Computex gets real
CES may be the show that gives you a glimpse of the future of computing, but Computex is where the gloves come off, year in and year out. The PC industry emerges in full force for the annual Taipei trade show, lugging all the nifty new goodies it hopes to sell during the crucial back-to-school and holiday seasons.
This year’s Computex was nothing short of glorious.
From the first-ever 10-core enthusiast CPU to the launch of the next generation of graphics cards to the rise of all sorts of wild, imaginative PCs built around that hot new technology, the world of computing’s firing on all cylinders and looking more exciting than it has in years. Buckle up! This is going to be a great ride.
Intel Broadwell-E Extreme Edition
The rumors were true: Intel indeed had a monstrous 10-core enthusiast processor up its sleeve. The long-awaited Broadwell-E “Extreme Edition” enthusiast CPU lineup launched with a bang at Computex, spearheaded by the Core i7-6950X, a beast of a chip with 10 CPU cores, fancy per-core overclocking, Turbo Boost Max 3.0 technology, drop-in compatibility with Haswell-E motherboards, and more.
Its price is just as monstrous: $1,723, or $723 higher than the previous 8-core Haswell-E flagship. That’s a hell of a jump, and prices on all Extreme Edition chips went up across the board with this new generation. Our exhaustive Intel Core i7-6950X review has full nitty-gritty details, or check out the 10 things you need to know about Broadwell-E for a CliffsNotes version. Or you can just watch a video of overclockers cranking the beast up to 5.7GHz
The very day after Intel launched its Core i7-6950X, AMD teased enthusiasts with a glimpse at a potential cure for $1,700 chips: Zen. Zen processors aren’t due until closer to the end of the year, but they’re promising a 40 percent increase in instructions per clock (IPC) over AMD’s current-gen chips.
At Computex, CEO Lisa Su held up a working Zen chip emblazoned with the AMD logo and revealed a few new details: The first Zen chips will pack 16 threads across 8 physical computing cores, with early samples scheduled to ship to AMD partners within a few weeks.
AMD 7th-generation APUs
Zen may represent the future for AMD’s high-performance computing, but the company’s APUs—which marry CPU and Radeon GPU cores together on one chip—serve as an avatar for AMD’s all-around strengths. At Computex, AMD revealed two new APU lines, dubbed Bristol Ridge and Stoney Ridge.
These new APUs are designed for laptops, not desktops, and aim to deliver affordable computing solutions with graphics that stomp Intel’s chips into the ground. Check out our Bristol Ridge and Stoney Ridge coverage for full feeds, speeds, and feature details.
AMD Radeon RX 480
Processors weren’t the only things on AMD’s mind at Computex. Mere weeks after Nvidia kicked off the next-generation graphics war off with the GeForce GTX 1080, a $600 card with unrivaled performance, AMD launched its counterattack. The Radeon RX 480 wasn’t made to compete with Nvidia’s flagship, though. Instead, the first Radeon based on AMD’s 14nm FinFET Polaris GPU aims to deliver performance on par with the R9 390X—but for a mere $200.
Hitting that sort of performance at that sort of price could go a long ways toward making virtual reality affordable for the masses—if the prices of VR headsets ever drop from their lofty $600-plus heights, that is. But it’s definitely a good thing for traditional PC gamers, who can now get uncompromising 1080p and pretty damned good 1440p gameplay without breaking the bank. Look for the Radeon RX 480 to land June 29.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
Nvidia didn’t give AMD the spotlight without a fight, however. Just before AMD held the event where the Radeon RX 480 was announced, the reviews for Nvidia’s new GTX 1070 launched—with universal acclaim. The $380 graphics card indeed delivers performance that outpunches the vaunted Titan X, just like Nvidia promised, and for a fraction of the power and price.
Tl;dr The GTX 1070 kicks butt. For a few more words (and many more graphs) on the topic, be sure to read PCWorld’s comprehensive GeForce GTX 1070 review.
