The monstrous, momentous PC hardware of Computex 2019

From futuristic laptops to trailblazing new chips, this is the PC hardware that caught our eye at Computex 2019.

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Adam Patrick Murray

Where tomorrow's computing gets real

CES is where the technology industry goes to dream. Computex, in Taipei, Taiwan, is where things get real ahead of the crucial back-to-school and holiday seasons. At this year’s show, some of the PC’s most ambitious dreams are finally becoming tangible.

This was a Computex to remember. AMD flexed its hard-earned 7nm muscle, beating both Intel and Nvidia to the punch with cutting-edge Ryzen and Radeon chips. But those giants pushed back hard, rolling out new laptop initiatives—and Intel’s long-delayed 10nm processors.

Chipmakers weren’t the only companies strutting their stuff. Computer makers showed off all sorts of wild new gear, from wood-clad laptops to funky multi-screen notebooks to a radical new vision for desktops that move beyond the boring-old ATX form factor. And did we mention PCIe 4.0 is a thing now?

Buckle up, and be sure to hit those links throughout to learn more about each topic.

ryzen 9 3900x cpu die
Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

AMD's cutting-edge Ryzen onslaught

AMD kicked off Computex with a bang, revealing its hotly anticipated Ryzen 3000-series processors—culminating in a monstrous 12-core, $500 chip that marks the debut of the Ryzen 9 family. Eight-core Ryzen 7 processors were also announced, with stupid-good power efficiency, higher clock speeds, and a launch date of July 7. These will be the first 7nm chips ever to hit the streets.

They’ll also be the first processors to support the cutting-edge PCIe 4.0 interface, although you’ll need a new X570 motherboard to take advantage. Fortunately, you should have plenty of options, as Asus alone plans on launching over 30 different X570 boards.

amd radeon navi rx 5700
Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Radeon RX 5700

You know what else supports PCIe 4.0? The Radeon RX 5700, the first consumer 7nm GPU, and one based on AMD’s fresh “Navi” architecture, now dubbed RDNA. AMD says the Radeon RX 5700 should go toe-to-toe with the GeForce RTX 2070 and offer 25 percent better performance per clock and 50 percent better performance per watt than existing Radeon Vega GPUs. Navi GPUs will also advance to the speedier GDDR6 memory that debuted alongside Nvidia’s RTX 20-series. Yes please! Expect to hear more at AMD’s E3 press event on June 10.

For even more juicy AMD info that wasn’t announced onstage—like Threadripper’s status, Radeon ray tracing, and whether benchmarks matter—check out our interview transcript with CEO Lisa Su.

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Supercharged PCIe 4.0 SSDs

Sure, the Radeon RX 5700 tease is exciting and all, but when it comes to PCIe 4.0 support specifically, moving to the cutting-edge interface should provide a much bigger boost to systems loaded down with NVMe storage. At Computex, Corsair unveiled the MP600 Force Series SSD, a drive that taps into PCIe 4.0’s capabilities to unlock ludicrous speed. This beast hits 4,950MBps sequential read speeds and 4,250MBps sequential write speeds. Oh my. Even better? As impressive as that is—and it is—Corsair’s SSD doesn’t come close to saturating PCIe 4.0’s theoretical 8GBps maximum.

Corsair wasn’t the only manufacturer climbing this horse. Gigabyte also showed an Aorus-branded PCIe 4.0 SSD with a whopping 8TB of capacity. Don’t expect that to come cheap.

If you build a new rig this fall and load up with Ryzen 3000, the Radeon RX 5700, an X570 motherboard, and one of these monsters, you could live the next-gen life with a full PCIe 4.0-compatible system. Giggity.

But the industry’s eyes ever point forward: Also announced at Computex, the PCI Express 5.0 spec will bring 128 gigabytes per second of throughput to your PC…someday. Don’t expect it anytime soon.

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Intel dives into 10nm Ice Lake

AMD’s triumphant keynote couldn’t take away from Intel’s blockbuster news: After years of delays, frustrations, and endless 14nm process tweaks, Intel’s 10nm processors are finally here in the form of 10th-gen "Ice Lake” Core processors for laptops. Somewhat surprisingly, Intel played coy about detailed speeds and feeds of individual chips, but several PC makers already showed systems with Ice Lake inside.

10th-gen Core chips don’t quite hit the same maximum turbo speeds as their predecessors—again, Intel’s been fine-tuning 14nm for years and years now—but they feature Dynamic Tuning 2.0 with Machine Learning that help manage turbo boosts more intelligently, with the aim of holding clocks as high as possible for as long as possible.

The 10th-gen Core chips also bake in other AI enhancements, along with platform upgrades like Wi-Fi 6 Gig+, Thunderbolt 3, and improved onboard graphics. In fact, Intel says that Ice Lake’s integrated graphics top the Radeon cores in AMD’s mobile Ryzen chips. Bold claim, that.

Intel also revealed what’s inside Project Athena laptops, its vision for the ultra-light, long-lasting, always-connected notebooks of tomorrow. The first batch should consist of around 30 premium laptops.

Intel performance maximizer
Mark Hachman / IDG

Intel desktop love

Ice Lake stole the show, but Intel didn’t neglect desktops completely. In fact, it announced its fastest consumer processor ever at Computex. The company already called its Core i9-9900K the “best gaming CPU,” and our tests confirmed it. The newly announced Core i9-9900KS outmuscles it by pushing all eight cores to 5GHz while boosting. Yowza. Often, boost clock ratings apply only to a single core. The Core i9-9900KS also maintains a higher 4GHz base clock. Further details weren’t released.

