Due to us having to stay home more due to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague, we have had to rely on online services for our work, education and social life.
What this has meant is a stronger interest in the use of desktop and laptop regular computers that have more powerful silicon and run desktop operating systems. These purchases are justified more due to increased usage of these systems and a longer lifespan that they typically have. Let’s not forget that these computers typically have or are able to be connected to larger screens and better input devices suited for long usage sessions. As well, the money that people have saved by not going out or travelling is financing the purchase of these systems.
Short supply early in the pandemic
This high demand for newer computers has caused problems in the supply of these computers due to factories in China that supply parts or subassemblies for these systems shutting down during the first few months of this pandemic. Another factor that slowed down the supply of thee computers was the logistics associated with their parts being limited due to various restrictions on the transport modes and ports / airports to limit the spread of the virus. But once it became a known quantity and factories were able to adapt to the bug in a prophylactic manner, the backlog of computer orders was able to be fulfilled by the major vendors.
The steady rise of Chrome OS as a viable alternative
Google’s Chrome OS is coming to the fore in this context due to schools and workplaces implementing Chromebooks as a viable computing platform. This is due to it having a limited third-party software base, although it can run Android software, and its support for a secure computing environment. But even these machines are becoming more capable with them acquiring faster silicon and more memory.
But could this mean that more software providers, especially games studios, will have to write software for the Chromebook? Similarly will there be requirements to create software development environments that target many platforms including Chrome OS at once?
Laptops still hold their ground with ever-increasing computing power
There is a strong interest in the portable form factors like laptops because of their innate flexibility. As I have mentioned before when raising the issue of whether to buy a desktop or laptop computer in this era, this could suit household members who don’t have a dedicated workspace and end up using the dining table; people who prefer to use the computer to suit seasonal needs like outside or by the fire.
It is leading towards a significant trend for increased computing power in these computers, especially the ultraportable units like Ultrabooks or MacBook Air units. Around September, this meant the arrival of Intel’s Tiger Lake silicon with the Xe graphics infrastructure. Here the Xe integrated graphics processors were on a par with low-tier mobile dedicated graphics processors and could offer elementary games-grade graphics performance with a Full HD screen.
This has come about because the computer industry has found that over the past year that it is increasingly justifiable to invest in regular-computer platforms. That is thanks to these units being able to last and be relevant for the long term. It also has been underscored over the past ten years with laptops, all-in-ones and low-profile desktop computers being found to exhibit real computing power for primary workday use.
Continual post-pandemic interest in the regular computer
There is doubt whether the demand for regular computers will last long as more of us return to work or school. It may not be an issue for laptop users if your workplace or educational institution implements “bring-your-own-device” policies or they have bought the device for you to use during your tenure with them, and you are able to take your computer between there and back.
Similarly, some pundits may be seeing the increased and continual interest in remote working with this maintaining a need for the regular computer. This may be enforced by offices being required to work at reduced capacity to avoid the risk of contagion until we are sure this pandemic is totally under control. It is also along with businesses looking towards downsizing their office premises or moving away from inner-urban areas due to the reduced need for on-site staff.
Here, this could evolve towards the use of local “third places” like libraries and cafes as alternative workspaces with, perhaps, interest in local flexible shared-working facilities. Similarly, hotels are seeing renewed interest in offering their guestrooms for day use and pitching this towards remote workers. These will continue to exist as an alternative to working from home, especially where one wants to avoid home distractions.
This may be also augmented by a desire to “move away from the city” and only visit there for regular but infrequent workplace meetups, as those pundits in the real-estate game are underscoring. Here, you would have to have a decent Internet connection and a decent computer at your new country house to be able to work from there.
Again these will be about maintaining interest in the regular computer, especially laptop computers.
This is due to them being conducive for long working sessions thanks to properly-sized hardware keyboards and larger screens that these computers have. As well, most of these units will also appeal for use beyond work like playing powerful rich games, doing further learning or supporting entertainment needs.
Here, the laptop will maintain its space for those of us who like flexible working whether at or away from home.
As I have previously reported, computer-equipment manufacturers are waking up to the realisation that prosumers and content creators are a market segment to address. This group of users was heavily courted by Apple with the MacOS platform but Windows-based computer vendors are answering this need as a significant amount of advanced content-creation and content-presentation software is being written for or ported to Windows 10.
Here, the vendors are shoehorning computer specifications for some of their performance-focused computers towards the kind of independent content creator or content presenter who seeks their own work and manages their own IT. This can range from hobbyists to those of us who create online content to supplement other activities towards small-time professionals who get work “by the job”. It can also appeal to small-time organisations who create or present content but don’t necessarily have their own IT departments or have the same kind of IT department that big corporations have.
Lenovo answered this market with a range of prosumer computers in the form of the Creator Series which encompassed two laptops and a traditional tower-style desktop. Now Dell is coming up to the plate with their Creator Edition computer packages. Here, this approach is to have computers that are specifiied for content creation or content presentation but aren’t workstation-class machines identified with a distinct “Creator Edition” logo.
The first of these are the Creator Edition variants of the latest Dell XPS 17 desktop-replacement laptop. These have, for their horsepower, an Intel Core i7-10875H CPU and a discrete GPU in the form of the NVIDIA GeForce RTX-2060 with 6Gb display memory, based on the NVIDIA Max-Q mobile graphics approach. This will run RTX Studio graphics drivers that are tuned for content-professional use and will be part of the RTX Studio program that NVIDIA runs for content professionals.
The display used in these packages is a 17” 4K UHD touch display that is rated for 100% Adobe RGB colour accuracy. The storage capacity on these computers is 1 Terabyte in the form of a solid-state disk. The only difference between the two packages is that the cheaper variant will run with 16Gb system RAM and the premium variant having 32Gb system RAM.
Dell is also offering a Creator Edition variant of its XPS-branded desktop computer products. This will be in the form of a traditional tower-style desktop computer but is equipped with the latest Intel Core i9 CPU, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 Super graphics card and able to be specced with RAM up to 64Gb and storage of up to 2Tb. It has all the expandability of a traditional form-factor desktop computer, something that would come in handy for project studios where special audio and video interface cards come in to play.
What is being shown up here is that computer manufacturers are recognising the content-creator and prosumer market segment who wants affordable but decent hardware that can do the job. It will be interesting to see who else of the large computer manufacturers will come up to the plate and have a product range courting the content creators and prosumers.
Whether to buy a desktop computer like these gaming rigs…
Thanks to the COVID-19 plague, we are being encouraged if not required by law to stay at home to limit the spread of this disease.
This has led to us using regular desktop and laptop computers that run Windows, MacOS or desktop Linux at home more frequently for work, education, communications and pleasure. Think of those many Zoom or Skype videoconferences you have been making very lately. This may even cause some of us to purchase a new desktop or laptop computer or upgrade an existing one that is long in the tooth.
or a low-profile NUC computer like this Intel Skull Canyon…
The question that will come about more frequently in this era is whether we should buy desktop computers or laptop computers. The desktop computers are appearing in newer and different form factors like “all-in-one” computers where the computing power is part of the display; or three-piece systems that now use a low-profile system unit like the Intel “NUC” boxes. This is while the highly-portable laptop computers appear in the traditional “clamshell” form or a 2-in-1 convertible that folds over to become a tablet.
or something like the Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one or Apple iMac …
There is also the fact that high-performance computers like gaming rigs or workstations are appearing in low-profile or “all-in-one” desktop form, or in laptop form. This is so you can think of having higher performance computing in an aesthetically-pleasing or portable form factor.
As far as a regular computer’s durability and longevity is concerned, it is becoming more plausible for these systems to last for many years compared to a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet. This is furthered by some people gaining more mileage from these computers by doing things like “upsizing” their computer’s RAM memory or storage to suit newer expectations. Or they end up using external or portable USB hard disks and SSDs or network-attached storage systems as a data-offload solution.
or a laptop like the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop …
But the question that can come about is whether a desktop or a laptop is a more relevant computer purchase at this time.
