A January to remember
You might think the PC industry would take it easy after the holidays. You’d be wrong. This January was one of the most hectic months for PC hardware announcements in recent history, with the annual CES electronics show resulting in a veritable deluge of radical, powerful new gear. From butt-kicking PCs that look like knight helmets to ultra-potent new Surface devices to some of the fastest memory ever announced, there was something for everybody to like this month.
Let’s dig in, and don’t be tempted to stop reading halfway through: There’s a lot here, but you won’t find any snoozers in this batch of goodies. (Pictured: EVGA’s new quick-disconnect liquid-cooling system with four EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid graphics cards.)
Move over, MacBook Pro. You’re not the only ultra-powerful trashcan-sized PC anymore.
MSI’s Vortex takes its name from its 360 Silent Storm cooling system, which sucks in air and swirls it around the system’s quad-core Core i7 Skylake processor, DDR4 RAM, and duo—yes, two—of potent desktop-class GeForce GTX 980 mobile GPUs. This pipsqueak punches far above its weight class.
Origin Omni curved all-in-one PC
One of the surprising trends at CES was the birth of a new breed of all-in-ones, rocking potent eight-core desktop processors and full-sized graphics cards rather than the usual laptop chips. You’re looking at the internals of Origin PC’s curved Omni AIO—yep, that’s a $1000 Titan X inside. Maingear’s Alpha 34 all-in-one offers the same high-end configuration, while MSI’s Gaming 27XT AIO caters to gamers by rocking a 144Hz display and a holder on the rear of the panel for desktop graphics cards.
All-in-ones weren’t the only PCs receiving a surprising level-up in January. Towards the end of the month, Microsoft announced new high-end configurations of the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, with each offering 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a Core i7 processor, all in the same svelte packaging as before. And you can grab a new gold Surface Pen to go with them for $60!
That firepower doesn’t come cheap, though. The high-end Surface Pro 4 costs $2,700, while the new flagship Surface Book costs a jaw-dropping $3,200.
World's first 13TB SSD
But the Surface Book’s price tag is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the cost of the world’s first 13TB SSD, which Fixstars introduced this month—for $13,000. Yes, that’s $1,000 per terabyte. Looks like we’ll be sticking to spinning hard drives for bulk storage for a while yet.
Seagate 8TB hard drive
Speaking of, Seagate introduced a massive 8TB hard drive this month, which is the largest non-archival drive yet for consumers and small offices. And since it’s designed for network-attached storage boxes, the drive will use less energy and produce less sound than traditional desktop hard drives.
Look for Seagate’s 8TB HDD to land later this quarter for around $385—not cheap by any stretch, but much more palatable than $13,000.
We’re not done with revolutionary—and revolutionarily expensive—storage yet! Seagate-owned LaCie revealed the simply named Chrome external drive at CES, and it’s nothing short of a gleaming, blinged-out monument to excess.
Clad in chrome and designed by Neil Poulton, a Scottish designer who has won numerous awards, the Chrome is just as beautiful on the inside, where a pair of 500GB SSDs in a RAID 0 array deliver mouth-watering 940MBps speeds—making this the fastest external drive in the world. A Seagate representative likened the Chrome to a concept car, and it’s priced like one too, at a cool $1,400.
After four long years of being stuck on the same underlying 28nm transistor technology, graphics cards are finally—finally!—jumping into the future in 2016. In January, AMD announced the first next-gen GPU out of the gate: The Polaris architecture, which will be built using 14nm technology (but not the revolutionary high-bandwidth memory found in the Radeon Fury graphics cards).
AMD’s targeting mobile graphics and entry-level desktop cards with Polaris, which AMD says delivers big-time power efficiency improvements over today’s GPUs. To show off its chops, AMD demoed Star Wars Battlefront at CES on two mostly similar machines: one running a Polaris GPU, the other running Nvidia’s power-sipping GTX 950. The Polaris rig consumed a mere 80 watts, while the GTX 950 rig sucked down 140 watts.