Digital Storm Aura
PC enthusiasts don’t tend to think highly of all-in-one PCs, which have long been powered by laptop hardware that isn’t easily swapped out. But at CES in January, we witnessed a rebirth of sorts for the form factor, as boutique PC builders revealed a new breed of AIOs stuffed with powerful, standard PC parts.
The Digital Storm Aura is a paragon for potent all-in-ones. The Aura’s 34-inch ultrawide display is powered by no less than the GeForce GTX 1080 and 10-core Intel chip previously mentioned—meaning this AIO will run circles around the vast majority of PCs being used in the world today.
MSI Backpack PC
All-in-ones aren’t the only PCs receiving an overhaul inspired by recent trends. MSI unveiled its Backpack PC prototype at Computex alongside a slew of new gaming laptops, and well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The Backpack PC packs Nvidia’s full-fat GTX 980 graphics processor and a portable design meant to enable semi-wireless virtual reality experiences. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive both tether you to your PC, but if your PC is tethered to your back, your motion becomes much less restricted.
Strapping a gaming PC on your back seems like it’d be hot and heavy, but in practice, the burden mostly fades away when the combined armies of Zorg are firing photon weapons at you. Check out our Martyn Williams using MSI’s Backpack PC to fight off an alien horde.
HP Omen X
MSI isn’t the only PC maker placing a bet on backpack PCs. The HP Omen X, pictured above, is basically the same thing, while Zotac’s also toying with VR-ready backpack PCs. HP didn’t show the Omen X in the plastic flesh at Computex, but the company says it’ll weigh under 10 lbs. and offer roughly one hour of endurance. Powering full-fledged VR experiences takes an awful lot of juice.
Asus Avalon concept DIY PC
Asus’s Avalon concept PC, on the other hand, takes a stab at reimagining DIY PC design itself, by tightly integrating motherboard and chassis design into a more cohesive whole. The Avalon largely does away with wires and cables, connecting hardware using daughtercards and PCI-e-based “edge connector” slots instead.
The end result: a sleek-looking machine that resembles a classy hi-fi system more than a traditional PC, and one with interchangeable I/O ports on the back and hot-swap-ready storage bays in the front. Every piece of hardware inside can still be swapped out as long as the replacement supports the edge connector—except for the motherboard, of course.
Asus Avalon motherboard
Speaking of, here’s a shot of the Asus Avalon’s motherboard, with capability-enhancing daughtercards jutting out underneath. Told you it was wild.
Samsung's stamp-sized SSD
PCs weren’t the only hardware being revamped at Computex. Monday night, Samsung announced the appallingly named PM971-NVMe—a complete 512GB solid-state drive built into a single chip that fits on your fingertip. This SSD’s smaller than a stamp and weighs less than a gram, but still packs in 512GB of NAND flash, a controller, and RAM. Crazy!
An SSD this tiny isn’t really meant for desktop PCs, but big-time storage that’s this small could wind up in laptops, 2-in-1s, tablets, and phones—none of which are getting any larger.
Asus GX800 water-cooled gaming laptop
Okay, I lied. At least one gaming laptop’s expanding in size to outpunch its full-size desktop brethren. The Asus GX800 is the even crazier successor to the first-ever water-cooled laptop, and it cranks things to 11 with not one, but two unnamed Nvidia GPUs and not one, but two power supplies to keep up with the load. Plugging the laptop into the bulbous water-cooling dock ramps up clock speeds even further for kick-ass gaming performance.
How kick-ass? Asus says the GX800 pumps out more frames than Nvidia’s vaunted Titan X graphics card.
Dell Inspiron 2-in-1 PCs
Dell unleashed a flood of new Inspiron hybrids at Computex, all with very similar names but very different target audiences.