It is more so as we see schools of thought develop concerning the purchase of portable computing technology like laptop computers, smartphones and tablets. Here, some of these schools of thought may downplay the need to invest heavily in such technology because it is perceived as “something to impress others with” when out and about in a similar vein to cars, bikes or fashion. This is with us spending more time cocooned within our homes thanks to this virus therefore driving a preference for us to lead a simple contemplative homespun life.
A desktop computer may be seen as being more relevant in the short term due to us not moving around. It may be more real where there is the expectation to use only one particular workspace for your computing activities and may be augmented by the fact that you use other complementary devices like mobile-platform tablets or gaming consoles for different activities away from the workspace.
.. or a 2-in-1 like this Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 convertible
Some users who chase high performance at all costs may simply state that a desktop computer, preferably the traditional “tower-style” unit, is the way to go. It is due to a desktop form-factor offering increased performance at a cheaper cost or being easily upgradeable or customisable. This would be preferred by the core gamers who value their custom-built gaming rigs. As well, those of us who are willing to throw down money on the latest CPU and graphics-infrastructure silicon as soon as Intel, AMD or NVIDIA release it would go for the traditional easy-to-upgrade desktop computer.
Laptop and Notebook Computers
Or a laptop or notebook computer, including a 2-in-1 convertible, can be about a long-term view of us coming out of the crisis and being able to get out and about. Here it may be about travelling again or working away from home whether that be your workplace’s office or a “secondary office” that is your favourite cafe.
In the short term, it can also be about the idea of using a highly-portable computer that can be taken around the house or stored away quickly when not in use. This can be driven by seasonal wishes like wanting to use your computer by the fire during winter or outside on the balcony or in the garden during summer.
Let’s not forget that a small home may be about not having a dedicated desk for your workspace and you have to use a dining table or coffee table for that purpose. Similarly you may use a desk types that can be closed up when not in use like a roll-top or slant-top desk or has significant storage space and you could store your laptop computer there.
Or you could take that laptop in to a lounge area to have that casual videoconference between family and friends using something like Zoom or Skype, perhaps hooking it up to the large TV for that purpose.
The transportability issue weighs more in the laptop’s favour because you carrywith the screen, keyboard and pointing device. one piece of equipment that is essentially your useable computer system
A recent trend that has affected laptop-computer use is to create a primary workspace that is equipped with a large display, a full-size keyboard and mouse along with other peripherals. These would be connected to your laptop whether directly or through a USB-connected dock (expansion module). You may follow this path when you want to work in a particular primary location but be flexible to move around for your regular-computing needs.
When it comes to choosing that next regular computer during this time, it is important to think of what form-factor really suits your needs both in the short term and the long term. This includes whether you see the possibility of frequently evolving your computer system to suit newer needs or whether you value portability or affordable performance.
Increasingly, every computer manufacturer is offering one or more product ranges in their regular-computer lineups that is focused towards high-performance personal computing. This is alongside their regular-computer product ranges that are focused towards ordinary computing tasks like word-processing, presentations, Web browsing and multimedia consumption.
What is a performance-focused computer
A performance-focused computer is a computer, typically a regular computer that runs a desktop operating system, that is engineered for high performance at demanding computer tasks. This is compared to ordinary computers which are engineered to work with the typical workload of computing tasks that most of us do in a manner that is expected for today’s standards.
Such computers will have highly-powerful main CPU and graphics processor chips along with copious amounts of RAM memory that runs at high speed. The storage devices, whether mechanical hard disk or solid-state, will be optimised to load and save lots of data very quickly. The peripheral-interface and network-interface chipsets in these systems will typically be engineered for high throughput between the computer and the connected peripherals or networks.
How did these evolve?
An example of those gaming-rig desktop computers
Computer enthusiasts who were into games, multimedia, CAD, statistics or similar demanding tasks would improve their computers for higher performance. This is to provide smoother gameplay, quicker graphics rendering or quicker calculations.
It was part of effective competition by the various computer manufacturers to achieve increasingly-powerful personal computer products. This goal came about due to the acceptance of graphical user interfaces and graphics-rich computing for business and pleasure during the 1980s and 1990s.
For example, games enthusiasts would work on building the fastest games-focused computers that were commonly described as gaming rigs. This was like motor enthusiasts engaging in “souping up” or tuning their cars to become high-performance “hot-rods” or “street machines”.
As well, the computer software focused towards computer graphics, statistics, multimedia and allied fields and was used as part of day-to-day work became increasingly sophisticated. This required the computers to work under strenuous loads and manufacturers had to design workstation computers to handle these workloads.
Previously the perfornamce-focused computer was offered as the traditional “three-piece” system with a dedicated system unit that housed the “brains” of the computer i.e. the main CPU processor, graphics infrastructure, RAM memory and data storage while the keyboard, pointing device and display were separate units connected to this device. Now this class of computer is evolving towards portable laptop computers and “all-in-one” computers that have the “brains” of the system and the display in the same box, leading towards user-friendly setups for this kind of computing.
In the case of laptops, the performance-focused models came about in the form of “multimedia laptops” which were focused towards a wide range of tasks involving creating or consuming multimedia content. These typically had dedicated graphics infrastructure and, in some cases, high-performance sound infrastructure; along with high-performance processors, generous RAM and high-speed hard disks. Now they are in the form of gaming laptops, prosumer / content-creator laptops and mobile workstations.
Performance computer types
These computers don’t just have high-speed CPUs, plenty of high-speed RAM and dedicated graphics infrastructure. Here, the combination of components installed in these computers is focused towards quick response during games, especially action-type games with increased player interaction with the characters of the game.
Initially these computers were aggressively styled in a similar manner to hot-rod cars in order to appeal to the core gaming community. But today most manufacturers are styling the computers in a similar manner to their regular mainstream laptop products. Here this practice is very similar to how most vehicle builders are offering their performance-tuned variants of common passenger cars like the Mini Cooper S or the Holden Monaro.
They can work well for most graphics or multimedia software but the software vendors don’t count on these computers delivering the high-performance that their software would need to work. It is because most of this software is required to engage in processes that are of a hands-off nature like “joining” desired parts of a film clip in to a cohesive sequence.
Prosumer / content-creator computers
These prosumer computers like the Lenovo Creator family have the high-speed silicon infrastructure optimised to quickly handle process-driven work with minimal changes to whatever appears on the screen. In some cases, they would be “certified” by consumer / hobbyist / entry-level business graphics and multimedia software vendors to perform at their best.
The manufacturers who make these computers are offering them as an affordable gap-filler between their gaming computers and the workstations, especially for those of us who don’t have the budget to hire a specialist IT team.
Here, they are pitched at hobbyists, bloggers and freelance content creators who want to create multimedia content and be sure of optimum performance without having to pay through the nose for a high-specification workstation computer. This is because most of the software pitched at this user class doesn’t have high expectations compared to the software offered to larger businesses.
The workstation computer is typically focused towards larger businesses where the use of demanding software is part of a person’s daily job. These have very high performance silicon for the main system and the graphics infrastructure that is optimised for these high workloads.
Dell Precision M2800 – a mobile workstation that also bridges performance and portability
These would be certified by the likes of Autodesk to work with highly-demanding software like AutoCAD at their best. They also have enterprise-focused features like manageability or high-security features with such features being pitched towards IT managers optimising them towards their company’s needs.
What does it mean for a high-performance computer to be certified?
For a high-performance computer, especially a workstation, to be “certified” by a software vendor to work with their software, the computer design has to pass tests that the vendor performs regarding its reliability and performance with their software. It brings an express guarantee of compatibility, reliability and performance regarding the computer’s ability to run the software in question and the software vendor is more likely to support users who are using these certified computers.
A computer that isn’t certified to work with the highly-demanding software in question can run the software but the user cannot expect it to run reliably for their day-to-day tasks. Some of these vendors may not even provide full support for the software running on these systems.
