They came in droves
CES 2014 blew open the lid on all sorts of weird PC designs, both conceptual and in production.
We saw desktop computers running Android, computers running SteamOS, computers that shapeshift, and PCs that look like trees.
We might be in the midst of a slump in PC sales, but the PC makers really want you to come back to the fold. Are these new designs enough to lure you? Take a look.
Razer Project Christine
Razer wants Project Christine to be the last computer you ever buy—an easily upgradeable, modular PC that, if concept becomes reality, gives anyone the power to customize their machine with little technical know-how.
Each component—the CPU, the GPU, the hard drive—is separate and simply inserts into one of the PCI-Express slots on the central backbone.
Want to replace your graphics card? No need to wrangle wires or fret about touching your exposed motherboard—you just pull the old card out of its slot and put the new one in.
It's a wonderful dream—though we have some reservations about the proprietary and locked-down nature of the hardware.
Origin's Steam Machine, dubbed Chronos, is looking like the most overpowered of the 14 Steam Machines Valve unveiled at CES. This machine has the option for not one, but two top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan graphics cards.
That's an insane amount of horsepower; no doubt, with a price to match. Let's hope companies start putting games out on Linux that take advantage of all the power of Chronos before it launches (probably sometime this fall).
Toshiba shapeshifting PC concept
It's just a concept (for now) but Toshiba's shape-shifting PC is the kind of crazy we like to see at CES.
The device is made up of three separate parts—screen, keyboard, and kickstand—that attach in a variety of ways. It can be a laptop, a tablet, a tablet with the keyboard folded back, a presentation mode (involving the kickstand) and a “canvas” mode that has the keyboard revolved away from the screen at 270 degrees.
But this machine is so conceptual that Toshiba doesn't even know what operating system it would run—the company said it's debating both Android and Windows, but there are no solid plans yet.
iBuyPower Steam Machine
Okay, so at least there's one Steam Machine that doesn't reinforce every negative stereotype most game enthusiasts have about PCs—namely, that they're expensive.
IbuyPower's modest machine is a console-like box with a very console-like price: $500, the same cost as the Xbox One.
Considering that games on Steam regularly retail for far less than their console counterparts, this is potentially a very attractive machine for those who just want to dabble with PC gaming without dropping a grand or more.
AMD Envelope PC
It's just a prototype, so don't expect to see this on your desk anytime soon, but AMD's unnamed “Envelope PC” is one of the most interesting proof-of-concepts at CES this year.
The nickname is appropriate—this tiny case is about as large as a business-size mailing envelope, and as thick as a smartphone. AMD built the device to show off the power of its upcoming “Mullins” chip—an extremely low-power, high-performance chip that AMD claims delivers desktop performance in a size mobile devices can accommodate.
Alienware Steam Machine
We know absolutely nothing about this box except that it's sleek, black, and shiny. No release date. No price. No specs. Not even a name.
Valve managing director Gabe Newell did refer to it as the “full potential” of the Steam Machine, however—the result of four years of collaboration between Valve and Alienware. So it has that going for it.
Samsung ATIV One 7
Not content to dominate the market for Android phones with its popular Galaxy line, Samsung has now created a computer that looks like nothing more than a Galaxy S4 turned on its side and mounted on a stand.
It's an appropriate design, considering this computer's full potential is only unlocked if you own a Galaxy phone or tablet—the computer pairs to your Galaxy device and serves as cloud storage for your music and movies, and also gives you basic control (such as answering text messages) from your desktop.
Acer TA272 HUL
This is a weird one, for sure—an $1100, 27-inch professional grade display from Acer that comes with Android installed.
Acer doesn't intend for this monitor/all-in-one to replace a real computer, but it's interesting to have a bit of Android functionality when you just need a lightweight operating system and a browser.
And Acer's not the only one. Lenovo's 28-inch ThinkVision 4K monitor also doubles as an Android all-in-one. Does anyone really want Android on a desktop? That's another story.
Lenovo N308 Table PC
Manufacturers sure are convinced you have room in your heart for an Android-based computer, though. Enter Lenovo's N308, an all-in-one PC centered around a new Nvidia quad-core Tegra processor. And it runs Android Jelly Bean 4.2.
It's basically a gigantic (19.5-inches-wide), heavy (10.4 pounds) tablet, with a stand, a wireless keyboard, and a mouse. And only three hours of battery life. Starting in February you can get your hands on one for only $450.
It feels like the PC market has decided “Fine, you like tablets? We'll trick you into thinking this PC is also a tablet.”
Asus Transformer Book Duet TD300
The Duet at least runs Android and Windows—you can swap between the two modes at the push of a button. Not dual-boot. Instantaneous.
The operating systems suspend when not in use, so you can switch back and resume whatever you were doing immediately. You can use the Duet as both as an Android or Windows tablet and as an Android or Windows laptop.
It also has decent specs: an i7 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a display with a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. No word on price or release yet, however.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
So maybe this one's not as weird as the rest. This update to Lenovo's ultra-light ThinkPad X1 Carbon (shipping in January for $1300) looks like a fairly standard laptop.
Except like the earlier ThinkPad X1 Carbon, this 14-inch machine is encased in carbon fiber, and weighs a mere 2.8 pounds.
The new model also features an “adaptive” keyboard—the top row of function keys now automatically adjust their behavior based on what application is open. And unlike the original ThinkPad X1 Carbon, you might be able to get through the day with this model—the battery life has increased to nine hours.