The sun has set on this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, set in some little-known backwater town in Nevada, so we’ve pulled together the most interesting announcements, products and prototypes you might’ve missed in the morass.
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CES has always seen the tech world descending upon Las Vegas in the new year, but it’s not traditionally been a particularly PC-oriented show. This year though things are very different, and shows just where PC technology sits in the mainstream consciousness these days.
And that’s just the tip of the floating icicle…
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The big news from CES this year was the architectural unveiling of the new AMD Vega GPU tech. It’s potentially the biggest graphics technology launch of the year, representing the first genuinely 4K-capable Radeon cards we’ve seen.
AMD had demos of the card running at CES, showing Doom Vulkan performance in excess of what the Nvidia GTX 1080 is currently capable of. Given the red team’s dominance in modern APIs that’s maybe not a huge surprise, but still very welcome news. Unless you’re a card-carrying GeForce guru that is.
Conspicuous by its absence though was any mention from Nvidia about the GTX 1080 Ti. We had expected CES to kick off with CES Jen-Hsun Huang unveiling the new Pascal card as Nvidia hosted the opening keynote of the show. My guess is they’re holding off on showing the cut-down Titan X GPU until they know exactly what Vega can do and how much AMD are going to charge for it.
The big processor news from CES was, of course, the launch of Intel’s new Kaby Lake generation of desktop CPUs. To be honest, the top-end Core i7 7700K was a little disappointing, but the eminently overclockable Core i5 7600K is a mighty impressive gaming CPU.
That wasn’t Intel’s only news from CES though, as they had a bored-looking CEO, Brian Krzanich, up onstage holding a working 2-in-1 running the upcoming 10nm Cannonlake CPU architecture.
Having closed 2016 by unveiling their octo-core Ryzen processor AMD didn’t spend too much time talking about the Zen architecture. There were some tidbits to spill from around the show, however, with Mark Papermaster, AMD’s chief tech officer, expecting the Ryzen CPUs to have a four-year lifespan before a new architecture comes through.
AMD have also confirmed that, so long as you’re running one of the top-end X370 motherboard, every single Ryzen CPU will be unlocked and capable of being overclocked. That could really stick the boot into Intel if the lower-end, budget Ryzens can be pushed well past the clockspeeds of their Core i3/Pentium rivals.
When you’re talking about gaming peripherals it’s Corsair’s keyboards which spring immediately to my mind. With the tagline “You wanted it all. Here it is.” comes the K95 RGB Platinum keyboard. I mean, they’re not messing around, they’ve thrown all the coloured LEDs they can get their hands on at this thing. It’s mostly a simple update to the original macro-keyed K95, except it’s got a full 8MB of internal storage and a 19-zone LED strip for that needless Knight Rider aesthetic.
They’ve also updated their MOBA-oriented mouse in the new Scimitar Pro RGB with a 16,000 DPI and, you guessed it, sooooo many RGB LEDs...
Not to be outdone Asus have also unleashed a slew of Republic of Gamers branded mice. There’s the Gladius II, an FPS-oriented optical mouse with a similar customisable click resistance to Razer’s top-end Mamba. Keeping with the customisable theme, they’ve also announced the Strix Evolve, a mouse with four different customisable designs. The last of the ROG mice is the Impact, an ambidextrous rodent with a lightweight feel and simple aesthetic.
Asus’ GX970 is a non-ROG branded peripheral but, bizarrely, they’ve still created it as a dedicated gaming mouse. It’s got a detachable side panel which allows you to switch between a standard mouse or an MMO, button-festooned one. It also looks like it’s rocking the latest Pixart optical sensor too.
Mad Catz have unveiled a pair of new 7.1 surround sound headsets, the wireless Tritton ARK 300 and the wired Tritton ARK 100. Both the ARK cans use 60mm drivers to deliver the low and mid-range frequencies with one 10mm driver in the ARK 100 and two 10mm drivers in the ARK 300 detailing the high-end frequencies.
They’ve also lifted the lid on their higher-end RAT mice too. The RAT Pro S+ is a lightweight (80g) gaming rodent sporting Pixart’s latest PMW3330 optical sensor with a max DPI of 7,200, while the big boy RAT Pro X+ is all kinds of customisable, even down to your choice of optical or laser sensor. And isn’t lime green this time around.
Kingston’s gaming offshoot, HyperX, have updated their impressive Alloy gaming keyboard with RGB switches and the original with a choice of either Red or Brown Cherry MX mechanical switches. Alongside their first gaming keyboard design comes the first HyperX gaming mouse. The Pulsefire, for that is its name, is a basic plug ‘n’ play optical rodent which doesn’t need software, with a max DPI of 3,200.