Expect to hear a lot more about Polaris as we near its mid-year release.
External laptop graphics docks
Another surprise CES trend was the sudden proliferation of external graphics cards and docks that let you power up your PC’s graphics. Acer was showing off a sleek new graphics dock with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M mobile graphics processor inside. A competing model by Asus, the ROG XG Station 2 (pictured) is larger to allow you to slot the desktop graphics card of your choice inside. Razer also revealed a laptop graphics dock that lets you insert the desktop GPU of your choice, dubbed the Razer Core…
Razer Blade Stealth
…which was ostensibly designed to use with the $999 Razer Blade Stealth, a slim 12.5-inch Ultrabook rocking an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, a PCI-E SSD, and either a 2560x1440 or 4K display. It’s basically a gaming laptop without a graphics processor, and the cheapest laptop Razer’s released yet.
Razer's first desktop and webcam
Razer also debuted its first-ever desktop this month, as its partnership with Lenovo began bearing fruit. The Razer IdeaCentre Y900 RE is basically the same as Lenovo’s IdeaCentre Y900, but with more LED lights and the addition of Razer peripherals. It rocks an overclocked Core i7 processor, a 256GB SSD, and up to 32GB of RAM and dual GeForce GTX 970 graphics cards. You can also toss in a 2TB traditional hard drive if you so desire.
Finally, Razer additionally rolled out the Stargazer webcam. It’s being billed as a gaming-centric webcam ideal for Twitch and YouTube, but really, it’s just a prettier Intel RealSense camera.
Endless Mini PC
On the opposite side of the power spectrum there’s the Endless Mini, a $79 Linux desktop designed for areas where the Internet is anything but reliable. The spherical PC packs an AMLogic Cortex-A ARM chip, 1GB of RAM, and either 24GB or 32GB of storage, which it uses to cache as much of the web as possible for offline use. That’s a godsend in countries with developing infrastructure, and it’s augmented by preloaded apps that provide encyclopedic knowledge, health information, and more.
Core M Compute Sticks
Intel’s next-gen Compute Sticks are even smaller than the Endless Mini, but these cost a whole lot more. That’s because the new models ditch the pokey Atom processor found in last year’s Compute Stick in favor of speedier Core M CPUs, which should help these flash drive-sized PCs perform many more tricks than before. But while last year’s Compute Stick only cost $150, the new Core M3 and Core M5 models will set you back a much less pocket-friendly $400 and $500, respectively.
Intel "Skull Canyon" NUC
Intel’s NUC mini-PCs are getting a shot in the arm as well with the announcement of “Skull Canyon,” a new version supercharged with a quad-core Core processor and Intel’s most powerful Iris Pro integrated graphics. (Imagine this bad boy hooked up to an external graphics dock tucked underneath your desk!) Intel announced Skull Canyon at CES, but sadly didn’t let anyone take pictures, so you’ll have to be satisfied with this image of a stack of previous-gen NUCs for now.
Here’s the thing about Intel’s NUCs: Their processors are soldered onto their motherboards, meaning you’ll never be able to upgrade the CPU. At CES, we witnessed the introduction of a new motherboard form factor dubbed mini-STX, which at 5 inches square is only an inch larger than a NUC in both directions, but with replaceable processors. ASRock, Silverstone, and ECS were all showcasing mini-STX motherboards and cases.
Talon AD7200 tri-band router
TP-Link’s Talon AD7200 is roughly the same size as an Intel NUC, but rather than being a tiny PC, this is something even more special: the first true tri-band router. This standard-setter rocks the traditional 802.11ac 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but it also supports the 802.11ad 60Hz band—a.k.a. the blazing-fast future of Wi-Fi. That 802.11ad band hits a stunning 4600Mbps, which TP-Link says is fast enough to download a full-length 4K-resolution movie in a mere four minutes.
