CES 2020: PC enthusiasts need to learn about processors, laptops and badass equipment

Another CES is in the books, and this time around, the annual techstravaganza acted as a harbinger for the 2020 PC-oriented disruption. Well, friends, things are about to get funky.

In the battle against Intel, AMD opened a new front, Intel fired shots at AMD and Nvidia and displays were being forced to blazing-fast new left and right limits. Laptops took on newly discovered form factors. Desktops have gone weird. Heck, we’ve even seen some relaxation in bold, badass fashion in the battle between consoles and PC gamers.

We were there to catch all of that. Here’s a CES 2020 recap, revealing that PC enthusiasts need to know about it. Hit those links all over for deeper information.

AMD vs. Intel vs. Nvidia

Let’s start with the heavy hitters that power the chips inside the PCs you are buying.

Since questioning Intel’s mobile supremacy in 2019 for the first time in a long time, AMD came out swinging at CES 2020 laptops. At its keynote, the company unveiled Ryzen 4000 laptop processors, built using the same 7 nm process that made 3rd-gen Ryzen and Threadripper CPUs so great with planned both energy-efficient U-series and gaming-ready H-series processors. Get this: AMD says it launches “the best laptop processor ever made,” and claims that even Intel’s desktop Core i7-9700 K will outpunch its top-tier H-series chip in some scenarios. Hot fuckin’.

AMD also announced price, speed and release date details for its gigantic 64-core Threadripper 3990X. When it releases on February 7, it’ll cost $3,990, suitably enough. We also chatted with Ryzen’s technology chief David McAfee for further insights into Threadripper 3990X and Ryzen 4000, as well as Dr. Ian Cutress of Anandtech for how Ryzen 4000 squares in laptops are up against Intel.

Laptop manufacturers are already lining up to deploy AMD’s new Ryzens, a remarkable turnaround. The company says there are more than 100 laptops shipping inside with Ryzen 4000, with several flagship models on display at CES. With both Ryzen 4000 and Radeon 5000 M chips inside, Dell’s G15 SE will act as a showcase for the AMD’s mobile efforts. The Pound 3.5. Elsewhere, Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 taps into the energy efficiency of AMD’s latest CPU and Nvidia’s Max-Q GeForce technology to deliver the first 14-inch RTX laptop worldwide. That thing is looking badass. In the meantime Acer’s Swift 3 will come with either Intel or AMD inside.

Do the tides finally turn for AMD’s efforts on the notebook? It sure seems like this.

He muses about the potential for AMD’s Radeon graphics cards at the end of our conversation with Ian Cutress, as AMD also introduced the Radeon RX 5600 XT during its keynote. It’s basically a lower-clocked version of the Radeon RX 5700 with a memory of 6 GB and a price tag of 279$. Watch for Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1660 series to take on the 1080p sweet spot in PC gaming when it releases January 21. AMD CEO Lisa Su announced what’s next for Radeon in a small roundtable with press after keynote: high-end Navi GPUs and real-time ray tracing.

 

Intel, obviously, does not take the threat lying down. At CES 2020, it announced an assortment of news, the most notable being the grand unveiling of early versions of its discrete DG1 graphics in both desktop and laptop form, based on Xe graphics architecture of the business. DG1 products are expected to be launched this year at some point.

On the CPU level things were quieter. Intel announced that “Tiger Lake” is the next CPU codename you need to think about but didn’t say much more than that, though a Thunderbolt 4 announcement quickly turned into a mess. (But yeah, USB4 logos will actually make sense!) On the brighter side, the company said that when they launch later this quarter, Comet Lake H mobile processors would hit 5GHz and reported some big wins in revolutionary laptops thanks to its Athena Project initiative and its investment in creative form factors. We will more thoroughly cover laptops later on.

Intel also shows off its much-leaked “Ghost Canyon” NUC, which is basically a mini-PC-in – a-mini-PC running around a replaceable Intel Compute Element card stored with a mobile CPU, RAM, motherboard, and storage unit. Beside the Compute Module, there are also PCIe x4 and x16 slots ready to accept separate graphics and storage add-in cards— a convenient preparation for launching Xe later. Watch the video above showing Alaina break inside Ghost Canyon.

Nvidia’s ranking at CES 2020 was down. It did not release revamped graphics cards, show a new Shield console or (finally) release GeForce Now from beta. But when it came to gaming, the company brought it, showing off face-melting 360 freakin’ Hz G-Sync Esports screens, and new G-Sync Ultimate mini-LED monitors with 1,152 backlight zones capable of a dazzling 1,400 nits. We called G-Sync Ultimate’s first wave displays the Holy Grail of gaming monitors and these look even better.

A feature-laden Game Ready driver was also released for the show by the GeForce tech team, adding real-time ray tracing in Wolfenstein: Youngblood and more. It also revealed that boutique PC builders could now sell RTX Studio-validated software creator systems, and if you purchase one, Nvidia will toss Adobe’s Creative Cloud in three free months.

Desktops went off wild

Desktop builders are always bringing their most crazy concepts to CES and 2020 was no exception. Razer’s Tomahawk N1 blends the functionality of the company’s Razer Core external graphics card dock with Intel’s latest card-based NUC technology to create a dead-simple, damned sleek DIY PC. It’s pretty appealing, but Razer’s been more mistaken than successful when it comes to actually launching the crazy ideas it’s shown off at CES, so we’ll see if you can ever actually buy one.

On the other hand, the Corsair’s Project Orion leans heavily on the groundbreaking Capellix LEDs launched by Corsair at last year’s CES. Project Orion is a modified case of Corsair Crystal 465X with the Capellix LEDs lining its glass panels inside. The ultra-bright LEDs, embedded in a translucent film, illuminate the exterior of the case without interfering with the visual clarity of the internal components. See its stunning beauty in the above video.

Then there’s the Big O, a resurrection of a decade-old oddity from Corsair’s recent acquisition of Origin PC. Big O couples a high-end PC with a liquid-cooled console in a single Corsair Crystal Series 280X case, and tosses the ultimate streaming machine in an optional Elgato 4K60 capture package. Who is saying console gamers and PC can’t get along? As you would expect from an Origin PC product, you’ll be able to heavily customize the components and esthetics of the big o.

In its own way, Dell mixed console and PC with the Alienware Concept UFO which looks like a Nintendo switch but runs full-fledged Windows 10. Cool things. The company also showed off Concept Ori, a folding PC built around a single large screen, and Concept Duo, a laptop that replaces a second large display with the usual keyboard. Because they are ideas, we don’t know if they will ever put it onto the market, so think of them as hints of what Dell is working on for potential PCs rather than actual product announcements. That said, Model UFO looks ill.

Lastly, it might not be as outwardly futuristic as the other desktops shown above, but the Project Snowblind CL for iBuyPower might make custom loop cooling easier and cheaper, and this is a welcome development for PC enthusiasts. It has long been recognized that custom loop cooling for CPUs and GPUs on a pre-built PC is more beautiful, more efficient— and more costly. The Snowblind CL project could change all of that. This transforms what is usually a process of five hours into a process of ten minutes, essentially putting custom water loop cooling within scope of regular budgets.

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