Vicious graphics cards and cutting-edge CPUs: June's most powerful PC hardware reveals

June 2015 was a banner year for PCs, with new CPUs, GPUs, and computers from the titans of the PC industry.


A month to remember

For a lot of folks, June signals the start of the slow summer months full of barbecues and vacationing children. But that happy laziness didn’t extend to the world of technology this year. June 2015 was an absolute frenzy of activity as the biggest names in the PC ecosystem jockeyed for position ahead of Windows 10’s launch, releasing a flurry of powerful new processors, fire-breathing graphics cards, microscopic storage, and more.

Seriously: Every single PC titan revealed impressive new hardware this month. Here’s the low-down on the all the goodies, starting with the catalyst for it all.

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Windows 10's release date

June kicked off with the launch of the massive Computex trade show in Taipei, and Microsoft kicked that off with something that PC enthusiasts have been clamoring for for months: A hard release date for Windows 10.

Microsoft’s next-gen operating system will be available for download on July 29, and yes, it’s free for current Windows 7 and 8 users. New bug-fixing Windows 10 preview builds have continued to flow even faster and more furiously than before since the announcement.

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Intel Broadwell-H processors

And suddenly, PC hardware makers were tripping over themselves to release new products in time for Windows 10’s big day.

The day after Microsoft revealed Windows 10’s launch date, Intel announced its new Broadwell-H desktop processors (not pictured): 10 new Core i5 and Core i7 processors that target enthusiasts and sport beefed-up Intel Iris Pro integrated graphics. All but one pack four beefy CPU cores.

The long delay of Haswell puts Broadwell-H in a weird place, though, since most of the world is waiting for the next-gen Skylake chips Intel plans to launch later this very year. Heck, PC makers like Corsair and Asus were even showing off Skylake-powered PCs at Computex despite it being Broadwell-H’s birthday party.

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AMD Carrizo processors

Not to be outdone, AMD launched a new processor line of its own, though these target power-stingy laptops rather than hulking desktop towers.

AMD’s new Carrizo chips combine four of the company’s Excavator CPU cores with an additional eight Radeon graphics cores, all integrated onto a single piece of silicon optimized for a 15W TDP. Carrizo’s entire design philosophy revolves around lowering power requirements, and to that end, it includes a dedicated hardware decoder for movies encoded with HEVC in order to deliver five more hours of 1080p video streaming compared of AMD’s older chips.

Even better? You can already find laptops from Asus, Acer, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba with Carrizo inside.

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AMD Fury X

While Carrizo targets modest laptops, AMD’s beastly new $650 Radeon R9 Fury X graphics card aims directly at enthusiasts. This gaming powerhouse—which was revealed at E3 alongside new Radeon R300-series graphics cards and launched June 24—packs radical new high-bandwidth memory, a thoughtful and attractive aesthetic design, integrated closed-loop liquid cooling, and a mesmerizing “GPU tach” feature that flares a line of lights to life the harder you push your hardware.

All in all, AMD’s new flagship kicks a lot of ass. Read our Fury X review for full details and benchmarks galore.

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti

But for all the Fury X rocks, it wasn’t quite the walk-off grand slam AMD no doubt hoped for after Nvidia spoiled its launch with the earlier release of the GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Based off a barely nerfed version of the powerful GPU inside the $1000 Titan X, the $650 GTX 980 Ti goes toe-to-toe with AMD’s flagship, while customized partner versions of Nvidia’s beast crank things to 11. And yes, the GTX 980 Ti totally cannibalizes the Titan X itself.

The GTX 980 Ti and Fury X each rock, and each can be used for 4K resolution gaming at high-detail settings—though that’ll go a lot more smoothly with the help of a G-Sync or FreeSync monitor, respectively. Speaking of which…

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G-Sync laptops

After debuting G-Sync technology in desktop monitors late last year, Nvidia’s technology for killing stuttering and screen-tearing in PC games is finally making the jump to laptops like Gigabyte’s Aorus X7 Pro-SYNC and the Asus G751. G-Sync (and AMD’s competing FreeSync) create a far smoother gameplay experience by forcing your graphics card and display to synchronize their refresh rates.

FreeSync isn’t available in laptops yet, but at Computex, AMD showed off an implementation of the technology that delivers the video signal over HDMI, rather than the DisplayPort connection that Nvidia and AMD’s current offerings are forced to use. If it moves beyond prototype stage, FreeSync over HDMI could help AMD’s game-enhancing tech truly reach the masses.

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AMD's Project Quantum PC

AMD wasn’t done with new processors and graphics cards, though. During the Fury X reveal, the company touted the space-saving benefits of high-bandwidth memory by revealing Project Quantum, a funky small form factor prototype PC stuffed with not one, but two of AMD’s new Fiji graphics processors as well as a full liquid-cooling solution.

PCWorld’s Gordon Mah Ung spoke to AMD engineers to learn how that managed to cram 17.2 teraflops of performance into such a tiny box. Don’t miss it. Oh, and if you’re drooling for one, AMD says it’s working with its “most elite partners” to bring the PC to market in the near future.


Thunderbolt 3

But not all of June’s juicy hardware reveals revolved around pricey PC parts. Intel also unveiled its impressive Thunderbolt 3 connector at Computex.

What’s the big deal? Well, Thunderbolt 3 doubles the standard’s available bandwidth to a blistering-fast 40Gbps, four times the speed of USB 3.1. It’ll also deliver 100W of power for device charging. And perhaps most interestingly, Thunderbolt 3 will be compatible with the USB Type-C wonder connector, which is already making an appearance in high-end devices like the new MacBook and the second-gen Chromebook Pixel. That’s one way to spur adoption.

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Coin-sized drives with big-time storage

June also saw the launch of a couple of portable flash drives that mirror large storage capabilities with almost impossibly small physical designs. SanDisk’s 128GB Ultra Fit USB 3.0 is shorter than a dime and narrower than a penny, while the 128GB PK K’1 from obscure storage vendor PKParis manages to shave off a few millimeters more. Craziness!

Each flash drive costs north of $100, which makes the fact that you’re almost guaranteed to lose such a small device all the more amusing.

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Lenovo's LaVie Z laptop

Lenovo’s lightweight LaVie Z laptop started trickling out in June as well. At a mere 1.94 pounds, the LaVie Z claims the crown of the lightest 13-inch laptop ever—which makes the fact that it’s so damn speedy even more surprising. Too bad about that keyboard, though. Be sure to check out our LaVie Z laptop review for more.

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But wait, there's more!

Believe it or not, all that was just the tip of the iceberg for a seismic June. Be sure to check out our Computex wrap-up for all the info on the hottest hardware coming in the latter half of the year, from micro-PCs to Decepticon-like laser-projecting mice.

And of course, cutting-edge hardware needs software to meet its full potential. PCWorld’s roundup of the 10 most exciting PC games of E3 can help you grok the new games that’ll be available when you wander out of stores with all that beefy PC gear.

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