The future is fast.
Asus ROG GT51
Let’s supersize things again with some of the beefier desktops revealed in January.
First up: The Asus ROG GT51. This hulking PC roars “gaming” with its angular design, one-touch overclocking button, and potent internals (it comes with up to a quad-core Core i7-6700K and two Titan X graphics cards). But the really interesting thing about the ROG GT51 is the hidden partition on its hard drive, which only unlocks when you wave a ROG Band that comes with the PC in front of it. You know, so you can hide your, er, tax documents. Yeah, that’s it! Tax documents.
CyberPower PC Pro Streamer
Then there’s CyberPower’s new Pro Streamer PCs, which were designed specifically for streaming video games by packing two powerful systems into a single case, with a power supply and water cooling shared between them. Both gaming and video encoding require hefty processor power, so many streaming pros like to use two separate PCs—one dedicated to each task—to avoid bogging down performance.
CyberPower’s Pro Streamer packs in a full-blown quad-core Skylake system with dual graphics cards on the bottom of the case for gaming, and a smaller mini-ITX build for streaming on the top. The pictured Pro Streamer 200 costs roughly $3,000, and CyberPower will even preinstall the most popular streaming software on it for you.
Silent gaming PC
On the other end of the spectrum there’s the Compulab Airtop, which uses a specialized custom case that allows the entire system to be passively cooled. You won’t find a single fan in this PC despite the inclusion of an Intel Core i7 processor, a discrete GTX 950 graphics card, and up to 32GB of RAM and six storage drives of various types.
Be sure to check out PCWorld’s full Airtop article for more details about how the custom case works its passive cooling magic. It’s pretty darn nifty.
Vaio Z Flip
The Vaio brand didn’t die when Sony sold off its PC division many months ago. After regrouping in Japan, Vaio’s back in the U.S. with the Vaio Z Flip, a sleek 2-in-1 that goes toe-to-toe with the MacBook Air and flips its lid to convert into a tablet. And it packs some impressively potent firepower, too, with a 28-watt Skylake chip—most Ultrabook-style machines rock lower=power 15W processors—and a speedy M.2 NVMe SSD alongside 16GB of RAM.
That sounds like a recipe for poor power efficiency, but Vaio shrunk down the laptop’s motherboard to make room for a larger battery. As a result, the company says the Z Flip should offer performance better than Apple’s MacBook Pro 13, yet weigh the same as a MacBook Air 13.
PCs need cases, of course, unless you’re building an open-air rarity, and there were a slew of zany ones revealed in January.
Corsair’s new Carbide cases may be the most pedestrian of the bunch, but you don’t want to overlook this trio, which scratches the itches of all sorts of PC builders. The $80 Spec-Alpha (pictured above) features an aggressive gamer-centric design, while the more neutral Corsair Carbide Quiet 400Q and Carbide Clear 400C are almost identical $100 black boxes. The former features sound-dampening materials inside and the later includes a swing-out clear case window to show off your beloved components.
All three rock Corsair’s “Direct Airflow Path,” which is a fancy marketing term for saying the standard 5.25-inch optical drive bay doesn’t come in these cases, allowing free airflow from the fans at the front of the case all the way to the fans at the back of the case, right over your hot-hot-hot hardware.
In Win's funky cases
Inwin’s new cases, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as traditional. With the push of a button, the In Win Tower H case displayed above opens like a blooming mechanical flower from a standard tower into an open-air design. It’s breathtaking in person. Another funky In Win chassis uses LED lights to make it feel like you’re staring into infinity when you peek in the front of the case. Check it out in our In Win video from CES.
Lian Li's funky cases
Not to be outdone, notorious funky case-maker Lian Li showed off not one, but two thrillingly unique PC chassis designs at CES. The first, pictured above, resembles a cruise ship and accommodates mini-ITX boards with graphics cards up to 300mm in length. The far larger DK-04, on the other hand, is standing desk that changes to a sitting desk (and any point in between) with the push of a button, and get this: You can build your entire PC inside the desk itself, Red Harbinger Cross Desk style.
