New Processors, Notebooks, and Desktops Highlight CES’s New PC Products

Every year people seem surprised that there’s a lot of activity at CES when it comes to PCs and notebooks. I guess it’s just that the PC category has been slowly shrinking over the past few years, though the gaming and corporate segments of the market continue to do well. In any case, this year’s show demonstrated a number of advances that indicate the PC still has a lot of life left in it.


To begin with, Intel announced some new versions of its Kaby Lake processors—the seventh generation of its Core i family and the third iteration using a 14nm FinFET process—including the high-end Corei7-7700K. (ExtremeTech has some benchmarks here.) Overall, the 7000 series looks to be a nice but not huge upgrade over the Skylake versions, offering a bit higher clock speed and a bit better power envelope. Still, it’s good to have a full line of new chips out there—it will spur a lot of new upgrades.


7th Gen Intel Core


Of course, Intel is pointing to much larger leaps in performance compared to three-year-old machines, claiming 25 percent better performance on productivity applications and 35 percent faster performance creating, stitching, and sharing 4K 360° videos. Some of the more interesting new features include support for the upcoming Intel Optane memory (based on 3D XPoint technology), decode and encode for HEVC 10-bit and VP9 formats, and Intel Authenticate for hardened security and 2-factor authentication.


Intel also showed off a running 2-in-1 design with its 10nm Cannon Lake chips, which are expected to ship toward the end of 2017. (In yesterday’s post, I talked a bit about plans for making 10nm chips from the other major foundries.)


AMD Ryzen


Meanwhile, competitor AMD is getting closer to the release of its first Ryzen processors, which introduce the new Zen architecture, and look to make AMD much more of a player in the mid- and high-end parts of the PC market. AMD says that the Zen architecture has a number of new features, including what it is calling “SenseMI” technology. That includes new features to better manage energy and increase frequency at the same power, as well as a “neural net” to improve branch predictions, and a smart prefetch, both designed to improve the efficiency of the processors.


At the show, AMD announced a series of motherboards that support the processors’ AM4 socket from ASRock, Asus, Biostar, Gigabyte, and MSI, designed to support the upcoming X300 and X370 chipsets as part of its “Summit Ridge” series of processors. The company also showed off a variety of sample systems, mostly from smaller vendors. It is still promising that such systems will launch later this quarter. A lot of us are waiting to see how well such systems perform in the real world. AMD has said its “Raven Ridge” series of notebook processors based on the Zen architecture will be out later this year.


AMD Vega Architecture


In addition, AMD also disclosed preliminary details for its next generation graphics architecture, called Vega. This will use a new high-bandwidth memory cache and controller using HBM2 rather than the more common GDDR5 memory. It will also have a new programmable geometry pipeline, a new rasterizer designed to be more power efficient, and flexible compute units that can natively work on 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit, or 64-bit operations. Products using this architecture are due in the first half of the year.


Competitor Nvidia showed off a new service called GeForce Now, which lets any Windows or Mac user get access to games via a cloud service that runs on the company’s GeForce graphics boards, with pricing set at $25 for 20 hours on a GTX 1060 or 10 hours on a GTX 1080. This is slated to be available in early access form in March.


In one interesting departure from the norm, Qualcomm showed off a laptop running a test version of Windows using itsSnapdragon 835 processor. This should be able to run 32-bit legacy X86 applications through emulation, as well as modern Windows Store applications. It will be interesting to see both pricing and performance when such machines come to market.


Business Notebooks


On the PC front, I’m most interested in the improvements in corporate notebooks, which seem to be getting thinner and lighter, as well as offering the newest generation of Intel processors.


Lenovo Thinkpad Carbon x1 - new and old


Lenovo showed off a new version of its Carbon X1 that is notably lighter and smaller than the previous model, at just 2.5 pounds (compared to 2.75 for the previous version), and also boasts better battery life (at a claimed 15.5 hours compared with 11 hours; although as usual I almost never get the claimed battery performance from any vendor in the real world) and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 support. It should be available in February.


