings me to the point of this article, and that being creative restrictions, both real and imagined. It took a real moment of loss to snap me out of the haze of my imagined restrictions. With only minimal experience with Cinema 4D I had decided that to get the kind of results I wanted, my current hardware was not enough. I then put off learning the software further until an undetermined date in the future when I would be better equipped. Had I decided to continue learning before, who knows how good I would be by now. I also probably would have eventually stumbled upon the existence of render farms that allow you to outsource the heavy lifting, making my hardware concerns a non-issue.

Much like my parts for my future build, I had shelved my desire to learn 3D and it too was collecting dust. While this troubleshooting trial may have not turned out to be much of anything at all, it did force me to take a look at what I really need from my tools, which if I’m honest, isn’t that much. My desire for the process to be seamless, to be prepared for whatever needs I might encounter, had led to self-imposed restrictions that prevented me from ever getting started.

At present moment, with parts availability at an all-time low, we’re forced to make do with what we have or simply go without. Computers are weird. It’s impossible to predict the moment when disaster will strike. Always have a contingency plan in place and make sure your data is backed up, but don’t let the limits of your current hardware stop you from getting started. Don’t wait until the conditions are just right because you might be left holding your breath.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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