CES 2020 – Technology marches into the new decade
Another new year, another Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas! Just like every year, we sift through the dozens of articles to bring you the most interesting, useful and amusing tech from the show floor, specifically focusing on tech for Windows PC users of course. This year things were fairly muted on the PC front, with few big announcements from the bigger players in PC tech.
CPUs – The heart of the PC – Chip makers Intel and AMD continue their arms race for the PC market. AMD announced a new “Threadripper” processing chip that had 64 separate computing cores on one chip. Typically a computer processor in a consumer grade PC has two or maybe four cores. Older computers only had one. 64 cores is almost like having 64 separate central processing units. For tasks which can be divided up between cores, expect this beast of a CPU to be really fast, but not all workloads can be divided like this. The chip is likely to appeal to users into video editing and encoding but will come with an eye watering 4000 US dollar price tag.
AMD also announced faster CPUs for laptops, claiming their latest chips would outperform similar chips from rivals Intel.
By contrast there was little on offer from Intel, save for some information about new small, efficient processors for ultra portables. “Tiger Lake” CPUs will include a performance boost and support for fast storage devices like Thunderbolt 4.
Graphics cards – The gamers delight – As far as graphics cards and graphics processors go, we were hoping to hear about new graphics cards from Nvidia, especially those supporting the HDMI 2.1 standard, but there was no mention of that in the companies keynote speech. Instead, Nvidia focused on new monitors (which we will get to later) as well as new features for existing products.
A free driver update introduced at the show adds a new “Variable Rate Super Sampling” technology. Users lucky enough to have a Nvidia graphics card and a Virtual Reality headset can get improved image quality. Users of G-Sync compatible monitors also gain the ability to set maximum refresh rates, which should help save power and reduce system latency.
AMD on the other hand, did announce a new graphics card. The new mid-range RX 5600 XT promises good performance for gamers running at 1080p HD resolutions. Apart from that, however, there was very little to get excited about.
Desktop PCs – Still around – Desktop is the form factor that refuses to die. While many users have moved on to smaller, portable devices, the desktop PC remains the choice of enthusiasts.
Love gaming but can’t decide between PC and console? Perhaps Origin PC has the answer. The Big O PC (yes, that’s its real name) bundles a gaming PC and either an Xbox one or PlayStation 4 console in the same case. Far from just duck taping the two boxes together, the company has come up with an elegant solution where both sets of hardware share the same cooling system and other internal components. At $2400, perhaps this is the perfect system for any gamers who are cash rich, time rich but live in small apartments (got to be a market there right? 🙂 ). Even if you belong in this market segment, with a PlayStation 5 and new Xbox console on the horizon, shelling out on a system like this right now doesn’t seem to make a huge amount of sense. Read more about the system by clicking this link.
Want to build your own PC but don’t want a huge tower, or the hassle of connecting dozens of wires or figuring out complicated BIOS settings? Perhaps Tomahawk, from Razer, is the platform for you. Using Intel’s modular NUC PC design, this system moves the central processor to a simple plug and play card design, eliminating the hassle of applying thermal paste, a heavy heatsink and connecting fans. Want to upgrade your processor later? Just buy a new plug in card, simple! Pair the CPU with any graphics card you want and then slot the whole module into the case. Bingo, your PC is built in less than a minute. Check out the article on Gizmodo for more information.
Laptops and portables – As prevalent as ever – Laptops and portable PCs make up the lions share of the market and there was certainly no shortage of new devices in this sector this year.
Foldable and dual screen devices seemed to be the rage this year, just as we predicted back in TWT Newsletter issue 73. Of course, it remains to be seen if these devices will actually appeal to consumers. Samsung’s insanely expensive Galaxy Fold mobile phone was one of the first devices on the market with an actual, foldable display, but it looks like many more are due. Lenovo remains one of our favourite laptop manufacturers for a no-nonsense, reliable machine suitable for work or home use, and this year the laptop manufacturer showed off the ThinkPad X1 Fold.
Instead of a screen and keyboard, the device has basically one screen, that folds in the middle. You can use the device like a traditional laptop by folding it over then calling up a touch screen keyboard on the bottom half of the screen, although for any serious typing you may prefer the optional stand and wireless keyboard. Alternatively, unfold the device and you have a tablet PC. Fold the device in two and hold it like a book, and you have a comfortable and natural feeling e-reader.
Lenovo are still working on software to take advantage of this unusual form factor PC. The device will, naturally, also be fully touch compatible. We can imagine many creative types who will prefer to jot, scribble or doodle on the bottom screen rather than use a keyboard. If you prefer the clack of a tactile keyboard, however, you may wish to stick to the traditional laptop form factor. The device will launch later in the year, PCMag.com have more information.
One innovative use of dual screens was the ThinkBook Plus, also from Lenovo. This laptop puts a stylus compatible E Ink screen into its lid. E Ink is the same special kind of screen that is used in Amazon Kindle devices. While being monochrome only, it’s easy on the eyes for reading and requires very little power, meaning this laptop could replace your Kindle as well as your existing laptop (though expect the device to be much heavier than a simple Kindle).
For users that like to scribble notes in lectures or meetings the device is compatible with Lenovo’s Precision Pen. Reports from the show floor suggested the screen was responsive and accurate to the pens input. Again, PCMag have a more in depth look.