EVGA gaming case
EVGA made its first-ever foray into the world of full-sized PC cases in January with the simply named “EVGA gaming case.” It’s still in prototype stages—hence the name—but it’s already eye-catching, as EVGA’s designed the case specifically to eradicate hassles for PC gamers.
This spacious case has enough room for up to four-card graphics setups with liquid cooling, with large fins with openings between them traveling the length of the case like a Mohawk for increased airflow. (EVGA says its chassis provides PC temperatures 6 degrees cooler than those in traditional cases.) All of the ports and buttons are on the side of the case, for easier access when you turn it sideways to show off its innards. And thumbscrews? Pfah! The EVGA gaming case rocks big latches that you press to swing open panels on the front, rear, and both sides of the case. Color us intrigued.
EVGA SC-17 Gaming laptop
Cases weren’t the only new realm for EVGA at CES. The company also revealed the SC-17 Gaming, EVGA’s virgin gaming laptop.
Don’t think this rookie attempt is half-baked though: The SC-17 Gaming’s been designed from the ground up by EVGA engineers to give gamers a sleek, stylish laptop. It’s surprisingly svelte for a 17-inch gaming laptop, boasting a premium-feeling design and a 4K display powered by Nvidia’s GTX 980M graphics processor. (That’s high-end, but you’ll probably want to crank the resolution down to 1080p or 2560x1440p while you game for smooth results.) Be sure to check out PCWorld’s look at EVGA’s SC-17 Gaming laptop for the full skinny.
Lenovo IdeaPad Y900 gaming laptop
Lenovo’s beefy IdeaPad Y900 gaming laptop is pretty much a laptop in name alone. This powerful rig features an overclockable Core i7 processor, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M processor, up to 64GB of RAM, and even a 512MB PCI-E SSD (which blows the pants off traditional SSDs).
But the most interesting parts of the IdeaPad Y900 may be what’s on the outside: The laptop rocks a Turbo button for one-push overclocking, and—get this—a full-blown mechanical keyboard. Yes, a mechanical keyboard in a laptop! It’s not the first gaming laptop with a mechanical keyboard, but it’s still a wonderful novelty to see.
MSI gaming laptops
MSI revealed a small flood of powerful gaming notebooks of its own at CES, loaded with powerful parts and helpful software that lets you detect where sounds are coming from in-game, add audio effects to gaming video streams, and even controls games using your eyes. Yes, really!
MSI's ridonkulous SLI bridge
But forget all that and feast your eyes on this. You’re looking at a fanciful SLI bridge built from premium materials and a light-up MSI Dragon logo, and—amazingly—this over-the-top connector for multiple video cards even sports an optional Cooler Master fan accessory. Yes, it’s an SLI bridge with its own fan.
It’s utterly ludicrous. I love it. Thanks, MSI.
G.Skill's ridonkulous 128GB RAM kit
Oh, you really want ludicrous? Meet G.Skill’s new Ripjaws V DDR4 memory kit, which features a whopping 128GB of capacity clocked at 3000MHz and ultra-low CL14-14-14-34 CAS latency times. What more could you want?
Corsair's fastest memoryever
If your answer to that question is “Even faster DDR4 memory,” Corsair has you covered. Mere days after G.Skill revealed its Ripjaws V kit, Corsair released a new Vengeance LPX kit with the same insane capacity and memory speeds. But it also announced two lower-capacity kits with even higher speeds: A 64GB, 3333MHz set, and a 32GB kit clocked at an utterly ridonkulous 3600MHz. That’s more than twice as fast as the DDR3 memory found in a typical PC.
While all these outrageous memory kits are clearly overkill for your average PC enthusiast, they’ll get professional content creators and scientific types drooling.