Which kind of high-performance computer would suit different users
People who are focusing on high-performance gaming including eSports would be best to stick with gaming computers as their computer of choice. Here, they are not expecting more than quick response from their game’s characters. The other high-performance computer types will also be able to work well with games, which can allow those who use these systems for their work to use them for rest and relaxation with their favourite “regular-computer” game.
Often it is recommended for a student to invest in a high-performance computer if their coursework involves the use of demanding software associated with their target profession like CAD or statistics packages. But there is the factor that a student may not be showing interest in completing the course they initially intend to complete and following on with the career associated with the demanding software.
It may be better for them to use a gaming computer or a content-creator / prosumer computer that can run the software that is part of their coursework. Similarly a prior-generation workstation computer refurbished by computer technicians can also suit their needs. This is more so if the software is an entry-level class of program that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of something one would use as part of their duties. These software vendors license this software to students at relatively-cheap prices while they are studying their courses.
A photo or video hobbyist or similar content creator could get by with a gaming computer if they are doing their work on an ad-hoc basis. But if they do this kind of work more frequently, they could get by with a prosumer / content-creator machine especially if they use the hobbyist / entry-level business-grade content creation software.
A workstation would be considered of value for those of us who are intending to use the demanding software as a regular part of our primary paid work. If you work for yourself, you may find it ideal to omit the manageability features from these systems or allow these features to work with a computer vendor that provides the full-on support that takes advantage of the features.
External grpahics modules like the Akitio Node can allow a user to use fit-for-purpose graphics cards with their existing Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptop, all-in-one or low-profile computer
If the computer in question has the ability to be upgraded for better performance, you may head towards the more advanced performance levels easily without throwing away your existing system. This is exemplified by traditional desktops equipped with standard-form user-replaceable display cards and user-upgradeable CPUs and RAM chips, or laptops and “all-in-one” computers equipped with Thunderbolt 3 ports so they can work with “card-cage” external graphics modules that accept desktop-grade display cards.
Increasingly computer manufacturers are identifying out and differentiating their lineups of high-performance computer systems pitched for games and advanced computing tasks. Here, you need to be able to choose the right high-performance computer system to suit your task that demands that kind of power.
Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)
Intel have used the Consumer Electronics Show 2018 to premiere a system-on-chip that is to affect how portable and small-form-factor computers will perform.
This chip, part of the 8th generation of Intel CPUs contains an 8th Generation Core i5 or i7 CPU along with an AMD Radeon RX Vega M discrete graphics processor and an Intel HD 630 integrated graphics processor.
It is positioned in the Intel 8th Generation processor lineup which is like this:
G-Series processors that are also equipped with the above-mentioned Radeon RX Vega M graphics processors. These are pitched as a performance option which would appeal to most gamers, virtual-reality / augmented-reality enthusiasts and content creators who want a machine with that bit of “pep” when it comes to graphics.
H-Series processors which are pitched towards those who want the highest performance and would rely on a dedicated graphics processor. Here, they would apply to the gaming rigs and workstations where the goal is for full-on performance.
What is special about these Intel processors
These Intel processors place the Core CPU and the AMD GPU on the same die along with a stack of dedicated graphics RAM and they are linked using the EMIB (Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge). This arrangement provides a short link between each component to provide for quick data transfer. There is also a power-optimised design to allow for efficient power use by all the components on the chip.
There are two variants of the graphics subsystem available for the chipset known as the GL and the GH. The GL (Graphics Low) variant is optimised with less than 65 watts power draw and is pitched towards “thin-and-light” laptops and the like. The GH (Graphics High) variant is a higher-performance variant that draws less than 100 watts of power and only comes with the Core i7 CPU. Here, it is pitched towards the small-form-factor desktops, all-in-ones and similar computers that normally work from a constant power supply.
All that horsepower in those dies can allow the computer to paint an image across nine display devices at once. The fact that there is an integrated graphics processor on board can allow these “system-on-chip” setups to engage in “performance / economy” switching to maximise power efficiency.
Where are they being premiered in?
The first two variants are the Core i7-8809G CPU with Radeon RX Vega M GH for performance and the Core i7-8705G CPU with Radeon RX Vega M GL as the value option.
These are being released to go with the the Hades Canyon series of “Next Unit Of Computing” small-form-factor computers. Both of these computers are available as a kit which can support 32Gb (2 x 16Gb) DDR4 RAM and 2 M2-compliant solid-state drives. These have plenty of USB connections including 2 Thunderbolt-3 sockets and can connect to your home network via one of two Gigabit Ethernet sockets or 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
What kind of impact do I see these Intel chips have on computer design?
One class of computer that will definitely benefit will be the portable computers that most of us will consider purchasing. The computing press see a benefit when it comes to “enthusiast-class” laptops where they will benefit from a slimmer chassis along with the ability to run in a quiet and cool manner yet deliver the performance they are known for. It will also lead to longer battery runtimes like nine hours even while engaging in high-performance work.
But I see computer manufacturers deploying these CPU/GPU chipsets as the standard expectation for the mainstream 13”-15” home or business laptops that are their “bread and butter” products. Typically these machines have a larger chassis than the ultraportables and are valued by most users for factors like durability, connectivity and ability to choose different configuration options. Here, the manufacturers can design in larger battery packs or extra peripherals like multiple storage devices or optical drives or even improve how these computers sound by using larger speakers.
Let’s not forget that the computer manufacturers could also offer in their ultraportable lineup a run of computer products that are thin and light yet powerful.
As far as sessile computers are concerned, I would see that ultra-small “next unit of computing” units benefit along with the all-in-ones that have the computing electronics part of the screen. Other traditional desktop computers that could also benefit include those that are the same size and shape as typical consumer-electronics devices.
I would see Intel’s 8th-generation “Coffee Lake” G-series CPU/GPU hybrid chip being something that offers greater potential for how the personal computer is designed without losing the desire for more computing power.
I am writing up a series of articles about the trends that have been put forward at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The first article in this series covers all of the trends affecting personal computers.
Most manufacturers were exhibiting refreshed versions of their product ranges. This is where the computers were being equipped with up-to-date chipsets and had their RAM, storage and other expectations brought up to date.
the use of Intel Kaby Lake processors for the computers’ horsepower
solid-state storage capacity in the order of up to 1 Terabyte
RAM capacity in the order of up to 16Gb
at least one USB Type-C socket on mainstream units with Thunderbolt 3 on premium units and / or ultraportables using just USB-C connections with some having 2 or more of these connectors
More of this year’s laptop computers will be equipped with these USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 sockets
Wi-Fi connectivity being 802.11ac multi-band with MU-MIMO operation
Another factor worth noticing is the increase in detachable or convertible “2-in-1” computers being offered by most, if not all, of the manufacturers; along with highly-stylish clamshell ultraportable computers. This class of computer is being brought on thanks to Microsoft’s Surface range of computers with some of of the computers in these classes also being about performance. The manufacturers are even offering a range of these “2-in-1” computers targeted towards business users with the security, manageability, durability and productivity features that this use case demands.
More of these convertibles and detachable 2-in-1 computers will appear in manufacturers’ product ranges
Nearly every manufacturer had presented at least one high-performance gaming laptop with the Intel Core i7 processor, at least 16Gb RAM and 128Gb solid-state storage, dedicated graphics chipset. Most of these computers are even equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connection to allow for use with external graphics docks, considered as a way for core gamers to “soup up” these machines for higher gaming acumen.
Lenovo had refreshed most of their laptop range, especially the ThinkPad business range. Here, this is a product range that makes no distinction between the small-business/SOHO user class where a few of these computers are managed and the large-business/government user class where you are talking of a large fleet of computers handling highly-sensitive data.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon has been refreshed to newer expectations
The new ThinkPads come in the form of a newer ThinkPad Yoga business convertible, a refreshed ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook and a refreshed ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible. For example, the ThinkPad Yoga 370 has the 13.3” Full HD screen, the classic ThinkPad TrackPoint button as a navigation option but is driven by Intel Kaby Lake horsepower. This machine can be specified up to 16Gb RAM and 1Tb solid-state storage and has a Thunderbolt 3 connection along with 2 USB 3.0 ports. Lenovo even designed in protection circuitry for the USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 port to protect the ThinkPad against those dodgy non-compliant USB-C cables and chargers. Like the rest of the new ThinkPad bunch, this computer comes with the Windows 10 Signature Edition software image which is about being free of the bloatware that fills most of today’s laptop computers. The computer will set you back US$1264.