Taiwanese manufacturer Tesoro were displaying a prototype keyboard at the show alongside their new Gram SE keyboard (with their own optical switches). It’s an ultra low profile mechanical keyboard which has a similar design to a chiclet keyboard, but uses low profile blue mechanical switches. It looks like it’s around 12mm high and could be perfect for those who want the reliability of mech switches but don’t want the excessive key travel.
Inevitably everyone from MSI to Gigabyte to Asus took the opportunity of the Kaby Lake launch to unveil a slew of new laptops based on Intel’s new high-end notebook chips. Mostly though they’re just revisions of previous designs sporting a mix of Kaby Lake CPUs and Pascal GPUs.
Nvidia also launched their GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti mobile graphics silicon around CES and there were a good few manufacturers revealing lower-cost gaming machines too.
At the other end of the spectrum Acer have unveiled the pricing and availability of their 21:9 curved gaming laptop, the Predator 21X. It’s being launched in the US first with prices starting at $8,999 and towards the end of the year it will hit the rest of the world, starting at €9,999. It’s got a pair of GTX 1080 GPUs inside it, but even then ten grand for a laptop seems excessive…
And speaking of excessive, Razer were at the show with their Project Valerie laptop prototypes. They’re triple screen notebooks where the second and third screens fold out from the lid to form an expansive display. The prototypes use three 17.3-inch 4K IGZO IPS panels and weighs in at a hefty 5.4kg.
They proved very popular with show-goers, in fact so popular that on the final day a pair of the laptop prototypes were stolen from Razer’s press room. Razer are now offering a $25,000 reward for anyone with information that would lead to the arrest and prosecution of the thief, though they’re also not ruling out industrial espionage either.
Lenovo have also lifted the lid on their new brand of gaming laptops: Lenovo Legion. Starting with two models - the Legion Y720 and Legion Y520 - the new notebooks come with i7 Kaby Lake CPUs and GTX 1060 and 1050 Ti GPUs respectively. The higher-end Y720 can be kitted out with a 4K IPS screen if you need (though the GTX 1060 will struggle) and it also comes with an embedded Xbox Wireless Controller connection, which is pretty neat considering how fugly and wobbly the USB adapter is. The Legion Y720 is launching in April starting at $1,400 and the Y520 in February at $900.
Samsung too have launched a new gaming range of laptops too, called the Notebook Odyssey. There are a pair of designs available in 17.3-inch and 15.6-inch trim, with the smaller machine sporting a GTX 1050 though they have yet to nail down what’s going to power the big screen version.
Not to be left out Dell’s Alienware brand brought something new to the show, the world’s first 13.3-inch gaming notebook with a 1ms OLED panel on it. The new Alienware 13’s screen is available in sizes up to 3,200 x 1,800 and comes with a contrast level of 100,000:1 and a wide colour gamut to nail 104% of the Adobe colour range. Boom. OLED. That's not going to come cheap...
There were a surprising number of desktop systems on show at CES too this year, with a host of compact designs getting their first outings. Asus’ VivoPC X is designed as a VR-capable machine to sit next to the TV in your living room and looks a lot like MSI’s Trident desktop design. The VivoPC X comes with a Core i5 CPU and GTX 1060 graphics card inside it too.
Acer though have gone big with their Aspire GX series of pre-built desktops. They’ll be available from February, priced from $799, and come with a Kaby Lake CPU and up to GTX 1070 graphics cards.
Corsair haven’t just been adding more lights to their K95 keyboard, they’ve also made the new Bulldog 2.0 barebones available for pre-order. The Bulldog 2.0 is a compact chassis which comes with a built-in Z270 motherboard, a 600W SFX PSU and one of Corsair’s H6 SF liquid CPU coolers. The barebones price is $399, though you will find bundled systems available from Newegg and Amazon.
But if that’s just not small enough for you maybe Intel’s new Compute Card is more up your street. It’s essentially a full PC that’s just 5mm thick with surface measurements of 94.5mm x 55mm. That would be pretty skinny for a phone, but the Compute Card can pack in a low-power Kaby Lake CPU as well as memory, storage and wireless connectivity into its diminutive chassis. All its connections are accessed via a USB-C plus attached expansion to allow you to plug things into it. Sure, it’s unlikely to be able to play games to much of an extent, but hell, it’s a frickin’ PC you could lose in your pocket.