High refresh rates weren’t restricted to gaming monitors this year, as MSI unveiled their new gaming laptops with an eye watering 300Hz refresh rate. To put that in perspective, a normal TV operates at 60hz or sixty frames a second. At 300hz, the machines graphics chip will need to render 5 times more frames, let’s hope the cooling system in these machines is up to snuff.
Both the MSI GS66 Stealth and the GE66 Raider have these super high refresh screens. Apart from the high refresh rate, you can expect the display to be full HD and around 15 inches big. The laptops also promise to be under five pounds in weight and have decent battery life, especially when you’re not gaming on the go. Pricing is still to be announced, The Verge has more information here.
Possibly the lightest laptop at the show was the Lavie Pro Mobile. Coming in at under 2 pounds, the machine manages to cram in an 9th gen Intel i7 CPU and integrated Intel 620 graphics chip. The screen is 13.3 inches wide and despite its diminutive weight still manages to include 4 USB ports, HDMI out and MicroSD. Laptopmag.com have more information on this featherweight here.
Monitors and TVs – There’s no point having a fancy PC and not pairing it with a decent monitor. This year at CES there were no shortages of innovative displays on display.
Graphics card company Nvidia were touting their 360hz G-Sync compatible “e-sports” monitor. Designed for the most demanding players, these monitors feature a 360Hz refresh rate, meaning your computer will need to render more than 5 times as many frames as normal to max out these particular monitors. For those of you who have both the PCs and the reaction times to match, expect butter smooth gaming with more than enough reaction time to “pwn” your opponents. Engadget.com has more information.
Acer and Asus were also showing two G-SYNC ULTIMATE displays. They feature the latest “full-array direct backlight technology” which promises 1400 nits brightness. This significantly boosts display contrast for darker blacks and more vibrant colours. While they only run at a ‘mere’ 144Hz, they also feature a 4K panel resolution, compared to the 1080p of Nvidia’s offering.
LG are our favourite TV manufacturer and if you’re looking for a TV to pair with your gaming PC or games console, there’s really no better choice. This year, LG had some huge 8k sets on display, but with a lack of 8k content or compatible PC hardware, these sets are really for the super rich early adopters.
What was more interesting to us was the new GX range of TVs. Taking thin and light to the next level, these sets dispense with input ports entirely, shifting them to an external box, to make for a TV that really does look like a painting hanging on your wall. The sets also include Dolby Vision IQ, High Dynamic Range and, crucially for PC gamers, G-Sync compatibility. Slashgear has a more detailed low-down on these new sets, as well as the 8k displays.
Samsung’s rotating TV – This one caught our eye, but not for the reasons that Samsung might expect. This particular TV is able to rotate from landscape to portrait orientation. “What’s the reason for this?” you might ask. Basically, it is so that you can watch all those videos that have been badly recorded by people holding their mobile phones the wrong way. However, if you play older video games, this set might be just what you are looking for since it can rotate like this to accommodate games designed specifically to run in this orientation. Techradar.com have a brief review of the set here.
Weird and wonderful – CES wouldn’t be CES without some bizarre creations to talk about and this year was no exception. Here are a few of our favourites.
Human workers continue their march towards obsolescence as robots seek to replace us all. CES 2020 had no shortage of robotic slaves of all shapes and sizes. The Bellabot food-delivery cat from PuduTech, for instance, wants to replace all waiters with robot cats. We suppose robotic cats are less intimidating than humanoids, especially when they let you pet them behind the ears, as Bellabot does.
Perhaps we should restrict robots to jobs that no human should be forced to do, like fixing nuclear reactors, exploring volcanoes or bringing you a new toilet roll if you run out mid-job. For this unenviable task, Charmin’s RollBot has been designed to ferry you a fresh roll and can be summoned using an app on your mobile phone. Digital Trends has more on this potty invention.
CES isn’t really considered to be a show about food, but some food products do make the cut. Impossible Pork, the next product from the company that gave you the Impossible Burger, aims to recreate the taste and texture of real pork using only vegetable products. The verdict? Most who tried the product on the show floor said it was surprisingly good. Look out for guilt free pseudo meat heading to a restaurant or supermarket near you in the near future. Click the link here to learn more.
CharaChorder: The alternative to keyboards – We’re not sure if this one should go in the weird and wonderful section or somewhere else, but nevertheless it’s interesting. If a time traveller from the 1900s came to visit, he or she would probably mistake the modern PC for some kind of typewriter. That’s because the keyboard layout hasn’t changed much since the first typewriters using it were introduced back in the 1870s.
Since then a few attempts have been made to update or improve on the design, but nothing quite so wild as the CharaChorder. Replacing the keyboard with an intimidating set of joysticks, the designers claim that this allows the user to type five times faster than on a conventional keyboard. We can’t help feeling there might be a slight learning curve before those types of speed can be achieved though. Nevertheless, seeing the device in use by a competent user is quite something. Check it out on the official website here.
This year also saw an increase in more intimate “toys” for adults, due to a slight relaxation of the rules surrounding them at the show. Interested parties can go look those up for themselves, however!
Overall this year there wasn’t a huge amount of exciting new gadgets for PC owners, the show felt a little bit “business as usual” with just some small incremental updates to most product lines. Unless folding screen laptops are your thing, there wasn’t anything especially exciting. Perhaps later in the year we will see heavyweights Nvidia and AMD unveil some new graphics cards and Intel some super new CPUs.