CES may mainly be the time when device manufacturers announce new products to be released throughout the year, but it’s also where you see the newest parts that make up tomorrow’s hottest PCs. If you want to get an idea of what’s coming around the bend for computers, the companies to watch are Intel, AMD and NVIDIA. These three manufacturers are the sources of nearly all the processing and graphics hardware used in laptops and desktops on the market. Here’s what they announced this year.
Intel Kaby Lake
Intel had two major product announcements at CES that will shape the PCs of today and tomorrow. The first is a new batch of its 7th generation processors, collectively codenamed Kaby Lake. These are still the general Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 processors you know, but watch for models like the Core i3-7100 and the Core i5-7600. A model number in the 7000s indicates the processor is part of the 7th generation product line. While the company announced some of these 7th generation processors last August, CES brought with it news of several new CPUs for both portable and desktop PCs.
Many of the changes made will impact Intel’s mainstream line of Core i3, i5 and i7 processors, both for laptops and desktops. Most of the improvements are incremental – tweaks to manufacturing processes and chip architecture that result in faster processing and a smoother user experience. One of the more significant improvements is in the CPU’s ability to shift between low- and high-power states, letting it rapidly transition from battery-saving idle mode to full power and back again, delivering all of the power you need when you need it but conserving battery life when you don’t.
Intel had one more innovation to share this year: Optane Memory. This new breed of storage device uses an innovative non-volatile memory that Intel hopes will eventually supplant the solid-state drives and hard drives we now use. Intel developed a new storage medium called 3D Xpoint, which stores memory in three dimensions instead of the traditional two dimensions offered by hard-disk platters and circuit-based solid-state drives. This new storage uses a stacked mesh structure – Intel has stayed mum about the specifics – which is reportedly much faster and offers more storage capacity in a smaller physical size.
This new class of memory will only work with certain Kaby Lake processors, but if you’re in the market for a high-performance machine, don’t discount storage as part of the equation. Optane-equipped products will be few and far between over the first half of the year, but watch for systems to support it starting in late 2017.
Intel rival AMD had its own line of processors to announce, called Ryzen. Built-in machine intelligence allows the processor to monitor the specifics of heat and power during use and then dynamically adapt its functioning to deliver the best performance it can. The result should be fewer variances in overall capability caused by the heat and cooling characteristics of the PC the processor is installed in.
All of the fancy capabilities boil down to one thing: These new processors will compete directly with Intel’s current Kaby Lake chips, without the performance compromises that have attended AMD processors in the past.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & 1050 Ti
NVIDIA also announced two new graphics cards for laptops: the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti. These two discrete GPUs aren’t aimed at the high-end gamers and professional-grade users who shell out large sums for the latest and greatest. Instead, they are built for regular users with regular budgets, who want better graphics capabilities than they can get with integrated graphics alone.
The bottom line tells you everything you need to know: These two graphics cards are built to allow gaming performance – albeit at full HD (1080p) resolution – in laptops starting at $699. When the vast majority of gaming laptops sell for well above $1,000, these new GPUs open up a level of budget-friendly gaming capability that hasn’t been available in the past. Laptops equipped with the new 1050 GPUs may not be ready for VR or gaming in 4K resolution, but for a lot of shoppers, a capable sub-$1,000 laptop that can play current games is an enticing proposition.