Other ThinkPads will also come with either a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connection depending on their position in the model range. For example the T470 family and the T570 family will be equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connections. Let’s not forget how the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Yoga have been refreshed. The Carbon implements horsepower in the Intel Kaby Lake Core i family, a 14” Quad HD display, 16Gb RAM and 1Tb SSD storage, and an expected battery runtime of 15 hours along with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. The X1 Yoga has been given the similar treatment with similar RAM and secondary-storage capacity but can be outfitted with an LTE-A wireless-broadband modem as an option.
Lenovo Legion Y720 gaming laptop with Dolby Atmos sound
Gamers can relish in the fact that Lenovo has premiered the Legion range of affordable high-performance gaming laptops. The Legion Y720 is the first of its kind to be equipped with Dolby Atmos sound. The Y520 has a Full HD IPS screen driven by NVIDIA GeForce GTX1050Ti dedicated graphics chipset, the choice of an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM and hard disk storage between 500Gb and 1Tb or solid-state storage between 128Gb and 512Gb, and network connectivity in the form of 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. Peripheral connectivity is in the form of 1 x USB-C, 2 x USB 3.0 and 1 x USB 2.0 and an audio jack, with this computer asking for at least US$900. The better Y720, along with Dolby Atmos, has a bright IPS screen either as a Full HD or 4K resolution and driven by NVIDIA GeForce GTX1060 graphics chipset with 6Gb display memory. Lenovo was also offering a MIIX 720 creative-arts mobile workstation that eats at the Apple MacBook Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro lineup.
Dell XPS 15 ultraportable in a 15″ size
Dell had refreshed the XPS 13 lineup of Ultrabooks, known for offering the right combination of features, durability, comfort and price. But they also offered a convertible 2-in-1 variant of the XPS 13, again offering that right combination of features, durability, comfort and price. They also released the XPS 15 which is the smallest 15,6” laptop with Intel Kaby Lake processors, NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics and a fingerprint reader.
Dell XPS 27 all-in-one computer with best bass response in its class
The XPS and Precision all-in-one desktop computers have had their sound quality improved rather than having it as an afterthought. This has led to audio quality from the XPS 27 and the Precision business equivalent being equivalent to that of a soundbar, thanks to the use of 10 speakers working at 50 watts per channel, including two downward-firing speakers to make the work surface augment the bass. Two passive radiators also augment the system’s bass response. Both have a 4K UHD touchscreen while the Precision certified workstation can work with AMD Radeon graphics and Intel Xeon CPUs.
Like Lenovo, Dell had exhibited their business-grade computers at a trade fair typically associated with goods targeted at the consumer. This could underscore realities like people who use business-tier computers for “work-home” use including those of us who are running a business or practising a profession from our homes. Dell have been on a good wicket here because of themselves selling computers direct to the public and to business users for a long time.
Here, Dell had refreshed their XPS, Inspiron, Optiflex, Latitude and Precision computer lineups with new expectations. They would come with Kaby Lake horsepower under the bonnet, USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connectivity depending on the unit along with newer dedicated-graphics options from NVIDIA or AMD. The business machines would be equipped with Intel vPro manageability features to work with business-computer management software.
Dell Latitude 5285 business detachable 2-in-1 – the most secure of its class
In the case of business computers, Dell had underscored a desire to integrate the aesthetics of consumer-tier ultraportable computers with the security, manageability and productivity wishes that the business community crave for. For example, the latest Latitude Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s show the looks but come up with the goods as a business “axe” computer. One of the systems in the Latitude lineup is the Latitude 7285 detachable 2-in-1s which implement WiTricity wireless charging and WiGig docking while the Latitude 5285 detachable 2-in-1 sells on a highly-strong security platform with Dell-developed data-protection / endpoint-protection software and the option for a fingerprint reader or smartcard reader.
Samsung had shown some Windows 10 tablets but they also presented the Notebook Odyssey gaming laptop, available as a 15” variant or a 17” higher-performing variant. Both of these implement “dual-storage” with a solid-state drive in the order of 256Gb for the 15” variant or 512Gb for the 17” variant along with a 1Tb traditional hard disk. RAM is in the order of 32Gb or 64Gb for the 17” variant while these are driven by Intel Core i7 CPUs. Graphics is looked after by NVIDIA GTX dedicated GPU with 2Gb or 4Gb display memory but the 17” variant also has a Thunderbolt 3 connection for external graphics units.
There is also the Notebook 9 which implements a 15” HD display driven by NVIDIA 940MX graphics processor and Core i7 processor. Of note, the Notebook 9 implements a Windows Hello fingerprint reader along with a USB-C port which is its power socket thanks to USB Power Delivery.
HP was not silent but had fielded the Spectre x360 15” convertible Ultrabook, one of the few 15” portable computers that can be a tablet or laptop. It is driven by Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake horsepower and has the quota of 16Gb RAM and either a 256Gb or 512Gb solid-state storage. The 15” 4K IPS screen is driven by an NVIDIA GeForce 940MX graphics processor with 2Gb display memory, but the sound-reproduction has been tuned by Bang & Olufsen while there is an HP-designed noise-cancelling microphone array. The Webcam is an HP infra-red type which is Windows Hello compatible for facial recognition login. Connectivity is in the form of an HDMI socket, 1 USB-C socket, 1 Thunderbolt 3 socket, 1 traditional USB Type-A socket and an SD-card drive. Expect this convertible’s battery to run for 12 hours and be ready to go after 90 minutes of quick charging. The expected price is US$1299 for the 256Gb variant and US$1499 for the 512Gb variant.
Another interesting trend highlighted at CES 2017 has been an increase in the number of “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers. This is thanks to use cases like augmented-reality / virtual-reality gaming and an emphasis on aesthetics for desktop-based computing and has been brought about by the likes of the Intel Skull Canyon NUC. One of these was a range offered by Elitegroup with computers powered by Intel Braswell, Apollo Lake and Kaby Lake processors.
The latest Zotac Mini PC that is the hub of a “hi-fi” approach to computing
But Zotac approached the NUC trend in a manner not dissimilar to the “micro component” hi-fi systems, especially some of the premium offerings that emerged from Japan through the early 80s. These premium “micro-component” systems offered for their amplification needs a control amplifier and a power amplifier so as to provide more power output, along with their source components being a tuner and a cassette deck. In the case of Zotac, they offered the C-Series NUC midget computer which could be powered through its USB-C port thanks to USB Power Delivery. It came with the Intel Kaby Lake processors, NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics, a Thunderbolt 3 connector along with a few other features. The C-Series even has corporate manageability and security abilities such as Intel vPro and AMT system management along with the UNITE secure conferencing feature.
But Zotac offered an external “card-cage” graphics dock with a PCI Express x 16 expansion slot for graphics cards, 3 standard USB 3.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port supporting QuickCharge, but being able to supply power to the host computer via the Thunderbolt 3 port using USB Power Delivery. The graphics module’s power supply has a power budget of 400 watts and the module is known to be compatible with NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards. They even offered their own NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Mini graphics card as a partner card for this dock.
The goal here was to supply a two-piece high-performance computer setup with a system unit and a module that can serve as its graphics subsystem and power supply. But users still had the ability to install better equipment when they felt like it. Or the graphics module could be purposed to provide extra graphics horsepower to portable, “all-in-one” and other small computers that are Thunderbolt-3-equipped as well as supplying necessary power through this port to host computers that honour USB Power Delivery.