You might be able to push it even further with Intel’s blessing. The company announced a new Performance Maximizer one-click overclocking tool, which puts your 9th-gen K-series chip through a series of automated tests to find its upper limits. To coincide with the Performance Maximizer’s enthusiast focus, Intel also announced the return of the Performance Tuning Protection Plan, which will replace your Core processor if you blow it up during your overclocking adventures. It costs $20 for three years of protection.

On the storage front, Intel announced its 2nd-gen Optane Memory M15 drive, an upgraded version of the company’s caching technology that pairs with your primary storage to supercharge the speeds of your most-used files and apps. The latest version gets an overdue update from two to four PCIe lanes, making Optane Memory even faster.

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Nvidia RTX Studio laptops and adaptive sync revelations

Nvidia had a quieter Computex than its rivals, but still made some announcements of its own. Most notable: RTX Studio laptops, a new program that matches fully loaded, performance-oriented-yet-sleek laptops—with dedicated ray tracing hardware, natch—and specialized Nvidia Studio drivers optimized around content creation apps. The antithesis of Intel’s slim, long-lasting Project Athena laptops, RTX Studio laptops are built for people who need to get hard work done fast.

On the consumer front, Nvidia revealed why its G-Sync Compatible program flunks over 94 percent of FreeSync monitors, and it’s an interesting read. The company also said it’s launching the ray-traced reimagining of Quake II on June 6—on both Windows and Linux—and entering a partnership with Bethesda to include RTX technologies and Adaptive shading in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. If you buy an RTX 20-series graphics card, Nvidia will toss in a free copy of the game.

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HP laptops

Now, let’s shift focus to the computers where all this funky fresh hardware will reside. First up: HP. The company announced a full selection of its wonderful Envy laptops and 2-in-1s clad in wood. The natural elements cover only the keyboard’s wrist area and touchpad, but HP paired its wood options with metals colored to match, and they look dreamy.

For the business crowd, HP also announced new Elite-series laptops, with options ranging from a claimed 24-hour battery life to a panel blazing at a fierce 1,000 nits of brightness. For context, that’s just as vibrant as Nvidia’s glorious G-Sync Ultimate displays. Yes please.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 10th gen Core i7 Ice Lake
Adam Patrick Murray

Dell laptops

Dell showed up with some heavy firepower, too—literally, in the case of the upgraded Alienware m15. The new Dell Inspiron laptops bring premium amenities with a budget-friendly price, too. But it’s the redesigned XPS 13 2-in-1 that caught our eye the most.

Long the forgotten member of the XPS laptop lineup, Dell’s new XPS 13 2-in1 steps into the spotlight thanks to a substantial overhaul intended to bring all the benefits of Intel’s 10th-gen Core chips, while keeping the device slim and sleek. Dell rebuilt the entire cooling system to fit in a powerful “Ice Lake” Core i7 CPU and potent Iris graphics, along with much faster memory and a fabulous 4K panel that helps reduce eyestrain at night.

gigabyte aero 15
Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Gigabyte's tiny Aero gets bigger

Look, we’ve adored every version of the Gigabyte Aero 15 that we’ve touched. And we can’t wait to touch the new Gigabyte Aero notebooks unveiled at Computex. Gigabyte stuffed its surprisingly portable gaming laptop with Intel and Nvidia’s latest hardware, and introduced a bigger sibling to the lineup, the Aero 17. Watch Gordon tour Gigabyte’s laptops here.

Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

MSI's monstrous lineup

MSI brought heavy firepower to Computex. We took a peek at its biggest guns during our booth tour, from a beastly laptop designed to take on the Alienware 51m to a wild curved PC case that shows off all your gear. Watch our MSI booth tour here!

Asus Zenbook Duo Pro
Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Asus Zenbook Pro Duo

Laptops with dual displays are suddenly all the rage, but the dazzling Asus ZenBook Pro Duo tells other contenders to hold its beer. This engineering marvel somehow manages to jam a 15.6-inch screen and a 14-inch screen into a 5.5 lbs laptop, and both—yes, both—hit 3,840 pixels of horizontal resolution for 4k-quality visuals. (The auxiliary screen’s built above the keyboard, so its vertical pixel count can’t quite hit the 4K standard.)

Don’t be fooled by the delicious eye candy, though. This laptop’s built for power users, so Asus outfitted it with top-tier hardware, including up to an 8-core Core i9-9980HK, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a GeForce RTX 2060, as well as Intel’s newest WiFi-6/802.11ax controller. Hot damn.

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Adam Patrick Murray

The future of the PC?

The Zenbook Pro Duo wasn’t the only glimpse of a potentially radical future for the PC at Computex, though. Intel showed off not one, not two, but three wild concept PCs at the event, ranging from an “Ambient PC” with an always-on edge display and far-field microphones listening for your every word to a dual-screen monster of a gaming laptop that has a second hinge to lift its keyboard-topping screen—and the primary one above it—even higher. Super cool stuff, although we won’t see the fruits of this labor anytime soon like we will with Project Athena notebooks.

Asus didn’t stop innovating with its badass laptop, though. The company also showed off its radical Prime Utopia desktop prototype, which frankly looks like a PC plucked from an alternate timeline. It imagines what could be if we ditched the 25-year-old ATX standard to create something vastly more interesting. Be sure to hit that link and check it out.

qualcomm 8cx vs i5
Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Qualcomm tempts laptop makers

Finally, Qualcomm’s still trying to convince laptop makers to opt for its long-lasting chips and achieve all-day battery life with go-anywhere connectivity. At Computex, the company revealed benchmarks that show its Snapdragon 8cx processor matching the speeds of a circa-2017 Intel Core i5 chip. Qualcomm also partnered with Lenovo to showcase “Project Limitless,” based on the 8cx, to create what it calls the first 5G-capable laptop. By Computex 2020, we’ll know whether other notebook vendors are picking up what Qualcomm’s putting down in the PC space.

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