A desktop of a sort, Nvidia announced the new, updated Shield TV box. And not a sexy new GP102-powered graphics card. On the face of it the new Android-based streaming device doesn’t look that different from the original, though possibly a little smaller. It still has the same Tegra X1 processor but now comes with Google Assistant plumbed into the software allowing for enhanced voice control. It also has a redesigned controller with the same design notes as Nvidia’s 10-series GeForce graphics cards. It looks like a bit like a cross between an Xbox One controller and a DualShock 4 pad, which is surely no bad thing. It's also been on a January diet too, losing a lot of weight in comparison with its chubby forebear.
Linked to the new Shield device is the relaunch of Nvidia’s GeForce Now game streaming service for use on PCs. Previously it was only accessible via Shield products, but from this year it will be accessible from laptops and desktops as a way to give you a high-end virtual gaming PC.
It’s not a Netflix, eat-as-much-as-you-like setup anymore, however - you purchase credits which get spent per hour in-game, the cost varying depending on what quality setting you’re after. It also plugs into your Origin or Steam accounts, among others, letting you access your existing game library - and crucially your existing cloud saves - from your rented virtual rig.
Both AMD and Nvidia announced updates to their frame smoothing technologies with FreeSync 2 and G-Sync HDR respectively. Both have essentially been designed to allow for HDR gaming on the PC without the input lag you’d normally get with HDR-ready TV sets. Samsung have been working on FreeSync 2 with AMD and both Acer and Asus have shown off early screens designed for G-Sync HDR. And the prospect of a 4K G-Sync HDR panel running at 144Hz does have me more than a little excited…
Asus also showed off the gorgeous-looking Designo Curve MX38VQ, a 37.5-inch curved ultrawide IPS display with a 3,840 x 1,600 native resolution. Not a lot else is known about this vast 24:10 screen, but I’m quite up for burying my head in one as soon as I can. Likely using the same panel, Viewsonic have also got a similar 37.5-inch ultrawide monitor, the VP3881, but it looks like it will be significantly more expensive than the Asus. Reports have the VP3881 launching in June costing $1,999 and the MX38VQ ‘just’ $1,099.
HP have also gone for the ultrawide curve too, with their Omen X 35, a 35-inch 21:9 using Nvidia’s G-Sync tech and launching in April with a street price of $1,400.
Never far away from monitor development are Dell, who have announced a 27-inch S2718D Ultrathin HDR monitor with a 1440p native res, scheduled for release in March for $700. At the moment we don’t know if it’s compatible with either AMD or Nvidia’s HDR gaming technology, so it’s unclear how well it will cope with the extra HDR lag.
And if 4K is just too blocky for your tastes Dell also had a 32-inch 8K monitor on show too. With a native resolution of 7,680 x 4,320 and sporting a little under 33.2 million pixels the 16:9 Dell UP3218K is going to cost around $5,000 when it arrives in March.
Virtual reality was a constant presence at CES this year, but not in the same bombastic way as the previous couple of years. It was there, but rarely as the entire focus. That said Intel did kit out their entire 250-strong keynote audience with VR headsets so they could get a taste of Intel’s new VOKE VR partnership to bring live sporting events to the Oculus Rift this year.
You can see just how excited the audience was about attending an event where Intel genuinely supplied each visitor with a sick bag as well as a VR headset. And I'm not making that up for comic effect.
Intel also showed off a little more of their Project Alloy wireless VR headset too and promised that the open platform would find its way into products from Intel manufacturing partners towards the end of the year.
HTC’s Vive was also in attendance at CES, though at what seemed like a very low-key event. There they claimed wireless VR would be a Vive thing during 2017.
“Wireless will be open-standard and we look forward to supporting any company that can demonstrate a low-latency solution to wireless VR,” said Vive general manger, Dan O’Brien. “We are confident that wireless VR will be a significant contributor to the Vive ecosystem in 2017."
Which meant that TPCast was also lurking around too, with their wireless adapter for the Vive being expected to ship in the second quarter of this year for $250 and with a 90min battery. They're still promising a five hour battery will be available at a later date.
Vive also announced the Vive Tracker, a small device that enables motion tracking when attached to different things. It’s been designed to speed up the development of Vive accessories and was shown attached to a control glove and a fire-hose (y’know, for training). “The Vive Tracker is the first step in growing an ecosystem of third-party accessories,” explained O’Brien, “that will change how we interact with virtual experiences and provide consumers and businesses with an unlimited amount of content opportunities.”
And what of Oculus? Well, they didn’t really make an appearance at CES this year. Despite the fact their headsets appeared in a few booth demos the company didn’t have a keynote, take a booth or had a visible presence in one of the hotels up and down the Las Vegas Strip. It’s a marked change to this time last year where Oculus was prominent at the show, launching pre-orders for their headset. That said, their Oculus Connect event was only a couple of months ago so it’s unlikely they’ve got much more to say right now. But still, conspicuous by their absence nonetheless.
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