Even though Samsung had suffered a deep blow with the exploding Galaxy Note 7 phablets, the mobile-computing platform has not died yet. It is although we may be hanging on to our smartphones for longer than the typical two-year contract period in order to save money.
At the moment, the phones that are being given an airing are the mid-tier Android smartphones like the Huawei Honor 6X with a dual camera and the ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom which is one of the first to have an optical zoom on the rear camera’s lens.
Samsung launched their Galaxy A3 and A5 Android smartphones which are still positioned in the mid-tier segment. This is while Sony came to the fore with the XPeria X2 premium smartphone which has a 5.5” 4K display and 5Gb RAM, just above the baseline expectations for RAM capacity in a desktop computer.
LG had launched a range of low-tier Android smartphones that are equipped with user-replaceable batteries. The K3 is a compact unit with a 4.5” display while the K4 comes with the standard 5” display. There is the K8 5” selfie smartphone which has a highly-optimised front camera for taking those selfies to appear on Instagram or Facebook. Then LG brought the 13 megapixel camera featured in the G series lineup to the K10 5.3” smartphone. They also offered a Stylus 3 phablet with an integrated fingerprint scanner.
The next in the series will cover high-resolution monitors, computer accessories and the home network including the distributed-WiFi trend.
Just lately, as more premium and performance-grade laptops are being equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connection, the external graphics modules, also known as graphics docks or graphics docking stations, are starting to trickle out on to the market as a performance-boosting accessory for these computers.
The Thunderbolt 3 connection, which uses the USB Type-C plug and socket, is able to provide a throughput similar to a PCI-Express card bus and has put forward a method of improving a laptop’s, all-in-one’s or small-form-factor computer’s graphics ability. This is being facilitated using the external graphics modules or docks that house graphics processors in the external boxes and link these to the host computer using the above connection. What it will mean is that these computers can benefit from desktop-grade or performance-grade graphics without the need to heavily modify them and, in the case of portable computers, can allow for “performance” graphics to be enjoyed at home or in the office while you have battery-conserving baseline graphics on the road,
Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 – can benefit from better graphics thanks to Thunderbolt 3 and an external graphics module
The devices come in two classes:
Integrated graphics chipset (Acer Graphics Dock) – devices of this class have a hardwired graphics chipset similar to what is implemented in an all-in-one or small-form-factor computer.
Card cage (Razer Core, Akitio Node) – These devices are simply a housing where you can install a PCI-Express desktop graphics card of your choice. They have a power supply and interface circuitry to present the desktop graphics card to the host computer via a Thunderbolt 3 connection.
All these devices will have their own video outputs but will yield what the high-performance graphics chipset provides through the host computer’s integral screen, the video outputs integrated with the host computer as well as their own video outputs. This is in contrast to what used to happen with desktop computers where the video outputs associated with the integrated graphics chipset became useless when you installed a graphics card in these computers.
I have read a few early reviews for the first generation of graphics modules and Thunderbolt-3 laptops. One of these was Acer’s integrated graphics module kitted out with a NVIDIA GTX960M GPU, known to be a modest desktop performer but its mobile equivalent is considered top-shelf for laptop applications. This was ran alongside an Acer TravelMate P658 and an Acer Aspire Switch 12S, with it providing as best as the graphics would allow but highlighting where the weakness was, which was the mobile-optimised Intel Core M processors in the Switch 12S convertible.
Simplified plug-in expansion for all computers
The Intel Skull Canyon NUC can easily be “hotted up” with better graphics when coupled with an external graphics module
Another example was a manufacturer’s blog post about using their “card-cage” graphics dock with one of the Intel Skull Canyon “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers which was equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connection. This showed how the computer increased in graphics performance once teamed with the different graphics cards installed in that “card-cage” module.
It opened up the idea of using an “AV system” approach for enhancing small-form-factor and integrated computers. This is where you connect extra modules to these computers to increase their performance just like you would connect a better CD player or turntable or substitute an existing amplifier for something more powerful or plug in some better speakers if you wanted to improve your hi-fi system’s sound quality.
This usage case would earn its keep with an “all-in-one” computer which has the integrated monitor, the aforementioned “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers or simply a low-profile desktop computer that wouldn’t accommodate high-performance graphics cards.
Software and performance issues can be a real stumbling block
What I had come across from the material I had read was that as long as the host computer had the latest version of the operating system, the latest BIOS and other firmware to support graphics via Thunderbolt 3, and the latest drivers to support this functionality then it can perform at its best. As well, the weakest link can affect the overall performance of the system, which can apply to various mobile system-on-chip chipsets tuned primarily to run cool and allow for a slim lightweight computer that can run on its own batteries for a long time.
At the moment, this product class is still not mature and there will be issues with compatibility and performance with the various computers and external graphics modules.
As well, not all graphics cards will work with every “card-cage” graphics module. This can be due to high-end desktop graphics cards drawing more current than the graphics module can supply, something that can be of concern with lower-end modules that have weaker power supplies, or software issues associated with cards that aren’t from the popular NVIDIA or AMD games-focused lineups. You may have to check with the graphics module’s vendor or the graphics card’s vendor for newer software or firmware to be assured of this compatibility.
Multiple GPUs – a possible reality
A situation that may have to be investigated as more of these products arrive is the concurrent use of multiple graphics processors in the same computer system no matter the interface or vendor. The ability to daisy-chain 6 Thunderbolt-3 devices on the same Thunderbolt-3 connection, along with premium desktop motherboards sporting this kind of connection along with their PCI-Express expansion slots, will make the concept become attractive and easy to implement. Similarly, some vendors could start offering Thunderbolt-3 expansion cards that plug in to existing motherboards’ PCI-Express expansion slots to give existing desktop PCs this functionality.
Here, the goal would be to allow multiple GPUs from different vendors to work together to increase graphics performance for high-end games or multimedia-production tasks like video transcoding or rendering of video or animation projects. Or it could be about improving the performance and efficiency of a multiple-display setup by allocating particular graphics processors to particular displays, something that would benefit larger setups with many screens and, in some cases, different resolutions.
Highly-portable gaming setups being highlighted as a use case
A usage class that was always put forward for these external graphics modules was the teenage games enthusiast who is studying at senior secondary school and is ready to study at university. Here, the usage case underscored the situation where they could be living in student accommodation like a college dorm / residence hall or be living in a share-house with other students.
The application focuses on the use of a laptop computer that can be taken around the campus but be connected to one of these modules when the student is at their home. I would add to this the ability to carry the graphics module between their room and the main lounge area in their home so that they could play their games on the bigger TV screen in that area. This is due to the device being relatively compact and lightweight compared to most desktop computers.
That same application can cover people who are living in accommodation associated with their job and this is likely to change frequently as they answer different work placements. An example of this would be people whose work is frequently away from home for significant amounts of time like those who work on ships, oil rigs or mines. Here, some of these workers may be using their laptop that they use as part of their work during their shift where applicable such as on a ship’s bridge, but use it as a personal entertainment machine in their cabin or the mess room while they are off-shift.
What could be seen more of these devices
Once the external graphics modules mature as a device class, they could end up moving towards two or three classes of device.
One of these would be the integrated modules with graphics chipsets considered modest for desktop use but premium for laptop use. The expansion abilities that these may offer could be in the form of a few extra USB connections, an SD card reader and / or a higher-grade sound module. Perhaps, they may come with an optical drive of some sort. Some manufacturers may offer integrated modules with higher-performance graphics chipsets along with more connections for those of us who want to pay a premium for extra performance and connectivity. These would be pitched towards people who want that bit more “pep” out of their highly-portable or compact computer that has integrated graphics.
Similarly, it could be feasible to offer larger-screen monitors which have discrete graphics chipsets integrated in them. They could also have the extra USB connections and / or secondary storage options, courting those users who are thinking of a primary workspace for their portable computer while desiring higher-performance graphics.