Cutting-edge memory needs cutting-edge motherboards to slot into, and Asus had a few up its proverbial sleeves at CES. Most notably, the ROG Maximus VIII Formula (pictured above) Z170 ATX motherboard features a custom EK Waterblocks CrossChill water block with a high-conductivity copper channel to help keep your mobo’s VRMs nice and chilly. How chilly? Asus says MOSFET temperatures were reduced by up to 23 degrees in internal testing.
The Asus 970 Pro Gaming/Aura, meanwhile, is most notable for being the very first AMD 970 motherboard officially certified by Nvidia for multi-GPU GeForce graphics card setups. If you buy this you should totally slap one of those ridonkulous MSI SLI bridges on your trio or quartet of graphics cards.
AMD's new Wraith cooler
If you’re into building your PCs, you’ll be happy to hear—literally—that AMD’s stock CPU cooler will soon stop being the equivalent of a shrieking banshee. The company’s newly introduced Wraith cooler is larger than the previous AMD stock cooler, and it features a larger fan constantly spinning at a lower speed than before. That helps Wraith toss off far less sound than its predecessor. Look for the cooler to start shipping with undisclosed AMD processors under 125W TDP later this year.
Asus ROG Claymore keyboard
Asus’ new ROG Claymore keyboard levels up if you stay inside the Asus ecosystem, with one-push buttons for CPU overclocking, RAM overclocking, and syncing the keyboard’s custom RGB light setup with your motherboard’s if you’re rocking an Asus motherboard as well. That alone would make the ROG Claymore worth looking at, but it also features a low-friction, slide-off numerical ten-key set up that you can slip onto either end of the keyboard at your whim. Groovy!
Corsair RGB SDK
OK, this is more software than hardware, but it’s still cool: At CES, Corsair unveiled a new “RGB SDK” development kit that game developers can use to tie in-game action to different colored backlighting on a Corsair keyboard equipped with RGB lighting.
Corsair was demoing Psyop’s zombies-are-your-weapons FPS Moving Hazard with its RGB SDK. The WASD movement controls shone white, while your weapon buttons glared green—until you ran out of ammo, at which point they turned red. The Function keys atop the keyboard also shone red to match your in-game health bar, slowly fading to black as your health succumbed to zombie attacks—and when one of those zombies landed a hit, the entire keyboard flashed red. It sounds silly, but it was pretty damned cool in person, and—finally!—a practical use for RGB keyboard backlighting.
Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum
Speaking of RGB lighting, Logitech’s G502 Proteus Spectrum is basically just the G502 Proteus Core—a.k.a. PCWorld’s favorite gaming mouse—but with subtle customizable RGB lighting accents. So definitely pick it up if you’re looking for a kick-ass new mouse and are into the whole customizable lighting thing.
Fanciful power supplies
Even power supplies are getting into customizable RGB lighting these days—or at least Thermaltake’s Toughpower DPS G RGB 1250W (pictured above) is. It also offers deep, helpful software-based tracking of your system’s power usage and uptime.
Deepcool’s Gamer Storm Liquid-Cooling PSU prototype, meanwhile, is exactly what the name claims: A water-cooled power supply. Why? Who knows? But liquid-cooling for liquid-cooling’s sake has led to some amazingly exotic PC creations so we’re willing to humor the idea. Check out PCWorld’s report on the power supply innovations of CES for even more info on both PSUs.
Virtual reality becomes reality
Finally, virtual reality truly blossomed this month, from the introduction of the HTC Vive Pre VR headset to the opening of Oculus Rift preorders ($600, really?) to the rollout of Nvidia’s VR-ready certification program and a slew of new PCs and hardware designed specifically for virtual worlds. And did we mention VR porn? It’s wild.
For the full scoop, check out PCWorld’s report of how virtual reality finally became real in January. We’re about to step into a brave new world, folks.