The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 is a Windows 10 laptop/tablet 2-in-1 with a 1366x768 display and a focus around web surfing. Starting at $250, you can consider it a Windows-based Chromebook rival. The $530 Inspiron 11 5000 adds premium touches like a backlit keyboard and Windows Hello biometric authentication to the mix, while the $730 Dell Inspiron 11 7000 fancies things up with beefier hardware, nicer display options, solid state drives, and a USB-C port.
PowerColor Devil Box
USB-C ports might be more important for would-be gamers going forward. A slew of external graphics card enclosures have been announced in 2016, designed to allow you to connect your USB-C/Thunderbolt 3-equipped laptop to desktop graphics cards, allowing you to transform your notebook into a gaming machine at home. It’s like having your cake and eating it too!
The latest is PowerColor’s Devil Box, a Razer Core -like graphics dock that builds off PowerColor’s Devil brand of extreme graphics cards and runs the AMD XConnect technology developed with help from Intel. It’ll support graphics cards up to 310mm in length and 375W, but if it’s like the Core, laptop manufacturers will need to update their systems’ firmware before you’ll be able to use your notebook with the Devil Box.
Riotoro PC hardware
After quietly launching earlier this year, a new company comprised of Nvidia and Corsair veterans emerged from the shadows more fully at Computex.
Riotoro’s flashiest announcement may be its Bifröst closed-loop CPU coolers (pictured above), which will be available with radiators either 120mm or 240mm thick, depending on your PC’s available space. The company also revealed a Ghostwriter line of mechanical keyboards with Kailh switches, a redesigned version of its Uruz gaming mouse, and two new lines of PC power supplies. Check out PCWorld’s Riotoro hardware coverage for full details of each.
Corsair's hardcore computing blitz
Corsair’s new hardware lineup at Computex was essentially a love letter to the most enthusiastic of deep-pocketed PC enthusiasts.
The company kicked things off with the Hydro GFX GeForce GTX 1080 (pictured), a water-cooled variant of Nvidia’s beastly GTX 1080 graphics card developed in conjunction with MSI. Corsair also revealed new Vengeance LED DDR4 memory kits outfitted with LED lights—hence the name—and clocked at an utterly staggering 4,333MHz. If you prefer aesthetics to sheer performance, Corsair’s new Dominator Platinum memory line comes clad in brushed aluminum and chrome finishes.
The icing on the cake? Colored PC case fans that use magnetic levitation bearing technology to offer supreme performance with next-to-no noise—and the ability to tell your friends “Yeah, I rock mag-lev fans in my rig.”
Microsoft didn’t have any new hardware ready for Computex, but it revealed some nice new touches for its forthcoming HoloLens augmented reality headset. Most notably, it’s opened up the HoloLens’s underlying Windows Holographic operating system to its partners, with the intent of making Windows Holographic the equivalent of Windows for augmented reality. The idea is that any hardware running Windows Holographic will be able to see creations made using the software, so a person using HoloLens and a person using the HTC Vive will be able to interact with the same content.
Microsoft also boosted the HoloLens’ multi-tasking capabilities. Beyond 3D creations, HoloLens also works with traditional 2D “flat” apps, and now you’ll be able to pin three programs next to each other for the equivalent of a bad-ass digital multi-monitor setup (pictured above). Groovy!
It wouldn’t be Computex without a touch of weirdness.
Zenbo is a cute little $600 companion bot with a touchscreen face that responds to voice commands. Asus is pitching it as a buddy for children and the elderly—it’ll even read stories to kids—but it’ll respond to general knowledge questions too, like Siri or Amazon’s Echo. There’s no word on when Zenbo will be available or its final feature set, but c’mon—seeing a real-life equivalent to Rosie from The Jetsons is pretty exciting, anyway.
Corsair case mods
Corsair’s booth blended Computex’s weirdness and hardcore computing focus, with large sections devoted to showing off the limits of what’s possible. Now that you’ve got the scoop on all the new hardware out of the show, check out all the wild, weird PC rigs Corsair brought to Computex to see what you can do with a big budget and a little imagination.
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