The card-cage variants could open up a class of device that has room for one or two graphics cards and, perhaps, sound cards or functionality-expansion cards. In some cases, this class of device could also offer connectivity and installation options for user-installable storage devices, along with extra sockets for other peripherals. This class of device could, again, appeal to those of us who want more out of the highly-compact computer they started with or that high-performance laptop rather than using a traditional desktop computer for high-performance computing.
Portable or highly-compact computers as a package
Manufacturers could offer laptops, all-in-one and other highly-compact or highly-portable computers that are part of matched-equipment packages where they offer one or more external graphics modules as a deal-maker option or as part of the package. These could differ by graphics chipset and by functionality such as external-equipment connectivity or integrated fixed or removable storage options.
This is in a similar vein to what has happened in the hi-fi trade since the 1970s where manufacturers were offering matched-equipment packages from their lineup of hi-fi components. Here they were able to allow, for example, multiple packages to have the same tape deck, turntable or CD player while each of the package was differentiated with increasingly-powerful amplifiers or receivers driving speakers that had differing levels of audio performance and cabinet size. It still was feasible to offer better and more capable source components with the more expensive packages or allow such devices to be offered as a way to make the perfect deal.
Expect that as more computers equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connection come on the market the external graphics module will become a simplified method of improving these computers’ graphic performance. It will be seen as a way for allowing highly-compact or highly-portable computers to benefit from high-performance graphics at some point in their life, something that this class of computer wouldn’t be able to normally do.
InFocus, known for their range of value-priced projectors, had previously released the Kangaroo mini-PC which is about the size of a smartphone. But like most of the “Next Unit Of Computing” devices which represent the ultra-small “fixed-location” computers, this model used an Intel Atom CPU, 2Gb RAM and up to 32Gb solid-state storage. This made people think of them as being “toys” rather than tools.
But InFocus raised the game for this series of computers by offering the Kangaroo Plus “deluxe” version of their small-form-factor computer. Here, this is equipped with 64Gb of data storage capacity and 4Gb RAM which is considered iy most computer users to be a realistic amount of baseline memory. It was offered in response to customers expressing a need for real capacities on both the “primary-storage” RAM and the non-volatile secondary storage.
There is still the ability to use an Apple iPad as the display and input surface for the InFocus Kangaroo through the use of a special cable and an iOS app. It also works with the Kangaroo Dock expansion module so you can safely upgrade your existing Kangaroo pocket computer to the bigger-capacity model without dumping that accessory.
Could this be a sign of hope for small-form-factor desktop computers to have specifications that can allow for most elementary desktop uses? Would this also be a sign that these computers could end up being specified as part of a standard operating environment?
This encompasses personal computing systems ranging from desktop and laptop computers that run “regular” or “traditional” computer operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Google ChromeOS to smartphones and tablets that run a mobile operating system typically Android. Apple hasn’t been showing their equipment at CES because of the way they see themselves as their own unit.
The key trends
Windows 10 – influences how this year’s computers are being designed
Microsoft Windows 10 and the Intel Skylake processor / chipset family have become established as far as personal computing system is concerned. This has led to most of the manufacturers refreshing their desktop and laptop product lines to take advantage of the new microarchitecture and operating system with what it offers. It doesn’t matter whether you use these computers for work or play; or at home, the office or on the road.
Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year’s computers
Feature that are being made available include the USB 3.1 Type-C connector which offers data transfer and laptop power on one cable, Thunderbolt 3 which uses the USB Type-C cable as an effective way to provide PCI-Express data throughput along with mobile-optimised design based around reduced heat output and reduced power demands.
This has led to a situation where most of the manufacturers have engaged in a race to see who is the first with the lightest 15” laptop and the most svelte 13” 2-in-1 convertible or detachable computer. The latter goal has been brought on because of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book 2-in-1s as something to emulate or beat where these systems are being offered as a credible alternative to the Apple MacBook lineup. This has been brought about because of the Intel Skylake processor family offering more options for mobile-focused processors that can lead to fanless cooling and improved battery runtime. The latter benefit benefits designers due to the ability to supply a smaller battery yet yield the same runtime.
The display is being seen as a tool to differentiate the premium-grade laptops. This is based on an increasing number of laptops and 2-in-1s having a 4K ultra-high-resolution display along with some manufacturers offering OLED displays as an option in their premium models. From my personal experience with my Samsung Galaxy Note phones and their AMOLED displays, I have noticed that photos and videos do come across more vividly due to the improved contrast that these displays offer. This could mean that the OLED-equipped laptops could woo photographers and video editors away from the Apple MacBook Pro as their tool of choice.
This year has also seen a larger number of business-grade laptops and tablets being exhibited by the manufacturers. Why show business-focused computers at a consumer-focused show? Firstly, there is the concept of “bring-your-own-device” appearing in a large number of workplaces where workers could choose their own devices, perhaps with the employer subsidising the cost of the equipment. Then there is the concept of the Internet-based “cottage industry” where your place of business is your home, perhaps with extra rented premises as a shopfront or storage where applicable.
All the computer names are offering gaming-optimised desktop and laptop computers with two significant trends showing up this year. One of these is to have gaming computers rated to work with the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset at best performance. Another is to have highly-compact gaming desktop computers in a manufacturer’s lineup rather than the traditional “gaming-rig” tower computers.
Some of what the brands offer
Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1
Acer has premiered the Aspire Switch 12S detachable which uses Intel Thunderbolt 3.1 via USB Type-C connectivity. As well, there is a 4K ultra-high-resolution screen in the lineup but these computers normally have a 12.5” Full HD (1080p) screen. These detachables use a magnetic docking mechanism which shouldn’t be about messing around with a latch; while they maintain 2 USB 3.0 connections, microHDMI external display connection and a microSD card slot.
Acer Travelmate P648 Business Notebook computer
Acer’s TravelMate business notebooks have been brought up to date. One of these is the TravelMate P649 14-incher which come with WiGig short-throw Wi-Fi support, a USB Type-C port, NVIDIA GTX940M discrete graphics, start with 4Gb RAM but can be set up with 20Gb RAM, storage up to 512Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk, MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi for the latest routers, amongst other things. It seems like this computer could be called as an “all-rounder” work-home computer. They even offered the ProDock expansion module as a recommended “desktop-computing” accessory for this laptop, because this can provide 2 USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet wired network adaptor, and the ability to connect display devices via DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI or VGA.
The gaming scene didn’t miss out, thanks to Acer refreshing their Aspire Nitro range of gaming computers uprated to current expectations including Skylake technology. The Black Edition even sports an Intel Realsense camera for 3D scanning and Windows Hello facial recognition.
Acer Iconia Tab 8 family Android tablet with Kids’ Center
There is the Acer Liquid Jade Primo smartphone which is Acer’s entry in to the Windows 10 Mobile foray. This has the USB Type-C connectivity along with 3Gb RAM and 32Gb storage. But Acer hasn’t forgotten about Android with their Iconia One 8” family tablet that runs Android Lollipop 5.1, 9 hours battery runtime and has 16Gb storage and 1Gb RAM. Acer also added to this tablet the “Kids Center” software which is effectively an app corral for kids.
Acer has fielded a few Chrome OS computers to the foray with the Chromebook 11 which has 9 hours battery runtime, a Celeron processor and starts with 2Gb RAM but can go 4Gb RAM; and a Chromebase 24 all-in-one desktop which uses an Intel Core-family CPU and uses 8Gb RAM.
ASUS didn’t show up much in the way of laptop computers but presented their Zenfone Zoom which is a camera smartphone that uses a 10-element Hoya 3x optical-zoom lens. This phone is not as bulky as other camera-smartphone hybrid designs.
Dell revamped their Latitude range of business portable computers by offering the Latitude 11 500 series of business-focused tablets , the Latitude 13 7000 series of Ultrabooks and the Latitude 12 7000 series of detachable 2-in-1 tablets.