The touchscreen-based 2-in-1 version, the X1 Yoga, was also updated and should also include similar battery improvement and USB-C/Thunderbolt support. It also offers a new keyboard design. The X1 tablet has also been updated.


HP Elitebook x360


HP’s newest entry is the EliteBook x360, which brings the convertible kinds of features found in the company’s 13.3-inch Spectre x360 2-in-1 to the enterprise line. HP is claiming 16 hours and 30 minutes of battery life–which would be longer than any of its competitors—an optional 4K display, and a self-healing BIOS. The company also announced a new 15.6-inch version of its Spectre x360, with a 4K display and GeForce 940MX graphics. Both should be available this month.


Dell introduced magnetic resonance charging with its new Latitude 7285 2-in-1, using technology from WiTricity including WiGig docking. This should be out later in the year. The company also introduced upgrades to its Latitude 700 series of “Ultrabooks”, which are available now, as well as a new Latitude 5285 2-in-1, due out at the end of next month.


LG Gram


Among other vendors, Asus introduced its new Asus Pro, with a 14-inch full HD display at just 2.3 pounds, while LG showed off three new models in its Gram family, with 13.3, 14, and 15.6-inch full HD displays. These are extremely light, but with two different sizes of battery available, so you could get a 13.3 inch version at just 2.07 pounds, with a 60 Wh battery and claimed battery life of 24 hours (with the usual caveats), or a version with a 34 Wh battery that weighs just 1.83 pounds.


Samsung Chromebook Plus


It was also interesting to see Samsung’s newest take on Chromebooks, with the Chromebook Pro using a Core m3 Skylake processor, and the Chromebook Plus, using an undisclosed ARM processor. Both include 12.3-inch quad-HD touch screens, a stylus, and weigh 2.38 pounds.


Gaming Notebooks


Lenovo Legion Y520


There were also a number of new gaming laptops. Lenovo offered a new name for its gaming systems, calling it Legion, with the Y520 and Y720, both with Core i7 processors, but the first including a 4K display and GeForce GTX1080 graphics card.


Alienware 13


Dell showed off a number of new systems, including new versions of its Alienware 13, 15, and 17 laptops, with new processors and Nvidia graphics. In addition, the company showed its Inspiron 15 7000 series, which can include the latest processors, GeForce 1050 or 1050 Ti graphics, and full HD or 4K displays, starting at $799.


Samsung Notebook Odyssey


Samsung stepped into the market with its new Odyssey gaming notebook, which will come in 15.6 and 17.3-inch sizes.


Desktop Innovations


Dell Canvas


A number of companies showed new desktop ideas, but the most interesting was probably the Dell Canvas. This is a 27-inch QHD (2560-by-1440) display that can connect to any other PC and be used at an angle or flat on a desk for drawing or other work that involves a pen. It looked a bit like Microsoft’s larger Surface Studio, and will require the upcoming Windows 10 Creators Edition. Even higher end is a new UltraSharp 32 Ultra 8k monitor. And both LG and Samsung showed great looking curved monitors as well.


I also liked the look of the HP Envy Curved All-in-One 34, with a widescreen WQHD display. Meanwhile, Dell showed off new versions of its XPS and Precision all-in-ones.


Endless PCs


Finally, I was a bit intrigued by a company called Endless, which makes tiny computers with its own operating system (Endless OS), effectively a stripped-down Linux distribution with all the tools and documentation, including articles and video designed to help people learn how to program.


The company has been pushing the concept for a while, but is now entering the U.S. market, offering ARM-based configurations as well as a new model in a wood case, including ARM and Celeron versions. It’s a neat idea, particularly if you have a child who wants to learn to code on a real machine.



Michael J. Miller is chief information officer at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Miller, who was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine from 1991 to 2005, authors this blog for PC Magazine to share his thoughts on PC-related products. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Miller works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

http://www.pcmag.com/article/351352/new-processors-notebooks-and-desktops-highlight-cess-new

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