The Latitude 12 7000 series 12” tablets are effectively Dell’s answer to Microsoft’s Surface detachable tablet range, with an option to have the display resolution as 4K resolution as an option or Full HD (1080p) as standard; Intel Core M3, Core M5 0r Core M7 processors; 2 USB 3.1 Type-C ports with a USB Type-A adaptor supplied, 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity and an Intel RealSense camera. These 2-in-1s will offer 8Gb RAM and 512Gb storage. There is also the Latitude 11 5000 which is a closely-specced 11” variant of the Latitude 12 7000 2-in-1. The Latitude 13 7000 13” Ultrabooks will have the InfinityEdge “narrow-bezel” look, Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type-C and a fingerprint reader and NFC / RFID reader. Other members of the Latitude 5000 and 7000 business portable-computer lineup have been revamped to newer expectations with Intel Skylake technology, all USB connections being USB 3.0 or better, Thunderbolt 3.0 and 2560×1600 screen resolution at least. One of the systems even has support for WiGig short-throw high-bandwidth Wi-Fi wireless connectivity.
The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 is Dell’s entry to the bargain-basement laptop market with at least US$199 buying you a Windows laptop that has Celeron or Pentium processors, 2Gb or 4Gb RAM, 32Gb SSD storage and the 1366×768 display resolution.
For the gamers out there, Dell’s Alienware gaming brand has fronted up with some Oculus-ready gaming computers. They even put up the prospect of offering a gaming laptop with an OLED screen to improve those games graphics.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) have premiered their Phoenix x360 convertible notebook which has a variant equipped with a 15.6” display. This series implements the Intel Iris graphics engine and a 4K screen with OLED offered as an option. At the moment, HP are claiming this Skylake-equipped computer to he the thinnest lightest 15” convertible notebook on the market. These computers are equipped with a USB Type-C connector and have their sound subsystem tuned by Bang & Olufsen which is part of a trend affecting HP laptops.
They have also released a larger version of the Pavilion x2 detachable tablet, which is another attempt to answer Microsoft’s Surface tablet range. It will come with low specs like a Core M or Atom CPU depending on the price range. The keyboard has a magnetic attachment mechanism rather than the usual mechanical latch used with most detachable tablets and the screen will come in at 12.1”.
The HP Elitebook Folio – as part of one’s office, whether that’s the main one or the café.
For business users, HP has released the Elitebook Folio whcih can lay flat for collabberation in the main or secondary office. This very thin Ultrabook has 2 USB Type-C connectors, a sound system that works well for voice communications, dedicated call-control keys, a piano hinge and, like a lot of this year’s computers, will have a 4K touchscreen option. As well, it is built on an aluminium chassis rather than a plastic chassis. You could achieve a good long workday and a few coffees from your favourite barista at your “second-office” café before the battery goes flat even if you go for the 4K touchscreen display variant or have the display at maximum brightness.
Other business computer options premiered by HP at this year’s CES include the Elitebook 1040 G3 14” notebook based on an aluminium chassis and using Core processors, Full HD or QHD displays. This is along with HP launching the Elitebook 800 family of business notebooks, available as 12.5”, 14” or 15” variants. HP have also added in a privacy filter feature to their latest Elitebook lineup as a deal-making option to prevent others like baristas or neighbouring aeroplane passengers from snooping on your work that is on the screen.
HP have not forgotten about the gamers and have premiered the Envy Phoenix performance gaming desktop which is pitched at today’s virtual-reality gamers.
Lenovo have come up with a large lineup of very interesting computer equipment.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet with additional options
Firstly, they have released the ThinkPad X1 as a family of portable computing devices rather than one notebook computer. The first of these is the ThinkPad X1 Tablet which is a highly-modular 12” detachable tablet set to answer Microsoft’s Surface. It has USB Type-C charging. Core M horsepower, up to 16Gb RAM and a 2K IPS screen. But its piece de resistance is the fact that there are clip-on modues that extend its functionality further. One of these is the Productivity Module which is a 15-hour external battery while another of these is the Presenter Module with a pico projector and HDMI video connectivity and the last of these is the 3D Imaging Module with an integrated Inntel Realsense 3D camera.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook
The X1 Yoga is a 14” convertible notebook that carries through the Lenovo Yoga 360-degree hinged convertible design weighs in about 2.8lb and has a pen integrated in the tablet. This has a 2560×1440 OLED display as the top-shelf option or an LCD with similar resolution or a Full HD LCD at cheaper prices. It has that standard HDMI connector for external displays, uses Core M horsepower, is equipped with an Ethernet socket for Ethernet or HomePlug AV2 networks, and can have up to 16Gb RAM and 1Th SSD storage.
The Skylake-driven iteration of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook
The X1 Carbon is a follow-on from the legendary business notebook which I reviewed that has a carbon-fibre housing. It comes with similar specifications to the X1 Yoga and has military-specification construction and there is the option to have it run with Intel i7 processors while you have the same “elasticity” that you have with RAM and storage types and capacities as the X1 Yoga.
Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one business desktop
It is followed on with the ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one desktop computer that is as slim as one of today’s typical computer monitors. This has a 23.8” Full HD screen; Intel i7 Skylake processor; 16Gb RAM and an option of 500Gb or 1Tb hard disk, 512Gb solid-state drive or a 512Gb self-encrypting drive or OPAL self-encrypting drive for storage; 1080p Webcam; DisplayPort input and output; SD card reader and 5 USB 3.0 sockets. It connects to home or business networks via Ethernet.
There are some more of the ThinkCentre and ThinkPad product families being offered for business users. One of these is the ThinkCentre Tiny which is Lenovo’s latest small-footprint computer but this is designed to be able to be attached to one of their monitors as part of a “ThinkCentre-In-One” all-in-one computer design.
Lenovo ThinkPad T560 business notebook
The ThinkPad T Series manifests this year in the form of the T460 and T560 laptops, which continue the heritage that this series embodied. The T460s is a lightweight durable Ultrabook with a 14” screen while the T460p is equipped with improved graphics in the form of discrete graphics and WQHD screen. The ThinkPad X260 is a 12” Ultrabook that has an option of an add-on battery pack that gives this machine a runtime of 21 hours – enough for a long-haul flight to the other side of the world. The ThinkPad L460 and L560 are focused on military-specification durability.
Lenovo ThinkPad 13 durable budget notebook – can be supplied with Chrome OS or Windows 10
But the ThinkPad 13 budget notebook is the shining star when it comes to a purely secondary computer although it is pitched at the education market. It is available as a version which runs on Windows 10 or as a version that runs on Google Chrome OS. This unit implements military-specification durability, Intel Core i5 horsepower and up to 16Gb RAM and 512Gb storage. The Windows 10 variant has the IBM/Lenovo thumbstick on the keyboard, an HDMI external-video port, 3 USB connectors as well as a USB Type-C connector. This is while the Chrome OS variant has 1 USB connector along with 2 USB Type-C connectors. Personally, I would see this as a budget small-enough “portable typewriter” computer that is comfortable for answering emails, writing blog posts or completing that magnum opus while away from home or office – think of your favourite café or bar.
Lenovo Yoga 900 – now available as a Business Edition computer
Let’s not forget that Lenovo also offered the Business Editions of both the Yoga 900 and MIIX 700. These add on features that allow for improved security and allow for management by a business’s own IT department or IT contractor. This will also mean that they may be available at value-added IT resellers that pitch to the business community.
Improved watchband hinge in the Lenovo Yoga 900S Series
Speaking of the Yoga 900 Series, there is the Yoga 900S which is a deluxe edition of the Yoga 900 with an improved watchband hinge and is available in that “Champagne Gold” finish reminiscent of early-1980s Marantz hi-fi equipment or a platinum-silver finish. Lenovo says that the Yoga 900S is the thinnest 360-degree convertible laptop on the market.
Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one – aimed squarely at the Apple iMac
Lenovo is taking aim at the iMac by offering the IdeaCentre 510s 23” touchscreen all-in-one with narrow bezel which is equipped with a drop-down module that houses some USB ports and a Webcam. This comes in wiht Intel Skylake Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GT930a discrete graphics and has up to 1 Tb hard disk and a 256Gb solid-state drive for storage.
Lenovo Y Series Razer Edition gaming desktop
Lenovo are trying their best to conquer the US gaming market by offering a run of gaming-focused computer equipment. This is in conjunction with them developing and publishing a game that would appeal to the core-level games. The Ideapad Y900 17” gaming laptop, which I reckon is a desknote, has the Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GTX980M discrete graphics, and up to 64Gb of DDR4 RAM. The IdeaCentre Y900 Razer Edition, which comes with a Razer mouse and keyboard, has the multi-colour lighting effects and Robocop look that will appeal at that frag-fest. It comes in with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 32Gb RAM, NVIDIA GTX750Ti discrete graphics and up to 2Tb hard disk and 256Gb solid-state drive capacity.
The IdeaCentre 610s small-form-factor desktop looks like a home appliance or wireless speaker and has a micro projector that docks on to it. This again comes with an Intel Core i7 Skylake CPU, NVIDIA GTX750Ti discrete graphics and up to 16Gb RAM.
Let’s not forget that Lenovo are showing the Vibe S1 Lite metal-body smartphone to the American market. This implemtns a 1080p Full HD screen and a selfie flash.
Samsung are not just offering Android smartphones and tablets but are introducing Windows 10 tablets to the US market. For that matter, they are applying the Galaxy Tab Pro model name also to tablets that run Windows 10 and have offered the Galaxy Tab Pro S which is a Windows 10 2-in-1 tablet that looks like the Microsoft Surface Pro, implements a Super AMOLED display, Intel Core M processor, and can fast-charge its battery in 2.5 hours to lead to a 10.5 hours runtime.
They have also shown the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge Android smartphones which will be equipped with a microSD card slot.
As for laptops, they are offering the Notebook 9 in 13” and 15” variants with a choise of Intel Skylake Core i5 or i7 processors, Full HD displays, 2 USB Type-C connections, and have them in metallic housings. Their Chromebook is the Chromebook 3 which will be equipped wiht an 11.6” 1366×768 display, a dual-core Intel Celeron processor, a choice of 2Gb or 4Gb RAM, and 16Gb storage.
LG Gram 15 laptop – how lightweight it is
Their South Korean rival, LG, are offering some computing equipment of their own. They have launched a pair of budget smartphones in the form of the K10 and K7 smartphones. As well, they launched the ultra-light Gram 15 laptop which they say is the lightest 15” laptop. It has the Full HD IPS display, a choice of an Intel Core i5 or i7 Haswell CPU, a USB Type-C connector and a Cirrus Logic audio DAC for its sound. They also launched the 15U560 15” mainstream home laptop which has a 15” 4K display driven by NVIDIA 940M discrete graphics, 8Gb RAM, and powered by Intel Skylake Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. Storage is up to 512Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk and this laptop comes in a white finish.
Huawei have introduced fingerprint sensors across its phone and tablet range for this year. Examples of these include the Mate 6P 6” phablet and the Mate 8 6” phablet which is highly tuned for performance. There is also the MediaPad 10” 1920×1200 Android tablet which runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. This iPad alternative comes with 2Gb or 3Gb RAM and 16Gb or 48Gb storage.
Yezz Sfera have shown up with a smartphone that implements a 360-degree camera but could this catch on? Another newcomer called E.Fun fronted up to Las Vegas with a pair of budiget-priced laptop computers – a 14” notebook with a 1366×768 display, 32Gb onboard storage and a microSD slot, along wiht an 11” convertible notebook with similar specs except for 64Gb onboard storage.
Alcatel have fielded a small tablet in the form of the One Touch Pixi 3 which can work wiht 4G LTE mobile broadband. This 8” tablet works using Windows 10 Mobile, similar to what the Windows smartphones work on and it will support Contunuum for Mobile when it is used with a keyboard and mouse.
This is while Archos have presented a US$50 entry-level smartphone in the form of the Archos 40 Power 4” Android unit. This will have an 800×480 screen, 512Mb RAM, 8Gb storage, a microSD card slot and runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. Archos expects that this phone will run for 2 days before the battery dies but this depends on how many apps are running at once.
Nextbook have also fielded a range of entry-level detachable-tablet 2-in-1s driven by Atom x5 horsepower and equipped with 2Gb RAM and an HD touchscreen. Other features that are common include a microSD card slot, 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, the mobile-phone-standard microUSB port and a microHDMI port. The 9” 9A and 10” 10A units come with 32Gb storage while the 11” 11A comes with 64Gb storage.
Maingear have fronted up with a gaming computer that is based on an all-in-one design. As well Gigabyte have refreshed their Aorus X5 gaming notebook lineup with Skylake internals, Fusion keyboard, 4K display option, USB-C connectivity.
Razer have proven the concept of using Intel Thunderbolt 3 over a USB Type-C connection to work with user-attachable outboard graphics modules. This is by demonstrating their Razer Blade gaming laptop being hooked up to and working with a card-cage that houses a performance graphics card.
Intel have come up with their own consumer hardware in the form of a smartphone under their own brand and equipped wiht a RealSense camera. They also revamped their line up of Compute Sticks that plug in to a display’s HDMI port by releasing an entry level variant with an Atom x5 CPU, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage; along with better models that implement Core M3 or M5 CPUs and have 4Gb RAM and 64Gb storage. These units use a power adaptor which is actually a USB hub, thus making sure you are not forfeiting a USB port for power.
MSI are flexing their muscles amongst the gaming community by offering the Gaming 27XT all-in-one gaming computer which has an outboard card cage for a desktop-grade graphics card. This lets gamers and video enthusiasts upgrade the display card at any time without the need to take the computer apart. The computer cam put up 330W of power to the display card.
They also released the GT72 Dominator gaming laptop with a Tobii EyeX eye-tracking sensor which allows game players to control the action wiht their eyes. There is also the Vortex Compact Gaming PC which is a cylindrical modular small-form-factor gaming PC with dual NVIDIA GTX 980 SLI display cards and implements 360-degree Silent Storm airflow cooling. This is demonstrative of a trend towards highly-compact but powerful gaming computers rather than the large towers thar have always represented the gaming rigs.
What is being highlighted in this year’s Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas is that everyone is offering personal-computing devices that are pitched at every user class and wallet. This is underscored with the goal to benefit from what the new chipsets offer thus leading to slimmer and lighter-weight laptop and 2-in-1 computers along wiht higher-resolution displays.
InFocus, associated with value-priced projectors, has stepped out further with a US$99 Windows 10 desktop computer that is as big as one of today’s smartphones or a small USB hard disk. The idea is picking up from the “Intel Compute Stick” idea with computers as big as a Chromecast and plug directly in to a display’s HDMI port.
The Kangaroo has the same computing power as an entry-level netbook therefor can do some basic computer tasks. This would be in the form of an Intel Atom x5 processor, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb flash storage. There is also a microSD card slot for storage expansion along with a fingerprint reader for improved data security courtesy of Windows 10 Hello.
But the Kangaroo comes with a clip-on expansion module that has an HDMI display connection along with 2 USB ports with one being a USB 2.0 port and one being a USB 3.0 port. It has 802.11ac Wi-FI and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity and can run on its own battery for 4 hours.
A feature that was of interest was for a user to connect the Kangaroo to an Apple iPad and use the iPad as the mobile desktop’s user interface. This is facilitated with the iPad and Kangaroo hooked up using the standard Lightning-USB charge / data cable and both devices running OSLinx remote-access software. But I would like to see the OSLinx software also made available for “via-USB” connection to tablets based on other platforms.
It is one of these highly-pocketable computers that may be talked of as a “general purpose” desktop that may be rolled out as an alternative to a low-end Windows notebook or Chromebook. Because it runs on Windows, it could appeal to schools and businesses who want it as part of a standard operating environment for essential computing tasks. This would also include point-of-sale terminals and the like where a small footprint is highly desired.
Other users may also see it as part of one or more special-purpose computing projects like automotive or marine computing applications or simply this computer could serve as a personal sidekick to a tablet like an iPad.
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